4 Winter Hikes for Aspiring Catskill 3500ers

Rough terrain, remote locations, and harsh weather make tackling any of the Northeast’s peak-bagging lists a difficult achievement. Whether it’s the high peaks of the Adirondack 46’ers, the 4,000-footers of New England, or the summits of the Catskill 3500 Club, membership is hard-earned.

Unlike the stewards of New England and the Adirondacks, however, the Catskill Club challenges its aspirants in a different way, by requiring that four of its 35 listed peaks be gained twice—once in winter—for a total of 39 climbs. It’s a wrinkle that ups the ante and affords hikers two unique experiences on some of the region’s finest summits.

As with any winter outing, be prepared for frigid temperatures, shorter days, and potentially nasty weather. Always be sure to check the forecast and trail conditions before heading out. If you’re new to winter hiking, start here.

So which are the must-do winter climbs in New York’s southern range?

A view along the Wittenberg–Cornell–Slide Trail, just shy of the Slide’s broad, flat summit. | Credit: John Lepak
A view along the Wittenberg–Cornell–Slide Trail, just shy of the Slide’s broad, flat summit. | Credit: John Lepak

Slide Mountain

At 4,190 feet, Slide Mountain is the tallest peak in the Catskills and, together with Hunter Mountain, complete the region’s contribution to the NE115 list. It’s Slide’s superlative status that makes it a mega-popular place to be at any time of year, so be prepared to negotiate the crowds on the weekend.

On a bluebird winter weekday though, it’s about as good as it gets. The Curtis–Ormsbee Trail, though neither the most direct nor the easiest route to the top—but decidedly less crowded than the alternative—is an outstanding bit of hiking. Those willing to take on the extra effort though are rewarded with two stellar, sweeping viewpoints, from which several of the Catskills’ higher peaks are visible.

The allure of ticking another 4,000 footer—and a winter one to boot—is also hard to deny. There are a good lot of harder hikes in the Catskills, but Slide definitely has that 4,000 footer-vibe about it.

A 6.6-mile loop hike linking the Curtis–Ormsbee and Wittenberg–Cornell–Slide Trails is one of the best short hikes in the Catskills. For the more ambitious, a full traverse of the Burroughs Range—one of the region’s premier hikes—is an awesome longer (9.8 miles as a shuttle, 14.5 miles as a loop) option.

Black Dome Mountain is front-and-center while descending from Blackhead’s viewless summit. | Credit: John Lepak
Black Dome Mountain is front-and-center while descending from Blackhead’s viewless summit. | Credit: John Lepak

Blackhead Mountain

High and rugged, the peaks of the Blackhead Range loom large over the northeastern Catskills. From west to east, Thomas Cole, Black Dome, and the eponymous Blackhead account for the fourth-, third-, and fifth-highest mountains in the region, respectively, and are traversed by a network of well-signed, well-maintained trails.

It’s easy to see why the architects of the Catskill 3500 Club’s bylaws chose this place—and specifically Blackhead Mountain (3,940 feet)—for one of their four required winter hikes: the ice.

As winter lays siege to Blackhead’s upper reaches, the steep eastern ledges grow dense with thick, accumulated ice, making an approach from this direction substantially more challenging. In fact, the hardness of the ice and the steepness of the terrain often demand that hikers ditch the light traction for real-deal crampons—a pretty unique requirement for a day hike in the Northeast.

The most popular way to bag Blackhead is by way of a 4.3-mile loop from the parking area at the end of Big Hollow Road on the Batavia Kill, Escarpment, Blackhead Mountain and Black Dome Range Trails. Doing it clockwise will have you ascending the heavy ice and descending on gentler ground with prolific views of Black Dome, the best on the hike.

The viewpoint just north of Panther’s summit, a little bit obscured by low clouds and flurries. | Credit: John Lepak
The viewpoint just north of Panther’s summit, a little bit obscured by low clouds and flurries. | Credit: John Lepak

Panther Mountain

Panther Mountain (3,730 feet) and its north–south running ridgeline are best known for offering some of the best views in the Catskills. For better or worse, this is a widely known fact, and a nice weekend day can draw a crowd, particularly at Giant Ledge, a bit south of Panther’s summit.

The snow and ice of winter will thin the crowds a bit, especially past Giant Ledge where the higher-precip years, snow can really pile up enough in the col that even the most intrepid post-holer will turn back (hint: bring snowshoes). Beyond, the moderate ascent is made easier with a good snowpack. Some ledge work will still need to be negotiated and switching between spikes and snowshoes will add some time to the trip, but that’s winter hiking for you.

The terrain is generally moderate and enjoyable, but this hike is all about the views—views that are magnified with winter’s absence of leaves. Unlike in leaf-out season you can really feel the scale of the place the whole time—not just at the viewpoints.

The most direct route up Panther—a 6.4 mile out-and-back on the Phoenicia–East Branch and Giant Ledge–Panther–Fox Hollow Trails—can be made from the south, starting at the hairpin turn on CR-47. A northern approach from Fox Hollow, with a substantial view just before the summit offers a longer (8.8-mile), far-less-traveled option for those looking to avoid the crowds.

The view from the Pine Hill–West Branch Trail, just north of the summit of Balsam Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
The view from the Pine Hill–West Branch Trail, just north of the summit of Balsam Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

Balsam Mountain

Balsam Mountain (3,600 feet), in the Catskills’ Big Indian Wilderness Area is the shortest and most westerly of the required winter 35’ers. Though the summit itself is viewless, a little ledge just to the north offers an outstanding easterly view, and the broad, flat character of the ridge makes for a pleasant, relaxing stroll—all the better with a good snowpack.

The main attraction of Balsam, however, is its location. Proximity to easily accessible trailheads, shelters, and other high peaks make it a great mountain to revisit: alone, as a day hike, or as a longer, overnight trip by linking up with the semi-trailed Eagle and Big Indian Mountains to the south.

Despite its generally moderate grades, winter on Balsam presents would-be summiteers with yet another unique seasonal challenge: water crossings. Climate change certainly hasn’t made mountain weather any more predictable and unseasonable thaws can cause high water, making even the simplest of brook crossings a challenge. Be adequately prepared and know when to turn around.

Beginning at the Rider Hollow Road trailhead and linking the Mine Hollow, Pine Hill–West Branch, and Olivrea–Mapledale Trails makes for an excellent 4.9-mile loop up and down Balsam’s western flank.


Video: An In-Field Review of the EMS Compass 4-Points Pants

We brought the comfortable, lightweight, stretchy Compass 4-Points Pants to the Utah desert to put them to the test.


Winter Off-Trail Hiking in the Adirondacks

Overuse on Adirondack trails—especially in places like the High Peaks—is a big problem. One solution to reduce your impact? Get off trail. As winter sets in and snow and ice blanket the park, the solitude of these beautiful and remote places gets even more intense. For those hearty and adventurous explorers who seek a challenge beyond the trail, and are well prepared, winter bushwhacking in the Adirondacks can be both challenging and rewarding. 

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

How to Prepare to Go Off-Trail

Preparing to venture off trail in the rugged terrain of the Adirondacks, especially in winter, requires some vital skills, proper gear, and careful risk management. 

One of the most obvious requirements is developing navigational skills. While modern GPS technology can be tremendously useful, it is important to have adequate map and compass skills before leaving the safety of marked trails. Start by taking an introductory course or practicing in an area like a local park or small trail network where the consequences of becoming “lost” are minimalized. 

Prepare as always for winter hiking with proper gear and clothing, snowshoes, and crampons or microspikes. Learn to read snow conditions and think about if you will be using crampons on an icy hardpack or breaking unconsolidated powder; when in doubt preparing for all possibilities. Realize that moving through tight snow filled woods results in you being constantly wet and snow covered, so often some extra layers, gloves, and even another shell are crucial. 

Trip planning and risk management also become even more vital when bushwhacking in winter months when an unexpected night or two in the woods can have dire consequences. Use traditional maps, online tools like CalTopo, and trip reports from others to carefully plan your route and consider timing of off trail hikes. 

Understand that winter bushwacking often involves breaking trail through deep snow, pushing through thick forests, and bypassing unexpected obstacles like blow down and icy cliff bands. This results in a much slower pace and greater energy use than trail hiking; consider this when planning for both timing and food and water supplies. 

Seeking assistance for an injury or other serious issues is typically a much harder task than on trails or in summer so be sure to prepare at all times for an evening in the cold, let others know a detailed itinerary, and consider use of a personal locator beacon. 

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Our Favorite Hikes

There’s a way to get away from the trail for every hiking ability level, in the Adirondacks. 

Beginner 

Morgan Mountain: This Wilmington hike is a short hop off an easy trail with a nearby pond, lean-to, and slide to explore if interested. Views are limited but the area is still beautiful.

Number 8 Mountain: Number 8 is one of many open summits with nice views of Brant Lake from ledges accessed by the relatively easy bushwacking of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness area.

Advanced 

Elizabethtown #4: Herd paths approach this Keene subpeak, there are loads of open rock for views, and Spotted Mountain is a nearby add-on. Use caution near the beautiful but frigid waters of the South Fork of the Boquet River.

Wallface Mountain: An ADK 100 highest list peak and home to one of the largest cliffs in the Northeast, it’s a great hike on its own. A recent search and rescue left a massive clearing on the summit allowing for unique views. 

Credit: Neil Luckhurst
Credit: Neil Luckhurst

Expert

MacNaughton Mountain: Some hikers call MacNaughton the 47th high peak. There are many different approaches to this one and some are becoming faint herd paths, but it’s still a challenging and long day in winter. This summit has a sign and a pleasant summit ridge. 

Sawtooth #2: The entire Sawtooth Range (not to be confused with Sawteeth Mountain) includes some of the most remote and wild land in the park. None of the peaks in this range come easily, especially in winter. The approach from the Averyville side is preferred. Viewpoints feature Lake Placid, the Sewards, MacNaughton, and beyond.


Video: Steamy Logs

Unwind around the campfire.


A State-by-State Guide to Giving Tuesday in New England

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday—so much of our time (and money) around Thanksgiving is spent trying to find the perfect gifts for friends and families that it’s easy to lose sight of the organizations working to make our communities better. In recent years, the idea of Giving Tuesday has become popular, reminding us to support the organizations protecting our crags, keeping our waters clean, advocating for open spaces, and exposing the next generation of outdoor lovers to our favorite sports. If you’re in the giving mood, here are some New England outdoor non-profits that could use your support.

EMS_RI_SUP_W0A8796

Rhode Island

It makes sense that the state nicknamed the Ocean State is home to awesome water-based organizations. One of the most notable is Save the Bay. Turning 50 years old in 2020, Save the Bay is a 20,000-member-strong group dedicated to protecting one of Rhode Island’s most valuable natural resources, recognizable landmarks, and playgrounds for paddlers and surfers: Narragansett Bay.

Another ocean-inspired Rhode Island organization that will be amped if you hang ten (or more) dollars on them this holiday season is Spread the Swell, which is working to share the stoke by offering free, non-profit surf camps to underprivileged Rhode Island kids.

While the Ocean State is best known for its surf, it’s also home to some of the best bouldering in New England. Spot the Southeast New England Climbers Coalition a donation and assist them in their work to help protect and establish access to crags, along with maintaining popular destinations like Lincoln Woods.

EMS-LAKE-PLACID-0182

Massachusetts 

The Pan-Mass Challenge is synonymous with summer in the Bay State, as cyclists push their limits on a variety of rides, raising money for a cause everyone is on board with: defeating cancer. Go the extra mile this year by donating, fundraising, or committing to volunteer at the August event.

Helping keep cyclists safe as they train to tackle the Pan-Mass Challenge’s 187 miles and 2,500 feet of climbing is the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition (MassBike). Help MassBike keep the wheels in motion toward creating a more bicycle-friendly state with a donation or by volunteering your time.

Investing in the sports we love is about more than merely maintenance and access. Chill Boston introduces underserved youth in the Greater Boston Area to board sports such as snowboarding, SUPing, and surfing. Drop in and hook them up with a donation to keep our board-based sports healthy and diverse, while also teaching young people valuable life skills.

2019-01-EMS-Kemple-Conway-1284_Cabin_Map

Connecticut

Connecticut is home to outdoor activities as diverse as its landscape, ranging from hiking to rock climbing to cycling. A donation to the Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA) can put a spring in the step of the Nutmeg State’s hikers. The organization is committed to connecting people to the land to protect Connecticut’s forests, parks, walking trails, and open spaces for future generations.

Enthusiasts of Connecticut’s high and wild places will want to tick a donation to the Ragged Mountain Foundation (RMF) off their list. The RMF currently owns 56 acres of land in Southington, Connecticut—including Ragged Mountain—and is focused on stewardship, protection, and public access to the state’s cliffs and crags.

The Connecticut Cycling Advancement Program (CCAP) provides the state’s youth with an organized state-wide cycling league, allowing them to grow within the sport and develop values and skills that transfer to other parts of their life. Ride into the holidays feeling good with a donation to this great group.

EMS-Burlington-0265

Vermont

Locally grown food, amazing craft beer, and outstanding outdoor experiences are commonly associated with Vermont. One of the orgs aiding Vermont in sustaining this reputation is CRAG Vermont, which is dedicated to preserving access to and maintaining the state’s climbing resources, along with giving hungry and thirsty climbers a place to play. Help CRAG Vermont over the crux with a donation this year.

Vermont is a destination for mountain bikers from across the US and Canada. The Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA) consists of 26 unified chapters dedicated to advocating, educating, and promoting mountain biking in the Green Mountain State. Your donation will facilitate the trails remaining fast, flowy, and flush.

If you think of Vermont’s mountains as more white than green, check out the Vermont Backcountry Alliance (VTBC) this Giving Tuesday. Cutting a check to the VTBC helps keep the state’s legendary tree skiing properly maintained, while also protecting and advancing access for human-powered skiing.

021219_NConway_IceClimbClinic_SeanSime-244

 

New Hampshire 

It’s no surprise that the Granite State is a mecca for New England climbers. Friends of the Ledges is an org focusing on stewardship and access to the climbing found in the eastern White Mountains of New Hampshire and Maine. Keep this awesome group sending in the future—they secured nine-acres of land critical for access to Cathedral Ledge and Whitehorse Ledge in 2019—with a donation this year.

Accidents happen in the mountains to even the most experienced hikers, climbers, and skiers. If you happen to have a mishap in the White Mountains, you’ll be glad you came to the aid of Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue (AVSAR) with a donation this year, as they assist various agencies with search and rescues in the region.

If you pedal your bike in central or southern New Hampshire, you’ve likely spent time on the techy trails built and maintained by the Friends of Massabesic Bicycling Association (FOMBA). A donation to this awesome org helps keep their relationship with Manchester Water Works rolling, and access to these terrific trails open.

20180731_EMS_Adirondacks_Kemple--2_Hike_Thunderhead_CompassTrek

Maine 

Maine is home to the only national park in New England: Acadia. The first U.S. national park originally created by private land donations, you can join in the park’s philanthropic tradition by becoming a member, making a donation, or volunteering with Friends of Acadia—a group helping to preserve, protect, and promote the region’s only national park.

Another incredible private land donation (and the Northeast’s best hope for a second national park) is the 80,000+ acres donated by the co-founder of Burt’s Bees known as Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. While you probably can’t match enormous donations such as this, you can help preserve and protect this parcel by joining or donating to the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, taking part in the tradition of selflessness and generosity that birthed this area’s creation

If you’ve ever climbed Mount Katahdin and marveled at the wildness of Baxter State Park, you owe a debt of gratitude to Maine’s 53rd governor, Percival Baxter, who gave the park to the people of Maine with the mandate that it remain forever wild. Get in the giving spirit of the former governor with a gift to the Friends of Baxter State Park, who are working to preserve, support, and enhance the wilderness character of the park.

Do you know of another nonprofit that could use some support this year? If so, leave it in the comments so our readers can check it out.


How to Leave no Trace on Winter Adventures

Backcountry use in the winter is gaining popularity, and for good reason: The solitude is greater, the views are wider (when the weather cooperates), and there are fresh, beautiful layers of powder to play in. Advances in backcountry skiing and snowboarding equipment and better access to Federal and Public Lands have driven more people to become cold-weather outdoor enthusiasts.

But all this increased use can lead to greater impacts on the landscape, wildlife and others seeking similar experiences. Winter can leave resources and wildlife more vulnerable to the damage of recreational users and there have been cited issues with trash, human waste, excessive noise and disturbances to wildlife that can be easily avoided with some knowledge of Leave No Trace principals.

In general, Leave No Trace encourages visitors of the backcountry to treat the outdoors with respect and limit the impacts of recreation on the environment and wildlife within it. For the most part, the guidelines are pretty straightforward and can be applied to varied seasons and conditions, but there are a few changes you should be making to your LNT practices in the winter.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

Planning & Preparation

Planning ahead is especially important in the winter because it increases our safety and enjoyment while minimizing damage to vulnerable backcountry resources. Poor planning or underestimating conditions can result in putting yourself at risk and lead to damaging natural and cultural resources. Venturing outside in the snow is attached to higher risk. Extreme temperatures and wind, fast-changing weather, elevation and avalanches can lead to emergencies like frostbite and hypothermia. To manage your risk and prevent environmental damage, take the following actions:

  • Educate yourself on conditions in the area you’ll be traveling and always ensure you’re prepared with appropriate gear and proper clothing.
  • Monitor snow conditions frequently. The night before, the morning of, and at the trailhead if you’re able.Mountain-Forecast.com is a great resource to find accurate reports for specific peaks or mountain ranges. Weather can change quickly in the mountains and understanding your timeframe can be crucial. Wind draws heat from our bodies, making it feel much colder than it is, so be sure to check the wind speed too. Prepare for extreme weather by bringing extra layers, a headlamp, emergency hand warmers, and fat-heavy snacks.
  • Don’t rely on electronics for navigation. Keep headlamps, phones or other battery-operated devices close to your body heat and consider carrying an portable battery pack if you’re out overnight. Choose waterproof maps and have an excellent understanding of how to read them.
  • Backcountry skiing preparedness is a bag I won’t open here, but you should be highly experienced and carry proper emergency equipment (avalanche beacon and shovel).
  • Don’t go out alone and always let someone know what your plans are. Even the experienced outdoorsman or woman shouldn’t take on ambitious routes solo in winter conditions.
Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

Backcountry Waste

Ever come across a wad of toilet paper alongside a popular trail during the Spring melt? It’s not pretty, and certainly not ethical. In the winter months, we need to give extra consideration as to how we pack out our trash and human waste during backcountry visits. Human waste (poop!) has serious impacts on ecosystems, so we need to do our best to properly dispose of it to ensure the area is not compromised when the snow melts. While the objectives of proper human waste disposal are pretty straightforward—minimize chances of polluting water sources and spreading disease, while promoting healthy decomposition—this can be much harder in the winter due to the temperature:

  • Use established toilets when possible. Some land management areas will continue to maintain trailhead and backcountry facilities in the winter. Research prior to your trip.
  • Scatter your liquid waste. Always urinate away from the trail and established camps. To help naturalize the area, throw some fresh snow on top (for your dog too).
  • Be prepared to carry out your poop. That’s right, the best way to Leave No Trace is to take ALL of your waste with you. Decomposition of solid waste is much tougher in the winter months and the ground is much too cold to dig a proper hole, so instead it ends up in a pile of snow. It simply freezes until the snow melts and results in potential ecological damage and spread of disease. The best way to dispose of waste in a sanitary and socially acceptable way is by using a WAG Bag (which contains a gel to help break down waste), or something similar. It’ll likely freeze inside the bag, making it easier to pack out until you reach a trash receptacle (not a pit toilet). Dogs typically don’t do their business in the proper LNT area, so it’s especially important to carry theirs out too. Check out the Poo Vault for safe and odorless packability. Check local regulations for recommended methods on high peaks.
  • Dig a cat hole as an alternative. At the very least, human and dog waste needs to be buried in a 6- to 8-inch cat hole at least 200 feet from water sources, camp, and trails. Be aware if you’re in a direct drainage where water will flow in the spring by looking at the vegetation and slope of the surrounding area. All toilet paper should be packed out in a separate ziplock covered in duct tape to help be discreet.
  • Pack out all trash. Minimize your waste and weight by choosing foods that won’t freeze and repackaging when necessary. Always carry extra ziplocks to pack all of your food waste out, this includes compostable food scraps like apple cores, fruit pits and banana peels. Practice good trail karma by picking up any micro-trash (small pieces of wrappers) left behind by others and help keep spring runoff free of plastic.
Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

Path of Travel

We are simply visitors of the backcountry and we want to avoid any damage to the land as we travel through it. While it may appear that surface vegetation is protected by snow in the winter, the routes we take now will impact the trail later. By traveling on packable snow we can prevent soil erosion and the development of unintended trails.

  • Travel on durable or packed snow. By packing down deeper snow or walking on ice (using MICROspikes), the surface vegetation underneath is left unimpacted and our tracks will simply melt away come spring. If you’re breaking trail, gently shake snow-weighted trees and avoid avalanche paths, steep slopes, cornices and other unstable snow.
  • Separate ski and snowshoe tracks. Be courteous to others by establishing hiking, snowshoeing or biking paths separate from skin tracks used by uphill skiers and split-boarders. When ascending, yield to downhill traffic. If you are a skier or snowboarder, courteously avoid coming down the hiking trail.
  • Avoid creating new trails. In muddy spring conditions, do your best to stay on the snow, or walk in the middle (yes, in the mud!) to avoid creating new paths and damaging trailside plants. Watch out for thin snow where you may fall through.
  • Respect other adventurers. While the camaraderie of groups in the outdoors is a powerful thing, many skiers/riders/hikers/mountaineers come for the solitude. Keep noise to a minimum and help promote a cooperative, supportive culture by sharing safety information offering help when needed.
Courtesy: Dave Moore
Courtesy: Dave Moore

Camping

The great thing about camping in the winter is the surface area is coated in snow so our impacts are minimal. We’re left to our own devices to create a safe and comfortable campsite using the appropriate gear and the following strategies:

  • Camp on durable snow at least 200 feet from water sources. Stay clear of the trail and prep your site by packing down snow to create a durable surface for your tent (don’t forget longer stakes!). Choose a flat spot away from avalanche paths, steep slopes, and cornices. Trees can provide an ideal spot sheltered from the wind.
  • Dismantle any snow shelters or wind breaks. Naturalize the area before you leave.
  • Use huts or shelters where available. There are many backcountry shelters available for use (some require a fee) to make your winter camping experience more comfortable. Always leave them in better shape that you found by cooking outside when possible, sweeping before you leave and carrying out all trash to prevent mice intruders. Be considerate of other users and follow any instructions relating to the shelter.
  • Minimize campfire impacts. Where fires are permitted, use an established ring or keep them small. Cut only small dead or down trees and burn all wood to ash. Be sure all fires are out completely and leave a clean site by clearing your ash and never burning trash.

Curious to learn more? For the complete list of LNT practices, see here.


How to Keep Warm in the Winter Wind

Shorter days, colder temperatures, and the possibility for wicked weather are all factors to be considered when getting outside in the winter time. The winter wind is one such factor that, if unaccounted for, can sour even the bluest of bluebird days. Here are some tips to help keep you warm when the temps are down and the wind is up.

killington

Be Prepared

The first and best thing to do when considering a winter excursion is to be prepared. Local weather and trail conditions reports are critical, as is understanding how the wind—and the windchill factor—can affect temperatures. One useful tool is the National Weather Service’s Wind Chill Chart, which uses sustained wind speed and temperature to calculate the amount of time skin can be exposed before frostbite begins to set in. This is super important, especially for those fast-and-light, alpine-style objectives, where spartan packing lists may cause an important item to eschewed for the sake of weight.

Cover Up

Exposed skin is the most vulnerable to frostbite when the windchill index dips down—so cover it up! Boots, pants and jackets are obvious but make sure to also wear gloves and a hat. A good balaclava or neck gaiter are also essential to protecting your face, which is almost always exposed in other circumstances. Ski goggles, in addition to keeping your eyes out of the wind, limit exposure as well.

Pack Hand Warmers and Start Them Early

As the body cools, circulation slows, and the extremities—starting with fingers and toes—become extremely susceptible to freezing. Nip this in the bud at the trailhead by stuffing your gloves and boots with hand warmers. Do yourself a double favor by packing extra gloves and socks and stuffing them with activated hand warmers from the get-go. Should you wind up losing a glove or getting your socks soaked, you’ll have warm replacements ready to go.

2019-01-EMS-Kemple-Conway-6851_Snowshoe

Layers on Layers

Layering is always important while traveling in the mountains but when the wind is up, it’s doubly so. A wicking base layer will keep you dry while an insulating mid-layer will help trap your body heat. On top of those as an outer-most layer—while moving, at least—should be a waterproof, windproof, hardshell jacket. Hardshell jackets are designed specifically for conditions like the biting winter wind—they tend to be lightweight and packable too, so they’re not too much to throw into a pack until you need it. Finally, have a packable insulated jacket to pop over everything else to keep that heat in on breaks. As an added bonus, the air trapped between each layer also acts as additional insulation.

Eat and Hydrate Well

Before heading out into the cold, fuel up with a big meal. It’s more energy to keep you moving and digestion helps bring the body temperature up. While you’re out, keep hydrating—it’ll encourage circulation and spread the warmth to vulnerable extremities.

Warm Up from the Inside-out

Warm up from the inside-out by carrying an insulated thermos full of something hot. A little coffee, tea, or plain-old hot water can make a huge difference, raising core temperatures and spirits alike in the coldest of conditions. Alcohol, despite it’s common renown for cutting the cold, is best avoided when the windchill factor is severe as it actually causes the body to lose heat faster—so save it for the aprés.

TK_EMS-Conway-6432-CH

Stay in the Lee of the Wind

When the wind is really bad, do what you can to stay out of it. In most cases this is as simple as staying in the woods but above treeline it means being strategic about route selection and where to take your breaks. Use natural and artificial features like boulders and cairns to catch your breath—the relief of even a minute spent out of the wind can make all the difference, mentally as well as physically.

Keep it Moving

The best way to combat frostbite when the windchill factor is high is to keep moving. Aerobic activity keeps the heart rate up, increasing circulation and spreading critical warmth to vulnerable fingers and toes. Remember to capture that body heat and keep your core temperature up while resting by throwing on an additional insulated layer.


How to Stay Warm While Sleeping Outside

Growing up, I had the fortune of having parents that took me camping. I had a thin foam sleeping pad and a 50-degree kids sleeping bag. I never slept well and I always froze at night. I thought that’s what camping was!

Turns out, I was wrong. Lucky for me, as I’ve gotten older and more experienced I’ve learned a lot about staying warm and comfortable while sleeping outside. For the past three years I’ve spent more than 100 nights a year sleeping under the stars. I get really cold really easily and I take my sleep seriously—I want to be comfy out there! Following these tips can go a long way toward keeping you warm and comfortable, and getting a good night sleep.

2019-01-EMS-Kemple-Conway-0662_Camp_Scene

The Basics

Step one: Get yourself a weather-appropriate sleeping bag. Duh. But something many people don’t think about is that the ground conducts tons of heat away from your body. The barrier you put between you and the cold earth plays a big role in how warm you’ll be. A foam pad is a good start. If you sleep cold or the temps are low, making the step up to an inflatable and even an insulated sleeping pad makes a huge difference. Pay close attention to the pad’s R-valueto know exactly how warm and insulating it will be. Not all pads are created equal. And don’t forget that sleeping pad insulation is additive, meaning on real cold nights or if you’re sleeping on the snow, stacking a foam sleeping pad and an inflatable pad increases the insulation even more.

TK_EMS-Conway-9106

Debunk the Myths

Some people will tell you that you should sleep with hardly any clothes on, or even naked, to get the most out of your sleeping bag and that this will keep you warmer in the end. Those people have never slept outside, in the cold, naked in their sleeping bags.

Their theory isn’t totally baseless, though. The idea is that by wearing extra layers inside your sleeping bag, you crush the loft of your bag and thus take away from its insulating capabilities. It may seem like the best thing to do on a cold night would be to bundle up in all your layers then squeeze yourself into your sleeping bag, but if you’re wearing too much you can actually compromise the effectiveness of your sleeping bag’s insulation (not to mention your comfort). You can definitely wear some of those layers to bed (there’s no need to get in naked), but don’t wear so many that you feel your sleeping bag squeezing back in on you—Leave enough room for the down to expand to its full loft.

Keep these other tips in mind before heading to bed:

  • Keep a pair of “sacred socks” in your sleeping bag so you always have a warm and dry pair for sleeping. Never get in your sleeping bag with wet or cold socks.
  • Wear a hat. It’s not a myth that you lose a lot of heat through your head! Consider wearing a hood too, if necessary.
  • Make sure all your layers are dry. Dry clothes equal warm clothes.
  • If you’re winter camping or in really low temps, consider puffy booties, pants, and/or a jacket to sleep in. These are like mini sleeping bags for all your appendages and can work wonders! They’re also great pillows if you don’t sleep in them.
  • If you’re sleeping bag is too big for you and has extra space that you aren’t filling with your body, consider stuffing extra layers in those areas so your body can heat the air around you to keep you warm rather than losing all that warmth to dead space in your bag. This is especially helpful for shorter folks in longer bags. Keep those toes warm!

TK_EMS-Conway-9169

Feed the Fire

Staying warm is all about keeping your internal furnace burning throughout the night. We’ve talked about insulating that furnace and now we’re going to talk about fueling it!

Eat a snack

Having some calories in your system right before bed gives your body fuel to burn and helps keep you toasty. If I’m not in bear country I like to keep a Snickers bar with me while I sleep. This gives me quick burning sugar for immediate warmth and the protein in the peanuts keep the burn going a while longer.

Drink something warm

The best way to get warm is to start warm. A hot drink helps warm you up from the inside. My favorite: Brew peppermint tea and put cocoa mix in it. If I want extra calories I’ll put in a scoop of butter or some light olive oil. Have you ever tried hot cocoa with peanut butter mixed in? It’s like drinking a Reese’s and adds some bulk to keep your furnace burning.

2019-01-EMS-Kemple-Conway-0050_Camp_Cook_Tent

Use a hot water bottle

Fill a small water bottle like a 16oz Nalgene with near-boiling water, put it at the foot of your bag and relish in your new personal sauna. If you’re super cold, hold the bottle between your thighs, right on your femoral arteries—Warming that blood as it circulates will keep the rest of your body warm.

Take a lap

My dad always said I had a heater in my tennis shoes and would send me on a little run if I complained of the cold. I might not like to admit it, but he was right. A brisk walk before bed, a set of jumping jacks, a quick dance party, or shadow boxing routine—whatever you need to do to get the blood pumping to keep you warm right before you tuck in for the night—can go al long way. Again, the easiest way to get warm in your sleeping bag is to already be warm when you get in it, but if you’re already in your bag you can simulate this by contracting all your muscles as hard as you can and then releasing them several times.

Bonus points: Go pee!

Seriously. I know it’s cold and dark out there. But go do it. Your furnace works really hard to keep all that liquid inside you warm, and when it’s doing that it has less energy to keep the rest of you warm. It may seem like getting out of bed will actually result in you being colder when you get back in, but the result is often surprisingly the opposite. Don’t hesitate to get up and take a leak.

 

Do you have other creative ways of staying warm? Have you found a sleep system that works well for you? Share your ideas in the comments below!

W17_Camp_Chill_Socks_Kemple---EMS---F17--7300


Death and Haunting on the Crawford Path

June 30, 1900, William Curtis and Allan Ormsbee set off to make the 8.5-mile trip up the Crawford Path—w new but relatively well-established trail—to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) annual meeting being held at the Summit House, a hotel on Mount Washington’s summit. By day’s end, both were dead.

Many ghost stories begin with a true story. This one is no exception.

William Curtis, circa 1870
William Curtis, circa 1870

In a story as old as mountaineering, Curtis and Ormsbee knowingly hiked into a fierce storm. Despite deteriorating weather and a warning about the conditions from two guides descending the Crawford Path, Curtis and Ormsbee continued toward the summit. On Mount Pleasant—known today as Mount Eisenhower—conditions were poor; the men signed the summit register adding “Rain clouds and wind sixty miles—Cold.”

As Curtis and Ormsbee forged ahead into the storm, their absence at the meeting created anxiety among the AMC members on the summit. Vyron and Thaddeus Lowe, two respected guides (and the trailbuilders of Lowe’s Path on Mount Adams), set out in search of the men. Their search was short lived. High winds quickly extinguished the Lowes’ lanterns and a thick coat of ice covered the top of the mountain. Realizing the danger of conducting a search in such conditions, the two retreated to the Summit House.

Meanwhile, as conditions worsened, Curtis and Ormsbee’s strength waned. They sought shelter in the scrub spruce near the edge of Oakes Gulf where the Crawford Path meets the Mount Monroe Summit Loop Trail. The body of William Curtis was found near there the following morning.

At some point, Ormsbee continued on. He made it within sight of the summit buildings on Mount Washington. His body was discovered there the next afternoon.

Many ghost stories begin with a true story. This one is no exception.

The duo’s deaths set off shockwaves in the northeast hiking community, particularly because 63-year-old Curtis was among the most accomplished hikers in the country. Considered “the founder of athletics in America,” he had taken to mountain climbing some 18 years earlier. An account of the tragedy in Above the Clouds—a newspaper published on top of Mount Washington from 1877 to 1908—reported that Curtis regularly “climb[ed] alone in all kinds of weather,” and was “confident…in his strength and skill,” as well as “perfectly fearless.” Ormsbee, by contrast, was a newcomer to New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Just the week before, he made his first hikes in the range, ascending Mount Lafayette, Whiteface, Passaconaway, Tecumseh, and Sandwich Dome.

Courtesy: Appalachian Mountain Club Library and Archives
Courtesy: Appalachian Mountain Club Library and Archives

While their bodies were brought down the mountain on the Cog Railway, local lore hints that the spirits of both men remained on the mountain. In the aftermath of the tragedy, a wooden cross was erected to mark Ormsbee’s final resting place, a bronze plaque commemorating Curtis was placed on a boulder on the saddle beneath Mount Monroe, and a since-removed shelter was placed on the saddle connecting Mount Monroe to Mount Washington.

He was found the next morning huddled in a cupboard under the hut’s kitchen sink, clutching an axe.

The legend about Ormsbee’s cross is that passing hikers critical of Curtis and Ormsbee’s decision to forge ahead into the storm are pushed or knocked over by an unseen force. Not wanting to tempt fate or raise the ire of Ormsbee’s spirit, AMC staff got into the habit of saying, “it could have happened to anyone” when passing the site where Ormsbee perished.

As for the plaque, AMC croomembers at Lake of the Clouds Hut—which eventually replaced the shelter constructed following the tragic hike—found Curtis’s plaque detached from its rock beneath Monroe and sitting on the hut’s threshold. As detailed in the book Haunted Hikes of New Hampshire, author Marianne O’Connor details how the croo repeatedly returned the plaque to the boulder, only to find it again in the hut’s doorway. Eventually, the plaque was bolted to the wall in the hut, hopefully putting an end to this ghostly episode.

2381253911_e1f98c8bb2_o

Neither superstitious sayings nor bolted plaques put an end to the ghost stories, however. Guests at AMC’s Lake of the Clouds Hut in the 1930s claimed to see a menacing face peering into the hut’s windows while other visitors felt the sensation of an icy hand gripping their shoulders in the middle of the night. Others reported hearing footsteps come up from the hut’s basement and doors opening and closing, despite the whole hut being in bed. But these are just bumps in the night compared to what one AMC croo member, who was staying there solo, experienced. He was found the next morning huddled in a cupboard under the hut’s kitchen sink, clutching an axe after a terrifying encounter with a ghostly face leering at him from each of the hut’s boarded-up windows.