When I first got into hiking I was mainly a fair weather hiker always looking for ideal weather days to head out into the woods. If the weather didn’t cooperate I’d call it off and stay home. As many locals know, weather here in the north east doesn’t always co-operate. This lead me to start heading out on the trail regardless of the conditions in the summer, spring and fall. This year I decided to take it a step further and start hiking through the winter season. When I mentioned this to my wife and friends everyone seemed to think I was crazy. Why on earth would you want to hike through the extreme cold, snow, and wind?!
Well the answer was pretty obvious to me. It’s a thrill, there’s less traffic on the mountains, and the scenery is incredible during the winter in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I also have a real addiction to gear… and of course winter hiking requires a whole range of addition equipment.
I started researching what gear I’d need. I was starting from scratch with no knowledge of traction, insulation types, or emergency equipment. I perused forums like backpacker.com and others to try to absorb as much as I could. I read other more experienced hikers blogs like sectionhiker.com . It became obvious very quick that this hobby would become expensive and the learning curve would be steep.
After further research I discovered a course offered by the AMC (Appalachian mountain club), the “Winter Hiking Series” AKA WHS. It was inexpensive at only $90 for members, and also run by volunteers. I was intrigued, but a little concerned as I’m mainly a solo or small group kind of guy. None the less, I broke out of my shell and filled out the application to join the course through the AMC website. The only criteria to join the WHS course was to be an “experienced 3 season hiker” with all the knowledge that brings, and to be able to attend every scheduled event. Shortly after I submitted the application I was contacted by one of the leaders that I had been accepted to the course.
The WHS Course Outline
The WHS course was pre-scheduled. It would begin with a 2 day lecture/short hike and be followed by a series of hikes leading up to a climax hike over Franconia Ridge on the day before winter starts. The schedule looked like this for the 2014 class:
Saturday, November 1, 2014 – Registration, lectures, optional gear inspection, and
socializing at the AMC’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, Conference. Room A
Sunday, November 2, 2014- Lectures and Day hike of Boot Spur
Saturday, November 8, 2013 – Break – No Hike
Saturday, November 15, 2014 – Day hike to Mt. Flume
Saturday, November 22, 2014 – Day hike to Mt. Mooselauke
Saturday, November 29, 2013 – Break – No Hike
Saturday, December 6, 2014 – Day hike to Mts. Eisenhower & Clinton/Pierce
Saturday, December 13, 2013 – Break – No Hike
Saturday, December 20, 2014 – Day hike to Mts. Lincoln & Lafayette
The First Weekend
The first weekend November 1st and 2nd would include a full day lecture by Bob Humphrey (WHS Founder) and a staff of “group leaders” that would touch base on every aspect of winter hiking including food, water, traction, clothing, footwear, packs, how to pack, etc… This day was a good oppertunity to absorb some things I didn’t know. It was also good to hear real world scenarios from some very experienced people. The lecture day was fun and interesting. It was good to break the ice with the other people in the course (a total of 23 attended the first day). We all received a lengthy book that Bob H. had written on everything winter hiking including some stories meant to scare the crap out of us. Bob’s teaching style is energetic, loud, and funny. He held everyone’s attention for the entire day of lectures.
Day 2 – Hike Into Tuckerman’s Ravine
Day two of the first weekend included a short hike into Tuckerman’s Ravine to the base of Lunch Rocks. Initially this hike was supposed to be to the summit of Boott Spur, but 100MPH winds at higher altitudes prevented us from doing that. We had gotten some snow the night before, and temperatures had dropped into the teens. Everyone was excited to experience real “winter like” conditions despite it being November and technically fall.
We met in the Boot Room at Pinkham Notch Visitors center where the leaders inspected everyone’s gear. Required equipment for the first weekend was to own a pair of MicroSpikes and some basic face protection. I had purchased these items the week before in preparation. After our short gear up / inspection routine in the boot room we hit the trail. It was a great day with some snow cover and ice. We got to experience some gusty winds, layering scenarios, use of light traction. Not to mention enjoying the views from the base of Tuckerman’s Ravine!
After the first weekend we had several hikes. Here’s a brief summary of each one.
Saturday November 15th: Mt. Flume
The Mt. Flume hike was our first real 4000 foot summit of the course. Weather was in our favor, temperatures were in the low teens with very little wind. The sun was out and visibility was high. We met at the Lincoln Woods parking area off of the Kancamangus Highway. Here we divided into groups with two AMC Leaders per group. We headed up the Lincoln Woods trail to the Osseo Trail to the summit. It was a good exercise for everyone to learn their gear, layering properly, hydration, and food intake.
Saturday November 22nd: Mt. Mooselauke
Mt. Mooselauke has been a summit I’ve been trying to bag for a while. Today I had the opportunity in harsh winter like conditions! The forecast called for 40-50MPH winds at the summit with a windchill 20 below zero. The summit of this mountain is above treeline and exposed to the elements. As we approached the mountain in my carpool, it was obvious that there was a fierce looking cloud just looming over the mountain we intended to climb to the top of! Everyone was excited and anxious to see what it would be like at the top.
The hike was gradual and pleasant, it was good to try out our traction devices on slick ice sections.
At the junction of Carriage Rd. trail we decided to gear up. Everyone got their shells, extra insulation, heavy mittens, goggles, and face protection on. Once we broke out of the treeline the wind was howling! Knocking some members of the group over. We made the summit… took our pictures and retreated back to the treeline. I loved the first experience with that kind of wind, it was an exhilarating experience.
Saturday December 6th: Mt. Eisenhower And Pierce
Unfortunately, due to weather the Eisenhower/Pierce hike was cancelled. The leaders of the WHS course take no risks and always try to make the safe choice for everyone’s best interest.
Saturday December 20th: Franconia Ridge Lincoln/Lafayette
The final hike of the WHS course Franconia Ridge. I was looking forward to this since the first class in November. I had done this hike in June, but I really was excited to see it with less traffic and winter scenery. We had really lucked out with weather, it was beautiful, sunny, low 20’s, with no wind the entire day. We hiked up Falling Waters trail to the summit of little haystack wearing MicroSpikes. For the summit approach we switched over to full crampons to dig into the rime ice. It was my first experience with this kind of traction and really fun.
On the summit of little haystack we had a snack and took pictures, we moved on rather quickly.
We headed across the Franconia Ridge trail to Mt. Lincoln and up to Mt. Lafayette. The views here were incredible! Undercast was forming and the sun was out in blue sky’s.
This was a really memorable day, and some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen in the Whites.
Who’s It For?
This course is for three season experienced hikers who want to expand their window of opportunity into the winter months. All ages, and all fitness levels are welcome as long as you can attend the dates.
Was it Worth It?
Yes! I would recommend anyone who asks me about winter hiking to take this course. It taught me a lot and I gained some new friends during the process. It gave me the confidence I needed to head out on my own. It was valuable to learn about all of the survival and emergency gear to carry during a winter hike, along with a slew of other important topics. I’m glad I took the course and didn’t just “wing it” as I intended.
If you have any questions about specific parts of my WHS experience, feel free to contact me and ask!