Semi-Rad: The Joy of Postholing

You know it might be coming. It’s literally the last thing you want to experience, because once it happens once, it can and will happen again—as many times in a row as it wants. So, you step gingerly, always on your guard, anxiously anticipating the crunch and pop. Maybe you even try some Jedi mind tricks as you traverse.

But inevitably, your luck runs out: Your boot punches through the top layer of snow and you plow through at a harsh speed, your heart sinking simultaneously. You have postholed.

If you’re lucky, you’ve only sunk in up to your ankle. If you’re not lucky, you’re stuck in snow up to your waist. In rare and extremely lucky cases, it’s a one-time occurrence. Usually, you’re not lucky and you will continue to posthole for several feet (or even miles).

Hiker who has postholed in the snow

Photo Credit: Brendan Leonard

The solution is simple: Just wear snowshoes or skis, right? Well, sure, if it’s in the middle of winter. But sometimes, your hike or climbing objective only has the potential for a few hundred feet of snow-covered trail, so why drag a pair of snowshoes for miles just to put them on for five minutes?

So, you accept the risk of postholing. My pal Lee used to have a joke: Instead of “Postholing builds character,” which is something you would tell yourself in an attempt to think positively about it, he’d say “Postholing builds anger.” Of course, it’s all in how you look at it.

First of all, it’s great exercise. It’s like getting a weird sort of CrossFit workout in the middle of your hike—punch through, sink in, high-step, repeat. Sometimes, you plunge into the snow so far that you have to sort of gently belly flop onto the snow above your hole and army crawl the rest of the way to prevent more postholing. Second of all, well … OK, it kind of sucks. In the best scenario, it reminds you of how much you enjoy floatation devices like snowshoes and skis, or, how much you enjoy summer hiking. In the worst scenario, it may make your objective for the day pretty much impossible.

As always, an ounce of prevention (floatation) is worth a pound of cure (anything you can do once you’re caught postholing), but here are a few things to make it “better.”

  • Wear gaiters—or at least pants with instep laces. If postholing builds anger, postholing and getting snow in your boots builds rage (and can be uncomfortable and potentially unsafe if your feet stay wet and you’re in cold temps all day).
  • Accept the absurdity of the situation. Postholing is as ridiculous an outdoor endeavor as bushwhacking or climbing offwidths, and people enjoy those things. Laugh at yourself, and if your friends can handle it, laugh at them too. Take photos.
  • Give up, or don’t give up, as appropriate. Sometimes, it’s just not your day, and you just need to shrug, say, “Well, I guess we should have brought snowshoes,” and head into town to get a coffee. Alternately, if you’re on your way back to the trailhead and find yourself facing a long stretch of postholing, well, buckle up, because there’s probably only one way home. And that way might be army crawling across a long section of snow with a fragile top layer.

In any case, keep some perspective. A bad day of postholing is probably better than a good day of sitting in a cubicle answering emails or cleaning your garage. Although probably no one is listing “postholing” as one of their interests on a dating app.