Five Reasons Why Winter Hiking Is Awesome

Someone recently asked me what I do in the winter to stay in shape and train for an upcoming thru-hike. The answer—I keep hiking!

When I first heard that people continue to hike during the winter, I thought it seemed crazy. However, after my first winter hiking experience (Big Slide in the Adirondacks), I was hooked. In fact, winter is now my favorite time to hike. With the season coming to a close, I wanted to reflect on five reasons why winter hiking is awesome:

No. 1) The Camaraderie

Hiking in winter makes me feel like I’m part of a special club—in fact, there’s a specific patch for people who complete the Adirondack 46 and NH 48 completely in winter. As soon as it’s officially winter (5:23 p.m. on Dec. 21), it’s a mad rush to bag as many peaks as possible until the spring solstice. I’ve hiked with a few friends who were finishing up their winter 46 and winter 48 this season, and it’s awesome to get to share that experience with them.

There’s a mutual understanding that it’s much safer to hike with a buddy during winter, and I’ve found that people are much more open to meeting up with new people and forming a group in order to tackle long winter hikes. This is especially helpful if needing to break trail. Snowshoeing through deep snow is very exhausting, so it’s good to hike with a big group and rotate toward the back once you get tired. I’ve met a ton of new people this winter hiking season, and even though we started out as complete strangers we all became good friends by the end of the hike. Nothing like some shared Type 2 fun to help build a friendship.

In addition to having a crew to help break trail, it’s much safer to hike with a buddy. Weather can change quickly and drastically (especially in the White Mountains), and it’s a good idea to have someone else to help you make decisions. While hiking Galehead/South Twin in the Whites, my hiking partner and I made the decision to turn back instead of pushing forward another 1.3 miles to get North Twin because we didn’t feel comfortable hiking above treeline with the high winds and low visibility. We ended up coming back another day to get North Twin, and while it was disappointing to hike 16 miles when we could have just hiked 2.6 we both agreed it wasn’t worth risking our safety.

Turned around on South Twin. This seems to be a common theme as the trail between South and North Twin is hard to find in winter conditions. Considering forming a support group for all people turned around on South Twin.

 

No. 2) Butt Sledding, aka Glissading

Butt sledding is awesome and exhilarating. It can turn a steep section of trail that may have taken one hour to climb into a 20-minute descent.  Some people bring small, round plastic sleds for this purpose, some people make DIY sleds out of cardboard/duct tape, and some people (like me) just use their pants. However, be sure to use caution and butt sled at your own risk.

My personal butt sledding awards:

Scariest: Cliff Mountain in the Adirondacks. People who have hiked this mountain will know what section I’m talking about. Since this mountain doesn’t have an official trail, it requires a bushwhack up an extremely steep section.

Most enjoyable: North Hancock Mountain in the Whites. Out of all of the winter hikes I’ve done this season, this has been the best butt sledding by far. It is steep enough to be able to butt sled for a continuous 0.7 miles but not so steep that it’s scary.

Hanging out on North Hancock just before the epic butt sled.

 

No. 3) No Rocks, Mud, or Bugs

A layer of packed snow turns rocky/muddy trails into a white highway. In fact, there are some trails that people specifically save for winter (Sewards in the Adirondacks, for example) because the rocks and mud are just too gnarly during the other seasons. Also, since mosquitoes seem to love me for some reason, it’s nice to get a break during the winter.

Are snow angels LNT?

No. 4) It’s Beautiful

Winter in the mountains is a special kind of beautiful, and the snow seems to glitter in the sun. While there are certainly winter days that are brutally cold, windy, and gray, these are contrasted by those rare, sunny bluebird days. There have been weekends when I decided I would take a break from hiking but when the weather forecast showed a sunny, clear day I just couldn’t resist.

View from Mount Colvin in the Adirondacks on a zero degree day.

 

View of Mount Liberty summit just before a snowstorm.

No. 5) Less Crowded

I’m not sure why but the trails are certainly way less crowded during the winter. Some people probably don’t like hiking in the snow/cold, but others probably just haven’t discovered how awesome winter hiking can be. There have been a few times this season when my hiking buddy and I have had the entire trail to ourselves, even on a beautiful, sunny day.

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