Alpha Guide: Franconia Ridge in Winter

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Take on one of the Northeast’s most stunning ridgelines while tagging two of New Hampshire’s 10 tallest mountains.

A true classic, this winter hike crosses one of the White Mountains’ most prominent features, Franconia Ridge; delivers moderate climbing that doesn’t require the use of an ice axe; and features a roughly 1.5-mile above-treeline ridge run between Little Haystack and Mount Lafayette. With 360-degree views of the Whites from the ridge, it is one of the Northeast’s most beautiful hikes. And, with a large section of above-treeline hiking, it’s also one of the region’s most exposed hikes, making it a fantastic winter test piece.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 9 miles round-trip
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★★


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Turn-By-Turn

Most hike Franconia Ridge as a loop, beginning and ending at the Falling Waters and Old Bridle Path trailhead and parking lot on Interstate 93N (44.142048, -71.681206) in Franconia Notch State Park.

Hikers driving north on I-93 will find the parking lot just after the exit for The Basin trailhead. Hikers coming from the other direction should park in the Lafayette Place Campground parking lot and use the tunnel that goes under I-93 to access the lot and trailhead. The trailhead is opposite the entrance to the parking lot, where it climbs a short, paved incline to an outhouse and then becomes dirt as it heads into the woods.

Hikers, take notice: This ultra-classic hike is super-popular on weekends and holidays. So, get there early to find a parking spot.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Time to split

Just 0.2 miles in, hikers will come to the junction (44.139702, -71.679512) of the Falling Waters Trail and the Old Bridle Path. The loop is best done counterclockwise, first up the Falling Waters Trail and then descending the Old Bridle Path. The Falling Waters Trail, which veers right at the junction, gets extremely icy in winter and is much easier to go up than down. Plus, the various waterfalls are more scenic on the approach, as well as more easily overcome with fresh legs early in the day.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Following Falling Waters

From the junction, the Falling Waters Trail heads southeast on a moderate track, until it reaches Dry Brook. From there, the trail intermittently steepens and poses some small technical challenges, as it crisscrosses the icy stream climbing under, around, and over a series of semi-frozen waterfalls. Between the water and ice, the footing along here is often slick, and you’ll probably want your MICROspikes and a pair of trekking poles to negotiate the potentially treacherous terrain. Take care not to slip or plunge a foot into the brook.

Eventually, the trail leaves the brook and begins a series of long, gradual switchbacks up toward Shining Rock. As the trail moves away from the brook, the short, steep, and technical sections dissipate, and the terrain and grade become more consistent—especially once the snow on the ground is packed and covering the ordinarily rocky and rooty terrain.

Shining Rock

After 2.5 miles, the Falling Waters Trail reaches a junction with a short spur trail (44.140186, -71.650940) that heads downhill to Shining Rock, a large granite slab flanking Little Haystack Mountain and visible from Interstate 93. If you have time (remember, darkness comes early in the winter), consider the brief detour.

The Shining Rock junction is also a great place to refuel, add an extra layer and traction devices (if you haven’t already), and get your above-treeline gear ready (such as a balaclava, warmer gloves, goggles, etc.). From the junction, continue upward on the Falling Waters Trail, which steepens and gradually becomes more exposed to the weather for the final 0.5-mile push to the 4,760-foot summit of Little Haystack.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Little Haystack

Shortly after departing the junction for Shining Rock, hikers will push past the treeline to the rocky and icy landscape of Little Haystack Mountain’s summit (44.140362, -71.646080). Although Little Haystack isn’t one of the 48 New Hampshire 4,000-footers (it’s technically a subpeak of Mount Lincoln, the next stop on your journey), it is an awesome summit with fantastic views. Find the hard-to-miss summit cairn, and then, head north on the Franconia Ridge Trail toward Mount Lincoln.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Lincoln

From Little Haystack, it’s 0.7 miles to Mount Lincoln’s summit. The path is easy to follow and, at first, quite moderate. Then, it begins to climb on rockier terrain and crests an ego-deflating false summit, all the while offering fantastic views in every direction and fully exposing you to the wind and weather.

Once you get to the summit of 5,089-foot Mount Lincoln (44.148682, -71.644707), the first of two New Hampshire 4,000-footers on the traverse, take a moment—or more, if the weather allows—to soak in the dramatic landscape and fantastic views. From here, you get views in all directions, with the Kinsmans, Lonesome Lake, and Cannon Cliff to the west and the Pemigewasset Wilderness to the east. To the south, the pyramid-like tops of Mount Liberty and Mount Flume dominate the view, while to the north lies your next objective, the summit of Mount Lafayette.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Lafayette

Standing one mile away on the Franconia Ridge is the day’s high point, the 5,260-foot summit of Mount Lafayette. To get there, you’ll give up much of the elevation you’ve gained since Little Haystack by descending rocky, slabby terrain similar to what you just ascended. The saddle has a scrubby pine grove, which provides a brief respite from the weather on less-optimal days. Beware that snow can build up in the trees, making this section more difficult and take longer than you may have expected.

From the trees, the Franconia Ridge Trail makes a sharp ascent—the steepest section since the climb from Shining Rock to Little Haystack—to Mount Lafayette’s summit. Relatively straightforward, the climb does contain a few slabby sections and rock outcroppings that warrant your full attention before you get to the summit.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The High Point

Lafayette’s summit (44.160717, -71.644470) is well marked with both a large cairn and sign, and is quickly recognizable, as it’s the region’s highest point. If the weather is good, grab a seat in one of the summit’s windbreaks—rock walls built to shield hikers from the elements—and soak up the views. The 4,500-foot Mount Garfield looms in the north, and on clear days, the Presidential Range is visible behind it. To the south, you can admire the distance you’ve traveled, as the peaks of Mount Lincoln and Little Haystack are both visible from this vantage point.

The windbreaks are also a great place to have a quick snack. And, don’t de-layer just yet, as there is still some exposed trail left on the descent.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Descent

From Lafayette’s summit, take the 1.1-mile Greenleaf Trail toward the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Greenleaf Hut. This section is well defined, but the vast majority of it is above-treeline and is very exposed to the weather—in particular, winds blowing from the northwest.

With the hut visible most of the way, progress can feel sluggish. The slow-going is often exaggerated by the trail’s rugged nature, made even more difficult by patches of snow and ice.

As you near the Greenleaf Hut, the trail dips into tree cover, the first real break in exposure you’ve had for nearly three miles. You’re not out of the woods yet, though, as the area around the hut is often very icy.

Unlike during the summer, there is no hot chocolate, soup, or delicious baked goods in your future—unless you brought your own—as Greenleaf Hut (44.160206, -71.660316) is closed in the winter. However, the building itself provides a good windbreak and is a logical place to stop for a snack and to de-layer.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Old Bridle Path

From the hut, take the Old Bridle Path for 2.7 miles to the Falling Waters trail junction, and then, enjoy the short walk back to the car. Below treeline, hikers may feel that the crux of the day is behind them, but the Old Bridle Path’s upper third is challenging and, in places, exposed. Use care negotiating these ledges, slabs, and steep sections.

As you descend the ledges, take a moment to peer back up at the ridge. It’s nice to enjoy the relative warmth of the sun found on these protected ledges while you peer up at the ridge and remember the bone-chilling cold experienced only a short time ago.

After the ledges, the Old Bridle Path begins to mellow, getting more forested with progressively easier switchbacks. From here, it’s a straightforward, albeit longish, walk back to the junction and then to the car.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Trekking poles and traction devices, like Kahtoola MICROspikes, are essential for negotiating the icy terrain on the ascent and descent. And, although the wind often blows the snow off the ridge proper, it, too, can be quite icy.
  • Bring a vast array of winter accessories to contend with unpredictable, above-treeline winter conditions. A winter hat, balaclava, multiclava, and gloves of varying warmth are a good place to start. And, if there’s wind in the forecast, goggles should also be included.
  • A warm down or synthetic parka, like the Outdoor Research Incandescent Hoody, is great for staying warm during rest breaks, cold traverses and descents, and emergencies.
  • Because it gets dark quickly in the winter and the Old Bridle Path descent is treacherous, add a headlamp, like the Black Diamond Spot, to your pack.
  • Snickers bars and gels are great in the summer but can freeze in the frigid temperatures. Nature Valley bars, trail mix, and leftover pizza—just to name a few—are all excellent winter food choices that won’t freeze in your pack.

Have more questions about what gear to bring? Check out “What’s in Our Winter Peak-Bagging Packs.” Don’t be that guy in jeans and a hoodie hiking across the ridge.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Need a good reason for an alpine start? The parking lots fill up fast! In the summer, excess traffic even goes along the highway, but depending on the amount of snow the mountains have received, that might not be an option in winter.
  • Start cold, so you won’t have to stop after 10 minutes to lose a layer. More importantly, if you’re not over-layered, you’re less likely to sweat through your garments and will stay warmer in the long run.
  • Bring a thermos of something hot to drink. It’s great for warming up your core temperature and a nice morale booster when the going gets cold.
  • Know when to say when. If you get above treeline and decide that it’s too windy or too cold, or you just have a bad feeling, don’t hesitate to turn around before committing to the traverse.
  • Have a backup plan. If you live a few hours from the mountains, like many people do, it can be hard to know exactly what the weather will be doing until you get there. If the weather isn’t cooperating for a traverse, Mount Liberty and Cannon Mountain are close by and are less committing than Franconia Ridge.
  • After a cold day in the mountains, warm up at One Love Brewery in Lincoln, New Hampshire. Their Meat Lover’s Burger features grilled pork belly, BBQ pulled pork, jalapeño slaw, and Swiss cheese, and is a great way to replace some of the calories you burned!

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Franconia Ridge recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Gifts for Girls Who are "One of the Guys"

Whenever I do anything outdoors, I’m almost always the only girl in the group. This means I’ve had plenty of time over the years to figure out the best gear to help me either keep up or kick butt. So, if you’re shopping for a girl who often finds herself in the same situation, here’s a list of things I use to make hanging out with a bunch of dudes easier and more fun.

Courtesy: Ashley Peck
Courtesy: Ashley Peck

Climbing: Petzl Elia Climbing Helmet

I was tired of a helmet that only sat on my head properly if my ponytail was in just the right spot. The boys were also tired of waiting for me to fix my hair before or after each climb. A few years ago, I received the Petzl Elia as a gift, and this problem hasn’t been an issue since! Other companies “girl-ify” helmets by simply making them in prettier colors, but taking it a step further, Petzl developed a headband that actually accommodates a ponytail in multiple positions. It also weighs just 10 ounces and adjusts to fit any head perfectly. So, your climber girl will probably forget she’s even wearing it and will have an extra-safe hike back to the car after a day of cragging.

Hiking and Camping: GoGirl Female Urination Device

I wouldn’t say I’ve ever wished I was, um, “built like a man.” But, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous of how much easier it is for my male hiking partners to heed nature’s call when we’re out on the trail. If the lady hiker on your list has ever complained about popping a squat in the woods, treat her to a GoGirl this holiday! Not only does it have a fun name (if you ignore the medieval-sounding “Female Urination Device” part of it), but it also helps level the pee-playing field and virtually eliminates the risk of getting poison ivy in unfortunate places.

Courtesy: Ashley Peck
Courtesy: Ashley Peck

Biking: CamelBak Women’s L.U.X.E. Hydration Pack

It might just be that my husband and his friends are crazy people, but they hate taking breaks during a bike ride. If I start to get hangry while we’re mountain biking, they’ll cave and let me take a quick food break. However, I wouldn’t stand a chance of staying properly hydrated without my Camelbak Women’s L.U.X.E Hydration Pack. If the biker chick on your list has to keep up with the boys, or if she’s the ambitious one who doesn’t like to stop, make sure she stays sufficiently watered out on the trail with this super-comfy pack that holds enough fluid to ride for hours on end.

Skiing: DryGuy Green HEAT 2-in-1 Heater

Just because the weather gets cold that doesn’t mean the outdoors-woman will stop adventuring. It does, however, mean she might need some extra help staying warm. Whenever I’m skiing, snowboarding, or winter hiking with the boys, it always seems like I’m the only one whose hands are freezing, no matter how nice my gloves or mittens are. Hand-warmer packs help a little, but the DryGuy GreenHEAT 2-in-1 Heater is the BEST. It’ll warm your snow sister’s hands instantly, recharge her phone (or headlamp), and help the planet by reducing hand-warmer waste—making it a win-win-win.

Courtesy: MTI Adventurewear
Courtesy: MTI Adventurewear

Paddling: MTI Moxie PFD

Don’t let your water woman settle for any ol’ life jacket. She may have to wait a few months to use it, but when she unwraps a made-for-her PFD like the MTI Moxie this holiday, she’ll be happier than a seagull with a french fry. What makes the Moxie so comfy is its Adjust-a-Bust fit System—certainly giggle-worthy every time she and her guy friends get on the water. It’s truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Courtesy: Mountainsmith
Courtesy: Mountainsmith

All of the Above: Mountainsmith Sixer

If all else fails, the Mountainsmith Sixer is always a safe bet. For a girl who’s one of the guys, you can be sure of one thing: Beers are a staple of every adventure. And, if the mountain maven you’re shopping for is the one who supplies the cold brews at the end of the day, she’ll always be the boys’ favorite bro.


'The 46ers' Doc Goes to the Small Screen: A Q&A with Director Blake Cortright

Prior to 2012, when he spent a weekend backpacking, 18-year-old Blake Cortright knew next to nothing about the Adirondack 46ers—the mountains and the people. But, if the peaks are good at anything, it’s inspiring those who journey into them. Before long, Blake became fixated and hiked them constantly, hoping to craft his exploration of the 46 High Peaks and the group of hikers that share their name into a documentary. Today, that film (sponsored in part by Eastern Mountain Sports) is headed to the big-time, scheduled to air on PBS stations across the country, including WCNY on Monday, November 13. We sat down to talk with Blake about his progression from novice to storyteller and the things he picked up along the way.

goEast: How were you first connected to the Adirondack High Peaks, and how did that develop into wanting to create this film?

Blake: I hiked my first High Peak in 2008 with my Boy Scout troop. We summited Giant Mountain on a perfect autumn day, and that was my first “awe” moment in the Adirondack High Peaks. It wasn’t until a 2012 camping trip with my dad and my brother that I really got inspired to film in the High Peaks. We set out over three days to summit Marcy, Tabletop, Phelps, Algonquin, Iroquois, and Wright. We left with Marcy, Tabletop, and Wright and felt a new sense of reverence for the mountains.

During this trip, I got a little side of Mount Marcy all to myself and took in the sweeping views of lakes, rivers, mountains, and wilderness. That’s where the vision for the film ultimately came from—sitting atop Mt. Marcy on a beautiful summer day, looking out at the wild places as far as the eye could see. Shortly after returning from this camping trip, the wheels started to turn and the core question which drove the project began to take shape: “What transforms ordinary men and women into the legendary 46ers?”

Blake directing hikers on Whiteface. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright
Blake directing hikers on Whiteface. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright

goEast: You must have done a ton of hiking while making this film!

Blake: We summited 14 High Peaks and several smaller mountains during production.

goEast: Do you have any memorable experiences from all of that?

Blake: Each trip held its own challenges and rewards, and I have fond memories from every day of filming. One of most memorable hiking experience was summiting Cascade around 5 a.m. We had set out to capture a crew finishing their 46th on Cascade with a beautiful sunrise. We carried a camera crane and counter weights for the crane to the summit along with all of our camera gear and our normal hiking gear. Unfortunately, shortly after we summited, we were wrapped up in clouds. The crew came up, and we filmed them with the crane, climbing up the rocky summit in thick clouds with a lot of wind.

It was a cold, dark morning, and we were thinking of calling it a day, but then, Adirondack photography legend Carl Heilman hiked up to us almost out of the clouds. I had been in touch with Carl and had invited him to this trip, which he said he might make depending on his schedule. His presence lifted our spirits, and he was optimistic that we might get a change in the weather. He was right. The clouds began to part and reveal an incredible undercast scene: a sea of clouds below us, stretching to the horizon, and the High Peaks rising up above those clouds, like islands in the sea. We all dashed around to get our gear ready and got tons of amazing shots that day. I’m very thankful for my patient crew, who waited out the weather with me on that day!

Blake and the team using a boom to film on Whiteface. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright
Blake and the team using a boom to film on Whiteface. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright

goEast: You did a lot of hiking, but you also talked to a lot of people, some of whom are somewhat revered in local hiking circles. What did you get from that process?

Blake: What struck me early on in the interview process was how humble the 46ers are. I had set out to talk about “legendary hikers,” and most of them found that term amusing. They saw folks like the Marshall Brothers and Herbert Clark (the first 46ers) as the true legends. Their reverence extended not just to the people who literally blazed the trail, but also to the mountains themselves. I discovered a group of people who were not just thrill-seekers or checking off a list, but people who truly cared about the mountains and worked to conserve them. They all spoke of LNT principles, as well as safety and emergency preparedness. As an Eagle Scout, I knew many of the principles and safety precautions, but I learned even more from the amazing people I interviewed.

I was also inspired to learn of the Summit Steward Program and how multiple Adirondack organizations, including the 46ers, came together to address the erosion of the summits and the dangers to the rare alpine vegetation that lives there. The journey of the 46ers stretches far beyond adventure and into conservation and stewardship. It has been a privilege to learn from these folks and see them give back to a place that has given so much to them.

Blake interviewing one of the film's subjects. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright
Blake interviewing one of the film’s subjects. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright

goEast: Fun question: In all the hiking you did for the film, was there one piece of gear that you would say was critical? 

Blake: While hiking, we always needed good boots, wool socks, backpacks, various jackets and layers, gloves, hats, etc. One that was easy to forget, but thankfully we didn’t, was a headlamp and extra batteries! Many of our hikes started or ended in the dark. So, having a headlamp was essential. Also, for me personally, after a few knee injuries in the High Peaks Wilderness, I finally bought a pair of trekking poles, and now, I never hike without them. We also made use of MICROspikes and snowshoes in our winter shoots. Depending upon the trail conditions, we would use one or the other, but we usually carried both.

goEast: You’re well on your way to becoming an Adirondack 46er from your time making the film alone. Do you want to finish it?

Blake: The 46ers film was a three-year process for me, from the initial idea to our finished product. And now, two years later, it’s about to be shown to an ever-growing audience, thanks to WCNY partnering with us to take the film further than we could on our own. At the outset of the journey, I thought I would likely finish my 46 while making the movie, but in hindsight, I’m thankful I didn’t. I learned so much from the 46ers I interviewed, from being out in the mountains and from putting the movie together. I will become a 46er down the road, but now, I know it will be a longer journey, and I’m okay with that.

One thing I learned from my interviews is that whether you hike them in a few weeks or over decades, the mountains will wait for you. I would say making the movie broadened my perspective about hiking and helped me to value the journey as much as the destination.

Blake with his crew and guests on Cascade Mountain. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright
Blake with his crew and guests on Cascade Mountain. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright

goEast: You mentioned WCNY and other PBS stations picking the film up. Was that something you had in mind making it? Did you have an “end goal”?

Blake: When I had the initial inspiration for the project in 2012, I wanted it to be seen by a wide audience. We did a series of limited screenings in 2015 when we finalized the movie, and it was very well received by those audiences. I’m excited for the upcoming television release of The 46ers, as it will expand that audience far and wide around the U.S. There was something surreal about seeing a film I had made projected on the big screen and experiencing it with an audience. I’m very happy with how well the documentary has done and continues to do, and I’m hopeful that it will inspire more people to not only experience the outdoors, but also to take care to preserve and steward the wildernesses where they adventure.

goEast: It’s going to be seen now by a lot of people who don’t live in the Northeast, don’t know what the 46ers are, and may not even be familiar with the Adirondacks. What do you think they’re going to get from the film?

Blake: I think 46ers who see the film will take a trip down memory lane and hopefully feel joy watching the movie. I think those who love the Adirondacks will be awed by the beautiful cinematography my team captured, showcasing the mountains in a new and visually stunning way. I think those who are unfamiliar with the 46ers and the Adirondacks will be intrigued, inspired, and moved by the film. I hope the deep love for the wilderness comes across on screen and folks seeing this place for the first time will be better equipped to adventure in it after hearing not only the exciting stories, but also safety and LNT principles, which are so deeply connected to the culture of the Adirondacks and the 46ers.

Filming the remainder of the undercast on Cascade Mountain. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright
Filming the remainder of the undercast on Cascade Mountain. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright

Packing Your Camera Gear For Hiking and Backpacking

So, you’ve decided to take your DSLR out for the first time on a hike. That can be pretty intimidating. Carrying what could be thousands of dollars in sensitive electronics in the dirty, wet outdoors is enough to make any photographer think twice before packing up. But, if you know ahead of time what to bring and how to pack it, your camera will be in good hands, and the rain shower freakout can be averted.

Depending on the extent of your hike, you probably want to pack as light as possible. This is no different with your camera gear. Each piece you choose to bring should either be a necessity or a backup. So, what should you have with you?

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele

Carrying and Protecting Your Camera

Carrying your camera while you’re on the trails can be quite the struggle, but one of the simplest things you can do for outdoor photography is to upgrade your stock camera strap. A longer, more comfortable option with a quick-release buckle, such as the Peak Design Slide, may make things easier. By resting the strap diagonally across your chest with the camera body sitting by your hip rather than around your neck directly in front, you’ll be much more comfortable, and the camera won’t move around as much while still being easily accessible.

For more intense hikes, a chest harness might be more helpful. This mounts the camera securely to your chest and distributes the weight evenly over both of your shoulders. The camera usually sits facing downward, so, if you were to accidentally fall forward, it would stay close to your body and won’t hit lens or glass first. This position also gives you a better line of sight to see where your feet are stepping.

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele

Keeping Dry

So, you’re mid-hike and here comes the rain. That can be pretty scary, but with the right precautions, you shouldn’t have to worry. The key? Plan ahead and look at the forecast. A 30-percent chance of rain is still a chance! One of the cheaper and most important accessories you can get to keep shooting in the rain (or snow) is a rain cover for your DSLR. Even if rain is not in the forecast, these are small and light enough to always keep in your pack—and it wouldn’t hurt to store it in a side pocket that is easily accessible—and could save your camera’s life in a downpour!

If you decide you’re going to hop into a canoe or kayak during any of your adventures, I would strongly suggest getting a waterproof case or bag for your DSLR. While this is a more expensive accessory, the odds of the camera possibly getting submerged are greater than if you were on land. They also make taking my camera out on kayaking trips far less stressful and way more fun!

Tip: If you think your camera is getting wet, shut it off! For your electronics, one of the worst things is having water get inside when they’re powered on. And, try not to turn it back on until you are sure it is dry. Also, if you are about to cross a slippery stream or climb down a steep rock, it’s always a good habit to shut the camera off, just in case!

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele

Which Lens Should I Take?

You will probably only want to have one (or maybe two) lenses on you for your hike. As often as possible, I try to only bring one, but if I do bring a second, I use an athletic fanny pack to keep it on me and easily accessible, so I don’t have to dig through my backpack.

Choosing a lens depends on what you plan to shoot. For landscapes, you’ll want a wide lens; for shots of your hiking pals, consider a medium focal length; and if you’re planning on photographing wildlife, you’ll likely want a telephoto. If you’re shooting all styles or want a lot of versatility, your best bet is a lens that covers as many focal lengths as possible. My go-to when I only bring one is a 24mm-105mm, so I can shoot wide landscapes and get closer, just in case I run into any wildlife.

A UV filter also adds a layer of protection to the front, and it can also keep dirt and moisture off the glass. Keep in mind that a cheaper UV filter may impact your image quality!

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele

Batteries & Memory Cards

Bring extras, and don’t forget to charge them all the night before. Remember, colder conditions may drain your batteries faster, so keep them someplace warm, if possible, like inside a jacket. It also doesn’t hurt to bring a car battery charger along, in case you start shooting before you get to your hike or for reviewing photos after. If you can recharge via USB, a lightweight portable backup power supply additionally comes in handy.

As always, bring a backup card. You never know what can happen, so having that second card adds no weight and could be a lifesaver. It’s also a good idea to have a card case that’s water and impact resistant.

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele

Accessories

Other important—and light—tools to pack are a lens cloth—remember, you will be kicking up dirt—and an air blower cleaner, in case you notice dust on your camera’s sensor while you’re out shooting!

If you are planning to use a tripod for stability, longer exposures, or selfies, the Joby GorillaPod SLR-Zoom with a Ballhead is a lightweight and versatile hiking option. It can hold about 6 lbs., and you can grip to almost any surface. I’ve definitely had my camera hanging from tree branches on this thing!

If you’re camping and there’s a chance of rain, it also doesn’t hurt to bring a dry sack to seal your camera in overnight. It could be the one time you wake up in a puddle, and your camera is sitting halfway underwater. Peace of mind will help you rest up!

 

Each hike and situation is going to be different for every photographer, but with these tips, you can enjoy your trek more without all the worry about your gear. For most, it will be figuring out what works best. Happy shooting!

Credit: Chris Daniele
Credit: Chris Daniele

3 Early Winter Hikes on the Kank

Fall in the White Mountains sometimes feels ephemeral. One week, you’ll be hiking along in short sleeves, admiring the stunning foliage. The next, you’ll be trudging through the year’s first snowfall, wishing you’d remembered your traction for that icy descent.

Luckily, the period from late fall into early winter is the perfect time to explore the region around the Kancamagus. Specifically, the leaf-peeping crowds have dissipated, while the temperatures and conditions remain comparatively pleasant. For those looking to experience the Kank beyond the overlooks, here are three hikes from the highway that offer something for everyone.

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

The Hancocks

One of the most popular hikes off the Kancamagus is the 9.8-mile lollipop loop hike of both South and North Hancock. Leaving from Hancock Notch Trailhead, this hike ticks off two New Hampshire 4,000-footers via the Hancock Notch, Cedar Brook, and Hancock Loop Trails. It remains fairly low in elevation, reducing your chances of encountering snow and ice, and stays in the trees for a long portion, keeping you from prolonged exposure to cold wind. And, because this hike gains and loses the majority of its elevation in short, sustained sections, it’s not surprising to find yourself done with the almost-10 miles a little bit faster than anticipated.

Deciding which direction to hike the Hancock Loop Trail is the hardest part, however. As a tip, head to South Hancock first. It’s a little bit easier to traverse from the South to the North Peak than vice versa, despite the latter actually being higher than the former. Also, North Hancock tends to have better views. Specifically, a large slab here gives you a chance to enjoy a snack as you look out at the Osceolas and the Sandwich Range. Thus, doing it this way lets you save the best for last.

However, summiting South Hancock first also leaves the day’s steepest part for the descent, which can be an adventure in slick or snowy conditions. So, to prepare, don’t forget to bring MICROSpikes and trekking poles.

Credit: Tim Sackton
Credit: Tim Sackton

The Tripyramids

Accessing the Tripyramids from the Pine Bend Brook Trailhead lets you tick off two other 4,000-footers: North Tripyramid and Middle Tripyramid. At about 10 miles round-trip, with almost 3,500 feet in elevation gain, hiking the Tripyramids is much like the Hancocks. Specifically, hikers spend the majority of their time at lower elevations, protected from the elements by the forest. In fact, even their summits are mostly forested, allowing hikers to find shelter from cold weather around the day’s highest points.

While the views here aren’t going to make any “best of” lists, you can look out at Waterville Valley from North Tripyramid, while Middle Tripyramid offers a nice sight of its sister to the north and Passaconaway and Whiteface to the west.

Hikers approaching from the Kancamagus should be prepared for steep terrain. And, even in dry conditions, the section of trail connecting the two summits can be challenging. It’s also worth mentioning that, despite the trek being below treeline, temperatures and conditions change from the parking lot to the summit, so pack accordingly.

Credit: Ben Themo
Credit: Ben Themo

Hedgehog

For hikers looking for a little less mileage, there is Hedgehog Mountain via the Downes Brook and UNH Trails. Although you won’t ascend a 4,000-footer, it will get you to the top of a “52 With a View” peak, and delivers greater vistas and more exposure than its taller neighbors. In fact, at just 2,532 feet, Hedgehog is the shortest “52 With a View.”

Because of the lower elevation, Hedgehog is perfect for those late fall days when snow and ice are starting to accumulate on the higher summits, but you’re not quite ready for hiking in full-on winter conditions. Those tackling Hedgehog are treated to an almost five-mile loop trip that delivers moderate grades, open slabs, and great views of the Presidential Range and Mount Chocorua. Much like when you hike the Hancocks, the hardest decision of the day—other than how long to lounge on the ledges—is which direction to go. We’ve always liked to go clockwise, which allows us to tackle the ledges earlier in the day while our legs are still fresh.

A word to the wise: Don’t be fooled by the minimal elevation. Hedgehog delivers terrain similar to the region’s larger peaks. Because of this, pack not just for the trek, but also for the season. Still bring traction devices for potentially icy terrain, a windshirt for the exposed ledges, and a puffy coat for the summit, in addition to other essentials.

 

Just because the leaves are almost all off the trees, that doesn’t mean it’s time to put the hiking boots away. Now is one of the best times for hiking in the Whites, so get out for a short trek before snowshoes become required gear. Already took one of these hikes from the Kank? Tell us about your trip in the comments.

 


Packing The Ultimate Lightweight Traveler’s Kit

As a hiker or backpacker, you know all about paring down your load to reduce weight. These same principles apply to lightweight travel. If you are ready to stop worrying about dragging around heavy luggage and paying expensive baggage fees, give these suggestions a try.

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1. Bags

Just like when you’re carrying all your gear down the trail on your back, the right bag makes all the difference when you’re traveling. By packing light, you no longer need wheels and telescoping handles to transport your belongings, and as an alternative, a shoulder-carried backpack makes you more mobile and quick.

However, there is a difference between a backpacking pack and a backpack for travel. Also known as conversion packs, these streamline the bag with stowaway straps, use zippers rather than drawstrings, and have wide openings rather than a top-loading design. Check out the Osprey Porter Series or the EMS Boda Conversion Series. Typically, conversion packs under 45 liters meet carry-on restrictions, but you’ll want to check the dimensions. Also, don’t forget a rain cover if you will be out in the elements!

2. Organizers

Use stuff sacks and packing cubes to keep your bag organized and clothing compressed to save space. With the many sizes and shapes available, you can customize a system for your specific bag and travel needs. Take a picture with your phone when you finish packing, so you can easily put everything in its place for the trip home.

3. Tops

Hikers and backpackers use layered clothing to keep themselves comfortable, and that concept is just as applicable to traveling. As today’s performance clothing lends itself beautifully to traveling, start with a washable, wicking base layer, such as the Icebreaker Everyday Lightweight Crew, a mid-layer like a hoodie or fleece jacket, and a soft shell, like the EMS Techwick Active Hybrid Wind Jacket. For warmer weather, a lightweight T-shirt can be your base layer, with another layer or light jacket on top for cool mornings or evenings.

Because of their odor resistance, wool layers are ideal for multi-day wear, and lighter shirts will dry quickly when washed out mid-trip. Wear your heaviest layers while in transit, if possible: It’s always a little chilly in airports and on planes, and you’ll save room in your backpack.

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4. Bottoms

Hiking pants make great travel clothes. They are lightweight and easily compressed, are hand-washable if necessary, and often have multiple pockets. Look for pants made of synthetic materials, such as the EMS Compass Line. In cold weather, consider adding a base layer below, such as midweight or heavyweight Techwick bottoms.

5. Underwear

Underwear can be a scary thing while you travel, so people tend to pack a lot of it. However, ExOfficio makes lightweight men’s and women’s styles that wash out easily in the sink or shower, so you won’t need to jam a ton into your backpack. You just need three pairs: One to wear, one to change into, and one drying after washing.

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6. Shoes

A good pair of sturdy lace-up hiking shoes will keep your feet comfortable all day, whether you are walking on cobblestone streets, doing some light hiking, or trekking across the airport. Merrell, Keen, and Oboz have dependable options. If you want a second pair, sport sandals, such as those offered by Merrill, Teva, and Keen, are great for warmer days or if you are near the water, and won’t take up too much room. Wear the heavier pair when traveling, and place the other in a lightweight stuff sack or plastic bag to keep your other items clean.

7. Socks

Traveling is not a time to skimp on socks, and with their breathability and odor resistance, wool styles from Smartwool, EMS, and Darn Tough can be worn for several days at a time. Wool socks are comfortable for adventures year-round and come in a variety of weights and lengths.

8. Outerwear

The options for packable outerwear have really exploded over the past few years, and they’re all ideal for traveling. Many lightweight down jackets pack into their own pockets, while feature-rich rain jackets do double duty as both a rain coat and a windbreaker. As well, don’t forget a lightweight wool or fleece beanie and gloves for colder weather.

Courtesy: Adventure Medical Kits
Courtesy: Adventure Medical Kits

9. Odds and Ends

Before you pack up, look through your hiking and backpacking gear for practical items that work just as well for travel as they do in the woods. Your Sea to Summit Lite Line Clothesline is perfect for hanging up your underwear and other items after you wash them in the sink. Don’t forget your spork for quick takeout meals. Fold-up water bottles like the Hydrapak Stash help you avoid high prices for bottled water at the airport and collapse down when you don’t need them. Finally, your AMK Ultralight First Aid Kit comes in handy for those minor injuries.

The next time you head out for a trip, simply look first to your hiking and backpacking gear to lighten your load. Happy traveling!


Alpha Guide: Cadillac Mountain's South Ridge Trail

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Go way east and take in one of Maine’s rugged coastal peaks during this staple Acadia hike. 

At 1,530 feet, Cadillac is the tallest mountain on the United States’ Atlantic coastline, offering incredible views of Maine’s rugged seashore from the top. If you want to be among the first people in the continental United States to see the sunrise, there is no better place to view it than from Cadillac’s summit, and as a must-do trip for every visitor to Acadia National Park, a 7.1-mile roundtrip hike via the South Ridge Trail gets you there.

Quick Facts

Distance: 7.1 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: Year-round. Best from May through October
Fees/Permits: $25 park entrance fee per vehicle (May through October)
Contact: https://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm

Download

Turn-By-Turn

Depending on traffic, getting to the South Ridge Trail from downtown Bar Harbor is a breeze. Simply take Route 3 for a little over five miles before making a left onto Blackwoods Road. Then, look for the trail sign, which is visible from the road. Still lost? Blackwoods Campground is nearly adjacent to the trailhead.

The one tricky part about getting here is parking, since there is no dedicated lot for the South Ridge Trail. Instead, just park alongside the road near the trailhead.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Into the Woods

Hiking Cadillac Mountain is a fairly straightforward trip. The 3.5-mile stretch is well marked with blue blazes and cairns, and features very few connecting trails, thus minimizing the opportunity for wrong turns. Adding to the ease of navigation, approximately two-thirds of the trail is above treeline, enabling hikers on a clear day to see the route sprawl out ahead of them.

After parking across from Blackwoods Campground, hikers dip into the woods and follow the blue blazes as the trail gently ascends through the beautiful Maine forest. On the whole, the South Ridge Trail gains roughly 1,500 feet from the car to the summit, and although the change is gentle, hikers should not be lulled into thinking this trek is easy. The initial section is notoriously rocky and rough with roots, before giving way to slabby granite ledges.

Eagle Crag Cutoff

After roughly a mile, hikers are poised to encounter the first landmark of the day: the sign for the Eagle Crag cutoff (44.324177, -68.219193). Just 0.3 miles from here, the Crag features a long granite ledge that provides an excellent vantage point to take in views of the surrounding area. However, the 0.3-mile diversion leaves and then reconnects with the South Ridge, so, to give yourself the best chance at summiting, consider saving Eagle Crag for the return trip.

From the Eagle Crag cutoff, continue following the blue blazes as you climb out of the forest and into a blend of slabby rock and scrubby trees. As you get a little higher on the South Ridge Trail, the forest gives way to a rocky ridge, and there’s a chance you’ll get off the trail. Although this transition is well-marked, pay close attention to the cairns and blazes; otherwise, the well-traveled “footpaths” here lead you nowhere as you come out of the forest.

The Bates Cairn. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Bates Cairn. | Credit: Tim Peck

It’s also here that hikers will encounter something unique to Acadia National Park: the Bates Cairn. Named after Waldron Bates, a trail builder in Acadia during the early 1900s, the Bates Cairn features two large base stones that support a mantel stone with a pointer stone on top. Tampering in recent years has resulted in signs requesting visitors to both leave the existing cairns alone, including not adding rocks to them, and to refrain from building additional cairns. Help protect this special place by leaving the trail as you found it!

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Featherbed

Nearly a mile up the trail from the Eagle Crag cutoff, hikers will encounter the trip’s second major landmark: a small glacial pond called The Featherbed. It is one of three in the park, with the others being The Bowl, located behind The Beehive, and Sargent Mountain Pond, between Penobscot and Sargent Mountains. Depending on the weather, sit for a moment to enjoy the uniqueness of its stunning scenery.

Shortly after departing The Featherbed, the South Ridge intersects with the Canon Brook Trail (44.338486, -68.219193). Here, take a quick look at the sign, make sure you’re pointed in the right direction, and continue following the blue blazes and rocky ridge toward the summit.

From here on out, the trail is largely unprotected by trees, exposing hikers to everything from intense sunlight to fierce winds. Consider keeping a sun shirt, wind shirt, or lightweight rain jacket accessible for this section, as you never know what type of weather you’ll encounter. And, if conditions are too fierce, don’t hesitate to call it a day and turn around.

From here, the South Ridge Trail ascends the park’s notorious pink granite steps and slabs for 0.7 miles to its intersection with the West Face Trail (44.346916, -68.229324). Well marked with a large sign, the intersection is a relief for hikers, indicating the summit isn’t too far off.

The South Ridge. | Credit: Tim Peck
The South Ridge. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Final Push

Hiking from the intersection with the West Face Trail, you’ll realize the impending encounter with civilization. Until this moment, hikers are immersed in nature, enveloped by the quiet of the forest and lost in the stunning views of the ocean and surrounding mountains. In the final push, however, the South Ridge Trail bumps up against the auto road and sees an increase in traffic, as people who have driven to the top explore the trails around the mountain’s summit. Strangely, it’s here that the trail might be the most challenging, as it features a few short-yet-steep sections that involve using iron rungs.

Looking down on Bar Harbor from the summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking down on Bar Harbor from the summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit

Once you’re on top, look for the true summit, which is located along the gravel path and marked by two survey benchmarks established by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (44.35127,-68.22649).

After locating the two survey markers and tagging the true summit, head up past the gift shop (44.351997, -68.225945) and skirt along the parking lot to take in views not afforded by the South Ridge Trail. Looking down below, you’ll see the village of Bar Harbor and islands off the coast.

After you’ve had your fill of views, take a walk around the short loop path at the summit. Make sure to check out the interpretive signs about the history of Acadia National Park. Once you’re done, simply return the way you came, and follow the South Ridge Trail back to your car.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Sunrise Bonus Points

While it’s commonly assumed that Cadillac Mountain’s summit is the first place to see the sunrise on the East Coast, it’s only true for part of the year. Even if your trip doesn’t align with the first-to-see-sunrise dates—October 7 through March 6—a pre-sunrise hike is still a great way to experience a must-do Acadia activity, earns you extra cred from the people who drove up the auto road, and gives you an excuse to order a double stack of blueberry pancakes for breakfast when you get back to town. Want more info on sunrise ascents? Check out our guide to “Beating the Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain.”


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • A large percentage of the South Ridge Trail’s long, gradual ascent and descent occurs on exposed rock, minimizing the need for waterproofing and maximizing the need for traction. Trail runners like the Brooks Cascadia 12 or hiking shoes such as the Oboz Sawtooth Low are perfect for the terrain.
  • Because so much of the trail consists of an exposed rocky ridge next to the coast, a wind shirt like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite is a borderline necessity for blocking the ocean breeze.
  • Pick up the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Acadia National Park Map before you go to get psyched, and bring it along on your hike just in case.
  • Hikers unaccustomed to Maine’s rocky trails will appreciate a good pair of trekking poles, like the Black Diamond Trail Backs, for added stability and confidence in unfamiliar terrain.
  • If the sunrise is on the agenda, consider adding a belay coat like the Outdoor Research Perch or a lightweight sleeping bag like the EMS Velocity 35 to your pack. Standing on a mountaintop in the dark next to the ocean can be pretty cold, even in mid-summer.
  • Another sunrise must-have is a headlamp, like the Black Diamond Revolt, as you’re going to spend a considerable amount of time hiking in the dark.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Bring your wallet, and treat yourself to a cold drink, ice cream, or a whoopie pie at the summit’s gift shop.
  • One of the best things about hiking to Cadillac’s summit for the sunrise is the excuse to eat a big breakfast. Jordan’s Restaurant is a Bar Harbor institution. Enjoy a stack of their wild blueberry pancakes—you’ve earned it!
  • If you started later in the day and prefer your carbohydrates in liquid form, Bar Harbor Beerworks is right on the main drag and delivers outdoor seating options, while Finback Alehouse offers a more subdued setting.
  • Planning on camping during your trip to Acadia? Sites book well in advance for popular summer and fall weekends, so make your reservations early. Don’t count on finding an open site when you get there.
  • If camping isn’t your thing, book a small cottage with a kitchen just outside of town. They’re affordable and keep you from having to trek into town every time you want a meal. We’ve had luck staying at Hanscom’s over the years.
  • Is there someone you would like to share the summit with but don’t think they’ll be able to make the hike? Arrange for them to drive up the road and meet you at the top! The drive up the auto road is free, provided you have paid the park’s entry fee.
  • If you’re looking for other things to do while in Acadia, our “First-Timer’s Guide to Acadia National Park” has you covered. Make sure to check out the tide pools, the Beehive Trail, and Otter Cliffs.

Current Conditions

Have you climbed Cadillac recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


How to Photograph the Sunrise and the Sunset: 7 Tips

Some of the most beautiful scenes I’ve experienced outdoors have been spent in seclusion, watching the sun rise and set while the sky erupts in a multitude of colors. There truly is nothing more magical than the world quieting down for the night as the sun sets—except, perhaps, watching and listening as it comes alive again and the sun peeks out from beyond the horizon.

As is often the case with these and other magical moments, trying to accurately capture it in a photograph can be difficult. However, you can usually come quite close by remembering a few key tips and tricks.

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1. Stick with it

When it comes to outdoor photography, the most important thing to keep in mind is that dedication and perseverance are the keys to helping you get the perfect shot. This can sometimes be tough (I know it is for me) because it means you will almost always be losing a good deal of sleep. Driving to or from your destination, hiking time, and other factors all have to be taken into account, but you’ll rarely regret it.

Hiking in the dark is also a big component of getting mountaintop sunrises and sunsets, and if you can find some people crazy enough to go with you, the trip will be much more enjoyable. There’s a special kind of magic that takes over as you sit and watch, and forget about just how tired you are or will be later.

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2. Not all sunsets and sunrises are the same

Not every quest for the perfect shot will result in even a mediocre sunset. For instance, before one recent hike up New Hampshire’s Mount Moosilauke, I checked the weather forecast and decided it would be a good day to catch the sunrise on top. During the entire drive there, I had clear, starry skies and was getting very excited for the sunrise. About halfway up the trail, however, a thick fog suddenly rolled in, and didn’t clear until I was almost back to my car—an hour after the sun had already risen. But, that failed attempt didn’t stop me from catching a sunset near my house later the same day, and boy, was it worth it. Weather and conditions change rapidly, but persistence eventually nets you a shot you never thought was possible.

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3. Look at the clock

For planning your trip or hike, a key factor to take into account is the actual time of the sunrise or sunset. You can usually get this information from many different sources, including weather apps on your phone or online. I tend to use mountain-forecast.com and Weather Underground.

Realize, however, that the sunrise or sunset doesn’t always happen at that specific time. Colors can begin erupting across the sky up to an hour before the actual sun crests over the horizon in the morning or starts to set in the evening. As a good rule of thumb, get to your destination roughly an hour beforehand, and stay up to 30 minutes afterwards.

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4. Clouds are your friends

As one of the trickier things about shooting at dusk or dawn, those colors that everyone seeks can erupt across the sky and fade in as little as 30 seconds. So, you need to be aware and ready to shoot at any time, and never forget that clouds are your friends. Clouds reflect the scattered light particles to create astounding color combinations.

The most amazing sunrises and sunsets I’ve ever seen have occurred on slightly cloudy days, and the colors seemingly came from nowhere and disappeared just as fast. Don’t forget to look behind you, away from the sun, to catch a glimpse of the alpenglow, which is when subtle blues and pinks fill the sky.

5. Adjust for the sun

Keep in mind that shooting with a phone in the direction of the sun will typically result in some sort of flare, unless you center and focus directly on it. However, since most colors tend to appear either just before the sun emerges from the horizon or just after it sets, it’s easy to avoid flares. If you are using a DSLR, you can oftentimes create a starburst or sunburst effect with the sun’s rays, which adds some uniqueness to your shot. Finding innovative ways to frame this burst can give you a shot unlike anyone else’s.

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6. Don’t forget the foreground

Remember your rule of thirds. Breaking your view into three parts, both vertically and horizontally, and then using those imaginary lines to align items and frame your shot allow you to capture more aesthetically pleasing photographs.

Sunrises and sunsets are great for creating silhouetted shots of fellow hikers, photographers, and friends. Focusing on the sky behind your subject allows you to capture the beauty of the scene while adding your companion’s silhouette to an already-fantastic image.

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7. Keep the editing light

It’s important to try to keep editing to a minimum. While it’s very difficult to shoot a photograph that completely matches how your mind remembers the moment, slight adjustments to the image’s overall brightness and color can usually help you come close. Many times, people will want to increase the saturation quite a bit, but this typically results in an image that looks very unrealistic and not what you were originally going after.

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All photos credit: Joshua Myers

 


11 Tips for Staying Warm While Backpacking in Fall

When you’re in the backcountry during the shoulder seasons, it’s no fun to wake up freezing cold in the middle of the night. You can’t just “turn up the thermostat” or grab an extra blanket from the closet. So, since shivering uncontrollably is only fun for so long, here are 11 tips for staying warm:

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1. Wear dry clothes to bed

If you go to bed in the shirt you’ve been sweating in all day, it’s going to be hard to escape the damp chill. I often pack a spare base layer, so that I’ll have something dry to put on just before bed, and I’ll put all my dry layers—including puffy jackets, hats, and gloves—on over it.

2. Set up camp in a protected area

Finding a campsite away from the wind is another way to increase your chances of keeping warm through night. If you’re doing a multi-night Pemi Loop, for example, you’ll be much warmer if you walk the extra mileage down to the Mt. Guyot tent platforms instead of camping in overflow sites right on the Bondcliff Trail. If you’re unfamiliar, these are located on the ridgeline and get exposed to wind all night long. By contrast, the Guyot tent platforms are tucked away a few hundred yards below the ridge.

3. Keep your stuff warm, too

There’s nothing worse than waking up in the morning and trying to force your feet into damp socks and ice-cold boots. To prevent this, dry your socks in your sleeping bag overnight. And, if it’s really cold and your boots are soaking wet, consider putting them in a plastic bag—a grocery bag works well—and stuffing them into the bottom of your sleeping bag. They’ll stay warm enough, so that your feet won’t turn into icicles when you put them back on.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

4. Zip your sleeping bag all the way up

It never ceases to amaze us that the person complaining about how cold the night was is also the same person who didn’t bother to zip his or her bag all the way up—or who wasn’t using the mummy hood. Pro tip: Wearing a hat to bed is a good insurance policy if you’re likely to squirm out of your mummy bag during the night.

5. Bring two sleeping pads

Although most focus on a sleeping pad’s comfort, it also serves an important insulating purpose by preventing conductive heat loss. I’ve found that the best combination for warmth and comfort is a closed-cell foam pad, like the Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol, on the bottom with an inflatable, like the Sea to Summit Ultralight, on top. Pro tip: Closed-cell foam pads also work great around camp, and are much warmer than sitting directly on the ground or on rocks.

6. Make a heater

Fill your water bottles with boiling water before you go to bed, and then stuff them in your sleeping bag. They’ll act like a heating pad, keeping you warm all night long. Just make sure the caps are on tight!

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7. Bring a heater

Get yourself some Yaktrax Handwarmers. Disposable hand warmers are an awesome addition to your fall backpacking kit. It’s amazing how much warmth these little suckers add when tucked into your pockets, at your feet, or simply stuffed into your sleeping bag.

8. Pack and eat extra food

When it’s cold out, your body has to work extra hard to keep warm. To fuel your furnace, make sure to bust into that stash of cookies you hid in your partner’s pack.

9. Have something warm to drink

Hot liquids both increase your body’s temperature and work as fantastic morale boosters. If possible, avoid alcohol, which, in spite of the warm feeling it gives you, actually speeds up heat loss, and caffeinated beverages. The latter is known to dehydrate you—bad for circulation—and could send you on a cold run for the bathroom in the middle of the night.

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10. Get up and get warm

Good circulation is a sure way to beat the cold. If you’re hanging around camp, periodically get up to jog in place or do some jumping jacks—just try to avoid sweating—to increase blood flow and fight off the freezing temperatures.

11. Spread the love warmth

When the going gets tough, cuddle. If it’s colder than expected or you’re less prepared than you thought you were, there is always the miracle of body heat. You always wanted to get closer to your hiking partner…didn’t you?

 

Do you have a tried-and-true trick for staying warm in the backcountry? If so, share it in the comments.

_C--EMS---BIG-SUR--1964-Camping

 


Explore Like A Local: Getting the Most of Fall in Burlington, VT

For this installment of Explore like a Local, we visited Burlington, Vermont, just as fall took hold. With its cool nights and warm days, we found this to be the perfect time of year to get outside and get after it. We packed in as many adventures as we could, but found ourselves wishing we had more time (isn’t that always the case when you’re having fun?). Given all of the possible activities in town and within a short drive, we just scratched the surface of this area—all the more reason to go back soon.

About Burlington

Located in Northwest Vermont, Burlington is nestled alongside Lake Champlain with roughly 43,000 residents, making it the most populous city in the state. The city has a distinct outdoor and progressive vibe along with a bustling restaurant scene and a busy pedestrian-only area on Church Street. The University of Vermont and Champlain College are both located here and contribute to the energy of the city. The city is served by a convenient airport and a major interstate (I-89), so getting here is easy.

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Activities

Cycling (Spring to Fall)

In Town—Activity Level: Easy

The Island Line Trail sits along the waterfront and heads north into Colchester. If you didn’t travel with your bike, head down to Local Motion and rent a bike directly on the path. The bike path is paved and almost completely flat. Approximately 35 minutes out of town, you’ll reach the amazing Colchester Bike Causeway (gravel, not paved). Ride directly out into Lake Champlain on an old rail causeway. Complete the trip out to the island community of South Hero by taking a bike ferry across a 200-foot gap, left open for boat traffic.

Stowe—Activity Level: Easy to Exhilarating

If you are seeking more challenging terrain, drive over to Stowe and the Cady Hill Forest Trail (on Mountain Road, not far from the intersection with Route 100). You’ll find a mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced singletrack trails. The trails are generally smooth and windy, with some quad-burning climbs.
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Hiking/Backpacking (Late Spring to Fall)

Mt. Mansfield—Activity Level: Easy

For some of the prettiest views around, drive to Stowe and pay the $23 fee (+$8 per each additional passenger) to head up the Auto Toll Road. Follow the twisting road to a parking lot on the summit ridge, next to the visitors’ center. From there, hike 1.3 miles (600-foot elevation gain) along the Long Trail to the summit. Bring sunscreen, because you’ll be on exposed rocks for much of the way. Look for the geological survey marker in the stone at the tip of the summit. Fun Fact: For those who have skied at Stowe, the Green Trail “Toll Road” is actually the Toll Road that one drives up in the summer and fall!

Sterling Mountain—Activity Level: Moderate (Difficult if wet)

Sterling serves as one of the three peaks at Smugglers’ Notch Ski Resort. Hiking up the backside of the mountain in late spring, summer, or fall is a terrific way to access Sterling Pond, which sits a stone’s throw from the top of the Smuggs’ lift. The trail is steep in most spots and is slippery when wet. It’s 2.5 miles out-and-back with a 1,066-foot elevation gain. We hiked up pre-dawn with headlamps to catch the sunrise over the pond—well worth the effort, I can tell you. The views are spectacular, at sunrise and otherwise. Campers are welcome at the pond; there’s a lean-to that can accommodate approximately 10 folks, but not too many flat surfaces for tents.

To access the trail, head up Mountain Road (Rt. 108) from either the Smuggs or Stowe side and park in the parking lot at the top of the notch. The trailhead is directly across the street from the information station.

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Cave Exploring and Bouldering (Late Spring to Fall)

Both activities are accessible from the parking lot at the top of the notch on Mountain Road (same as above). Huge boulders have fallen from the mountains over the ages and are known as the Smuggler’s Notch Boulders.

Cave Exploring—Activity Level: Easy

Just steps from the parking lot, caves have been formed within the clusters of boulders. Wander in and out of the spaces and marvel at the size of the boulders. A few of the more amazing spaces require a bit of scrambling to access the interior.

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Bouldering—Activity Level: Difficult

Bring your crash pads and get after the amazing boulders of Smuggler’s Notch. Situated on either side of Mountain Road, the boulders present a range of difficulty levels. Pick your problem and go about solving it. Just make sure to have a spotter or two along for the adventure. It’s really amazing to see folks climbing the boulders just steps from the beautiful twists and turns of Mountain Road. A group of cyclists took a break to watch us and others work on the rocks.

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Rock Climbing (Late Spring to Fall)

Bolton Valley—Activity Level: Difficult

The Lower West Bolton area is a popular climbing spot in Bolton Valley, located just off Route 2 on Notch Road. It can be busy after work or on weekends in the warmer months. Take your pick between leading a route or top-roping. An easy trail leads to the top if you prefer to top-rope, and large trees and bolts are available to serve as anchors. The difficulty of routes ranges from 5.5 to 5.10b.

Skiing (Winter)

Activity Level: Easy to Exhilarating

There are five terrific options for skiers (four for riders) within an hour’s drive from Burlington. Stowe Mountain Resort is the largest of the bunch and draws the most visitors per year. With 116 trails and 485 acres of skiable terrain, Stowe has something for everyone. Smugglers’ Notch backs up to Stowe and covers three mountains. The main draw for Smuggs, as it is affectionately known, is the wonderful children’s program. Top-notch instruction, coupled with wholesome and educational entertainment, has earned Smuggs a well-deserved reputation as a top destination for families.

Mad River Glen caters to a different crowd with their “Ski it if you can” mantra. With some of the toughest terrain in New England and a skier-only policy (sorry, boarders), Mad River Glen has a cult following among experienced skiers.

Less well known is the terrific and affordable Bolton Valley. Only 25 minutes from town, it boasts 71 trails over three peaks. The closest resort to town is Cochran’s Ski Area. While it’s the smallest of the five, it’s perfect for families with small children. It’s only 15 minutes from downtown Burlington and serves as a learning mountain for little and big ones alike.

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Dining

The Skinny Pancake ($)

For breakfast and brunch, you need to visit The Skinny Pancake. I have two words for you: Noah’s Ark. Just order it. Trust me on this one; I wouldn’t steer you wrong (you’re welcome). The good folks at The Skinny Pancake have developed an ingenious menu, centered around crepes, that features sweet, savory, and healthy offerings, allowing this establishment to stay busy from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Vermont Pub and Brewery ($$)

Comfort food writ large. Find all of the classics (shepherd’s pie, wings, meat loaf, etc.) paired with terrific beers brewed on site. The house-made, flavored seltzers were a hit, as well. Just what you need after a long day of adventure, without breaking the bank.

The Farmhouse ($$$)

For a top-notch meal, look no further than The Farmhouse. Order communal appetizers and watch them disappear in mere moments as people figure out how damn good everything is. Better not be in the bathroom! Our visit in late September corresponded with local Oktoberfest celebrations, and The Farmhouse had filled three chalkboards with different types of märzen lagers for the occasion. And, speaking of chalkboards, we may or may not have taken over one of the boards and added a little #goEast artwork.

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