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    Default winter section hiking

    I have hopes of doing a 2 week section during winter, with the following parameters: 1) a manageable bit of snow to get the winter experience, and 2) non-lethal temperatures so I can survive to reflect on the experience. One complication is that I tend to be a cold sleeper. Is this realistic, and where would I go? Southern New England? Smokie Mts? Also, do you know of any outfitters who could set me up with some rental gear, since my set up is pretty much a 3-season collection, and I donít intend to make a habit of this. (But you never know, do you?) Thank you.

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    I'd keep it fairly low elevation and fairly south, maybe somewhere in VA. Maybe The Shenendoahs? :-)

    (someone on here HATES when anyone says "the shenendoahs", couldn't resist....)

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    All you really need to do is supplement your sleeping bag and maybe pad. Not sure if anyone rents sleeping bags, that's kind of a personal item. You might want insulated boots too.

    North Carolina might be good. Say Erwin to Damascus. Late Feb to early March would give you a winter experience.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slo-go'en View Post
    All you really need to do is supplement your sleeping bag and maybe pad. Not sure if anyone rents sleeping bags, that's kind of a personal item. You might want insulated boots too.

    North Carolina might be good. Say Erwin to Damascus. Late Feb to early March would give you a winter experience.
    Yeah, I suppose you're right on the bag - I didn't think of that. I've used a 40 down bag inside a 20 synthetic and been pretty comfy down to 30 degrees. Not sure if that'll be enough.

    I can NEVER keep my hands warm enough. Any suggestions?

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    The problem with making a two week commitment for camping in winter conditions is its steep learning curve. Things that work in warm weather may not work so well in or at all in cold weather. I normally recommend a over night and then a weekend to get your gear dialed in and to see if its something you like. Days are shorter in the winter as you head north so there is less sunny hours and more dark hours. Its easy to get damp and if you can dry out, hypothermia is dangerous and the first thing to go is clear thinking. You may be in severe trouble and not realize it unless someone happens to run into you. Hypothermia can happen at 60 degrees but the lower the temps the quicker it kicks in.

    Cold hands can be symptom of a lot of things. If the body is having a tough time keeping warm it restricts blood flow to the extremities and that means your hands an toes. It always tries to cranks heat to the brain as long as possible and the head is very effective radiator so first hint is if you have cold hands put a warm hat on. Be really careful around meal time. Your stomach is really a big muscle, if you eat a lot of food and the wrong types the stomach goes into overdrive and pulls the blood out of the extremities. Of course at lunchtime you probably have been hiking for several hours so the body is cranking out heat, once you stop for lunch, the body quickly ramps down the heat and for most people they have 10 to 15 minutes before they start to get cold. Therefore you need to get in the habit of getting warmer gear out and ready before you eat lunch. Yes fats are calorie dense but they take a long time to digest, ideally you want fast energy foods and that is simple to digest sugars. If it ends with an "ose" like fructose, glucose and dextrose its probably good. The winter S&R folks carry and drink heated jello and odds are if someone is rescued in the Whites they will be encouraged to swill down some. The recommendation is snack easy to digest foods continuously during the day and skip the big lunch, then in the evening go for the fats when you have time to digest them. Post meal freeze ups are common, as a trip leader I see it all the time. The alternative is stop for a long break and get a stove out and heat up something warm. Some folks carry a thermos full of soup but that is a lot of weight.

    If you still have cold hands, mittens are superior to gloves. Its strictly physics, gloves have far more surface area than mittens. Mittens arent very good for dexterity so the solution is to match them up with liner gloves. Merino wool liner gloves are best but the trade off is they are not very durable, plan on having some spares which you need anyhow and realize that you are probably throwing away a pair after a few trips. Most go with synthetic, the trade off is that its easy to melt synthetics when lighting fires and cooking in the winter. Moisture management also factors in. Your hands perspire all the time but more so in winter. If you go with totally waterproof gloves you will have damp hands after a few hours. Your choices are to go with breathable mittens made of Goretex or you can switch out liners when they get damp or you can wear a pair of thin surgical gloves under your liner. This cuts the source of moisture at the source but its takes awhile to get used to them. The other thing to keep in mind is you need things loose to allow the blood to flow and for insulation to work. You many need to upsize your mittens. The final option is buy disposable handwarmers, they work but are not a substitute for getting your gear right. They are also not biodegradable, carry in carry out. Sadly a lot of the trails end up with them when the snow melts. They are far cheaper in bulk but they have a limited shelf life and pack life, I rotate out my inventory yearly. They are not instant. Most last 6 to 8 hours and usually if I think I will need them I just open up a pair and throw the in my pockets for 15 minutes or so before switching into my mittens.

    One annoying issue that happens in winter is blood flow tends to be limited when grabbing onto things like hiking poles. Hiking poles are extremely helpful in winter but the trade off is when your hands get cold you may not be able to use them. I just stick them up under my arm and get my fingers warm and then switch back to them. This usually happens if I stop too long.

    Its not rocket science but a lot easier to get your gear right during a weekend or overnight. One ideal way normally is look for hut to hut type experience where you hike all day and then warm up in front of a fire in a warm space at night. Unfortunately with Covid that is not an option as most of the groups that offer this are closed. AMC in Maine has a winter hut system ideal for this but expect its not happening with Covid.

    BTW there are outfitters and guides that offer winter trips, they do the planning and keep an eye on the participants.

  6. #6

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    A "2-week section hike during winter" covers a heck of a lot of time with dizzying differences in anticipated conditions. Winter reaches most of the Appalachians eventually, however predicting when and where that will occur many weeks away with any specificity is difficult and requires a disciplined "hunt" for the right forecast in a given area. One thing I tried a few years ago when looking at a similar circumstance in weather prognostication was emailing a local TV station weather professional. These folks are usually professional meteorologists and generally are very helpful to help with a forecast and have access to weather resources the average person does not. It may be worthwhile to email a few TV station weather folks along the NC to MD corridor and see what comes back to help focus the hunt.

    Though likely not needed, it should be cautioned that a planned adventure in "a manageable bit of snow with non-lethal temperatures", is kind of a misnomer. There is really no such thing as non-lethal temperatures during meteorological winter in the Appalachian Mountains, especially if there is a sustainable snow pack. With snow and ice on the trail, one can presume lethal trail conditions and temperatures that support those things will exist and to plan accordingly to mitigate these dangers. Footgear traction devices, clothing, and shelter suitable for conditions. Hypothermic conditions can start as warm as 50 degrees (sometimes warmer with high wind and drizzling rain) so its something that should always be in the back of the mind. This is an incredibly dangerous element of winter hiking especially when hiking alone because no one is there to monitor your speech and actions that might signal the start of hypothermia. Stay alert for any signs of slow or poor decision making or other altered behaviors that usually end with the thought "now why did I do that" should be heeded and a signal to get out of the elements as quickly as you can to avoid more serious problems.

    For people in warm climates most of the year the above can sound a bit alarmist, especially when seeing how easily experienced people manage that hazard, however there are approximately 1,500 deaths annually in the US from hypothermia. Many of them preventable had the victim been more aware of hypothermia and how it manifests. It's never a bad thing to review as cold weather backpacking season deepens.

    It being winter, regardless of being a cold or warm sleeper (which I am too btw), plan on being cold in the mountains. Be sure your foot gear is stable and does not easily wet out. I typically move into high top leather boots that I keep water proofed every few weeks to be sure my feet stay as dry as possible. Gaitors in snow are pretty much a necessity unless one enjoys that creepy feeling of snow filtering down the heel very few steps. Be sure your layered gear is able to wick or pass moisture away from your body easily, avoid cotton fabrics that hold water, and be sure your rain gear does not wet out and will repel water for long periods of time.

    To the question of rental gear and what you should get, if you can find an REI store near the area you will be hiking in, many stores rent tents, bags, and other equipment or can steer you towards retailers who do rent equipment. The rental gear recommendations will be practical and based on the experience of those near the area you will be in. I would encourage conversation with local vendors where you will eventually go to get an idea of what works there and what doesn't.

    As to warm hands, my hands sweat a lot (especially when hiking challenging terrain in snow and ice conditions) so most gloves or mittens are not all that usable for me before they are soaked from the inside out. I have been using Smartwool glove liners without a cover glove for years now and find them to be warm, keep my hands relatively dry as they wick moisture away, and can be quickly covered up with a large weather glove for seriously cold weather. They are perfect around the camp as well. One caution though, these gloves can snag on tree bark, bushes, and relatively minor flaws in gear that can cause a run similar to a nylon stocking that a small sewing kit is usually enough for long lasting repairs if needed.

    Good luck on the hike!

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    Load up your pack with at least 50 pounds of food and gear, and go find Tipi.
    He'll take you to all the cold places, and teach you how to deal with it successfully for an extended outing.

    Or at least read several of his winter time trip reports.
    Last edited by illabelle; 12-13-2020 at 11:23.

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    Quote Originally Posted by illabelle View Post
    Load up your pack with at least 50 pounds of food and gear, and go find Tipi.
    He'll take you to all the cold places, and teach you how to deal with it successful for an extended outing.

    Or at least read several of his winter time trip reports.
    If you're going with tipi as your Mr Miyagi you better double that weight!

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    Great info below!

    Anyway, the reason I suggested Shenandoah NP for a section is for easy bailing and the proximity to the road. But maybe the Skyline drive is not kept open in the winter?

    One more little tip; my wife and I used to teach a mountaineering class and always had a "grad hike" for the class which involved making sure that the students could endure two successive nights of deep-cold/snow camping while still staying comfortable. It's relatively easy to be fine for a single night out, it's like "who cares", I'll be in a warm comfy bed tomorrow night. But if you get used to two nights out, you can endure many nights out. This is hugely important in high-altitude mountaineering where we're talking 2-3 weeks in bitter cold/snow.

    So, if you want to do this 2-week thing, make sure you can endure a two-night thing first.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JNI64 View Post
    If you're going with tipi as your Mr Miyagi you better double that weight!
    Hah, you beat me to that one! But for the record, I've headed out with 95 pounds before for a 3-week no-resupply trip (well, but 40 lb in a towed sled, I think some folks call these pulks?). Yeah, it sucked at first. But so worth it.
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    may sound counterintuitive, but in the southern appalachians, the colder it is the easier it is to deal with. So pay attention to the weather.
    This area seems to LOVE 33 degrees dreary windy wet weather. Everything stays wet and damp. Id much rather spend a week out and about in weather that is consistently well below freezing, much easier to deal with when you and everything else basically stays dry.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dropdeadfred View Post
    may sound counterintuitive, but in the southern appalachians, the colder it is the easier it is to deal with. So pay attention to the weather.
    This area seems to LOVE 33 degrees dreary windy wet weather. Everything stays wet and damp. Id much rather spend a week out and about in weather that is consistently well below freezing, much easier to deal with when you and everything else basically stays dry.
    True true true! 20 degrees is way better than 33. We do a lot of bone-dry 0 degree stuff in the Colorado winter w/o any issues, but I "almost died" in 35 degree weather in NC along the AT in April of 2013. Worst hypothermia I've ever had.

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    Colorad_rob, those pics look like it has been some adventure!

    So true as stated above, its relatively easy to suffer through 1-2 nights looking very much forward to a safe environment and a hot shower the next evening, but its a totally different beast to stay out for a week or two, in whatever conditions nature might provide.
    About the biggest hurdle is, keeping everything dry.

    I'd highly recommend to do some training before, gaining experience. Sleeping outdoors back home would be a good starting point.
    I'd call myself an medium-experienced Alpine hiker and climber, and do some 2-3 days trips here in the colder time of the year on a regular basis, and never cease to learn and gain new knowhow.

    Always be careful - you can die out there!

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    One little side-thought: If there is any way you can get out tonight somewhere, the Geminid meteor shower peaks in the wee hours tomorrow morning and should be about as good as it gets for meteor showers.

    We're going to car-camp at a nearby state park tonight (lows in the teens), if you can do something similar, it can test out your "cold-weather" camping aptitude. "cold weather" in quotes because, well, you are in Florida! But maybe it's a least a bit chilly there....

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    Quote Originally Posted by colorado_rob View Post
    One little side-thought: If there is any way you can get out tonight somewhere, the Geminid meteor shower peaks in the wee hours tomorrow morning and should be about as good as it gets for meteor showers.

    We're going to car-camp at a nearby state park tonight (lows in the teens), if you can do something similar, it can test out your "cold-weather" camping aptitude. "cold weather" in quotes because, well, you are in Florida! But maybe it's a least a bit chilly there....
    Yep and guess what? We have clouds and rain coming in tonight!
    So not happy about that.

    These meteor showers tonight which will be between 50-150per hour very visible because of no moon. (Unless it's raining)
    But these meteors will be multi colored "shooting stars" according to what metal they are composed of, for instance if the meteor is mostly lead than it will be red, iron blue, like 6 different colored meteor showers .

    I was gonna start a thread on this, maybe got discouraged because I won't be able to see it .

    But have been enjoying Jupiter and Saturn together right after sunset , which they'll appear as one on Dec 21 . That hasn't happened in 800 years. So thats cool. Than of course Mars up there in the eastern sky.

    Sorry for the drifting........

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    I grew up in Minnesota and I really enjoy being outside in the snow & colder temperatures. Even though I live in southern Indiana now, I take every opportunity I can to get back home, or just out & about down here whenever it gets good 'n cold and snowy (my friends & neighbors think I'm insane.) I feel fairly knowledgeable, I'm pretty decently equipped, and I have learned and practice important skills -- yet I still consider myself very much a rookie when it comes to "real" winter backpacking, and frankly don't think I'm anywhere near ready for a two week section in the mountains.

    I dunno, maybe I'm just getting old, but there is a lot -- A LOT -- to learn and think about when considering a winter hike, and your choice of sleeping bag or hiking clothes, while obviously important, are just the tip of the iceberg. Every single thing you do during every single moment of the day is vastly different than when hiking in warm temps, and any simple mistake or lack of skills & knowledge can have catastrophic consequences.

    I would really encourage you to start with some car camping trips first, and then add the hiking after some exposure and practice.

    Sorry to sound like such a Debbie Downer. I do hope you get out there and enjoy the beauty and fun of winter!
    fortis fortuna adjuvat

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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post

    BTW there are outfitters and guides that offer winter trips, they do the planning and keep an eye on the participants.
    Good idea to do a guided trip - no objection at all to that!

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    Quote Originally Posted by colorado_rob View Post
    "cold weather" in quotes because, well, you are in Florida! But maybe it's a least a bit chilly there....
    Haha, you're right: very hard to train for cold weather in FL, BUT in the past year, I've spent more time in north GA and will be relocating soon. Still not that cold, but much different for sure. It's a valid point to make that 20's are better conditions than 30 and wet.

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    I know it’s not a 2 week section, necessarily, but from Mannasses Gap, VA to Duncannon, PA is relatively mild and has many roads and towns (and cell coverage) - you would also knock out 2 states. I did most of the Shenandoah in the winter - high winds and sky line was closed due to blowdowns and government shutdown - hiking to non park access roads was long. New Jersey is good in the winter but not 2 weeks long. Choosing a part of PA north of Lehigh Gap might work for you (or take the winter trail around the climb up).

    Bring different water treatment solutions (don’t let them freeze), sleep with hot water bottles, your fuel, and your shoes, and consider micro spikes. Winter is a bad time to not be prepared. Also know that days are much shorter and it’s harder to get going in the dark when your fingers and feet are cold.

    just a minor warning heading northbound from the New Jersey/New York border, many blazes are on the rocks, under the snow - look for the trail to veer left at some point off the ridge or you’ll end up backtracking or bushwhacking a stream.

    Winter is a great time on the trail, but you have to plan ahead, be skillful, make good choices, and stay warm. ��

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kfried View Post
    I know it’s not a 2 week section, necessarily, but from Mannasses Gap, VA to Duncannon, PA is relatively mild and has many roads and towns (and cell coverage) - you would also knock out 2 states.
    I think this is a very good plan. Elevations are slow, bailouts aren't difficult, and you can get a hotel/hostel night or two to dry things out.

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