The Beauty of Winter Hiking

              This past Christmas, I tried and completed my first winter hike. And if you’re a hiking enthusiast like me, then you should absolutely try hiking in the winter. While visiting my family for Christmas, I took the short drive up to Lake Placid in Upstate New York. Many people think New York City is the only highlight of New York State. And they are sorely mistaken. Up north are the Adirondack Mountains and home to some of the most beautiful views and hikes in the Northeast. Lake Placid is one of the most popular spots in the Adirondacks. It’s close to the High Peaks of NY and was home to two Winter Olympics, one being where the famous Miracle on Ice took place when team USA upset the Soviet Union in Hockey.

              Up to that point, I only have done hikes in the summers and falls. Springs aren’t usually the best time to go hiking due to snow melt, muddy conditions, and bugs. Summers are popular since the mud tends to dry up a bit. But Falls are usually the most popular since its dryer times and there’re much less bugs around. Also, the cooler weather is nicer to hike in as opposed to the hot and humid summers. But more importantly, the views in falls are some of the best. With the leaves changing colors, the Adirondacks are home to some of the best foliage views in the country. This is a popular time for tourists and photographers to travel to the area, just to get a glimpse at the massive leaf changing event.

              Winter hikes are a different story. Just to be clear, I’ve hiked in cold weather plenty of times. In Colorado especially, I’ve started off hikes in Breckinridge where the start of the hike is frigid due to the elevation and starting time. However, this was a fall hike. Not a winter hike. There was no snow on the ground and it didn’t take long before the sun rose in the sky and heated up the mountain air for us. I’m talking about true winter hiking, where the ground is all snow and ice, and you can only follow the footsteps in the snow to get to the top. Where the lakes are frozen, and the air is as pure as it will ever be. Where if you don’t have the right footwear or equipment, you will find yourself in a world of hurt. Where if you don’t map out your quest thoroughly or don’t know where you’re going, you could be putting your life in danger. Sounds extreme right? It certainly can be but doesn’t always have to be. That’s the beauty of hiking in the winter in the Adirondacks. These mountains offer a wider variety of difficulties that range from beginner to expert. For me and my hike, I did a middle of the way hike. Not too easy, but not too hard. For my first time winter hiking, it was the perfect balance of difficult terrain and amazing views throughout the hike and especially at the top. The hike I did was called Mount Jo. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed hiking in the winter. I may even prefer it over hiking in the summer. There are so many benefits to this time of year. First and foremost, there are less people on the trail. Winter isn’t the busy season for hiking, and you can certainly see that when you pull into the parking lot. The trails are much busier in the warmer months, and it was nice to have the trail and mountain to myself for most of my hike. Secondly, the air is so much crisper in the winter. It feels fresh, like what air is meant to feel like. And thirdly, the views are amazing. The views are amazing regardless of the time of year, but having not done a winter hike before this, I was impressed with the difference in views to what I’m accustomed to seeing. It’s like walking in a winter wonderland on the way up. And when you turn around to catch your breath after a long uphill portion, you look back at the beautiful mountains and all you hear is a slight breeze. No outside noise or anything. Just nothingness for miles. I was also surprised at how quickly my body would heat up. The temperature for that day was below freezing, but for most of the hike up I was in just my tee shirt. Your body heats up quickly and it’s best to shed layers to avoid sweating in them and making them wet. Being in a tee shirt and still warm in below freezing temperatures is a cool feeling in itself. It’s as if I conquered the cold. Once at the summit, it’s a little different. Since there’s no tree coverage blocking a lot of the wind, the cold will make its comeback fast and you will want to re-bundle up. But the views from the summit are amazing. A vast frozen tundra of mountains with a frozen lake here and there in the distance. It’s an incredible feeling. Especially for me being the only one on the summit that day, the mountains have a way of making us feel small and puts our ego in check. It quite literally makes me come back to Earth and helps me to feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things. The mountains are without a doubt very humbling and beautiful at the same time. It’s relaxing, calming, and energetic all in one. And you’ll be reminded of the benefits of being in nature and the primal feeling it gives you when you conquer the mountain.

              The mountains are my favorite place to be whether that be in the warmer months or colder months. However, during winter hikes there are a few things to keep in mind. For one, you need to have the right equipment. You need to at least have microspikes. These are a little spikes or cleats that go over your hiking boots. These will give you traction on the slippery terrain since most of the ground will be either ice or snow. You won’t want to hike in the winter without these. Depending on the conditions, you may even need snowshoes. That’s why it’s important to check trail conditions and the weather to see what type of footwear is necessary. It’s always a good idea to pack snowshoes anyway just in case. That leads me to my next point. Always map out your hike and prepare accordingly. Know exactly where you are starting and the route you’ll be taking to the top. One of the good parts about winter hiking is that you can follow the footprints in the snow, but it’s still important to know where you’re headed. Another tip is to bring a headlamp or flashlight. Depending on what time you start, you may need some extra light in the beginning. And if you happen to get lost on your way back and if the sun is starting to set, you’ll want to have some extra light to help you see where you’re going. There’s been plenty of horror stories of hikers not preparing, getting lost, and being stranded on the mountain after dark with no light source. This is not the situation you’ll want to find yourself in. So, be prepared, bring a headlamp, and get off the mountain before sundown.

              I’m officially in love with winter hiking and can’t wait until my next snowy adventure. If you have any tips, tricks, trail recommendations, or hiking stories of your own, please feel free to reach out to me or drop a comment below. I’d love to hear them!

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