Winter Hiking Is for the Rest of Us

I went winter camping for the first time this past weekend. It was really amazing, and yes, it involves a tent stove. This was not me against the elements on a snowy cliff with just a sleeping bag, food pellets, and a death wish. Warm food, fire and a comfortable bed were involved. I may be crazy, but I’m not that crazy. I will blog about it soon, but in the meantime. I’m reposting this piece from 2 years ago. You can enjoy it as uplifting encouragement to get outside in winter with minimal equipment. Or you could also view it as a dangerous gateway drug. I did those hikes 2 years ago and look at me now, camping in winter. Who knows where this will lead in 2 more years. Maybe a snowy cliff?

I was in New Hampshire earlier this week, primarily to cozy up to a fire in a cute cabin and unplug, but the weather was delightfully mild, so we decided to also go for a hike. In the snow. If Facebook is to be trusted, it seems like the primary winter outdoor activity for most people is skiing, or perhaps snowboarding. Basically people seem to spend large sums of money to drive (or fly) several hours to then hurl themselves down steep inclines and drag their families/friends along with them. I’d rather curl up with a good book, thanks. I went cross country skiing once and really enjoyed it, but it’s still a heavy lift for a city slicker. In a mild winter like ours this year, I’d have to drive to find some snow, and I still have lay out some cash for renting all the gear. I believe that getting through winter requires enjoying some kind of outdoor activity, but I’m also cheap and lazy. Ice rink in the middle of the city? Yes. Driving to find snow/space/trails? No.

I love hiking in other seasons, but always ruled out winter because I think I listened to too many of my brother’s winter hiking stories, which start with a heavy backpack, three days worth of food, and crampons or snowshoes and ends with a “funny” story about how he only lost feeling in a few fingers and no frostbite set in.

I thought this was my only option, which makes me reconsider the down hill skiing thing.

But I found a page of winter hikes in New Hampshire and read people’s notes about the trail conditions. A fair number of them talked about only needing microspikes, also known as Yaktrax. Once I saw that they also described the snow on the trail as “packed powder,” I was in. It turns out there are plenty of well-traveled, already packed down trails from flat to steep that you can tramp around in. All with just these cool metal and rubber things you slip on your feet like we used to do, putting rain rubbers on our shoes as kids. I know, we were so crazy back then, converting shoes we already had into a new use without having to buy another type of footwear. Seriously, how did businesses survive back then?

For a one-time charge of about $40 clams, I now have the means to enjoy winter on my terms — walking in the quiet woods on a balmy 40-degree day, getting a different view of the wooded landscape without the leaves, and taking in the soft white of the snow that smooths out the geography.  We did a flat loop around a pond, and the next day we hiked up a 2-mile trail to a 1,700 foot peak, with a manageable incline. No belaying, crampons, or major food supply needed.

When I got home, I waited for the second day soreness to kick in, and it did hurt a little but not as much as I thought. I mean I could still walk. I would like to report that it’s because of my fabulous workout routine. But I don’t want to contribute to the overabundance of fake news. No, I realized it’s because the snow is a really great cushion for that downhill pounding on my midlife knees. Sweet.

If that doesn’t convince you to give it a try, maybe these will. Or you can just enjoy them along with whatever helps you get through winter — skiing, fireplacing, wining, or going to Florida.

NHcircle of water

Above: A loop of water on the loop trail around Pudding Pond.

NHview from the top East

Above: At Middle Mountain peak, looking south.


Above: At the peak, looking north.


Above: At the peak, looking west. I think it could be Mt. Washington in the clouds, but that’s what I think of every distant peak in the clouds I see when I’m hiking.


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