When The Going Gets Snowy

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.

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TransCanada Trail through Marie Curtis Park, Etobicoke – March 2017

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).

backpack

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.

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Kawartha Trails, Lindsay – January 2018

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.

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Kawartha Trail – January 2018

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.

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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.

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47 comments

    • I grew up with snowmobiles and loved the thrill of riding them. As I got older, the noise, smell, and cold lost their attraction. … but I seem to have come full circle. Great trails have been groomed for sledding and it’s become very popular up north. It’s starting to look very attractive again 🙂

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  1. Oh my gosh you two are amazing! It’s pretty out there and so magical with snow.

    I’m glad you have the layering of your clothes, and pack sorted. The batteries of cameras due run down quickly in the cold. I’ve found keeping my spare in my inside coat pocket next to my body helps keep that one fully charged until needed.

    Looking forward to your next winter hike!

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  2. Lovely photos. Interesting to hear your tips, although you are far more adventurous that me. I’m with Jude, pop out for some photos but that’s about it. Enjoy your walks and think of the spring that is just around the corner 🙂

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  3. I find winter hiking makes the season go much faster. Hey, it’s going be cold and stay cold for a while yet. You may as well get out there and enjoy it. And you really appreciate coming back to a warm place afterwards, instead of coming down with cabin fever from being stuck indoors! Way to go, Joanne and Helen!

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    • I thank you for the thought … especially after we got another dump of snow overnight 😕
      A snowy winter had been forecasted and it’s been delivered. An early spring would be nice, but somehow I’m doubtful.

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  4. Great summary of how to hike in winter – you two are amazing. When I’ve snowshoed on trails in cold weather I find I warm up quickly although with the winds we’ve been having, if you’re not in the woods it’s tough. and have you thought of cross country skiing for some sections? The point you make about snow blindness is so true – can understand why you’d want to avoid rural areas.
    You gals have real grit!

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    • Cross country skiing was one of our conversations. Both of us used to ski once upon a time, but neither of us have any equipment any more. This winter is making it sounds really attractive again.

      You make a good point about warming up quickly. On the Bruce where there’s a lot of protection from trees, we often hiked in much colder weather, but what we’re encountering on the TransCanada – at least in Southern Ontario – are long open flats with little or no protection.

      In another week, Helen will be gone for month, so hopefully by March things will start to improve a bit. When even Helen is talking about riding a bike again, you know it’s bad 😉

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    • Yeah Dan, it’s one of those funny things that you don’t notice until you’re experiencing it. It’s almost like a kind of blindness because the snow given the ground has a fuzzy, unfocused look to it. Until Helen mentioned it one day, I assumed it was just me and my less-than-stellar vision.

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  5. The thing about hiking in the winter is that once you’re out of the city where the snow can get ugly, gritty, and black really fast, when you’re on a hiking trail everything is so damn pretty. I seldom venture into the wild like you and Helen do but still good tips. The mylar blanket – absolutely. Must get one for hubby who tends to go on epic x-country ski outings.

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    • The mylar blanket is a great idea. They cost only a couple of dollars and come in a tiny little package that can be carried in a pocket. I think of stuff like that as an insurance policy. You don’t ever expect to need it, but really glad you have it when you do.

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  6. You and Helen are an amazing pair. I will gladly cheer you on and wave from the warmth of my home. Since moving from up north (New Jersey) to down here on Florida, many years ago, I can no longer even think of cold without virtually freezing! Schools are closed tomorrow and our office is closed till 12 noon b/c we are due to have sleet/rain/snow with temps dropping down into the 20s., Yup. That’s how the south handles snow–everything shuts down! You would crack up. 🙂

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    • Thanks for the giggle this morning … especially since we got another dump of snow overnight.
      I haven’t been out in 3 days – except to shovel snow. That’s what I like about being retired. I don’t have to go anywhere if I don’t want to … and right now I don’t want to 🙂

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  7. I love winter hiking. I agree that ice-grippers (or yaktrax) are incredibly helpful. Sadly, we have more rainy-winters (than snowy-ones) on Vancouver Island. Once again, the right gear is essential!

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    • Gear makes all the difference in the world! Combine it with the right attitude, and a day out in winter conditions can be wonderful. I admit that looking forward to a shot of Fireball Whiskey at the end doesn’t hurt either 😉

      You live in such a beautiful part of the country, I would imagine that there is constant inspiration to get outdoors. I’m not getting quite the same feeling in the long open flats of southern Ontario. I guess it’s good prep for the Prairies 😉

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  8. Outdoor activities in the bitter cold are challenging. It sounds like you & Helen are well prepared when you venture out to brave the elements which is so important! Wishing you a few of those beautiful, crisp sunshine winter days to enjoy!

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  9. Golly you too are an intrepid pair aren’t you? No way would you see me hiking in that weather. I might ‘pop’ out to take a few photos in the snow, but a 6km hike? No way! Lovely scenery though, and maybe you could afford a proper sledge and a few huskies?

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  10. I’m in awe that you go out in the temps you do. I whine if it’s below 60F (16C). I’m glad that you are packing items in case you have an emergency. Snowmobiles look like fun but they are noisy and disturb the wildlife. And, it’s cheating 🙂 Stay safe!

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    • hahaha!! Actually it’s not cheating. Helen and I revised our ‘rules’ early in the journey and said there was no reason why we had to walk or cycle the entire trail. In fact, I discovered that some of the trail is water-based that needs to be traversed by boat. I have a hope that we’ll be able to do sections by dogsled (in the Far North), and horse (in the west). Snowmobile seemed like a logical addition 😉

      I do agree that the likelihood of seeing any wildlife while on a snowmobile is virtually nil. On the other hand, we’re not seeing any anyway :/

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  11. Joanne, I applaud you and Helen for having the determination to keep walking in the winter. Every fall, I think about continuing the lunch-time walks on the trail during winter months. Last year, the ice kept me away and this year it’s the bum foot (but it’s getting better). I also refuse to walk when there’s a stiff wind and/or the temps go below 20F (-7C). When I was downhill skiing, my favorite weather was sunny, 25F and little wind. It’s perfect for walks too.

    I hope you get several more walks in this winter. I’ll be thinking of you when I’m in the 90F yoga studio. 🙂

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    • We deliberately cancelled our hike yesterday because of the extreme weather alert (seems there’s been a lot of those lately!). Friday will be much warmer – and hopefully all the snow we got yesterday will be tramped down.
      We’re deliberately leaping ahead to the next urban centre and doing that walk. Neither of us like the idea of trekking through deep snow on isolated trails. We’ll leave that for the spring 🙂

      Sorry to hear about your foot. What did you do? Or is this a recurring problem?
      I had a stress fracture from running on icy sidewalks one winter several years ago. Now I’m not big on ice. I carry ice grippers on winter hikes and I don’t hesitate to put them on!

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      • I’ve had a case of plantar fasciitis since the end of July. I’ve been working with the chiropractor and massage therapist and buying different shoes and stretching and…ever since. It’s getting better but taking a long time to heal.

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        • Ouch. Yes, I understand that can take a long time … and it hurts 😕
          The only good news in here is that with the winter healing time, hopefully you will be back in form for the spring.

          Which reminds me, I’ve been pretty lazy about stretching my feet and achilles …

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  12. The other problem I’ve encountered when walking on very cold days is that the battery in my cell phone dies very quickly. I bought some great hiking shoes that fit really well but I was told that they wouldn’t keep my feet warm in the winter. So far when I’ve been out my feet have not been cold but I keep looking for winter hiking boots that come up a bit higher. I really need good arch support and so far I haven’t found anything that fits the bill. My next stop is Mountain Equipment Co-op. Wish me luck.

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    • I’ve noticed the same thing with my camera battery. Now I make sure that I have a full charge when I leave.

      I bought new boots a few months ago from MEC and love them – they keep my feet both warm and dry. The staff there is amazing and very knowledgeable. Every boot I’ve bought there fit well and I’ve loved! Good luck! Are you going to the downtown store? I’m happy since they opened a store on the east of the city. It’s so much more convenient.

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