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Lakes, creeks and streams present significant hazards to the winter backcountry traveler and mountaineer.
Creeks and streams that present little risk to the summer traveler can be death traps to the thoughtless winter hiker, snowshoer, Nordic skier or to the mountaineer intent on the perceived risks of an icy summit. Personally, I have a horror of slipping into a fast moving icy steam and being pulled under into a tunnel of ice and snow as I gasp for my final breath. Stream crossings can present steep unconsolidated snow and icy banks leading to slick ice covered stones used for summer crossings where wet feet are just an inconvenience and a fall into the water can be invigorating on a summer day rather than life threatening to winter-layered travelers.
Presented with a crossing made dangerous by a recent rain storm or melt off from a sun struck day, wait until morning when the run off has subsided or the snow has ceased to melt. Look for a shallow section used by horses in the summer or find a narrow spot where you can rock climb across. If you and your companions choose to cross a knee high run off, use a rope angled across downstream after the "lead" has made the opposite bank. (If the rope is straight across, it will stretch and form a V, trapping one in mid stream.)
Frozen lakes can present an easy way to travel, avoiding steep and deep unconsolidated snow along the shore line. I can recall leading BMTC groups for several winters across a frozen lake in the Sierras. We leaders had done our homework and phoned for local knowledge from the USFS Rangers. They estimated the ice to be four to five inches thick but advised us to avoid the danger and change our plans. Four to five inches of ice was good enough for us! However, we stayed close to the shore line of the shallow lake as the ice creaked and groaned and snapped and popped under our snowshoes. We had our ropes avaiable and everyone was prepared for disaster. No one wanted to thrash around the deep shore-line snow to get to the end of the lake.
Obtaining water from streams and lakes can be hazardous to your health. Cooking snow to obtain water is entertaining and allows one to demonstrate his or her advanced gear and technique but dipping water from a stream or lake side is more efficient. Again, the banks can be steep and treacherous. One slip and you can be pulled under the ice tunnel and gone until Spring or find it impossible to climb out. Always have a buddy help you dip the water from the source. Have a rope handy, or actually tie in with a bowline-on-a-coil and ask the belayer to use a sitting hip belay up on the bank. I have used clever techniques such as dipping a pan on a cord attached to a hiking pole or a (long traditional mountaineering) ice axe. A Platipus or Nalgene wide mouthed water bag can be dipped provide it has a little water in the bottom to sink the big two ounce plastic bag. Avoid getting your warmest gloves wet. Avoid slipping into the water and getting your boot and sock wet. Visualize the risks and mitigate them.
Webmeister's Note: Watch for another FAQ from me on turning snow to water. There is more to it than you might have thought! --Webmeister Speik
Wife's Note: In the mid 1980s, Robert Speik was Chair for three years of the Mountaineering Training Committee (MTC) of the Sierra Club's large Angeles Chapter in Southern California. The Committee was responsible for the training up to 1,000 people per year in Basic and Advanced Mountaineering Training with more than 250 volunteer Leaders in five geographical areas, qualified in several levels of technical competence and responsibility. Bob Speik edited a new MTC Staff Handbook in 1985, writing the chapter on technical Snow Climbing. Recently, he has conducted popular class room and field classes in several mountaineering subjects for Central Oregon Community College in Bend Oregon. --Margaret Thompson Speik
Read more . . .
Watch this short video on how to get yourself out of COLD water
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland - Water hazards in the mountains
Solo hiker drowns while crossing the Sandy River
About Alpine Mountaineering:
The Sport of Alpine Mountaineering
Following the Leader
The Mountaineers' Rope
The Ten Essentials
FAQ RELATED, WINTER
South sister spring overnight snow climb, gear and skills
An emergency snow cave in the fall 2003
NOAA Windchill Chart pdf
Photos of the melted snow pack near Mt Bachelor
Snowmachines used as a tool in traditional mountaineering
Contents of a winter summit pack
Crampons for traditional mountaineering
A map of some known avalanche slopes near Bend
Panty liners are not just for chicks! ;-)
Lute Jerstad conducting a traditional crevasse rescue class in 1973
ODFW clinic - Becoming an Outdoors Woman
ON SNOW AND ICE
How long is the traditional alpine mountaineering ice axe?
What about climbing Mt. Hood?
What is a good personal description of the south side route on Mount Hood?
What should I know about travel over hard snow and ice?
How can I learn to self belay and ice axe arrest? 6 pdf pages
What should I know about snow caves?
What should I know about climbing Aconcagua?
What is the best traditional alpine mountaineering summit pack?
What is the best belay | rappel | autoblock device for traditional alpine mountaineering?
What gear do you normally rack on your traditional alpine mountaineering harness? Photos?
What is the best traditional alpine mountaineering seat harness? Photos?
Can I use a Sharpie Pen for Marking the Middle of the Climbing Rope?
What are the highest peaks in Oregon? Alphabetically?
CARBORATION AND HYDRATION
What's wrong with GORP? Answers to the quiz!
Why do I need to count carbohydrate calories?
What should I know about having a big freeze-dried dinner?
What about carbo-ration and fluid replacement during traditional alpine climbing? 4 pages in pdf
What should I eat before a long day of alpine climbing?