“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there -- on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
-- Carl Sagan (1934-1996)
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Trail conditions can occasionally be slippery -- during and after rain, after autumn leaves fall, after it snows, and whenever temps are below freezing and ice forms.
Most winters there are times when the ground is bare and completely free of snow and ice. At other times we’re hiking in snow and may encounter patches of ice.
When there’s MAJOR ice on the trails, especially after freezing rain or an “ice storm” (such events are thankfully pretty rare around here), it’s sometimes best to stay home. At such times our hikes may be cancelled.
But we can usually hike most weekends without a problem. If lots of snow materializes, trips are usually changed to snowshoe hikes or cross-country ski trips.
While snow on the trails is sometimes slippery, at other times there can be a crunchy crust that offers great traction. Ice, of course, is potentially hazardous. It’s common to come across small patches of ice that are usually easy to get around.
Some winters during the past couple of decades we’ve had recurring warm spells, leaving the ground bare and conditions for hiking similar to those in spring or fall.
Fortunately we now have some relatively new equipment options to deal with slippery conditions, when they do occur -- namely so-called “traction devices.”
Several companies are making these devices, which currently sell for $20-70, with names like Microspikes, Stabilicers, and Yaktrax. The ones with small “teeth” work best (they’re much smaller than the long spikes of old-style “crampons”).
Lately they’ve become popular among many hikers. A number of our “regulars” (and I) bought and tried them out for the first time several years ago.
Based on our experiences, they do provide superb traction. They’re available at REI and other stores that sell hiking gear. In our “trail tests,” Microspikes received the highest ratings and Yaktrax, which sometimes broke, received the lowest.
These traction devices are reasonably lightweight (well under a pound), can be carried in one’s pack on any hike, and can be put on or taken off in less than a minute – they stretch across the bottom of your hiking boots.
Lately I’ve come to believe that traction devices should be considered “must-have” gear for winter hiking, since they make hiking in snow or on ice so much safer.
If you expect to hike with us from December through March – and don’t already own them – I’d recommend purchasing a pair right now or this month. You may be able to find them on sale before the snow season arrives. When in doubt, carry them in your pack when it’s cold and there’s a chance of ice or snow on the trails.
Sometimes during a winter hike on bare ground we suddenly encounter “serious” ice or snow, especially at higher elevations, at which time we “put on our spikes.”
Be sure to avoid the inexpensive ones that either have tiny spikes or coils on the bottom. The best products have 1/4 inch spikes that grip ice or snow beautifully.
In fact, it’s almost impossible to slip in snow or on ice while wearing them, and your footing will feel a lot safer and more secure whenever conditions are slippery.
You’ll also find them useful in getting around safely in your neighborhood after a snowstorm or ice storm, or anytime there’s ice or snow on the sidewalk. They work best when attached to hiking boots with stiff soles, not street shoes.
-- Charlie Cook