Snowshoes are fantastic accessories for the mountains: They provide welcome assistance to climbers navigating their way to technical routes and could be the only footwear necessary for general, non-technical mountaineering in the rolling high country. In this article, we’ll break down some of the benefits snowshoes provide for mountaineers, the best situations to use them, and a few safety considerations.
Advantages of Snowshoes in Mountaineering
For many mountaintops, snowshoes aren’t suited for the actual summiting work. But they are hugely handy for reaching the start of the technical routes when you might be switching over to crampons, ice axes, and rope. For winter mountaineering, in particular, approaches to the summit may involve miles and miles of snowy, lower-elevation terrain: the kind of drifted-over landscapes that backcountry snowshoes excel in.
Touring skis can be used in many cases, but they have their limitations and drawbacks. Snowshoes give you more versatility, providing an efficient way to traverse heavy brush fields, rocky rubble or blockfields, tight and deeply snowed-in gullies, and other kinds of terrain where skis become awkward or impossible to use. Furthermore, with snowshoes, you can simply wear your mountaineering boots, eliminating the need to bring another pair of specialized kicks for the approach. Finally, snowshoes are easier to use than skis, making them a more accessible option for climbers who don’t trust their skiing expertise in backcountry situations.
Snowshoeing to your climbing route reduces your exertion, saving you energy for the greater challenge of the ultimate climb itself. Designed to float atop heavy snowdrifts and—with a suitable traction device incorporated, as our Crescent Moon foam snowshoes have—bite into more crusted or steeper-lying snow. Our foam snowshoes give you the flexibility to choose more routes coming up or coming down, providing the best all-around kind of footwear for general snowscapes as compared to your more specialized crampons or skis. And given how lightweight foam snowshoes can be, they’re easy to store in or outside your pack for stretches of the route where you don’t need them on.
Climbing in Snowshoes
The crampon-like traction elements of our Crescent Moon snowshoes enhance your purchase on snowy slopes, whether you’re side-hilling, climbing, or descending. Mounting a slope, point your snowshoe toes out to give you the securest footholds.
A must-have for mountaineering is our Snowshoe Heel Lift, a removable aid that gives your heel an elevated platform to lessen the strain of climbing on your calf muscles and to boost your traction.
Adjustable trekking poles are also handy in rugged terrain. Shorten them for climbs, lengthen them for descents. In some situations—especially on steep slopes or icier mountainsides—you may opt to use your ice ax while snowshoeing.
Snowshoe Climbing Aids
We’ve already mentioned the obvious: If you’re using snowshoes to access a genuine mountain-climbing route, you’ll also have crampons, ice ax, helmet, rope, and other technical gear on hand. But even if your snowshoeing mountaineering is non-technical—simply trekking along ridges and slopes in the high country or “bagging” gentle summits—you need to be prepared for avalanches. Pack an avalanche probe, a beacon/transceiver, and a snow shovel, which—besides serving as a must-have aid for creating an emergency snow shelter—can be used to both test the snowpack to gauge avalanche risk and uncover buried victims.
Snowshoe Mountaineering: Enjoying the High Country on a Pair of Crescent Moon Snowshoes
Getting up into the subalpine and alpine zones during winter and spring—whether to ultimately rope up for a summit attempt or just to savor the top-of-the-world atmosphere—is made that much easier and more pleasant with the right pair of snowshoes. With their lightweight design, robust traction, and heel-lift option, Crescent Moon snowshoes can be your best friends on a hearty mountain ramble!