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Thread: crampon hints for downhill

  1. #1
    Senior Member 1SlowHiker's Avatar
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    crampon hints for downhill

    I went up East Osceola today over trail wide hard ice flows. Only the 3rd time I've actually had to use my crampons. Going straight up over the ice was fairly easy - I felt like Spiderman . But going down the ice with the crampons and my poles was tough and scary. I felt like Tom Cruise in "Born on the fourth of July" trying to walk with bad legs and crutches . I tried several techniques, including digging in with my heel spikes first, backing down on the worst spots, and taking 4-6" baby steps forcing my foot flat down the ice each time (that seemed to work the best but was super slow). I wasnít comfortable with any of these and took almost an hour to descend 600'. Any suggestions? Tricks? BTW my crampons are only the ~2" spike Hillsounders, but I donít think longer spikes would have helped much.
    Marvin from RI,
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  2. #2
    Senior Member Tom Rankin's Avatar
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    It depends on the ice (was it extremely hard?) and your comfort level, but backing down is probably the safest, because you are simulating the up motions. Zig-zag if you can to decrease the angle. I do not own your crampons, but it's possible 'real' crampons would have been better. How sharp are they?
    Tom Rankin
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    Senior Member BobC's Avatar
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    My suggestion (and I'm not trying to be sarcastic) is to just avoid extremely steep trails like this in icy conditions. I turned around on my first attempt at East Osceola just due to loose, slippery snow, and went back the next winter in better snow conditions, and had no problems. I love winter hiking but I just have my limits and don't like to take too many chances.

  4. #4
    Senior Member cushetunk's Avatar
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    Yeah, you may have been on ice where longer and sharper spikes would give more grip and feel more secure.

    In general, crampons work best when you place your foot down flat. Going uphill, this might mean using a "duckwalk" with your feet turned outward, or even turning sideways to a slope and sidestepping uphill (aka "French Technique").

    Going downhill on a smooth slab of hard ice, you've got to sort of crouch, lean forward to keep your weight over your feet, and flat foot down. Slamming you feet down will help get a solid grip. Again, feet must be flat (parallel to the ice angle)! This can be exhausting, but it is far more secure than the alternatives.

    One thing about this "proper" technique is that you can't really rely on your poles for balance, because odds are you won't be able to place them in the correct spot to keep your balance over your feet. You've got to lean forward and trust your feet. It's committing. It is scary. I still hate going downhill like this, but it does work.

  5. #5
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    I think the 4-6" baby steps work best. The only "tricks" I can suggest is that it's easier if you're using boots with flexible ankles and strengthening your ankles would help. It's the same basic technique as descending a smooth slab in summer. I also think going straight down the fall line is more stable than zig-zagging.

  6. #6
    Senior Member iagreewithjamie's Avatar
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    If the slope is steep enough, descend backwards facing the slope.
    Nothin' on the top but a bucket and a mop
    And an illustrated book about birds.
    You see alot up there, but don't be scared:
    who needs actions when you got words?

  7. #7
    Senior Member 1SlowHiker's Avatar
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    Thanks all. I guess its a case of "it is what it is" (tough and scary). I tried most of the techniques mentioned and agree that going straight down with feet flat and baby steps is probably best and not worrying about how long it takes. I dont think longer "real" crampons would have helped since the ice thickness over the rocks wasn't that deep in spots. One of the resaons I didn't hike in the late fall is to avoid ice like this. Aren't we suppose to have a nice 2' base layer on the trials by now.
    Marvin from RI,
    http://1slowhiker.blogspot.com
    48/48NH4K, 67/67NE4K, 100/100NEHH, 44/48 WNH4K
    Trail Adopter of Black Pond Trail (pemi)

  8. #8
    Senior Member TCD's Avatar
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    http://www.amazon.com/Climbing-Ice-Y.../dp/0871562081

    This is a definitive resource. There is a ton of history, and there are tons of techniques. Basically, it's about positioning yourself to keep your crampons flat on the ice and keep as many points engaged as possible, until it becomes too steep to do so. Then, turn around and downclimb using front points. Some types of crampons don't have front points, so they will be of limited help when the ice gets steep. That's one reason to carry an axe; the standard method without front points is to chop steps (very tiring, and does not work on thin ice).

    Have fun!

  9. #9
    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    This is getting into ice climbing technique...

    A mountaineering ice axe is far more useful than poles here. (Poles could even be worse than useless...)

    For a brief description of some descending techniques, see my post #21 in http://www.vftt.org/forums/showthrea...-axe-technique. As TCD suggested, Chouinard's book is the reference. I strongly suggest that you learn and practice (roped to protect against a fall) with the help of a knowledgeable ice climber.


    The smartest move for a hiker without ice climbing skills is likely not to go there in the first place... If you are on an in and back route, on the way in evaluate the terrain for difficulty of the return. If you reach a spot that you do not think that you will be able reverse safely, turn back.

    So far this year, things are looking pretty icy. Under such conditions the line between hiking and ice climbing can become rather fuzzy... And falls on steep ice can be very dangerous (self-arrest can be difficult to impossible and crampon points can catch in the ice breaking bones and joints).

    Doug
    Last edited by DougPaul; 01-12-2014 at 12:01 AM.

  10. #10
    Senior Member 1SlowHiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DougPaul View Post
    This is getting into ice climbing technique...

    So far this year, things are looking pretty icy. Under such conditions the line between hiking and ice climbing can become rather fuzzy... And falls on steep ice can be very dangerous (self-arrest can be difficult to impossible and crampon points can catch in the ice breaking bones and joints).

    Doug
    That was exactly my concern. I had slipped on a section just below Mt O which was snow over ice and had gone for 100' slide with no possibility of self arrest until the slope decreased. It was kind of an eye opening experience. I really felt helpless for a while. From that point on I was very cautious and realized I was a bit out of my comfort zone (which is normally pretty wide). So when going down the real bad ice flow section (good picture of it on my blog) I was well aware that any slip could be catastrophic. In reading replies I think I probably did all I could for technique and didnít really lose grip on the ice but wasnít comfortable. Guess I was hoping for a magic bullet solution. On hind sight I think what I should have done was drop my oversized pack and let it slide down (the thick trees would have stopped it eventually) then try to work my way around the edge of the trail and ice through the woods. I think thatís what the other hiker I saw did, but the woods were too thick for me with my pack
    Marvin from RI,
    http://1slowhiker.blogspot.com
    48/48NH4K, 67/67NE4K, 100/100NEHH, 44/48 WNH4K
    Trail Adopter of Black Pond Trail (pemi)

  11. #11
    Senior Member Mike P.'s Avatar
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    Keep your feet apart, besides catching a point on the ice, you can catch it on your own heel. Especially through when taking small steps as we are used to shuffling our feet and having them close together. Toes pointing out helps. Freedom of the Hills has a section also. Traversing the slope is one method.
    Have fun & be safe
    Mike P.

  12. #12
    Senior Member hikingmaineac's Avatar
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    I have limited crampon experience, but this discussion at Summitpost.org suggests the French Technique...
    Note the rope use in these pictures, taken from the Gaston Rebuffat book: Glace, neige et roc, Hachette, 1970:

    - http://c0278592.cdn.cloudfiles.racks...nal/595650.jpg
    - http://c0278592.cdn.cloudfiles.racks...nal/595652.jpg

    Good luck, and stay safe!

  13. #13
    Senior Member Peppersass's Avatar
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    I can see where that experience would change my view on where and when I hike, 1SlowHiker. Down has been an issue for me and I appreciate the tips here. Truth is I have only played with my Black Diamonds, never used them in a real life situation. And, I fear that I may not have the strength to maintain a forward crouch heading down a long ice flow - control is everything!

    AMC has two winter hiking weekends at Cardigan and I am signed up for one of them. Until I can get comfy with the notion that these situations may arise (I would certainly avoid conditions where its likely) and I can handle them without breaking an ankle, I have limited options for winter 4ks. Pepp
    Peppersass - NEHH, NHW-13/48, NE111-91/115, State HPs-29/50

  14. #14
    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hikingmaineac View Post
    I have limited crampon experience, but this discussion at Summitpost.org suggests the French Technique...
    Note the rope use in these pictures, taken from the Gaston Rebuffat book: Glace, neige et roc, Hachette, 1970:

    - http://c0278592.cdn.cloudfiles.racks...nal/595650.jpg
    - http://c0278592.cdn.cloudfiles.racks...nal/595652.jpg
    We should note that these pictures were most likely taken on soft glacial ice... (Soft ice accepts crampon
    points very easily.)

    In the NE, one generally deals with hard snow, soft (ie warm) water ice, and hard (ie cold) water ice. The first to accept crampon points well, the hard water ice does not.

    Doug

  15. #15
    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peppersass View Post
    And, I fear that I may not have the strength to maintain a forward crouch heading down a long ice flow - control is everything!
    There are rest positions--typically standing with all of one's weight on a straight leg with the (cramponed) foot across the slope. The ankle is flexed to the side to put the sole of the boot flat on the ice (and all of the bottom points in the ice).

    The limited flexibility of plastic boots can make the ankle flex difficult. (Leather can be far better here...)

    Doug

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