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Thread: Saw For Spruce Traps

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Saw For Spruce Traps

    Was just going through the many threads on the hazards of spruce traps because I never did get a pruning saw to carry on me once I learned of this issue. I know a ton of people recommended carrying a saw in one of the threads I read last year but I can't find the exact one. Can anyone recommend the model of pruning saw they use? Found a few on the various "big box" websites but they have generally lousy reviews.

    And as a brief refresher, what is the "ideal" way to extricate oneself from the type of spruce traps we would encounter here in Northeast (i.e. the gnarly ones filled with branches versus the enormously deep tree wells of powder out West)? To this point I've only fallen into one on Webster when I strayed off official trail and sunk in up to my chest. Fortunately I was nearly upright and only got one snow shoe moderately tangled so I was able to crawl forward up and out of it on the branches.
    Last edited by DayTrip; 01-04-2016 at 01:47 PM. Reason: grammar
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    Moderator David Metsky's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DayTrip View Post
    And as a brief refresher, what is the "ideal" way to extricate oneself from the type of spruce traps we would encounter here in Northeast (i.e. the gnarly ones filled with branches versus the enormously deep tree wells of powder out West)?
    Wait for your friends to stop taking pictures and laughing, accept an offered hand or ski pole, take off your snowshoes if needed.
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    Senior Member TJsName's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Metsky View Post
    Wait for your friends to stop taking pictures and laughing, accept an offered hand or ski pole, take off your snowshoes if needed.
    We ran into one last winter where a snowshoe ended up pinned under a blow down about 3-4 feet down. Couldn't lift it up or back it out. Had to dig him out and undo the binding eventually, but took a good 30-40 minutes. If he was alone, it would have taken much longer. It's possible a saw might have helped, but he would have had to dig out a ton of snow anyway, and then made at least 2 cuts through a 4" tree, and even then it might have not help if branches were frozen in place. I'd think a shovel would be more valuable than a saw.
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    Senior Member sierra's Avatar
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    I got stuck in one years back that really got me. I'm sure a lot of you remember the Sherpa snowshoe. I used those for many years, with the crampon binding, actually still have them. Anywho, I fell into a spruce trap, one of the only I've ever been in and was stuck cold. I was frankly surprised at how stuck I was, I could not move one leg at all. Being by myself, I had a small moment thinking, I'm not going like this am I I started digging and got to my stuck shoe. A branch had gone between the frame and the webbing and was stuck like a barbed hook. I eventually cut the branch with my knife,( after getting out of the shoe) but it was not easy at all, a saw would have taken 10 seconds. I retrieved my shoe and was off, but it was kind of sobering.

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    Senior Member Brambor's Avatar
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    I guess if you like solo winter bushwacks then carry a spruce trap saw. Otherwise, I'd consider it excess weight.
    Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Metsky View Post
    Wait for your friends to stop taking pictures and laughing, accept an offered hand or ski pole, take off your snowshoes if needed.
    I hike alone so I'd be laughing at myself.
    NH 48 4k: 48/48; NH W48k: 48/48; ME 4k: 2/14; VT 4k: 1/5; NY 46: 6/46

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TJsName View Post
    We ran into one last winter where a snowshoe ended up pinned under a blow down about 3-4 feet down. Couldn't lift it up or back it out. Had to dig him out and undo the binding eventually, but took a good 30-40 minutes. If he was alone, it would have taken much longer. It's possible a saw might have helped, but he would have had to dig out a ton of snow anyway, and then made at least 2 cuts through a 4" tree, and even then it might have not help if branches were frozen in place. I'd think a shovel would be more valuable than a saw.
    Really a shovel? I have an avalanche shovel that I keep in my car for unplanned plowing problems. I suppose I could carry it. Wouldn't it be very hard to get off pack once trapped? And from my one experience with a spruce trap the branches were a bigger issue than the volume of snow. They really tangle in the snow shoes. I was mostly on top of the branches when I fell in (it was actually just past the end of official Winter in March) so the snow was very deep and covered most of the branches).

    And I guess in a related question, what 4k routes have the highest likelihood of spruce trap issues? From what I remember in the old threads the Jewell Trail was a common spot as well as the Carters/Carter Dome area with the deep snow pack some years obscuring the smaller scrub and trees.
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    Moderator bikehikeskifish's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DayTrip View Post
    And I guess in a related question, what 4k routes have the highest likelihood of spruce trap issues? From what I remember in the old threads the Jewell Trail was a common spot as well as the Carters/Carter Dome area with the deep snow pack some years obscuring the smaller scrub and trees.
    I have fallen into spruce traps on Carter Dome and on the Engine Hill Bushwhack en route to Isolation.

    Tim
    Bike, Hike, Ski, Sleep. Eat, Fish, Repeat.

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    Senior Member TJsName's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DayTrip View Post
    Really a shovel? I have an avalanche shovel that I keep in my car for unplanned plowing problems. I suppose I could carry it. Wouldn't it be very hard to get off pack once trapped? And from my one experience with a spruce trap the branches were a bigger issue than the volume of snow. They really tangle in the snow shoes. I was mostly on top of the branches when I fell in (it was actually just past the end of official Winter in March) so the snow was very deep and covered most of the branches).

    And I guess in a related question, what 4k routes have the highest likelihood of spruce trap issues? From what I remember in the old threads the Jewell Trail was a common spot as well as the Carters/Carter Dome area with the deep snow pack some years obscuring the smaller scrub and trees.
    Perhaps some kind of shovel/saw multi-tool, like this. Only weights 12oz.
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    Quote Originally Posted by TJsName View Post
    Perhaps some kind of shovel/saw multi-tool, like this. Only weights 12oz.
    How about a larger survival tool (eg knife) with a serrated portion on the blade? And, of course, it can serve more purposes than a saw.....

  11. #11
    Senior Member alexmtn's Avatar
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    The weapon of choice is definitely a saw -- but not just any saw. To deal with spruce ensnarements, narrow is key. With a bow-style saw or shovel edge, the odds are pretty high that nearby branches (or your leg or your snowshoe) will block you from getting to the branch you're desperately aiming for. This is the classic. It's light (6 oz), its teeth are ideal for spruce branches, and it can deal with the improbable 4" trunk if it has to.

    Wire saws (extremely light) are also an option, but not very reliable in the typical spruce trap scenario, wherein you can only come at a branch from one side - wrapping the wire almost all the way around a thin limb and trying to saw will likely break the wire.

    I've also put my saw to use to help clear blow-downs that my groups often encounter (such good deeds are appreciated, whenever there's time). Often, you'll see a tree that's snapped a couple of feet up on its trunk, but is still attached, acting as a 'toll gate' across the trail. For larger trunks than you'd think, my 7" saw can cut through the remaining fibers to separate the tree, which then enables the group to drag it into the woods.

    But back to spruce traps. Several winters ago, I was leading a small AMC group on a W. Field bushwhack that was running late. We were heading steeply downhill on Field's flanks, and I was taking point. I heard a yell from the back of the group to hold up because someone was stuck in a spruce trap. I waited several minutes for the 'OK, we're good to go' signal, but it didn't come. On climbing back up the 100' or so that I'd just come down, I saw that the person was in the snow up to her chest, and the foot was completely jammed, and all the adjoining spruces made attempts to dig out/around futile. The snowshoe was pointing straight down, and a 1.5" limb ran across the back end of the showshoe and the person's boot, completely blocking retraction. It took the full extent of my arm and a lot of leaning into the hole, but I got the blade of my saw down to the level of the branch and had it severed in less than a minute. That was my first real emergency use of the saw. It completely sold me.

    I don't think a saw is just for solo-ists -- it's for anyone, solo or not, who enjoys venturing out into full-depth snow conditions, especially off trail.

    Alex

    *** Hey, 10 mins after submitting this posting, I read my SOLO newsletter, which included this link concerning 'tree well' incident -- for folks who haven't experienced them first hand this gives you a feel for just how significant the magnitude can be -- though this incident didn't happen to require a saw. The terms are interchangeable, but 'tree well' tends to imply larger trees, and 'spruce trap' the smaller trees. It's the branches of the smaller trees (6'-15' tall or so) that tend to be the most prevalent culprits in the backcountry of the Whites.
    Last edited by alexmtn; 01-05-2016 at 02:16 PM. Reason: Added a pertinent snowboarder video

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alexmtn View Post
    The weapon of choice is definitely a saw -- but not just any saw. To deal with spruce ensnarements, narrow is key. With a bow-style saw or shovel edge, the odds are pretty high that nearby branches (or your leg or your snowshoe) will block you from getting to the branch you're desperately aiming for. This is the classic. It's light (6 oz), its teeth are ideal for spruce branches, and it can deal with the improbable 4" trunk if it has to.

    Wire saws (extremely light) are also an option, but not very reliable in the typical spruce trap scenario, wherein you can only come at a branch from one side - wrapping the wire almost all the way around a thin limb and trying to saw will likely break the wire.

    I've also put my saw to use to help clear blow-downs that my groups often encounter (such good deeds are appreciated, whenever there's time). Often, you'll see a tree that's snapped a couple of feet up on its trunk, but is still attached, acting as a 'toll gate' across the trail. For larger trunks than you'd think, my 7" saw can cut through the remaining fibers to separate the tree, which then enables the group to drag it into the woods.

    But back to spruce traps. Several winters ago, I was leading a small AMC group on a W. Field bushwhack that was running late. We were heading steeply downhill on Field's flanks, and I was taking point. I heard a yell from the back of the group to hold up because someone was stuck in a spruce trap. I waited several minutes for the 'OK, we're good to go' signal, but it didn't come. On climbing back up the 100' or so that I'd just come down, I saw that the person was in the snow up to her chest, and the foot was completely jammed, and all the adjoining spruces made attempts to dig out/around futile. The snowshoe was pointing straight down, and a 1.5" limb ran across the back end of the showshoe and the person's boot, completely blocking retraction. It took the full extent of my arm and a lot of leaning into the hole, but I got the blade of my saw down to the level of the branch and had it severed in less than a minute. That was my first real emergency use of the saw. It completely sold me.

    I don't think a saw is just for solo-ists -- it's for anyone, solo or not, who enjoys venturing out into full-depth snow conditions, especially off trail.

    Alex
    This is the exact saw I was going to get but it has very poor reviews online. Sounds pretty flimsy. Is this literally the model you use or just the type of saw? Was looking for a specific brand recommendation based on actual use. I know it's not an expensive item but the day I'm hopelessly stuck and pull my saw out and it snaps on the first stroke it'll be a real bummer.

    I guess a double tooth blade is better for larger branches and branches with a lot of sap and a straight blade with an angled handle works best. These seem to be larger saws than would be practical to carry though, especially in a pocket for quick access. No idea. I guess durability would be my biggest concern. In a safety issue I don't want to be wondering how long (or if) the saw will hold up.

    And as far as an actual knife which was mentioned, the knife is generally much heavier and from what I had read in the previous thread from a year or two ago the serrated edges on most knives did not do well for this task. It seemed like the "consensus" recommendation was a small foldable pruning saw to carry in a pocket for quick access.
    NH 48 4k: 48/48; NH W48k: 48/48; ME 4k: 2/14; VT 4k: 1/5; NY 46: 6/46

  13. #13
    Senior Member alexmtn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DayTrip View Post
    This is the exact saw I was going to get but it has very poor reviews online. Sounds pretty flimsy. Is this literally the model you use or just the type of saw? Was looking for a specific brand recommendation based on actual use.
    Yes, it's the exact saw that I have. It is vulnerable to a particular type of misuse. Its structural integrity (long-term and short-term) depends on proper operation of the tightening screw. You need to remember to loosen it when flipping out the blade jackknife-style, wait for it to click into position, and then fully tighten the screw before using. Then, to fold the saw back up, loosen the screw, push the release button, flip the blade back into the handle, and tighten the screw. If you mess op on the sequence, you'll damage the handle and/or weaken it such that it's subject to breakage on use of the saw. I'm pretty sure the one-star folks are guilty of the above.

    There are actually two handle styles of this Gerber saw: this one, which operates jackknife-style and comes with a second blade, and another model where the blade actually slides/telescopes out of the handle rather than flipping jackknife-style. The latter doesn't have the 2nd blade and is less expensive. The blade in this model looks physically identical to the 'coarse' blade of the 'change-a-blade' model. I own both models (I thought I'd lost my telescoping one, could only find the change-a-blade so bought it, then found the original one), and find them both to be just as sturdy as you'd expect them to be given how they look and feel. FWIW, the aforementioned West Field honors were taken by the telescoping model.

    Apart from their vulnerability to the human error described above, I would totally stand behind either model. They could go to a metal handle to eradicate the vulnerability, but that would defeat the current weight advantage. I'm happy with the tradeoff, and in general, I've found Gerber stuff to be solid and functional.

    Alex
    Last edited by alexmtn; 01-05-2016 at 02:44 PM.

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    Senior Member weatherman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikehikeskifish View Post
    I have fallen into spruce traps on Carter Dome and on the Engine Hill Bushwhack en route to Isolation.

    Tim
    My experience in New England has been mainly ridges at or just below treeline. Carter Dome/Mt Hight, Flume-Liberty-Osseo, and a maddening sequence on the Webster-Jackson trail that found my brother and me in adjacent spruce traps at the same time and took a good half hour to get out of, once we stopped laughing. Here out West the issue is deep tree wells on skis... give them a WIDE (>20 ft) berth.
    --would rather be hiking than typing.

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alexmtn View Post
    Yes, it's the exact saw that I have. It is vulnerable to a particular type of misuse. Its structural integrity (long-term and short-term) depends on proper operation of the tightening screw. You need to remember to loosen it when flipping out the blade jackknife-style, wait for it to click into position, and then fully tighten the screw before using. Then, to fold the saw back up, loosen the screw, push the release button, flip the blade back into the handle, and tighten the screw. If you mess op on the sequence, you'll damage the handle and/or weaken it such that it's subject to breakage on use of the saw. I'm pretty sure the one-star folks are guilty of the above.

    There are actually two handle styles of this Gerber saw: this one, which operates jackknife-style and comes with a second blade, and another model where the blade actually slides/telescopes out of the handle rather than flipping jackknife-style. The latter doesn't have the 2nd blade and is less expensive. The blade in this model looks physically identical to the 'coarse' blade of the 'change-a-blade' model. I own both models (I thought I'd lost my telescoping one, could only find the change-a-blade so bought it, then found the original one), and find them both to be just as sturdy as you'd expect them to be given how they look and feel. FWIW, the aforementioned West Field honors were taken by the telescoping model.

    Apart from their vulnerability to the human error described above, I would totally stand behind either model. They could go to a metal handle to eradicate the vulnerability, but that would defeat the current weight advantage. I'm happy with the tradeoff, and in general, I've found Gerber stuff to be solid and functional.

    Alex
    Thanks for that clarification. The negative reviews did revolve mostly around the handle breaking so no doubt you're spot on with that comment. I too have been generally pleased with Gerber products so I was somewhat surprised. I usually take online reviews with a grain of salt but the volume of negative posts had me wondering. Thanks again.
    NH 48 4k: 48/48; NH W48k: 48/48; ME 4k: 2/14; VT 4k: 1/5; NY 46: 6/46

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