Catskill Mountaineer

Part 5 - The Hike

Before you leave the house check to make sure you have all your gear. Some hikers create a checklist and go through the checklist to make sure they didn't forget anything. It is a good idea to leave the gear list with someone at home. Should SAR call you for details, they will want to know what gear you have. This gear list can be very important information. Some hikers will put their gear in the car, so it is impossible to forget it. A better way is to put some items in the car, and leave temperature sensitive items in the house. I will leave my hiking boots, food, certain cloths, and water in the house. Make sure that you leave those items near the door so that you cannot possibly forget them. Every year someone forgets something, and it creates a problem. In the worst case, missing items could lead to your demise.

Some people boil water and place it in an insulted container. Water freezing in the winter is a problem. Everyone has their own method of keeping water from freezing. But, there is not a best method that works for most people. It is a struggle that Winter hikers have to solve on each hike. You want to make sure that you can keep the water from freezing. Some people keep the water in their pack on the side that is closest to their back. Some people keep a small stove and pot to melt frozen water or to melt snow into water. It is important to remember that alcohol stoves work poorly in Winter conditions. Alcohol stoves will work if you keep the stove and fuel in a warm place in your pocket or pack. Best to have a gas stove. Water is an essential item that you must have. Have a plan where you can always access water. In early or late winter you may be able to get water from a stream. But, in the middle of the winter this may not be an option. Some flavored water has a lower freezing temperature then regular water.

Many experienced hikers keep several snowshoes in their car. Most snowshoes come in three common sizes: 25 inch, 30 inch, and 36 inch. Some women's snowshoes are smaller then 25". When the trail is packed down, the smallest snowshoe is the best choice. If you have to break trail, then 30" or 36" is best. Few hikers have 36" snowshoes. They are most often used for deep snow. The larger the snowshoe, the heavier the snowshoe. I usually make my choice at the parking lot.

Make sure that you register at the trail head. If you get lost, the first place the Rangers check is the registration box. Make sure you state where you are going. I cannot state how important it is to register. It can be the difference between life and death.

When I start off, I am fully clothed. This is usually more clothing then I need. But, until I warm up, I wear more then I need. As I heat up, I will stop and take off the layers of clothing until I am comfortably cool. I will then continue at a pace where my temperature stays the same. If I stop, I will immediately put on clothing to keep myself warm. You can cool off too much if you don't put clothing back on when you stop. Even for 5-10 minutes. If it is windy, you should put on a shell jacket.

If you have a problem with cold hand and/or feet, I would recommend using heat packs. They can be purchased for around $1/set. They usually provide heat up to 10 hours. You can couple this with warm mittens.

As you hike, it important to keep track of where you are. It is easy to drift off enjoying the landscape. But, with winter hiking you need to be on top of your game. Don't be afraid to stop and review the map. You want to make sure you are on course. It is important that the landscape looks completely different then in the summer. So, if you have done this hike in the summer, it may look completely different in the Winter. Remember that when there is a deep snow pack the trail symbols can be buried below the snow pack. When trees or limbs fall down, you can be driven off the trail without knowing it. The trails are not maintained in the winter, so expect to see fallen trees and limbs in the trail. After a wind storm or windy snow storm, you may not be able to reconize the trail because of the fallen limbs and trees. You need to pay attention when hiking.

Before the hike, make a list of milestones along the way. Milestones help you keep on the path, and get you to the destination. If you get lost, take a moment and try to figure out where you are, and the safest way to get back on course.

Due to the shortness of winter days, I recommend that you start as early as possible. Set a turnaround time if you don't make your destination. I usually try to calculate my times so that if I turn around I will arrive back in the parking lot around 1 hour before sunset. This gives me enough of a buffer in case I have difficulties on the way back. On level paths, the return time will be almost the same as the travel time. If the trail is steep, then the return time is much smaller then the travel time. It is always disappointing when you do not reach your intended goal. It is always important to remember that the mountain will always be there for another day, but you may not be around to hike the mountain again if you make a foolish decision. Better safe then sorry.

It is important to watch the weather. If the weather turns bad, sometimes it is better to stop the hike and return to your car. If the winds are strong at the bottom of the mountain, they will be incredibly strong on top of the mountain. If you have 40-50 mph winds in the valley, you may have hurricane force winds on top of the mountain. Other times, you may be climbing up the mountain, and the trees sudden have ice covered branches on the crowns of the tree. If the wind picks up suddenly, it make make the branches break off and start falling all around you. It may be safer to cancel the hike and return to your car. It is always better to error on the side of safety.

When Spring arrives many hikers feel a little safer because the temperatures are starting to climb. But, a few new dangers come up. One of the big dangers is what we call "Breakthrus". When the temperatures rise, the snow starts to melt, The water will sink to the bottom of the snow, and start running under the snow. You probably will not even realize that you have running water under your path. As the water continues to increase under the snow, it melts the snow from the bottom. So, if you think you have a snow pack of 4', the running water may have melted away 2-1/2' under the snow. This will cause a breakthru. When you fall in, you can become very wet. Some hikers have been known to fall into running water up to their waist. Or, they can get their snowshoes stuck under the snow and ice, and can't get out. But, the worst danger is being sucked under the snow into a strong running stream. It is possible to drown in larger streams. In the Spring you have to be very careful of known stream beds that you cross. If you can hear the water, then it is generally very dangerous. Best to use caution.

If you fall into a stream or water hole, it is important to take off your boots and change your socks immediately. Do NOT wait to change your socks. A neat trick is to put on a dry pair of socks. Then use a plastic grocery bag over your feet. Then carefully put your sock/plastic bag back in your boot. This will keep your water soaked boot from making your dry socks wet. These plastic grocery bags are free, and extremely light. Furthermore, they will compact up and take very little space in your pack. If you have used up all your dry socks, put the plastic grocery bag on first followed by the wet socks. Never take off a wet boot and leave it to drain out. Often times, the wet boot will freeze and you will NOT be able to get it back on. Back in 2011 a hiker had this happen. He had to hike for two days out of the woods without a boot. He ended up with a frostbite foot. He was lucky to not lose his foot, or his life.

When you are done with your hike, make sure you logout at the registration box. If you your car breaks down on your trip back, your loved ones may call in Forest Rangers and SAR. You can have a hundred people risking their life trying to save you. It takes very little effort to check out on the hike.


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