High Country Backpacking
Talus, otherwise called a boulder field, is made up of big broken rock chunks. Moving on it can be difficult: Big rocks force you to take bigger steps (which is hard on the knees going down and requires strength going up) from one rock to the other. You also need good balance, because all the while the rocks can he moving underfoot. The key to talus travel, whether you're going uphill or down, is to always look several steps ahead. That way, if a rock starts to shift and throw you off balance, you can simply hop to the next one without taking time to think. Climbing is easier than descending: Going up, you're fighting gravity; but going down, gravity is tugging at your balance and can pull you somewhere you may not want to go. The best way to climb up is to take a diagonal route. Not only is it less strenuous than the straight-up approach, it's also safer for your hiking partners below you, who could be hit if you dislodge a loose rock.
Going downhill on talus can be frustrating, nerve-racking, and hard on the knees. Beginners usually go one rock at a time, trying always to stay balanced and in control. Or they look for a way around the rocks (unfortunately there usually isn't one). Far easier is hopping from rock to rock in a controlled dance with gravity. Think of learning to ride a bicycle: You know that balance comes with speed, but even so, the beginning cyclist has a few awkward moments. The natural inclination of the beginning cyclist (and talus hopper) is to wait till you have control and then add speed, but the speed is what gives you the control. To practice, try moving downhill on rocks without your pack. Keeping your knees bent, hop from one to the next. Use a side-to-side motion; it's slower and easier to control. (Side-to-side is easier on the knees, too, than going straight downhill.) Likewise, choose a less steep lateral route whenever possible. Whether you're traveling fast or slow on talus, hiking sticks help: You can use them to take the weight off your knees for big steps, to test the stability of rocks, or to fine-tune your balance on a fast descent. However, if you've got bad knees or a heavy load, or if the descent is simply too frightening to attack head-on, you may have to resort to the tried-and-true and one-step-at-a-time approach.
Whether you're traveling on scree or talus, remember that if you do lose your balance or the rock underfoot starts to slide, the best thing to do is go forward, hopping from rock to rock or between rocks until you regain your sense of control. Beginners typically try to stop, which makes things worse because in addition to being off balance, their bodies are now fighting gravity and momentum. Far better is to use quick footwork to catch up with your momentum and then, when your feet are underneath you again, start slowing down to fully regain control. Be especially careful on wet rock or on rocks with wet (read: slippery) vegetation. And finally, give your partner plenty of room. If either of you loses your balance, it may take several steps of out-of-control scrambling before you regain it.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication