I’ve been meaning to write a post about winter hiking for a while, and since Mother Nature decided we needed a major dumping of the white stuff yesterday, now seemed like a good time.
Many people hang up their hiking boots in the winter, but neither Helen or I are one of them. When we’re lucky and get what I call a “good” winter, snow cover is not an issue. The ground is often snow free, or with just a light dusting.
However, we haven’t been lucky this winter. It’s been both snowy and bone-chilling cold. When the trail takes us out of an urban area, packing for a hike becomes more important than just food, water, maps, and hiking poles.
Now we need ice grippers, snowshoes, and spare socks, preferably in a waterproof bag (I learned that one the hard way).
The need for a cellphone is obvious, but I also carry extra food, basic first aid supplies, matches, and at least one mylar blanket for emergencies.
I give Helen credit for thinking of the mylar blanket. If you aren’t familiar with them, they are a thin, lightweight heat-reflective sheeting, also called a space blanket. In an emergency, they will provide some wind protection and help reduce heat loss. Hypothermia is no laughing matter when help could be some time away.
Through trial-and-error, I have learned how to layer for the cold, and have discovered small tricks like tucking the mouthpiece of my camelbak into my jacket so the waterline doesn’t freeze in the cold.
However, when it gets colder than -10C, it’s a no-brainer for me. Let’s just say my enthusiasm for the outdoors wanes sharply as the mercury drops lower.
You may not realize that one of the biggest challenges of walking in snow is actually seeing the terrain. The landscape becomes a monochromic blue-white blur.
On those rare winter days (at least in my corner of the world), when the sun is shining in a clear blue sky, the light reflecting off the snow is blinding. Ignoring the fact that it’s usually only sunny when it is inhumanly cold outside, IF you went for a trail walk, the reflection off the snow would washout any detail that might be seen.
On virtually every other day, the flat winter light has a way of softening all the same details. The result is that you still wouldn’t be able to see your path clearly.
Even with hiking poles to help with balance, we end up staggering along in the uneven snow like we’re drunk.
On flat terrain like this, we should have been able to cruise along at 4-5 km an hour. In fact it took 2 hours to go only 6 km … and we were exhausted. The snow wasn’t deep enough to warrant snowshoes, and yet deep enough to be a challenge.
Last week, we were passed on the trail by snowmobiles – although I’ve been told the ‘new’ terminology is ‘sled’. Yeah … no. To me they are still snowmobiles.
Helen and I agreed that this would be our preferred way to travel on these snowy trails. There’s only one small problem – we don’t have one.
I think we need to make new friends … friends with snowmobiles.
In the meantime. we continue to walk.