Hiking in Glacier National Park: Traction for Snowfields

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While hiking in Glacier National Park, you may encounter trails that are partially (or completely) covered in snow. This is especially true for hiking in Glacier Park early in the season, which is the entire month of June through early August. Depending on the amount of snow that has fallen during the winter and spring, some Glacier Park Trails along the Continental Divide may even have snow hazards that linger through most of August. Encountering snow on Trails in Glacier National Park is a fairly common occurrence, and Shannon and I have found that by using some basic traction devices on our hiking boots while crossing certain snowfields really make our Glacier Park hiking experiences much more pleasant and enjoyable.

These traction devices are placed on your hiking boots when you need them. They are light weight, don’t take up much room in your pack, and are super-easy to put on. We are presently using the YakTrax brand for our Glacier National Park Hikes, but there are several other very high quality companies out there with similar products. Another nice feature of these traction devices is the fact that there are no sharp teeth that could rip your pack. There is nothing sharp on these devices.

When do we use them? Whenever we have to cross a snowfield that is on a slope, or when the snow is really icy and slick. We simply take a few minutes, slide the traction devices on, cross the snowfield, take them off, and we are once again on our way.

These traction devices are especially useful early in the morning, when the soft wet snow of the previous day freezes during the night, and the snowfield actually becomes a rock hard “icefield” until the warmth of the day once again softens the snow. Without traction devices, these early morning crossings can be quite difficult.

Another piece of equipment we always have with us while hiking in Glacier National Park, especially when we are crossing a snowfield that is on a slope, is trekking poles. Trekking poles give you far more stability and balance as you are crossing these snowfields, and we highly recommend them.

WARNING: Crossing a snowfield can be extremely dangerous, especially if you are attempting to cross a snowfield that is on a steep grade. If a hiker slips, he or she can instantly begin sliding down the slope uncontrollably, and serious injuries and even death can occur. Therefore, the only hikers that should cross a steep snowfield are those who are experienced in self-arrest with a mountain axe (a.k.a. ice axe). If you are not experienced with a mountain axe and are not experienced in self-arrest techniques, DO NOT ATTEMPT to cross a steeply sloped snowfield. This is one of the most dangerous situations you could ever encounter while hiking in Glacier National Park. One slip and you could be seriously injured or killed.

In summary, snowfields are a fairly common occurrence while hiking in Glacier National Park, especially early in the season or following a winter of heavy snowfall. Traction devices such as YakTrax give you far better traction, and combined with trekking poles, crossing these snowfields will be far safer and much more enjoyable. Put these traction devices in your day pack, and have them ready if you are heading out on any of the Glacier Park Hikes that potentially could have snowfields. (By the way, ask a ranger or stop by a ranger station to learn the status of the trail conditions before you head out.) But remember, if the snowfield is on a steep slope where one slip could send you flying down the mountain, DO NOT ATTEMPT this obstacle unless you are highly skilled with a mountain axe, and you are an expert in self-arrest techniques.

For more information on Glacier National Park, click here.

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Hiking Tip For Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton Park: Watch Out For UV Rays

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Hiking Tip: Watch Out For UV Rays
While enjoying Glacier Park Hikes, Yellowstone Park Hikes and Grand Teton Hikes, or anywhere else for that matter, please keep in mind that the higher you are in elevation, the higher the concentration of UV rays there are. After hiking and climbing mountains our entire lives, lately we’ve become extremely aware of sun exposure and skin cancer, as both Shannon and I have been diagnosed with skin cancer within the last few years. Thankfully our skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma and melanoma) were caught early and everything is fine. But because of this unwelcome chapter in our lives, we have completely changed the way we spend time in the sun, and we want to share what we’ve learned with you….

What We Used To Do….
We used to love to wear shorts, short sleeved shirts and a baseball cap while embarking on our Glacier Park Hikes, Yellowstone Park Hikes and Grand Teton Hikes. We would try to use sunscreen the best we could, but to be honest with you we only applied it to our exposed areas once, maybe twice a day, and once we tanned, we would apply less and less as the summer progressed. We always told ourselves that if we weren’t experiencing sunburns that everything was fine.

When mountain climbing in Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton National Park, we always wore climbing pants and long sleeved shirts, but our faces were usually always exposed because we’d only have a baseball cap on or a helmet. Our hands were also always exposed unless we were wearing climbing gloves.

Between climbs and hikes we always wore shorts and flip-flops, and short sleeved T-shirts, and by the end of the summer our legs and feet would be a dark brown, with a white flip-flop tan-line blazed across each of our feet.

Here’s the problem with what we were doing: Tanning of skin means the skin cells are being damaged, and the chance of developing skin cancer increases significantly for both basal cell carcinoma and melanoma. Of course sunburns also dramatically increase the chances of developing skin cancer, but tanning has been found to be just as harmful.

We love the sun and we love to take in the sun’s rays… we always have. After all, that’s part of being in the great outdoors… but after our brush with skin cancer, everything has changed…. our dermatologists told Shannon and I that they never want to see a tan-line on our bodies ever again (including our feet), and we are doing our best to comply with their wishes….

What We Are Doing Now….
While enjoying our Glacier Park Hikes, Yellowstone Park Hikes and Grand Teton Hikes, or enjoying our down-time hanging out in the great outdoors, we now NEVER allow our skin to tan… even if we’ve been in the outdoors for 3 solid months at a time (which we are every summer). We now wear long pants, long sleeved shirts, and hats that either have a huge brim all the way around, or a baseball cap style hat that has a cloth that is attached to the cap that wraps around it, blocking the sun’s rays. We also wear ultra-thin gloves.

In addition to all this, we still apply sunscreen on our face and neck, because no matter what hat we’re wearing, there are times that the sun’s rays will directly hit our skin. And we don’t apply it just once for the day… we apply the sunscreen every 2 hours throughout our hikes and climbs.

While in between climbs and Hikes in Glacier Park, Hikes in Yellowstone Park and Hikes in Grand Teton National Park, we still keep our skin covered with clothing, except for our hands, which we keep covered with sunscreen, and we wear large brimmed hats (with sunscreen on our face and neck).

We now have no tan-lines or any areas of tan skin, even though we are literally in the sun for 3 solid months each summer, not to mention the 3 months in the spring while we are photographing bears and other wildlife in Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton National Park.

We get asked this question a lot. But our new attire really isn’t bad at all… we wear ultra-thin polyester clothing that wicks away moisture, allowing us to stay quite dry, cool and comfortable. There is such an awareness of skin cancer these days that many of the top outdoor clothing companies are really coming up with products to fill this new market. Marmot, Patagonia, North Face, Cloudveil, Mountain Hardware, OR, Columbia, Arc Teryx, Royal Robbins, Simms, and many of the other great outdoor clothing companies all make incredible clothes that protect the skin from direct sun exposure.

When we hear comments like, “I look better tan!”, or “I get too hot if I’m in long sleeves and pants!” or “Those large brimmed hats look dorky”, we try to remind them that these things are not worth dying for.

And by the way, dermatological research has found that if a person’s hands are exposed to the sun for 20 minutes a day, that is enough exposure for sufficient Vitamin D production… so that takes care of that excuse as well.

Also, another important note we need to mention is the fact that much of adult’s skin cancer is a result of what they did to their skin when they were children.  If you sun burned as a child, this has been shown to come back and haunt you in your 40’s and 50’s.  This is really important to keep this in mind as you go hiking with your children!  And there is no question, no matter what age you are, extended UV exposure is definitely harmful to the skin, and skin cancer can be the result.

So take it from two people that love life and love the outdoors, and who both had a scare with skin cancer: Cover your skin while in the great outdoors, no matter what activity you’re participating in. Whether you’re enjoying Glacier Park Hikes, Yellowstone Park Hikes, Grand Teton Hikes, or the many other incredible outdoor adventures and activities available in these amazing parks, avoid the harmful UV rays that are pouring down on you. Life is a wonderful thing, and the longer you’re on this earth, the more you can enjoy your parks!

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