Hiking in the Winter is a unique and awesome experience. For many years I loved hiking, but only saw it as a 3-season sport. After all, who would be crazy enough to head out in the snow and frigid wind just to freeze their butt off on impassable trails. Turns out I am crazy enough and so are many other White Mountain hikers. Also it isn't nearly as bad as you think, when you have the right equipment. In fact some people prefer it to Summer time hiking for numerous reasons (less crowds, beautiful views, etc.)
Don't get me wrong, hiking in the winter can be dangerous. You could end up with serious bills to pay to the state of New Hampshire or even worse if you are unprepared. So, here are some things you should know before setting out on your first Winter-y expedition.
- Don't leave the trail! Winter is no time for bushwhacking, even if it's just to pee. The beaten path is where you are going to want to stay. The middle of the trail in the winter is called "the monorail" because it is well packed down from other hikers. If you go too far from the monorail you'll post hole (think of a post dropping below the ground).
- Traction, Traction, Traction!!! Think about a car's wheels spinning in place while stuck in a snow bank. That's what you'll look like while trying to hike a White Mountain without something on your feet. Snowshoes and Micro-Spikes will be your best friend in the winter. Even then scrambles and other obstacles can be a bit difficult to get around.
- Hypothermia is real and can kill you. Anyone who has done any wilderness first aid or safety training knows (or should know!) that hypothermia is one of the number one things that can kill you in the outdoors. This is why it is so incredibly important to stay dry in the backcountry, that goes tenfold in the winter. You'll get wet, just don't get soaked. Wear moisture wicking materials and shells over any layer that can absorb weather.
4. Check the weather for before, during and after your trip. Snowshoeing through 3 feet of fresh powder is a lot more strenuous than your average spring stroll in the mountains. Check to see what has been going on in the days before your trek, during your trek and after. The forecast can determine everything from what equipment you need to if you can safely take your trip.
5. Chose your mountains wisely! Some peaks are going to require specific equipment, for example I wouldn't try summiting Jackson in the Winter without crampons or micro-spikes. Other peaks trails are not a good idea at all in the winter, for example "the chimney" between the two Osceolas would likely require ice axes and technical climbing to get up and down in the winter.