Saturday, February 7, 2009

Winter Hiking in the White Mountains (New Hampshire, USA)

Guest Article by Jamie Sward

The opportunity to move out East was a dream come true! The promise of things to come was tremendous and my wish list of things to do in New England was a mile long! Here I am five years later and I haven't made it halfway through my list yet. How frustrating! One of the most exciting prospects for me was getting out and enjoying all of the beautiful natural wonders that the North East has to offer. Doing the 9 to 5 thing five days a week sort of put a damper on those plans, leaving me too exhausted to move on the weekends. Well, it's a new year and I have new motivation so this year I plan on putting myself out there. First plan of action - planning a trip to the White Mountains in New Hampshire!

I've always enjoyed hiking. Family trips to Jackson Hole, Wyoming stick in my memory as was the myriad of hiking trips I took during my stint with the Boy Scouts. Winter hiking however is something that I have never tried before so research and planning is definitely a must! Luckily, I have someone who's done this all before accompanying me but there's still a lot to think about before embarking on this little adventure. Here are some important tips to consider before planning a Winter White Mountain Hiking excursion.

Take Precautions & Be Prepared

Be prepared for extreme temperatures, harsh winds, snow, rain and the occasional thaws. Snow shoes or skis are recommended for a winter hike in and around the White Mountains. Sudden storms can quickly come and go, unexpectedly leaving massive amounts of snow in your path. This risk of course increases the higher you go. Being an experienced hiker/camper is necessary before embarking on any sort of winter hiking excursion. Minor problems and injuries can become even more serious when combined with harsh winter conditions. Be prepared and bring along all the necessities. Here is a list of ten essential items you need to pack for your trip, courtesy of

    • Map
    • Compass
    • Warm Clothing
       o Sweater or Pile Jacket
       o Long Pants (wool or synthetic)
       o Wool Hat
    • Extra Food & Water
    • Flashlight or Headlamp
    • Matches
    • First Aid and Repair Kit
    • Whistle
    • Quality Weather Proof (Wind & Rain) Jacket and Pants
    • Pocket Knife

Other Recommended Items

A backpack of some kind is of course necessary. It should have a thick, protective outer layer to keep all of your food, extra clothes and supplies dry. For overnight trips you definitely must be prepared with your own shelter in case weather conditions prevent you from making it to a cabin or hut along your path. Bringing along a sleeping bag and some sort of air mattress is also very important. Other recommended items include crampons, hand warmers and of course a sturdy, comfortable pair of boots.

Given the cold temperatures and the fact that hypothermia is a year-round hazard, layering is key. Start out with some wicking underwear made out of polypropylene. For your insulating layers, fleece or wool is preferred over down, as the latter loses warmth when wet. Your outer layer needs to be water and wind proof and have an integrated hood. Don't pack cotton, because just like down, cotton is useless when wet. Mittens are recommended over gloves as the fingers are kept warmer. A neck gaiter, face mask, and extra wool socks are also key.

Have Fun!

While it should always be safety first when it comes to winter hiking, you also should have fun! The views, scenery and wildlife you're likely to encounter are worth the trip in and of itself! Also, winter hiking means fewer crowds so if you find yourself bothered by too many people on the trails, chances are it's going to be pretty isolated. At the same time, while fewer people might be less nerve-racking, it's important that you have a buddy or two with you and that you let someone know where you will be and what your planned route is. Expect the unexpected!

One other thing to keep in mind is that weather conditions are the determining factor in the distance you are able to travel. With skis and good weather you can easily cover 10 - 15 miles in a day. But if the weather is not perfect or if you are snow-shoeing - you'll be lucky if you make it two miles! If you properly pack for your trip and have all of the essentials then you'll be golden!

Photo Source


iWalk said...

Mark, Do you know that I envy you so much!

I only have tired winter hiking once when I still a student. But the mountain I went already totally destroyed during the 512 WenChuan earthquake last year!

Mark H said...

@iwalk: This is a guest post but does sound great.

mattresses said...

Good article on winter hiking ... the only thing I might add to your list of things to bring would be an emergency blanket. They are very light weight, usually made of mylar, and take up very little space when folded. Yet they can provide a surprising amount of warmth.

It's a good precaution to take, in the unlikely but possible event that one can not return to the car before dark.

Mark H said...

@mattresses: An emergency blanket as part of a first aid kit is a good suggesion.

Anthony said...

Reminds me of my dad's winter hiking adventures. I recommend my father Paul J. Brach (an Adirondack Winter 46er)'s new book Mountain High (2010: Lulu),

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