What's All This Crampon Stuff, Anyhow?

Back in February 1955, when I was just 14, I snowshoed with Professor John A. Williams, "Alpine Fred" Torrey, and a group of Explorer Scouts up to Crag Cabin at the 4200-ft level on Mt. Adams in New Hampshire.

I was strong enough to carry a little extra weight, so they volunteered me to carry some crampons—a set of spikes for climbing on ice and hard-packed snow. I carried them, though I had no idea what they were good for.

After we ascended up to 4400 ft, we started onto some ice and frozen snow slabs. Wearing the crampons, I immediately realized that I was master of the snowscape. After I helped escort my friends over the icy spots, I had the best fun hiking. I could amble easily across these slanted drifts, at any angle, without worrying about the rough rocks or lumpy shrubs under the snow. It made ascending the 5798-ft mountain easy and fun.

The next February, I decided to lead my own trek up there. I was just 15, and a good camper and hiker, and I knew how to do all the things we had done a year earlier. So we planned carefully and got all the necessary clothes and equipment. It never got below ?20°F, and we had a great hike. All the hikers had crampons this time, and we strode easily across the frozen snow, farther than ever. In later years, we went back for more of such climbing, and it was wonderful.

Now, 50 years later, we're going to climb up there again for a 50th anniversary trek. But one of my friends has very large boots, and it's hard to find crampons to fit them. What to do?

In November, I was trekking up in the Annapurna region of Nepal. (See my trip report at www.national.com/rap.) I had brought along some ice creepers, in case we were waylaid by a lot of ice or snow. I tried some tests up above 14,000 ft at Annapurna Base Camp and walked across some frozen snow. The four-corner stamped-steel ice creepers worked, with traction just a little better than good climbing boots (when they didn't fall off).

Likewise, I evaluated some Yaktrax, and they also provided good traction. "If I were crossing an icy parking lot, they would work just a little better than a few handfuls of salt or sand," as I explained to my buddies.

"But there are no parking lots up here," they replied.

"Sure, this hard-packed snow and ice over here is just like a stomped-down parking lot!" I said. I motioned to a strapping young Nepali porter, and he put the creepers on. We started a friendly pushing contest. Both types had surprisingly good traction. There was no serious advantage. So I found that the Yaktrax are suitable for icy or slippery, snowy parking lots. The four-corner steel cleats weren't quite as good, but they would save you from falls on a flat area of slippery snow or ice.

Later I went shopping in Kathmandu and visited the used-equipment markets. I found several kinds of excellent new crampons, but at good, high prices. I mean, $120 to $180 is a fair price if you're going to do technical ice climbing, but I wouldn't pay that much. Finally I found the secondhand ones shown in the photo, adjustable up to 14 in., with excellent welding, for just $21. So we are all set for our New Hampshire trek.

Would I bring the Yaktrax as backup for our good crampons? Nah. But I will bring some baling wire for any needed repairs. The main problem with crampons (assuming they don't break) is that you can easily slash the legs of your pants—or your legs—with the sharp spikes. We plan to hike slowly and carefully and use lots of rubber bands to keep the legs of our pants from flapping.

See Figure 1
See Figure 2

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