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  1. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by CalebJ View Post
    Until my first trip to the Whites, I'd never experienced a strong desire to have a GPS . . . near the Madison hut in February of 2019, though, we ran into total whiteout conditions. . . There were no visible landmarks whatsoever, so a map and compass really weren't doing any good. . .
    For people that are not accustomed to navigating while hiking/climbing/backpacking in foul conditions it's easy to forget that some of the most helpful topographical information is always right at your feet, especially in the mountains and especially if you have a map and compass. I've run into a couple situations in the White Mountains bagging peaks in the winter where we ran across another group that was completely lost trying to follow their GPS.

    You are always standing on terrain. If you have a map and compass, and you know within a reasonable distance where you should be, the slope you are standing on and the direction of that slope can often pinpoint your position with excellent accuracy, with the addition of an altimeter you can often pinpoint your position, especially on steep terrain, with more accuracy than a GPS. Which is why I wear (and try to always remember to set) my altimeter watch for winter climbing in the Whites.

    In the case of Madison Hut, you should be able to pinpoint it's position pretty closely by continuing to walk up the lowest point of the draw you are walking up to get to it (admittedly with some meandering on the trails through the tight trees). And, on that note, why the heck are you continuing to hike UP to Madison in white-out conditions, especially without a GPS at hand and robust (GPS independent) navigational skills? On those days, turning around is likely the wise option.
    I'm not lost. I'm exploring.

  2. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by nsherry61 View Post
    For people that are not accustomed to navigating while hiking/climbing/backpacking in foul conditions it's easy to forget that some of the most helpful topographical information is always right at your feet, especially in the mountains and especially if you have a map and compass. I've run into a couple situations in the White Mountains bagging peaks in the winter where we ran across another group that was completely lost trying to follow their GPS.

    You are always standing on terrain. If you have a map and compass, and you know within a reasonable distance where you should be, the slope you are standing on and the direction of that slope can often pinpoint your position with excellent accuracy, with the addition of an altimeter you can often pinpoint your position, especially on steep terrain, with more accuracy than a GPS. Which is why I wear (and try to always remember to set) my altimeter watch for winter climbing in the Whites.

    In the case of Madison Hut, you should be able to pinpoint it's position pretty closely by continuing to walk up the lowest point of the draw you are walking up to get to it (admittedly with some meandering on the trails through the tight trees). And, on that note, why the heck are you continuing to hike UP to Madison in white-out conditions, especially without a GPS at hand and robust (GPS independent) navigational skills? On those days, turning around is likely the wise option.
    I'll accept that turning around would have been the most viable option had we not quickly found the hut using the GPS.

    To be clear, we weren't lost - it was still very easy to return the way we came. But visibility was temporarily down to perhaps 20 feet, so we had very little to make an educated decision on at that moment. The conditions cleared quickly to the point that we were able to see the hut soon after locating where it -ought- to be on GPS and proceeded to climb Madison and return the way we came.

  3. #23
    PCT, Sheltowee, Pinhoti, LT , BMT, AT, SHT, CDT 560 miles 10-K's Avatar
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    It's a lot easier to hike in the snow from home, in a warm house with a cup of coffee next to the computer.

    It's kinda fun after a storm when temps are in the 20-30s, the wind is calm, the sky is blue and there's 4-7" of fresh powder than only requires a cursory scan to see the trail depression.

    What does suck is when it's the end of a long day, you're exhausted, your water bottle is frozen, it's so cold your phone/GPS died but you couldn't check it anyway because your hands are numb and there's 12"+ of blowing snow with knee deep drifts and the snow is piling up so high you can't see where the trail might be.

  4. #24

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    Thanks for the insights and pics! Most helpful (a few a little scary). 😳. Iíll heed the advice and start off with a single night in a section I know pretty well. Hope to see you out there! 🥾🥾🥾❄️☃️

  5. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by 10-K View Post
    What does suck is when it's the end of a long day, you're exhausted, your water bottle is frozen, it's so cold your phone/GPS died but you couldn't check it anyway because your hands are numb and there's 12"+ of blowing snow with knee deep drifts and the snow is piling up so high you can't see where the trail might be.
    That does suck and continuing on in those conditions can kill you. One should stop and make camp as soon it becomes apparent your in an epic storm and ride it out. No matter how close you think the shelter is.

    Of course, ideally you make sure your not caught out in that kind of weather to begin with. Although that is easier said then done if you happen to be in the Smokies at the time and chanced the weather.
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  6. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by CalebJ View Post
    . . . But visibility was temporarily down to perhaps 20 feet . . . The conditions cleared quickly to the point that we were able to . . . proceeded to climb Madison and return the way we came.
    Madison is good that way in the winter. On a climb a couple years ago we got into some pretty dense blowing snow and cloud between the hut and the summit (probably 50 ft visibility for some stretches. Then, all of a sudden the clouds were gone, and it was a stunning and beautiful February afternoon with 100 mile visibility. Then three minutes later, we were back in the clouds with no significant visibility.

    Here we are on our way back down from the summit, still grinning from the three minutes of amazing views.

    madison summit.JPG

    But, in all seriousness, if you like hiking and climbing in the winter, it's well worth learning to navigate with a map and compass in a white-out . . . or have fun practicing trying to find your location any time based only on the direction (and sometimes the steepness) of the slope your standing on and altimeter if you have one. For winter climbs, I'll often make notes on my map for the altitude and slope direction of critical trail intersections or other route waypoints to help in case visibility gets crappy. That way I don't have to stop moving in winter temperatures and try and calculate details on the map while it's getting blown around by high winds. And frankly, I find it nicer to navigate to a known slope direction and altitude than it is to try to keep watching a GPS location while on the move in tough conditions. It's paying more attention to terrain and less to an electronic device.

    Now, go out and have fun. It's the greatest time of year to be outside!
    I'm not lost. I'm exploring.

  7. #27
    PCT, Sheltowee, Pinhoti, LT , BMT, AT, SHT, CDT 560 miles 10-K's Avatar
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    I just want to point out that using a map in a snowstorm can be fairly well impossible and gps/phones do not do well in very cold conditions - and your hands are probably too numb to use them anyway.

    There needs to be some differentiation in what we're talking about here.. are we talking about navigating in the snow on a pretty day on a day hike after 3-4" or are we talking about getting caught in a true snowstorm on a multi-day hike?

    As they say.. ***** can get real in a hurry.

  8. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by RADHiker View Post
    Iíve always wanted to hike in winter, but worry about not being able to find the blazes in snow. Blizzard scenario aside, how easy is it to find the trail in winter? I really want to try, but donít want to end up on the Nightly News. . .
    Quote Originally Posted by 10-K View Post
    I just want to point out that using a map in a snowstorm can be fairly well impossible and gps/phones do not do well in very cold conditions - and your hands are probably too numb to use them anyway.
    There needs to be some differentiation in what we're talking about here.. are we talking about navigating in the snow on a pretty day on a day hike after 3-4" or are we talking about getting caught in a true snowstorm on a multi-day hike?
    As they say.. ***** can get real in a hurry.
    Well, it looks like the OP is wondering about simple winter navigation under what they're hoping is pretty tame weather conditions. And, I think there was a lot of and a pretty thorough list of ideas to help with that.

    BUT, as threads get interesting and tangential to the OP, this one seems to be opening up to a wider discussion about winter navigation in general. AND, the comment made up-thread about map and compass being useless in a white-out, in an area I know has useful terrain features to navigate by, triggered the urgent, oh crap, "I can't let this piece of misinformation propagate" impulse in my fingertips.

    And, if people are going outside in winter very much, it can be most helpful to be adequately prepared to navigate the unexpected because the unexpected happens and becomes problematic in the winter. And, if you're confident in your winter navigation, you will go out for longer in conditions that are well worth exploring, but hold narrower weather safety margins.

    So please, people, take time to practice finding your location on a map and hiking to particular pre-determined waypoints (like a trail junction or a creek crossing or whatever) without being dependent on a GPS.
    1) Keep track of your location on a map as you hike using terrain features visible to you and on that map.
    2) Practice finding you location and waypoints using low visibility tools such as slope angle and slope direction and altitude.
    3) Practice marking up your map at home with notes about distances (and estimated travel time?), headings to and from notable terrain features, slope angles and directions for waypoints of navigational value, and whatever notes will help you navigate when you don't want to or can't take the time to figure it all out on the mountain in a blizzard, when your exhausted, and you are having to manage an emergency.

    Then, go play outside with confidence in the wild beauty we have around us!
    I'm not lost. I'm exploring.

  9. #29
    PCT, Sheltowee, Pinhoti, LT , BMT, AT, SHT, CDT 560 miles 10-K's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nsherry61 View Post
    Well, it looks like the OP is wondering about simple winter navigation under what they're hoping is pretty tame weather conditions. And, I think there was a lot of and a pretty thorough list of ideas to help with that.

    BUT, as threads get interesting and tangential to the OP, this one seems to be opening up to a wider discussion about winter navigation in general. AND, the comment made up-thread about map and compass being useless in a white-out, in an area I know has useful terrain features to navigate by, triggered the urgent, oh crap, "I can't let this piece of misinformation propagate" impulse in my fingertips.

    And, if people are going outside in winter very much, it can be most helpful to be adequately prepared to navigate the unexpected because the unexpected happens and becomes problematic in the winter. And, if you're confident in your winter navigation, you will go out for longer in conditions that are well worth exploring, but hold narrower weather safety margins.

    So please, people, take time to practice finding your location on a map and hiking to particular pre-determined waypoints (like a trail junction or a creek crossing or whatever) without being dependent on a GPS.
    1) Keep track of your location on a map as you hike using terrain features visible to you and on that map.
    2) Practice finding you location and waypoints using low visibility tools such as slope angle and slope direction and altitude.
    3) Practice marking up your map at home with notes about distances (and estimated travel time?), headings to and from notable terrain features, slope angles and directions for waypoints of navigational value, and whatever notes will help you navigate when you don't want to or can't take the time to figure it all out on the mountain in a blizzard, when your exhausted, and you are having to manage an emergency.

    Then, go play outside with confidence in the wild beauty we have around us!
    I'm going to let it go but I will say that all the theory is great info but in the field it can be much, much more challenging that typing about it.

  10. #30

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    Quote Originally Posted by 10-K View Post
    I'm going to let it go but I will say that all the theory is great info but in the field it can be much, much more challenging that typing about it.
    Agreed.
    For the record, this is the visibility we had a little while later in the way up Madison...
    Photo Feb 15, 11 38 34 AM.jpg

  11. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by RADHiker View Post
    Thanks for the insights and pics! Most helpful (a few a little scary). ��. I’ll heed the advice and start off with a single night in a section I know pretty well. Hope to see you out there! ������❄️☃️
    You might get a chance this year yet. Keep an eye out for the weather and you see some snow coming go for it. My problem is I need it snow on the weekends or I'll be in work plowing snow.

    One more side note things get icey out there look into some micro spikes. I like kathoola spikes absolutely awesome walk straight up a mountain with solid ice and a pack and never slip.

  12. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by 10-K View Post
    I'm going to let it go but I will say that all the theory is great info but in the field it can be much, much more challenging that typing about it.
    I don't know where you may think I'm coming from 10-K, but at no point is there a suggestion that navigation in low to zero visibility is easy, doesn't require practice or even always works. You can't navigate with slope direction on the side of a long straight ridge, you can't navigate using trail direction if the trail is straight and flat or covered in snow to the point you don't know where it is (yes, I didn't suggest trail direction as a location tool above). You can't navigate by GPS if your battery is dead. You can't navigate by triangulation in low visibility. As we all should know, navigation is a toolbox to work with. My toolbox comes from a lot of years playing, hiking, backpacking, skiing, and climbing, more in the mountains that along long distance trails.

    Most of my life I've seen trails as the easy, higher speed, route into or closer to where I spend most of my time off trail. I rarely navigate with more than a topo map to keep rough track of my location as I move, and rarely having to figure out where I am beyond looking around at the topography and knowing where I've been. There, that's 95% of backcountry navigation. In recent years, on day hikes where battery life isn't an issue, I've gotten lazy and often keep track of where I am by looking at my GPS location on my phone because my phone is often out taking pictures anyway and the GPS apps on it rock, BUT, the GPS doesn't provide nearly as nice a working view of the area I'm in as a paper map does.

    I have been lost in winter on flat terrain (before GPS's existed) but knew there was a road within a couple miles due north of me, so I just skied north until I found the road skied to a turn in the road that gave us a reliable E/W location and then navigated by compass and skied back to our car.

    I've been lost in a white-out on the side of a mountain knowing there was an trail out, down at tree line, directly below the point on the side of the mountain where the slope direction was was at 262 degrees W (noted by me on my map previously so it could be used as an emergency exit point), so we walked around the side of the mountain, working our way down-slope until we got to about 260 degrees and then dropped straight down until we reached tree-line, and then kept heading northish until we found the trail through the trees on our left.

    One time on Mount Hood in Oregon in blowing snow, white out conditions, in early fall my buddies and I had to back off a climb because of the near zero visibility and did pretty much the same, navigating by slope, down the south side of the mountain until we found the Palmer chair lift line we could follow back to Timberline Lodge.

    The stories go on. Getting lost beyond spending a few minutes trying to find the lost trail or confirming you are heading down (or up) either the right or wrong drainage, is rare. But, getting lost does happen and trying to have fun playing with all the different tools that may come in handy are well worth doing before you need them. And, as was noted above, in winter, low visibility conditions, when your GPS batteries may fail, and triangulation is impossible, it's well worth having a few more tools to fall back on to be able to keep moving and hopefully keep having fun.
    I'm not lost. I'm exploring.

  13. #33

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    For a winter hike, I would advise you to start with the Pinhoti Trail. Not only it is a beautiful trail, it is a great trail for winter hiking for a novice (like myself).

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