It is easy to overlook this fact during our current heat wave, but as the Starks on “Game of Thrones” are so fond of saying, “Winter is coming.”
This being my 36th winter in Idyllwild, I have learned a few things about making it through the cold months.
First let us take a look at what you need to do to be safe in town and out on the trails in winter. Whether you are out on the trails or walking on an icy stairway or driveway the rules are the same. You will need protection.
When the trails are frozen and town is covered in black ice, you need something to keep you in the full upright position. The progression from walking around town to mountaineering goes like this — Yaktrax, microspikes, instep crampons, ultralight aluminum crampons, strap on hybrid and step-in crampons.
Yaktrax are flexible rubber with coiled metal “springs” along the bottom that you stretch over the sole of your shoes. They come in sizes so they fit almost any boot or shoe. They are great for walking around town and for light snow conditions. They do not do well on steep terrain. You can wear them indoors and while driving so they are perfect protection for around town. I would recommend the Pro model with the Velcro strap over the toe which secures them to the shoe.
Microspikes and the newer Extreme Yaktrax model are more aggressive than the Yaktrax Pro. Both have metal spikes so they are good on the road or for lighter snow and ice days on the trail. Unless you are planning to go up to the peaks in winter or the snow is over a foot deep, either of these make good choices. They are also much more durable than the Yaktrax Pro.
Instep crampons used to be the lightweight “go to” item back when everyone wore heavy boots. They have four heavy spikes and some models used the most confusing strapping method ever invented. It took me almost a year before I was able to put them on for the customers at the shop without fumbling around for half an hour. They do however work with heavy boots and they are relatively inexpensive when you want something for trail use only.
For heavier use, full crampons with 10 or 12 points are the ticket for winter hiking and mountaineering. Some of the lighter aluminum crampons will work for local mountains, but be advised that they are not as sharp as steel crampons and they can not be sharpened.
In very icy conditions you will want steel. Strapon crampons are only held on by straps so they are the least secure and are more for hiking.
The hybrids strap on the toe of your boot and clip onto the heel and the step-in crampons are designed for boots that have a groove in the toe and heel so that they are held on both ends with metal and straps as well. Hybrids are an excellent choice for winter use in our mountains.
If you are going to San Jacinto Peak in the dead of winter or are planning on doing higher elevation mountaineering, you will want the extra security of the step-in model.