I have officially declared this to be the case.
Today I went on my first real solo hike(!) on the edge of the Ossipee mountains in Moultonborough, NH. Well, OK, I do frequently hike solo here, near my parents’ place in Maine, but I know that trail system very well and it’s pretty low-key and very low-risk. I was supposed to run today — I am, after all, training for all those half marathons! But I really needed to get in the woods/up high.
For today’s excursion I chose a 4-mile route that I have done before in an area I know moderately well, but it’s cold and there is a little snow on the ground, so there was potential for incidents and/or accidents. As you’ve probably figured out by now, though, I made it! And I decided that winter hiking is better than summer hiking. It’s not hot, it’s not humid, there are no bugs, the bears are all hibernating, there are no leaves on the trees blocking views you probably never knew were out there, and there are very few other people on the trails. The only downsides I identified, which are easy enough to handle, are A) rest stops and summit enjoyment time are limited because I get too cold if I stay still too long and B) (TMI alert) my nose runs almost constantly. Ew. But the pluses far outweigh the minuses.
As a follow-up to my “Running with Raynaud’s” post, here is my gear/clothing list for today. It was mostly cloudy and about 35 degrees with very little wind (until five minutes after I reached my destination, cutting my enjoyment time even shorter than I had planned). The trail was mostly covered with snow with conditions ranging from packed-down (slippery!) snow to ice to bare spots.
Clothing: lightweight baselayer top and bottom; midweight tech shirt; dorky-yet-comfy-and-functional hiking pants; puffy coat; and, of course, socks and boots. Please don’t beat me up about the boots — there was less info available when I bought them and I thought they were leather-free. I’ve already beaten myself up enough. I usually hike in minimalist
trail running shoes but I found (not surprisingly) that I really need more substance — and INSULATION — in the winter. These boots are lightweight and comfy (I generally HATE hiking boots) and WARM. Again with the whole health & safety over preferences/ethics thing. I also carried a midweight, hooded fleece but did not end up needing it.
So… this is only my third? fourth? real winter hike and this is pretty much the system I’ve stuck to. It’s not perfect. When I’m climbing steeper terrain I get sweaty pretty quickly. I can vent a bit by unzipping my puffy coat but taking it off leaves me too chilly. So, my baselayer top gets damp and when I’m not working as hard that can be a little uncomfortable.
I’m considering switching to my midweight baselayer top to see if that keeps me any warmer even when it’s damp. Head, hands, legs, and feet usually stay comfy and cozy. I usually lose the mittens at some point on the way up and may or may not need then on the way down. So sometimes I’m too warm, sometimes I’m a bit cool, but I’ve never been dangerously (Raynaud’s attack-inducing) cold. Except for when we climbed Kearsarge North a couple months ago and it was crazy cold and windy at the top but too stunningly beautiful to leave. I was OK once we started moving again.
Sometimes I feel like a dork when I day hike because I carry a Camelbak pack that probably has too much stuff in it — mostly extra layers because I figure I can’t be too safe. Plus I really, really, really prefer a hydration pack to water bottles. I can never comfortably reach around to a water bottle out of a pack’s side pocket, let alone get it back in without having to stop, remove my pack, get out the water bottle, drink, put back the water bottle, and reshoulder my pack. Ugh. I don’t care what all the UL geeks say. I’ll carry the extra few ounces of weight and take the risk of springing a leak over wrestling with side pockets/water bottles any day. My point, though, is that I really felt this today when I met a pair of probably 75-year-old men near the summit this afternoon. They were carrying gas station coffee cups. No packs. No gloves/mittens. Puffy coats! But no “gear.” In my defense I was a woman hiking solo and took a more technical trail than they did most of the way up. Plus, circulatory condition. I got over my dorkiness. And they were fun to talk to. They know the area well and have spent a lot of time on the trails.
So despite the runny nose and sweaty baselayer shirt, I pretty much had the time of my life today, even without the boyfriend (who is nursing a knee injury). I now have grand illusions (delusions?) of following winter wherever it goes every day for the rest of my life. And hiking in it.