Catskill Mountaineer

Part 4 - General Rules

How far can you go in the Winter: The maximum distance you can hike in the summer is more then what you can hike in the winter. For example, if you can hike a maximum of 15 miles in the summer, you will probably be able to hike 50-75% of that distance in the winter. There are a number of reason why: (1) With extra weight of clothing and packs, this will slow you down. Just a small amount of weight will slow you down and wear you out faster; (2) Snowshoes or even microspikes add weight to your feet. Mountaineering boots are much heavier then trail runners you might be using in the summer. Extra weight on your feet will slow you down and wear you out faster; (3) Hiking in the snow requires more energy. A nice hard packed snow trail is easier then deep snow. If you have to break trail requires an enormous amount of energy. You are lucky if you make it five miles in deep heavy snow. As a general rule, most experienced hikers reduce their daily mileage to 50% of what they hike in the summer. But, you must adjust that number depending upon conditions.

Breaking Trail: When traveling in the group, it is best to let someone break trail for about 1/4 to 1/2 mile. Then allow someone else to break trail. The strongest hikers should break more trail then those less capable. You want your group to be equal in ability.

Hiking Speed: You need to travel at a speed where your do not sweat, but not slow enough that you get cold. You can also adjust the speed by adding or subracting clothing. If you are traveling with a group it can be hard to get everyone traveling at the same speed. It works best if your group is small. Large groups create problems. If one person is faster then the group, they will start to get ahead of the rest of the group. Once they get too far ahead, they need to turn around and hike back to the group. This allows them to keep their core body temperature at an acceptable level, while not overworking the rest of the group. Do not allow your group to become fractionalized. This is very dangerous. Many Search-and-Rescue's occur because a person falls behind or someone gets too far ahead. You need to work out a plan so that everyone can travel at roughly the same rate. Allowing someone to get left behind or lost is unacceptable and irresponsible. If you are considering hiking with a group that has the attitude that you are responsible for yourself, and they may abandon you for one reason or another during the hike, you shouldn't hike then. Most Search And Rescue missions in the Catskill Mountains are for groups like this..

Keeping your Group together: It is vitally important that your group stay together. Do not allow someone to fall behind or allow someone to get too far ahead. The group needs to adjust to the weakest hiker. You should not push a weak hiker. This will just wear them out faster and create a dangerous incident. Like wise, you do not want slow down a strong hiker. This will cause them to become dangerously cold. Allow them to get a little ahead, and have them hike back to the group. Never allow the group to become fractionalized. As a general rule, groups larger then 5-6 hikers will become fractionalized. Sometimes large groups of 10-12 hikers will intentionally break into two groups. If you are the hike organizer, you need to determine if a person that wants to join the group on a hike is suitable for the particular hike you are organizing. A hiker who is too weak, or too strong will cause the rest of the group a problem. Also, if a group member is not willing to support other people in the group, they should be excluded. Or, if a member is likely to intentionally separate from the group, they should be excluded..

Using GPS's in the Winter: GPS unit can be a lifesaver while hiking. If you should get lost, they can pinpoint your location instantly. Or, if you get delayed on your return, they can help guide you at night. If you are hiking in the snow, you cannot count on using your tracks to guide you back to your car. The wind can cover up your tracks very quickly if it is windy. You can also download tracks to allow you to follow the GPS trail with poor vision or hard to follow trails. It is very important NOT to use NiMh batteries. NiMh batteries do not work below 32 degrees. As you get close to 32 degrees, the battery life disappears quickly. We recommend using NiCd batteries or disposable batteries. But, more importantly, keep the GPS in your jacket pocket where it is much warmer. This will prevent the batteries from quickly discharging. Also bring extra batteries.

Clothing choices during the hike: It is always important to never wear cotton clothing. Cotton absorbs moisture from sweat. The problem with cotton is that it takes an exceedingly long time to evaporate or wick. You should always wear polyester or wool. Or, some similar material that wicks and evaporates quickly. Always bring more clothing then you need. Most hikers start out with more clothing then they think they will need. Then about 1/4 mile into the hike, they stop and remove excess clothing to keep their temperature regulated properly. Gloves can be very important in regulating your bodies heat. If you are still too hot change into thinner gloves. Also wear your clothing in layers. Removing one thin layer can reduce overheating. You should also bring clothing that is waterproof. In the event of rain, or wet blowing snow, your clothing can become wet. This could easily lead to your death. We now have material called "WPB", which stands for Waterproof But Breathable. It is waterproof on the outside, but allow vapor to slowly escape through the fabric. If you have reason to believe that you will be hiking in very high winds, you need clothing that is truly waterproof. Some people use high quality rain suits. Just because clothing is rated as waterproof, doesn't not mean that it will be waterproof in a blizzard with hurricane force winds. But, you cannot bring every conceivable type of clothing on your hike. So, you must choose wisely. Mistakes on your clothing choices can lead to your death.

Personal Locator Beacons ("PLB"): PLB are valuable if you get lost or become injured while hiking. They have a powerful 5 watt transmitter that will send your GPS location to the Search and Rescue Satellite. You should only use a PLB if your life is in danger, and you have no other way to get yourself out of trouble. Once you activate the PLB, you SHOULD NOT MOVE! SAR will go to the location where you were when you activated the PLB. If you are not there, then they will have absolutely no idea where you are. Do NOT move!!! The PLB will also turn on the strobe light to guide SAR and helicopters to your location. The PLB also has a homing signal to guide in your rescuers. Some hikers carry a SPOT. SPOTs are good for telling your family and friends that you are okay. The SPOT is actually a very poor device for life-threaten emergency. A PLB is a $250 device, where the SPOT is a $100 device that requires a annual subscription. Once the PLB has been activated, it needs to be returned to the factory.

Snowshoes during the Winter: Snowshoes should be a requirement when the snow get 6-8 inches deep. Post holing through deep snow takes an enormous amount of energy, and will allow you to get wet. If you are day hiking bring the appropriate sized snowshoe for the job. For general winter hiking most people use 25 inch snowshoes. Some women will use smaller snowshoes. For fresh snow, 30 inch snowshoes are more appropriate. For very deep snow, 36 inch snowshoes work best. If you can only afford one pair of snowshoes, buy 25 inch snowshoes. You should always check over your snowshoes before a hike to ensure nothing is cracked or broken. You do not want them to break further while hiking. If you switch to your microspikes, make sure you have the ability to strap your snowshoes to your pack. And, when you are using your snowshoes, make sure you have a secure place for your microspikes. Sometimes, if you are hiking on hard packed trails microspikes might work better. Everyone uses poles while snowshoeing. If you are traveling through fresh snow, have different people in the group take turns breaking trail. You do not want to wear out the trail breaker, or make them sweat excessively. .

Microspikes during the Winter: Microspikes are most often used at the beginning or end of the winter season. But, sometimes you need them during the middle of the winter. You should always carry a pair on ALL your winter hikes. Sometimes at the end of the winter, you might hike with a little dusting of snow on the ground. There is no need for snowshoes or microspikes. With the sun out, it appears that the snow will melt during the day. Then on the way back, the melting snow freezes up, and you are left with clear ice. Without microspikes, you movement would be exceedingly slow. This can also happen in the middle of the Winter too. You always need to be prepared. During some Winters in the Catskill Mountains, we can have major icing events. This can coat the top of the snow with rock hard ice. Microspikes or crampons become a required item. Some people have been killed when they fall on an icy slope. They can quickly accelerate down the mountainside until they hit a hard object, such as, a tree or rock. This can be fatal..

Advanced Planning: When you plan out your hike, you need to let someone know where you are going, and when to expect you to return. If you are injured, you need someone to seek help in finding you before it is too late. Some hikers leave the planned route in their cars. But, Rangers will need keys to the car to access the paper describing the route, and when you will return. Also, some people do not like to leave the paper describing their route on the dashboard of their car. Some thieves will use this information to break into your car. Always make sure that if there is a registration box, that you fully describe where you are going and when you will return. At the end of the hike, make sure you check out.

Where to keep your Gear: Most experienced hikers keep all their gear in their car. That way nothing is accidentally left behind at your house. Once at the trail head they will go through their gear to select what they need for their particular hike. But, you should keep your boots and water in the house until you are ready to leave. You don't want to be putting on ice cold boots, or have your water freeze up.


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