View Full Version : Thru'ing in winter

05-24-2008, 14:42
So, I'd like to thru the AT but I vastly prefer being out in nature and hiking in the wintertime. I figure the best way to combine these is by going SOBO and the Baxter State Park website says that Katahdin is open as late as October. So what's to stop me from leavin Katahdin, say, mid-october and hiking south for 6 or so months? I figure it could be a lot of fun, much pootling about in the snow and getting to complete my hike amongst the crowds of NOBO's just getting started.

I would plan on carrying a heated tent for warmth whilst in camp (but not whilst sleeping) and there is a thread in the gear forum about these but would like anyone's opinions on the viability of a winter hike of the AT. Anyone done this? Anyone know of some reason why I can't (state park closures for example)? Anyone just want to call me weird?

All comments (and single pot Christmas dinner recipes) welcome...

05-24-2008, 15:09
Nothing's gonna stop ya except you might find it's a bit more involved than "pootling about in the snow." And yes, it's been done, there were journals of winter AT hikes in the 1975 Rodale Press anthology.

05-24-2008, 15:13
It depends on the year, but usually winter hiking from Maine --> Mass is less tooling around in the snow and more winter mountaineering, especially the more exposed, higher elevation parts.

I met a fellow who started at Abol Bridge (in Maine) on January 1. He was able to make no more than approximately 5 miles per day through the harsh winter months. Frequently, the trail was covered in snow deep enough that blazes were covered and he was forced to bushwhack through tree branches rather than beneath them. It sounded like extremely rough and slow going. Temperatures were frequently between -20*F and -40*F at night, and rarely above 0*F during the day.

If you're an experienced mountaineer, you know what to expect and know that you can handle it. If you're not an experienced mountaineer, I'd advise against it.

Wolf - 23000
05-24-2008, 16:02

Mount Katahdin is open later than October. With the right permit and a party of 4 you, you can hike the AT starting into January if you like.

I have done the AT in the winter, all sections completed in December – February. First off what you are looking at doing is NOT going to be easy. Maine is EXTREMELY COLD in the winter. To give you an idea when I did the Kennebec River, I walked across 2 Ĺ thick of ice. Some of the problems you are going to experience are:

1.Route finding. A good portion of the AT in Maine is marked on rocks that could be under several feet of snow.
2.Fuel. If you are really planning on using a warming tent, plan on carrying about a gal. of fuel out of town. I carried a 33 oz fuel bottle that I had to regularly fill up to cook food and use to make water.
3.People. When I hiked New England, I saw only a hand full of day hikers in a few location no long distance hikers. Leaving in mid-October, you will run in thru-hikers in Maine but as you go farther south there will be less and less people. Hostels will be closed for the season.
4.Being wet. There were several places I broke through the ice and found myself in several feet of water. That may not sound to bad except when it is below 0 degrees outside and you have to continue to hike on.

That all I can think about for now but feel free to ask any question you may have.


05-24-2008, 20:27
I'd get through the Whites my mid-October. Check out the web cam from the top in November. FEET of snow, temps in the single digets and wind chill's below zero.

Read the last half of the Barefoot Sisters book one, accounts of winter hiking in the southern sections!

05-24-2008, 20:55
I agree with "rhjanes" if you can get thru the Whites by mid-October, your hike would be much more realistic & enjoyable. Still plenty of challenges but HYOH !!!!

05-25-2008, 00:55
Honestly, you would do well to be down off Moosilauke and past Glencliff, NH by early, not mid, October. Travel above timberline in the Whites from October on can get really dangerous when it snows and/or gets icy. A mid August to early September start(depending upon your physical condition) at Katahdin would likely make for a wonderful fall hike through New England and the best of foliage season and should also get you through the VT mountains before any significant snow accumulation as well. If you choose to start after October, bring your snowshoes, ice axe, crampons, etc, 'cause you might very well need them in the Whites. It's really unpredictable. In 2005 Mt Washington and higher elevations in the Whites got over 6 feet of snow in mid October.

05-25-2008, 06:26
Depends on the year. I did it oct 15, 2001 to Feb 10 2002. Was a good winter to be out there. NOt too much snow, route finding problems were nil. Biggest problem is long nights. Other years could be tough as Wolf says.

Not many hostels, hotels, parks, are open in the winter. HOwever, the views are good and the shelters' are empty. have fun. and be careful.
(We made it to PA by Dec 10th i believe.)

Wolf - 23000
05-25-2008, 08:37
I know the common thinking is if you get pass NH your in the clear. Well here is a wake up call, VT does not have the alpine view but is extremely cold with it own challenges. First, the trail is in the trees. It can make you look at feel like a walking snowman as snow falls down right on top of you, freezing all on a regular basics. Going through VT, I only found one moving water source. Everything else was frozen solid. As previous said, you will need to carry extra fuel and fill up constantly. Donít let yourself down to 2 or 3 days of fuel because storms can last several days.


05-25-2008, 08:49
If you had started Oct 15 last year, this (http://whiteblaze.net/forum/vbg/showimage.php?i=19981) is what you would have been hiking in within 2-3 weeks from starting. The white stuff can really slow you down, just sayin.

Feral Bill
05-25-2008, 13:14
I see you are British. As I understand it, the White are compareable to the Scottish Highlands in winter. Would you hike there alone in January?

I have started at least three winter traverses of the Presidantial Range (the main high part of the Whites) and turned back each time. It is no joke. You can die there easily.

There are, IIRC, alternate routes through the area if it is looking nasty.

Sorry to be negative, well prepared and in a strong group this is a great area in winter.

05-25-2008, 14:16
I think the Whites are actually a bit colder, snowier, and windier than the Scottish Highlands (and most other places on Earth). Kind of splitting hairs though. Cold, windy, icy, deep snow, and dangerous are the best descriptions. Travel alone above treeline in the winter isn't a smart decision. Ice axe, crampons, rope, and skill are definite must haves. Quite a few climbing schools teach winter expedition/glacier travel/high altitude mountaineering skills in the Whites. Kind of says it all.

05-25-2008, 17:57
If you had started Oct 15 last year, this (http://whiteblaze.net/forum/vbg/showimage.php?i=19981) is what you would have been hiking in within 2-3 weeks from starting. The white stuff can really slow you down, just sayin.
those are gorgeous pics, but I wouldn't want to be out there looking at it in person while attempting to backpack through it.