Winter outings in the Green Mountains are exhilarating and beautiful--you may even encounter winter weather at higher elevations during the fall and spring. These trips must be well planned as the margin for error on a winter hike is error is reduced by temperature, wind, snow, ice and limited daylight hours.
The Long Trail is marked with white blazes, which are difficult to see against a snowy background and are frequently buried beneath the snow. Deep snow may obscure all signs of the trail -- topographical maps and a compass are necessary.
Be prepared to keep warm and sheltered with nothing more than the equipment you carry. Never count on a campfire or wood stove to keep you warm. Stay alert to the dangers of hypothermia and frostbite. Know the signs and how to treat them.
Remember that daylight is short in the winter and darkness comes suddenly.
Use skis or snowshoes. This will enable you to use energy most efficiently and doesn’t create post-holes (aka “death cookies”) on the trail (which makes the trail unpleasant and dangerous for those on the trail behind you).
With the right skills and equipment, winter is a great time to go hiking. One of the best ways to cope with cabin fever is to get out of the cabin and take a hike!
In addition to being prepared with your ten essentials and hiking basics, consider these tips from Dave to make your winter excursions as safe and comfortable as possible:
- Stay dry and waterproof. Manage your core temperature while hiking to prevent sweating, which gets your clothes wet and limits their insulative value. Wear gaiters to help keep your legs dry, and pop your hood over your head when trekking through dense/overhanging trees to prevent snow from getting in at the neck.
- Winter is the wrong time for lightweight hiking -- carry many insulating layers including a spare set of long underwear tops and bottoms – putting on dry clothes may shock the system initially but you’ll feel warmer pretty fast
- Make sure your equipment works -- finding out your thermos is cracked when it’s 10 below at lunchtime is the wrong time to learn this
- Be aware that solid food items freeze; cut up those snickers bars ahead of time
- Hydrate constantly because you won’t feel as thirsty in cold weather
- Know how to repair snowshoe and crampon/creeper bindings
- Don’t use those ski pole wrist loops – a downhill fall can wrench a shoulder if you go one way and your ski pole stays put
- Ideally know your winter hike ahead of time; trail finding is tricky with deep snow so knowing the route well is a good idea
- Favor hikes with few stream crossings; crossings are dangerous as both a water hazard and possibly soaking everything you are wearing and carrying. Even just getting your snowshoes wet can result in heavy globs of ice stuck on
- If you’re hiking with a dog check their paws for icing
- Be especially careful if conditions are icy; crampons and creepers only work if you stay on your feet
- If you are a beginner winter hiker, consider a group hike to learn more about trail conditions and preparation
Winter on the Long Trail FAQ's
Read Enjoying Winter Safely, by Pete Antos-Ketcham