Walking in a North Country Winter Wonderland
As temperatures creep back to the 20s and 30s, I can’t picture a better way to enjoy the weather than hiking around the North Country. Whether you head to the Adirondacks or stay closer to home, the experience is 100% worthwhile.
Part of what makes winter hiking fun is the element of uncertainty. Changes in elevation become much more apparent as the snow increases and the wind intensifies. Keeping that in mind, it is good to have a plan, but flexibility is key especially when it comes to safety and smart hiking. With any winter hike, it is necessary to carry extra gear compared to hiking in the summer or fall in order to stay warm and safe. One minute you can be shivering and the next you’re peeling off those fleece layers. Layers are a must, don’t forget water, and extra head and face gear as well to make for a safe hike. With a few inches of snow on the trail, you’ll want snowshoes. If conditions are icy, you might try YakTrax or Microspikes. And of course, you can’t leave the house without those favorite hiking snacks (though keep in mind the Clif bars might be harder to bite down on after sitting in a cold backpack). Strapping on those microspikes and beginning the trek through trails covered in fluffy snow and glistening trees is a feeling like no other.
During the hike: While walking, everything looks so still. The birch trees covered with a layer of snow begin to sparkle and you begin to feel a sense of serenity. Tracks of animals are even more apparent as their imprints on the snow makes for a fun game of identification. Hiking, no matter what season, provides you with a time of reflection. For instance, why do we hike? And why hike in the winter? As someone who enjoys hiking in all four seasons, there is this feeling that seems to be unique for winter hiking. Yes, you experience the sense of calmness and humbling feeling of being on the trail and away from the busyness of every day life. Yet, there’s also the sense of smallness—you feel so much smaller when the ground is covered in white and what may be a rock-hop is completely iced over and you’re unsure of where to put one foot or the other.
In addition, interacting with other hikers is always a plus. Comparing gear and clothing makes for a great conversation, especially when you might be wearing trail runners while others have their boots strapped into their snowshoes. Hikers are always in a positive up-beat mood and exchanging smiles and laughs as you pass by one another is one of the many rewards of getting to the trails.
The ascent to the summit: This is where things can get dicey (and potentially icy). It’s always a good idea to make sure every part of your face is covered, for wind chills can approach negative 30s and 40s. Ultimately, you want to be smart and stay safe. This is my favorite part about winter hiking. In that moment, you feel like you’re in another world and that maybe the wind will pick you up and bring you somewhere else. You can’t think about anything else except that very moment and you may even question whether or not you are able to make it all the way to the top. The challenges of winter hiking are great metaphors for life. You’re constantly asking yourself: Can I really do this? In life, we all experience ups and downs and the real test is if we can push through. Pushing through these thoughts, you reach the summit, soak up the view, and quickly begin the descent to avoid lingering at the top and being more susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia. Indeed, the rush you feel in that moment is indescribable.
If you’re unsure where to get outside this winter, check out our growing Trails page, where you can find trail maps and directions for trails in the St. Lawrence Valley and Northern Adirondacks. The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) Laurentian Chapter trail guide also has suggestions for great local hikes. Whether you head to the Adirondack Loj or explore the trails around Colton, I highly recommend getting outside and spending time in the woods to enjoy the beautiful winter wonderland of the North Country!
Winter hikes are spectacular! I have to agree with the cliff bar situation and suggest a little something.
My favorite trail treat:
1) Homemade Coco Chai fusion
- heat up 2 cups of some sort of liquid base (regular/soy/almond milk or water)
- Add a packet of coco powder (or the equivalent coco mix 3-4 TBS) I like it unsweetened!
- Add a chai tea bag
- Add cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamon (just a little bit at a time and taste!)
- Add a dollop or two of maple syrup or honey
- and a touch of salt!
Then let it simmer for 10 minutes, put it in a thermos and enjoy it on the trail!
2) Mix it yourself Trail Treats
- banana chips
- chocolate chips
- crystallized ginger