Summit Magazine, 1970-79
The author (presumedly the same Chris Jones who wrote Climbing
in North America in 1976) expresses his concerns about the
effects of promotion and unchecked growth on the mountaineering
experience: "In countless ways we are learning that continual
growth, the American Dream, is turning against us. [...] Should
not we, as climbers, take a hard look at where we are going, and
where the promoters could push us? What are the implications in
ten years, in fifty? Will our children have unknown mountains
nearby, or will they all be minutely detailed? [...] Are we the
instruments of our own destruction?"
Early rumblings of the Nordic vs. Alpine debate are heard in an
exchange of letters about a story in the Jan/Feb 1970 issue. In
the April 1970 issue (p. 38) Pete Thompson writes that "Nordic
cross-country skis ARE eminently suitable for alpine touring." He
extolls their light weight, easy waxing and simple bindings,
adding, "Who is skiing the crud so hard two days from the road
that he needs release bindings and unbreakable skis?" In her
letter, Barbara Lilley of the Sierra Club Ski Mountaineering
Section defends alpine touring gear for safety and effectiveness
in mountainous terrain.
The author now feels that the binding hinge should be only
one-quarter of the way from the tip of the snowshoe to the
tail to reduce snow piling up on the front of the snowshoe.
This causes the toes to sink deeper on the descent, but since
descending is generally so much easier than ascending, the uphill
advantage outweighs the downhill disadvantage. With a short toe,
one can kick steps straight up a steep pitch.
For traction, it has been typical in the past to attach an
aluminum angle under the front wood crosspiece. Another method
is to attach a "T" angle to the webbing under the ball of the
foot. A third, more elaborate method is to replace some of the
webbing with a metal hinge and rivet the "T" traction bar to the
binding, which is attached to the hinge. The Bombardier Company,
maker of Ski Doo snowmobiles, now sells a small aluminum frame
snowshoe ("Snow Trak") which uses a single piece of epoxy-coated
rawhide laced to the frames rather than laced webbing. Sportsmen
Products has developed a plastic snowshoe ("Snow Tread") which is
almost as light as the "Snow Trak" but a little too small.
The author discusses avalanche safety and observes that there
is no sport of snowshoeing as there is a sport of skiing.
"Skiers slide down the same hill again and again because they
enjoy doing it. Snowshoers snowshoe to get some place or see
something, but not because they enjoy walking with snowshoes
strapped to their feet."
"A lightweight transmitter-receiver small enough to carry in your
pocket has been developed as a safety device for those traveling
in avalanche territory. Every member of a party carries one of
the transmitter-receivers switched to transmit. If someone is
buried the servivors switch their units to receive and start to
search immediately. Numerous field test show that with a little
practice a searcher can find a buried transmitter in less than
ten minutes." The units are called "Skadi" and are available from
Lawtronics of Buffalo, NY.
This article describes an 11-day horseshoe traverse on foot in
summer around the headwaters of Goodell Creek from Pinnacle Peak
(The Chopping Block) to Picket Pass, Jasper Pass, Mt Despair and
Thornton Lakes. The party included Joan and Carla Firey, Dave
Knudson and the author and they made the first ascent of Ghost
Peak during the trip. The date is not specified.
The main difference between touring in the Alps and in North
America is the presence of high alpine huts in Europe. Nordic
cross-country skis are unsuitable and are not used for high,
steep, alpine slopes and tours. The author uses laced boots with
Vibram soles, cable bindings with Marker toe pieces and hinged
"Kandahar" style toe irons that can be flipped up for climbing.
He writes, "There are now some bindings on the market, Luster and
Vinersa, which allow the sole to be raised for climbing." (I
think he means that these bindings have a built-in hinge, rather
than requiring the boot sole to flex or rock forward in the toe
From August 8-15, 1970, Monty Lennox, Kent Heathershaw, Bob
Yekel, Norm Reed, Paul Hartl and the author traversed on foot
from Cascade Pass to Rainy Pass, climbing Sahale, Buckner,
Booker, Storm King, Logan and Black and attempting Goode. The
trip was inspired by the impending opening of the North Cascades
highway and the idea of complementing the well-known Ptarmigan
Traverse with a similar route to the northeast. The party
applied the name "Spectacular Ridge" to the divide between Fisher
Pass and Mt Arriva. Near the end of their trip, "We observed
with a grimace the ugly scar of the North Cascades Highway, and
realized that soon this area will be a hub of civilization."
The old Marker ski touring binding used special plates which had
to be bent exactly to the shape of the touring boot and clamped
onto the side of the skis. These plates could easily be lost.
In the new Marker Rotomat TR binding, the boot is held by bars
from the heel plate and pressure is tranferred to the toe piece,
permitting the heel to rise while still giving good lateral
support. Both forward and side release are available in the
locked downhill position.
On page 33 is an advertisement for Sherpa snowshoe and
mountaineering equipment. The ad offers snowshoe bindings,
traction bars and ice ax baskets. Complete snowshoes are not yet
available from Sherpa.
In this letter, Beckey responds to Karl Duff's December 1971
article in which Duff wrote that tramways would have little
impact on the huge North Cascade wilderness. Beckey writes: "It
is entirely unrealistic to pretend that the incursion will end at
tramways. Atop the 'mountain' there is a need-demand for shelter
and a restaurant, then as the masses arrive, a need for expansion
and greater facilities. The pressures, socially and politically,
will mount for springboards (trails, etc.) into the wilderness
"One of the more recent innovations in cross-country skis is the
'fish scale' bottom" manufactured by Kaestle Ski Co. in Germany
and distributed by Trak, Inc. of Massachusetts.
Over seven days during July 1969, the author and Bob Wilson made
the first high-level traverse on foot of the Illabot Range from
Green Mountain to Snowking, exiting via Found Lakes to the
Cascade River. This area lies west of the Ptarmigan Traverse and
they envisioned an Illabot Traverse to parallel it. During this
trip they proposed the name Margaret Sanger (after the founder of
Planned Parenthood) for the summit now known as Misch (after
Cascade geologist Peter Misch). The party climbed Misch,
Buckindy, Mutchler and Snowking and began applying names from
J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings to features in the
vicinity. The article describes two other trips, in 1969 and
1972, in which the pair, with Dean Wilson, returned to climb and
name other towers in the area.
The Trak Bushwhacker is a 150 cm ski half again as wide as a
normal ski with a fish-scale base and no edges. Ordinary skis
for downhill or cross-country skiing are 190-205 cm at this time.
The reviewer found Bushwackers to have about the same floatation
as ordinary skis, more maneuverability, but less stability.
Bushwackers climb well but do not glide as well as a waxed ski.
Commenting on a recent article by Galen Rowell about a five-day
Sierra ski crossing on alpine touring gear, Jon Wennevold notes
that in 1966 two Norwegians on light nordic skis traveled
approximately 60 miles from Mammoth to Yosemite in one long day.
He writes for many Norwegian skiers, a 60-mile ski trip would be
considered an easy two-day trip. In the March 1974 issue (p.31)
Rowell responds (with some heat) that his was a guided trip with
people of limited experience, that it crossed high passes, and
was not competitive in any way. He concludes, "I heartily
recommend Nordic gear for most one-day trips and for experienced
tourers who know what they are doing, but not for multi-day
guided tours away from roads, in high mountains and changeable
Avalanche victims have a 20% chance of death from the impact of
the avalanche. Once buried, a victim's chance of survival is
halved with each passing hour. At the time of this writing, the
conventional aid for rescue by party members is an avalanche
cord, 25m of light rope fixed to the body and trailed. Newly
developed radio transmitter-receiver systems (Authophon, Skilok,
Pieps and Skadi) can achieve a survival rate above 70% compared
with the average of 30%. "Within a few years, no mountaineering
party will set out without Bleeps in the same way as sailors wear
life jackets, motorcyclists or riders don helmets and flyers use
Skadi was the first avalanche rescue transceiver to be used in
regular ski patrol operations and it has already saved several
lives in actual avalanche accidents. Currently, several
different frequencies are used by different manufacturers and
they are not compatible. Skadi (USA) and Pieps (Austria) both
use 2275 Hz, which has been endorsed by the USFS and IKAR as an
international standard. Skilok (British), Autophon (Swiss) and
Lawinenspecht (Yugoslavia) all operate on different, higher
frequencies. In ski patrol tests during the past winter, a
ten-minute search time was considered as passing. The Swiss have
estimated that one Skadi equipped rescuer can search as fast as
490 men with probe poles.
Commenting on the 1974 exchange of letters between Jon Wennevold
and Galen Rowell, Vaclav Benes writes, "It is unfortunate that
nationalistic technological chauvinism persists in pitting Nordic
vs. Alpine, and that it is exacerbated by some of the experts
themselves. I have been told by guides in the Canadian Rockies
that Nordic gear 'has no place in the mountains.' [...] Clearly,
it is more important to consider who is to use what gear in what
conditions and terrain, how experienced the person is, and what
is his 'taste' in skis, pace, and route, than to tout one choice
for all situations. Against this, it is obvious that use of
Nordic gear by some party members and Alpine by others can be
very divisive, socially as well as geographically!"
"Many winter climbers are realizing the benefits of climbing with
skis, savings of time and energy." The author describes skis,
bindings and poles for mountaineering. Traditional cable
bindings and newer plate bindings are described generally, but no
manufacturers are named. "Ski mountaineering bindings are used
with technical mountaineering boots. This frees the climber from
the need to carry two pairs of boots, one for skiing and one for
climbing." Variable length aluminum poles are new, available from
at least one manufacturer.
An ad in the Oct-Nov 1977 issue (p.30) describes "Bearpads,"
steel plates, about half the length of the boot, which can be
added to the Silvretta Saas-Fee binding for improved lateral
stability. There is a photo of the Saas-Fee with Bearpads
installed. In the Feb-Mar 1978 issue (p.45) a letter from P.K.
Edwards points out that in touring mode cable bindings permit the
boot to flex at the toe, "resulting in a stronger, more natural,
and less tiring 'kick'" than with plate bindings. This is true
even when Bearpad plates (which are not full length) are
incorporated into the cable setup.
This excerpt from the 1978 Canadian Alpine Journal
describes three great Canadian high-level ski tours done in the
last ten years: Jasper to Lake Louise, Rogers Pass to the
Bugaboos, and Mica Creek to Rogers Pass. On these trips, the
skiers used wooden cross-country skis with heavier touring boots
and standard Kandahar cable bindings. For fast travel, they
prefered wax rather than climbing skins.
In 1957, the author was a member of third party to travel the
Ptarmigan Traverse. In 1978 he repeated the trip with his wife
Pat to see the country again and find out why it had become so
famous. They passed six other parties on their trip, most of
them from out-of-state. While there was now a well-defined trail
the whole distance and campsites were overused, they found no
litter on the route and saw more wildlife than before. In 1957,
the author considered five people a minimum for safe travel in
such a remote wilderness. In 1978, with so many others around,
he felt confident with just two. He discusses books and magazine
articles, including his own, that contributed to the route's
fame. "This is the dilemma: Conservationists must publicize an
area to get enough national interest to create a park or
wilderness, but by creating the interest, they bring the area to
the attention of many more users."
Copyright © 2004 Lowell Skoog. All Rights Reserved.
Mon Jun 14 14:51:08 PST 2004