Many seniors enjoy hiking through the woods on a nice summer day, but when winter arrives, the hiking usually stops. Yet, winter hikes can be just as enjoyable as those in the summer as long as you follow a few simple rules.
1. Donâ€™t bite off more than you can chew.
Winter hiking can be more arduous than summer hikes so keep your goals modest. Remember, you are usually carrying more weight; and hiking on snow, even well-packed snow, can be more of a challenge than your normal summer jaunt. If you are exhausted by the time you reach the turnaround point on a mountain climb, it will be a very unpleasant experience coming back down. Keep your hikes short and enjoyable.
Start out on a relatively flat and well-packed snow-covered bike path or walking trail. Once you feel more comfortable, try short hikes on well-traveled mountain trails. There are two important reasons to choose a well-traveled trail for your winter outings.
Usually trails that are well-traveled are also well-packed, making it easier to walk on top of the snow. A trail that has not been packed down will cause you to sink deep into the snow, making the hike much harder, perhaps grueling. Using snowshoes on untraveled mountain trails will add another level of effort and complexity, especially in deep snow conditions. When calculating how much winter hiking to do on a well-packed trail, a good rule to follow is to take your normal summer hiking distance and divide it in half. As you become more accustomed to the requirements of winter hiking, you can increase the distance. Also, stay away from icy conditions or icy trails unless you are an experienced winter hiker or climber. Without the right equipment (i.e., crampons, etc.), there is a high probability that you will slip and fall. Falling on ice can be dangerous. Keep in mind that exposed rock surfaces are usually icy.
The second reason to winter hike on a well-traveled trail is for your own personal safety. If you encounter a problem, it is especially helpful if other hikers are using the same trail and are able to assist you.
2. Never Winter Hike Alone
Many of us, on occasion, have hiked a trail in the summer by ourselves. But even in the summer -- and especially in the winter -- it is unwise and unsafe to hike solo. Make sure you hike with a partner who is either near the same level or at a higher level of hiking proficiency than you. If you are inexperienced and wish to venture onto mountain trails, try to avoid partnering with another inexperienced hiker. Find a more experienced partner.
At least one partner, and preferably two hikers, in a party should always carry a cell phone. Although there has been much discussion about whether carrying a cell phone causes hikers to become more reckless due to a false sense of security, generally seniors are not inclined to be reckless and should carry their cell phones. If you encounter trouble, you need a way to communicate in order to get help. Be cautious, however; cell phones sometimes experience difficulty in receiving a signal in mountainous areas. Be cognizant of your ability or inability to communicate by cell phone throughout your hike, and remember a location where you did have a good signal in the event you need help in an area where there is no cell coverage.
3. Always be very mindful of the weather.
When winter hiking, pay close attention to the weather. Snow storms, high winds, and changing temperatures can turn a pleasant hike into an unpleasant, or even a dangerous, one. Always check the current and forecasted weather for the area in which you will be hiking, and remember that if the weather unexpectedly changes, you should turn back and head for home. 4. Learn How to Plan Carefully and to Anticipate.
Plan not only for the hike, but for contingency and emergency situations as well. Winter hiking almost always requires you to carry a backpack. That pack should be large enough to carry some essentials, such as dry and warm clothes. Include outerwear, such as wind and rain resistant jacket and pants; extra socks, gloves, and hat; as well as plenty of water and some high energy food. You should also pack contingency and emergency gear such as hand and feet warmers, headlamp, matches, candle, trail maps, and a first aid kit/survival kit.
Most experienced hikers will carry with them various combinations of base, middle, and outer layers for their hike, depending on the weather conditions and how much they are exerting themselves. The clothing should have high wicking capability and be made of synthetic fabric. You can get pretty warm hiking up a mountain, so being over-dressed is very uncomfortable. Most winter hikers will usually start out lightly dressed and put on more clothing if they don't warm up after a short time. In fact, it is not uncommon to see some winter hikers with a base layer of silk long underwear, and on top of that gym shorts with synthetic fabric (to keep oneself from being too embarrassed) and a zip-up top covered with a vest. It is a strange-looking outfit and most seniors may want to use synthetic warm up pants over their long underwear bottoms. Never use cotton fabric in any of your layers because it traps moisture (the sweat when climbing and working hard) and does not dry easily, and when stopped, the hiker can become very cold. Winter hiking boots are either plastic with a liner specifically designed for cold temperatures or leather boots with gaiters. In recent years, hiking with ski poles has become popular and most seniors should use them. They help provide balance and stability when hiking in the winter.
5. Have fun!
Winter hiking is great exercise, so combine hiking with other winter activities, such as snowshoeing, skating, cross-country skiing, and backcountry and downhill skiing. Have fun! Your goal is to stay active, so happy ActiveGeezering!
Journal Entry : Winter Hiking
OK, so I was putting together this month's feature on winter hiking tips for seniors when I decided that I needed to test what I was writing.
I looked at the weather and picked a day that was partly cloudy and relatively warm for January (24 degrees Fahrenheit) and decided to climb Mount Mansfield, Vermont's tallest mountain, from the Underhill side, not the more famous Stowe side.
I needed hiking companions, so my nearly 21-year-old daughter, Kaitlin, and her friend, Kevin joined me. My daughter is technically 20 years old, and will not be 21 years old for a few more months, but she prefers to be referred to as a 21 year old when I mention her age. Remember when we always wanted to be older than we were -- and now we simply wish to be younger than we are. But then again, that is what ActiveGeezering is all about: feeling younger.
I chose an easy trail to hike up the mountain with a round trip of about 5.5 miles. It included a stop at Butler Lodge a small log cabin with no heat or electricity, but a shelter to provide protection from wind and snow -- about 1.7 miles into the hike. I knew it was a well-traveled winter trail, so it was likely to be packed down by people using snowshoes before us. We could hike most of the way on solid packed-down snow without the use of snowshoes. Given the icy winter conditions near the top, I told my companion hikers that the goal was to get as close to the top as possible before the trail became exposed rock with ice on it. The two younger hikers didn't have the equipment needed (crampons) for icier conditions, so I thought it would be safer to avoid icy spots.
I packed my backpack with all the necessary equipment, including emergency gear: outer Gore-Tex pants and jacket, fleece second layer, extra socks, hat and gloves, headlamp, ice ax, crampons, food, trail maps, first aid kit/survival kit, a down jacket, water and cell phone.
I did not think this would be a particularly tough hike, given that I have done extensive winter hiking in the Green Mountains of Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, as well as high altitude mountaineering in South America. But I forgot a couple of things. First, I am not in the same shape and conditioning I once was. And second, I can't keep up with young race horses for climbers like I once could. Even though I have done this hike before on multiple occasions in the winter, I hadn't done it in a few years. Plus I spent most of my time before retirement behind a desk.
So lesson one: even though I thought I was starting out with modest goals, I needed to scale back my goals even more, especially for the first time out. Remember: once you reach your destination climbing up, you are only halfway there - you must still climb down. It is always easier to add some extra distance to the end of your hike than it is to get well into a hike and then discover you are exhausted for the return. Ease into winter climbing. Also, I discovered a new geezer rule while cross-country skiing: rest at the bottom of a hill, in the middle of a hill, and at the top of a hill. With winter hiking, I would employ this rule for particularly steep uphill sections of your hike.
Second lesson learned: use ski poles. I didn't, but wished that I had. I started using ski poles for summer hiking, but have been reluctant to use them for winter hiking because they sometimes get in the way during the more technical aspects of mountain climbing. However, my days of technical climbing are about over, and for winter hiking, they are a needed aid. They are of tremendous help with footing by providing you with stability, and they absorb some of the jarring on your legs and knees, particularly when going down hill.
The last lesson learned was one I thought I was following: stay hydrated. I drank water, just not enough. I realized when I got home that I was a bit dehydrated. Now, I am usually good about staying hydrated, but I was working harder hiking than I normally do and therefore needed to stay better hydrated.
I find winter hiking incredibly enjoyable. Give it a try and maybe you'll discover you enjoy it too!