Walking up a mountain trail in summer is one thing, but trying the same thing in winter is a lot more of a challenge. Snow and ice mixed with steep slopes and cliffs are a nasty combination. Mountaineers use different techniques for travelling across these Hoth-like landscapes to keep their balance and maintain their energy. Walking like a mountaineer isn’t easy, but it has a lot of benefits! Let’s learn more about the Rest Step, Kick Step & Plunge Step.
Saving Energy with the Rest Step
The Rest step is really just a fancy way of climbing slowly to give yourself mini-breaks between each step. It’s perfect when climbing snow-covered slopes for long periods, and the white landscape barely seems to change. Take a forward step with your left food, lock your right foot behind you, and transfer your weight to your right food to give your left food a short rest. Then repeat with your right food. They key is getting a good rhythm that you can maintain for sometime without additional breaks. With the rest step, you’ll reach the summit in no time!
Creating a Path with the Kick Step
Kicking steps is a classic mountaineer technique for travelling uphill on snowy slopes softer than ice. To kick steps, you kick the front of your boot into the snow above you to cut a flat platform into the snow. This gives you a stable place to shift your weight, before repeating with your other leg. If climbing with a team, you can take turns in the lead, as kicking steps can quickly become tiring if you’re in the lead the whole time. Each team member should kick in the same steps further, improving them with each passing climber. If the slope is too hard to kick into, you should consider wearing crampons.
Keep your Balance with the Plunge Step
On your way down a snow-covered slope, it’s easy to lose your balance and go for a slide. The plunge step helps you descend without slipping and falling by sinking your food securely into the snow and creating a flat, stable platform for your weight. Take your foot in front of you and plunge it straight into the snow, locking your knee and bearing your weight on the leg. Use your heel like a dagger to dig into the snow. While this can be difficult on harder snow, it’s still possible to do as long as you dig your heel into the snow a bit. Here’s a good source with more info on the Plunge Step.
Walking Like a Mountaineer Takes Practice to Perfect
The Rest, Kick and Plunge Step don’t come automatically. If you want to perfect walking like a mountaineer, you need to practice. Grab the right winter gear, and head out to an easy winter 14er to get started learning your new skills today!
About the Author: Alex Derr
Alex Derr is a mountaineer and blogger based in Denver Colorado. He is working to climb Colorado’s highest 100 peaks, and the 20 tallest peaks in California. He created The Next Summit to share advice, stories, history & reflections from the Colorado Rockies & Sierra Nevada. When not climbing, he is managing the Communications strategy at Visible Network Labs.