Crossing Snow and Ice on a Hiking Trip

Snow and ice are as hazardous as fast flowing water. Mountain hikers encounter snow and ice all the time, even in summer, but they’re most troublesome in late spring and early summer when they’re extremely slippery.


Since snow lingers in the same places every year, hiking trails generally avoid such obstacles. This doesn’t mean that hiking trails are always free late-lying snow. This is especially true on north-facing slopes.

You may need to take a detour when the snowfield lies on steeply pitched slopes where crossing them is too dangerous because the risk of falling is high. Try not to get too far away from the trail to avoid getting lost.

The Effect of Rocks on Snow

Rocks covered by snow is known to absorb heat in the spring. This makes the snow nearby to melt faster than in other areas.

The soft snow may not be strong enough to handle your weight and hence increases the risk of injuring yourself on the rocks underneath.

Try to avoid paths with rocky terrain and use trekking poles to test the snow. If you are in group, walk in a single file.

Sun Cups

During the day, the sun heats up the snow and in most cases it melt unevenly, causing depressions in the snow making it soft. These sun cups vary in size and could be as big as a bathtub.

Hiking large snowfields early in the day is best because sun cups grow and soften as the day goes by. It gets so bad later in the day that you are likely to sink as deep as your hips by late afternoon.

Climbing Snow

Walking on snow is not as straightforward as hiking in the dry summer. Your route is more or less determined by the conditions. To climb up a snowy mountain safely you may need to create a zigzag route. You can also climb straight up if it’s an easier option.

To climb safely in snow, kick into the snow until you have a solid step for you to stand on one foot. Test your weight before climbing on to the next step. Repeat the process until you reach your destination.

If the snow is deep, going uphill will be harder and more time consuming. It will take you at least twice as much time than it would normally take climbing uphill without snow.

Boot Skiing, Glissading, Snowshoeing and Backcountry Skiing

Boot skiing is one of the fun ways to descend down a steep snow slope. It involves sliding while hopping from foot to foot to maintain balance.

Glissading is when you sit down and slide using an ice axe for traction and braking. In deep snow, to spread your weight over a large area so that you walk on top of the snow instead of in it, you use a snowshoe or ski. Skiing with a heavy pack may be difficult for beginners.

Frozen Water

Crossing frozen water may be more hazardous than crossing snow. A thick layer of snow may cover only a thin layer of frozen stream, lake or river.

Use a trekking pole to test the surface of ice. An ice axe would probably be a better option though.

If you see footsteps don’t rely on them for a safe route. These footsteps may be days old and the same route may no longer be safe.

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Article Source: Crossing Snow and Ice on a Hiking Trip