As a self-proclaimed outdoorsman, I used to be mildly timid whenever the thermometer started to dip below zero…and for good reason! Winter hiking is something I wanted to try but the risks are much higher during this time of year; I was concerned about hypothermia, falling through the ice, running out of daylight, frostbite, spruce-traps, sliding off the side of a mountain, getting lost…I could go on.
That’s why, when I first started to think about heading to the Adirondack region to bag my first winter hike in the High Peaks, I decided it might be best to hire a guide to teach me the tricks of the trade. My first winter peaks were Street (4,166’) & Nye (3,890’) and I was guided to the top, along with a dozen other novice winter climbers, by the wonderful staff at the Adirondack Loj. Their expert guidance let me focus on the physical challenge while they took care of the navigation.
Most importantly, whenever the group needed to catch their breath, the guides took the opportunity to talk about how to travel through the mountains safely. I was taught how to safely cross semi-frozen rivers, how to avoid the spruce-traps which could swallow hikers whole, and even though conditions were ideal, we discussed how to find your way when disoriented in blowing snow. These skills can’t be learned from a blog post, so I highly recommend registering for a Winter mountaineering course before venturing out on your own!
One thing you can do before venturing out during the Winter is to make sure you are properly equipped! This past week I trekked into the Adirondack High Peak region and put some of the gear to the test. Temperatures were between -10 to -15 Celsius and during my second day, four inches of snow was forecasted…I was stoked!
Because the amount of base snow was limited, on Day 1, I left my snowshoes at my car and ventured out in my HILLSOUND TRAIL CRAMPONS, in a slightly new arrangement. Typically people will hike in a lightly insulated boot, but I decided to try out my crampons on my set of trail runners, combined with my WATERPROOF SOCKS. The temperatures weren’t crazy cold, so I wanted to see if I could go as lightweight & nimble as I could on my way to Mt. Phelps (4,161’). As I approached the summit, I was met with a wall of ice I had to maneuver up, but with my Crampons attached securely to my shoes, I felt like Spiderman! I wasn’t once concerned about slipping off the side of the mountain! Also, be sure to pack a headlamp with extra batteries. I use the PETZL ACTIVE HYBRID headlamp, not a model currently in our store but we have a wonderful selection to fit all your needs. As I made my way back to the the trailhead, the sun was quickly setting.
On Day 2, just as I was sipping coffee at the Loj before heading out for the day, the snow began to fall. Visibility was going to be poor and the amount of ice and new snow, obscuring trail hazards, made me reevaluate my plans for the day. I had originally planned to climb Mount Colden (4,714’), but decided rather than push my luck, I would head to one of my favorite places in the Adirondacks, Avalanche Pass. This time I stashed my snowshoes on top of my pack, and layered up to head into the wilderness!
The temperatures were down to -15 and the snow was falling quickly, so I decided to layer myself with 250 WEIGHT MERINO WOOL for a bit of warmth, and my PATAGONIA WINDSHEILD PANTS & ARC’TERYIX GAMMA MX JACKET. Both items are considered soft shells, which means they add a little warmth, are almost completely windproof and highly water resistant (definitely enough for snow, and light rain). Most importantly, they are highly breathable which means regardless of how hard you’re working, you’ll feel comfortable and not clammy & sweaty. They made the perfect winter layers. Remember, It’s a good idea to start at the Trailhead a little cold. You’ll warm up within 15 minutes, I guarantee it! This avoids sweating early in the day (Old crotchety hikers on the trail will often remind you, “Sweat Kills!”).
I had a fantastic trip into the backcountry and reached Avalanche Pass early in the day. When I got to a few technical elements, including ladders and rock scrambles through a narrow, scree lined shoreline, I decided it would be best to turn back to the Loj. I saw the risks of slipping and hurting myself, and I was satisfied with just being out there for the day. A good mountaineer knows that the Mountains will always be there, and that sometimes, it’s just not in the cards to make it to the summit.
To recap, going into the mountains can be a fantastic, satisfying, rewarding experience and just because there is snow and ice and it’s cold out, doesn’t mean you need to wait months until venturing out again!
If it’s a new experience, hire a guide your first time out. I guarantee it will give you the confidence to start venturing into the wilderness on your own if that is what interests you! Also, dress in appropriate layers, matched to the conditions.
If you have any questions about this kind of thing, pop into the store sometime and chat with me or any of the super experienced staff at Trailhead Kingston. Finally, a good outdoorsperson knows to always evaluate risks throughout a trip. Conditions can change quickly and no mountain is worth getting hurt over.
Stay Safe and See you on the Trails!