Saturday, October 22, 2011

Training for Winter Hiking

This fall there has been a significant debate in our family about the concept of winter hiking.  As much as we love to hike, we have never hiked in the snow and we have only been exposed to very limited trail icing conditions (late last fall). 

I am enamored with the thought of winter hiking.  I long for the cool, clear, crisp air with long distance views that replaces the hazy summer air that restricts visibility on most days.  I am intrigued by the thought of additional yet unseen views (at least unseen by us) because all the leaves are down and therefore no longer restrict the line of sight.  I want to learn to hike in microspikes, crampons and snowshoes; I am looking forward to the challenge.  And, most of all, if I can learn to winter hike there need not be a seasonal break in this sport I have so fallen in love with.

Sue my hiking partner, spouse and super-friend does not share my enthusiasm for the concept of winter hiking.  Let me restate that.  Not only does she not share my enthusiasm, the thought of winter hiking is absolutely bone chilling to her (pun intended).

After much debate and consternation I convinced Sue to attend a winter hiking training session put on by Bob Humphrey and his team of assistant instructors.  This was an all day classroom session held today at the Joe Dodge Lodge adjacent to the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center.  If you are considering winter hiking but have little to no experience I urge you to take this class; though it is only held once per year.  The class is actually called the Winter Hiking Series.  "Series" is used in the name because the class includes 10 or so group hikes that the attendees take together (one each week starting the day after the class).

Bob very closely screens those wishing to attend his series to ensure that they have significant hiking experience, that they are physically able to withstand above treeline winter hazards and that they can hike any trail at book time (ideally faster).  Being relative newbies to hiking we were uncertain about our ability to keep up with the group, in particular as it relates to speed.  If you read my blog you know I call Sue and I Mr. & Mrs. Slowsky.  Actually, I am Mr. Slowsky and that moniker is only placed on Sue because she is married to me.  :-)  With that in mind Bob was kind enough to let us attend the class without having to join the group hikes.

The amount of knowledge and information Bob and his team share in a mere eight hours is amazing.  A bit overwhelming actually.  I really wish that we had been able to hike with the group because we will be missing the hands-on training yet to come on using the myriad of winter hiking equipment required for safe winter hiking.  Safe....hmm.

That was another strong, and I mean strong lesson from this class.  We were not taking the thought of hiking in the winter lightly before the class but afterwards we are decidedly even more cautious.  Listening to Bob tell of having lost a family friend who died atop the ridge between Haystack and Lafayette - a hike we did this past summer, really hit home.  During the class we read a newspaper article about the hike and the sad outcome, which includes another hiker who lost a leg, some fingers and more, and only then did Bob tell us it was someone he had hiked with during warmer months.  Add to that Norm, an associate instructor, telling the story of how he had spent a very cold day and night in white out conditions very near to the summit of Mount Washington.  They had hiked up the day before, spent the night at the observatory and began their trip down the next morning at 8:00 AM.  Before long they were caught in a blizzared and it was the next day before they could be rescued.  Had they not had the survival skills and proper equipment they would not be with us today.

Holy cow, what am I getting us into?

Certainly hiking below treeline is vastly less dangerous than venturing above treeline however, it is not without its perils.  On the other hand, driving a car every day has its perils, eating processed foods has it perils, thinking too much about all of the perils in life has its perils.  The calming peace that comes with enjoying the views from the top of a mountain and the physical exertion required to get there has benefits that far exceed the perils.  Far exceed... 

After the class Sue may be even less enthusiastic about winter hiking.  At least now however we know what we are up against and we have gained a wealth of knowledge of the equipment we will need and the precautions to take.  We don't expect to do any above treeline winter hikes this year, maybe never.  We will take this endeavor one step at a time, we will use a progressive approach taking baby steps in our learning, the distances we hike and the elevations we attempt to do.  We might start just by snowshoeing from my backyard to my front yard.  That is, if we can afford to.  I may need to hold a bean supper at our home to raise funds for this investment.  To do this right we each need the following gear:

Dana Wet Rib
Crampons w/anti bots
Pack Boots
Insulated Water Bottle Holder
Winter Gaiters
Snow Baskets for our Trekking Poles
Two Wool Hats
Liner Gloves
Over Mittens
Full Side-zip Wind Pants
Layers and Layers of Clothing
Two Balaclavas or a Neck Gaiter
Liner Socks
Heavy Wool Socks (ideally boiled or Himalayan Wool)
Sleeping Bag
Emergency Tube Tent
Emergency Stove
Closed Cell Foam Pad
A Very Compressible Down Jacket for Emergencies
+ A ton of small items like duct tape, wire ties, trail saw, voltives and more....

This is above and beyond all the gear we carry have now:  headlamps, w/extra batteries, water filter, hat, gloves, rain jacket, sweatshirt, first aid kit, backpack cover, plastic bags, knife, compass, map, GPS w/extra batteries, camera, binoculars, benadryl, immodium, ibuprofen - I could keep going.

And, to store and carry all of that I will likely need an even larger backpack, much larger.

In fact, I'm wondering how I am going to pull an entire 40' long trailer from a tractor-trailer rig up a mountain.  I may need that much space for all of this stuff!

We ran out Saturday after class to the Conway EMS store and began working down our shopping list.  EMS was offering the course attendees 20% off, a much appreciated 20% off.  We only chipped away at a few items on the list and then we simply burned out.  It was a long day but one which was incredibly worthwhile.

As Bob Humphrey would say, "Let the snow dance begin!"


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