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Getting down steep terrain

Image of the December 2017 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
December 2017 Issue

Tramping in rough country is more than just walking – sometimes you have to move differently. 

On a recent trip, a friend was a little embarrassed that she had to sit on her bum to work her way down steep terrain. But there was no need for her to be embarrassed. Sitting is a perfectly reasonable way to descend tricky slopes. It can give you more control and confidence.

Sliding: Sitting on your bum or back and sliding down also works on slippery mud and gentle snow slopes. On snow or in canyons, you’re more likely to slide faster. You’ll need to position your body so you don’t catch arms or your lower limbs on sticks or rocks, or catch your crampons in the snow. Most importantly, you need to know where, when and how to stop. If the path or stopping point isn’t clear, don’t slide.

Down climbing: This is a good choice in more severe terrain with exposure, or when your pack is in the way. Turn around at the top of the steep terrain to face the slope. Then descend as if you were climbing down a ladder. Decide on your next foot or hand-hold before each movement. Make sure each hold is solid before putting weight on it.

It’s best to first practise in safe places. The next time you’re on the track, try something different. In a tricky spot, ask experienced trampers for advice or watch them go first. Where do they put their hands and feet? Which way do they face?

And remember, you may not have to go down. Check your map – there could a better route.