How to Choose the Right Snowshoes

With the start of March comes mixed emotions. Some are anxiously awaiting dry trails, while others are sacrificing all-natural energy bars to the snow gods. Even though we’ve had some unseasonably warm days, we know the all-knowing groundhog told us not to give up on winter yet. Why would you, anyway?

March has consistently been one of the best months for snow on the East Coast. Now is the time to take advantage of Mother Nature’s white playground while she’s still here. The days are longer, and the temperatures are milder. This concoction creates the perfect recipe for snowshoeing, which is not only the best way to take in the scenery, but also builds muscle for spring hiking.

For the novice to the seasoned explorer, EMS has a vast selection of snowshoes to cure your spring fever. If you’re unsure about how or what shoe to choose, here are some recommendations for picking the right pair:

tubbs_explore

Trail Walking

Recommended snowshoe: The Tubbs XPlore, available in men’s and women’s sizes, is incredibly user friendly and features a simple-to-use binding system. The light aluminum frame and SoftTec™ decking will keep you floating along the terrain. The price point won’t break the bank, either, which makes this shoe a great option for beginners.

Where to use: Trail walking shoes are meant for gentle terrain with mild up and downhill portions. Some well-maintained state parks, as well as city parks with walking trails, can be good starter spots. Or, Mount Independence in Orwell, Vermont, is a great location to take in the sights of Lake Champlain from one of their many well-marked trails. 

tubbs_flex

Day Hiking

Recommended snowshoe: The Tubbs Flex RDG, also available in men’s and women’s sizes, uses a one-step binding system. With its Boa closure, all you have to do is push down and twist. This allows you to quickly adjust your binding on the trails without the hassle. Even better, in the unlikely chance that you experience problems, the binding comes with a lifetime guarantee. Can you beat that? Trick question: You can’t. The composite deck is also a great shock absorber, which is crucial for those full days outdoors.

Where to use: Your options are endless! The East Coast is teeming with plenty of maintained day-hiking terrain. I prefer the Long Trail or parts of the Appalachian Trail, as they receive traffic year-round and are marked. The Adirondacks also offer a wide array of day-hiking options: Buck Mountain and Sleeping Beauty are beautiful winter hiking spots in the Lake George region.

atlas_aspect

Backcountry

Recommended snowshoe: The Atlas Aspect is only available in men’s sizes, but don’t worry, ladies, because you can wear them, too. Atlas’ lightweight snowshoes have been setting the bar for backcountry expectations, and the range of motion offered will even make you forget that you’ve got them on. The binding system is similar to traditional crampons, offering a precise fit and hold for long periods of time. The binding is also perfect for snowboarders, as it can fit larger boots. That’s right: There is no need to drain your savings on a splitboard when you can buy a pair of Aspects.

Where to use: Snowshoes like the Aspect are going to shine where the snow is deep and the lines are steep, as the traction catches the best on uneven terrains and hillsides. Mount Mansfield in Vermont and areas of The Whites, like the Presidential Range, are great locations for some blank snow canvas. Keep in mind that backcountry models are meant for more experienced snowshoers and mountaineers.

atlas_run

Trail Running

Recommended snowshoe: The Atlas Run is a unisex snowshoe meant for moving fast. So, runners, rejoice: You are no longer constrained to only practicing on treadmills in the winter. The lightweight Run features a Speed-V frame and impact-absorbing suspension that allows you to keep going with minimal resistance. Also included here, the Boa system helps out with lightning-fast adjustments, so you can fuss less and spend more time running.

Where to use: For trail runners, the Atlas Run will let you return to the terrain you are used to and love. If you strictly run on roads, opt for snow instead of pavement with these shoes, and you will have a good time. To begin, start with a walking trail, until you are comfortable enough to attempt varied terrain.

Snowshoe


A Guide to Winter Wildlife Tracking

Imagine yourself hiking alone through freshly fallen snow in the backcountry. There are no sounds of civilization—not even a plane overhead. You come across an animal’s track…Who left it behind? And, where were they going? Today, my goal is to provide you with some basic information, so you can get started on your own winter wildlife tracking.

Here’s a little bit about my wildlife tracking experience: While doing my undergrad at the University of Vermont, I took a few semesters of winter wildlife tracking. The courses were based out of a large natural area in the woods of Northern Vermont. I also studied ecology, landscape natural history, natural resources, wildlife conservation, biology, and wilderness conservation. Despite all my studies, I would not call myself an expert tracker—not even in the slightest! I am just an amateur who enjoys exploring in the woods.

Credit: Maddy Jackson
Credit: Maddy Jackson

Pick where you want to go

I recommend choosing somewhere a little off the beaten path: the fewer human disturbances, the better. With that in mind, it’s safer to find some place you’re familiar with and wouldn’t mind stepping off the trail a bit.

My favorite place to track in Vermont is on the Nebraska Notch Trail on the backside of Mt. Mansfield in Stowe. In Pennsylvania, I love going to Valley Forge National Historic Park after a big snowstorm. The most important thing is to find a place where you can be comfortable!

Timing is important

Most animals are active at dawn and dusk, which is known as being crepuscular (in case you’d like to impress friends with a cool, new vocabulary word). I recommend going out first thing in the morning, a time of day when the animals you are seeking are less likely to have been disturbed and before tracks can be muddled by humans, pets, or the elements. I have had my most successful tracking adventures at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning.

What to Bring:

  1. Snowshoes: I have a pair of MSR Lightning Ascents. They are pretty technical, with a full crampon that makes for a good all-around snowshoe.
  2. Trekking poles
  3. Hydro Flask: Full of hot coffee or tea to keep you warm as you meander about.
  4. Waterproof boots: I wear my Oboz Bridgers, but heavier-insulated winter boots might keep you even warmer if it’s particularly cold.
  5. Hand warmers
  6. Camera
  7. Binoculars
  8. Animal track guide
  9. Backpack: EMS’ Sector Series 22L is a great lightweight option.
  10. Lunch, snacks, and water
Credit: Maddy Jackson
Credit: Maddy Jackson

Tracking Tips

The first thing I do when looking for tracks is take 10 to 20 minutes to tune into my senses. I was taught to find a spot in the woods just off the trail where I could sit in the snow and use each of my five senses in turn.

First, I sit with my eyes closed and just listen: to the wind, to the sounds the trees make, and to the sound of my own breath. While listening to all of these different sounds, be sure to make note of them in your head. Consider their pitch, duration, repetition, tone, sequence, etc.

Next, take another five minutes or so, still with your eyes closed, to take in the smells around you. After that, open your eyes and make this next five about taking in your surroundings. This time, try not to focus in on any one thing but instead to take in many at once. Finally, combine all the senses and take in the environment as a whole for a few minutes.

The tracks you will look for are disturbances made into the baseline of the natural environment. When looking at your location’s big picture, all the components that are typically present in it—like a downed tree, the trail, the snow on the ground, the sun, the fallen leaves, and grass poking through—are aspects of the “baseline.” The baseline is the normal environment in front of you, minus any impact done by animals or humans, such as a stick nibbled on by a deer, a nut chewed by a squirrel, or a branch snapped by a boot. These are disturbances, because they interrupt what is normally present.

When wildlife tracking, the key is to step back to try to see the bigger picture of what is in front of you, so that disturbances become more obvious. Tracks are just a small disturbance into the greater picture, or the baseline, and they are the evidence left behind of animals that were once there.

Once you are ready to begin tracking, a good place to start is up high on a ridge or down low in a valley. Predators like to be at a higher elevation for a good perspective when stalking smaller prey. Valleys and low areas tend to be animal highways consistently being walked, trotted, crawled, hopped, and run through.

Walk around for a while, keeping the big picture of the entire environment in mind as you do so. Your body may be up on the ridgeline, but let your mind wander to those valleys. Patience is the name of the game here, and tracking isn’t something that can be rushed. Take your time, and when you do find some tracks, stick to them to see where the adventure leads!

Tracking Facts

  • Tracks made in direct sunlight crystallize and turn icy due to the melting process. They also crisp up and harden where the greatest amount of force was made in the mark. For example, pressure put into the ball of the foot is where there will be a significant amount of icy change comparable to the track’s edge. In addition, watch out for sunlight. It can create shadows that may result in misrepresentation within the track. Tracks that are made under cover and do not receive direct sunlight will have less melting and less iciness.
  • When I find a new track that I am uncertain of, I like to take my glove off and feel the edges of it. See where the deepest parts are and feel how icy the track is. The track’s age can be determined by how icy it has become. The icier it is, the older and more forcefully the animal made the track.
  • Another thing I like to take notice of is how far apart the tracks are. Was the animal running, hopping, walking, or stalking? If it’s a squirrel headed for a tree and the tracks are fairly spaced, maybe it was getting there in a hurry, because it was being chased.
  • When trying to decipher who left the track, I revert to my handy pocket guide! It’s fun and exciting to try to identify who left the track, and it gives clear tips on what characteristics to look for in the tracks you’ve found.

Helpful Identification Tips

Fisher

This carnivore, part of the weasel family, is the size of a large house cat. Tracks are 2 in. by 2 in. generally, and their patterns commonly feature a bounding gate. They have five toes measuring 3 in. wide by 4.5 in. long.

Red Fox

This carnivore’s tracks, with four toes, can be found in a nearly straight line. Oval tracks measure 2 in. to 3 in. long and usually show small triangular footpads.

Coyote

This carnivore, with four toes, has oval tracks measuring 2.5 in. to 3.5 in. long, and they usually show footpads. They typically walk or trot in an alternating pattern.

Black Bear

This five-toed omnivore has front tracks measuring 5 in. by 5 in. and rear paw tracks measuring 7 in. by 5 in. These bears generally walk on the soles of their feet and tend to follow preexisting trails and roads. Additionally, you may find tree markings nearby.

Moose

This herbivore has tracks measuring 5 in. to 6 in. in length and 3 in. to 4 in. wide and usually featuring prominent dewclaw imprints. You may also see a “heart”-shaped imprint left behind.

Turkey

This herbivore with three toes has tracks measuring 3.5 to 4.5 in. long by 3.75 to 4.25 in. wide. Their stride is generally a straight line, with tracks 8 to 14 in. apart, depending on its speed.

Troubleshooting: 404 tracks not found!

What do you do when you hit a wall and can’t find the next track? I think the biggest part is making sure you are seeing the whole baseline. I know that when I get excited, I can become too focused on one track or even one line of tracks. As a result, I end up losing sight of things, and then it seems impossible to find more tracks or even where they were headed. When you can’t find the next track, retrace to where you started: Look at the initial track, then back up and take in the whole baseline again, and follow those disturbances to the baseline and see where they lead.

If the track still seems to end, examine why: maybe it ends on the ground there and picks up on a tree instead, maybe the animal changed direction abruptly and the tracks head in an unforeseen direction, or maybe the rest of the tracks just can’t be found. Just because they’re lost or unseen does not mean they’re not there. The key part of reacting to situations like this is to remain calm. So, keep at it, and remember that the adventure of wildlife tracking is in finding a brand new set to follow.

Credit: Maddy Jackson
Credit: Maddy Jackson

Six Ways to Break Even on Thanksgiving Dinner

The average American consumes somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 calories every regular day. But, on Thanksgiving Day? That’s a different story. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, carrots, and more, all doused in a puddle of gravy, balloon the typical caloric intake to more than 4,500 on the holiday alone.

While most people doze off, dreaming of the leftovers they’ll eat, some of us might be interested in getting out to put all that food-energy to work, but breaking even might be a little harder than you think. To help, here are a few activities the average 150-pound male might have to do to burn off all that deliciousness:

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

1. Climb Mount Isolation after a snowstorm

Mount Isolation’s name speaks for itself, with 14.6 miles round-trip and no views until the summit, but a nine-hour trek in snowshoes, the day after a dumping, would just about compensate for a Thanksgiving filling, and you can cross it off your list of 48! Don’t forget your snowshoes and your cold-weather gear!

2. Bike from Boston to North Conway

A full meal calls for a full day of biking, and this 150-mile route is at least a simple, if not easy, way to burn off your dinner. Start your route at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, follow through Boston and into New Hampshire through various little towns, and finish at the base of the White Mountains in North Conway. This scenic route will leave you tired, but fully relieved of everything you ate.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

3. Ski Tuckerman’s Ravine four times

All the way up, and all the way down, for 13 straight hours. Thousands travel to New Hampshire to break in ski season and head down the ravine, but you’ll have to work a little harder post-Thanksgiving. Start your hike at Pinkham Notch off of Route 16 and take the Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail 3.6 miles until you reach the top of the bowl. Climb up, drop in, and then take the Sherburne Ski Trail, before you ski back down to the parking lot. For this to really burn off everything you consumed, you’ll have to repeat this path around three or four times, for a total of 13 hours of skinning and descending.

4. Run an ultra-marathon

Sure, this requires months and months of training, but for burning off all of those calories, this activity is perfect! 50 miles of straight running should about take care of it, but if you have any leftovers to snack on along the way, you might need to add a little extra distance.

5. Ice skate for 9.5 hours

If you live in an area with a lake frozen over by Thanksgiving, 9.5 hours of skating is always another option! This frozen fun can involve the whole family, as long as the ice is thick enough! If it turns into a hockey game, you’ll be able to drop an hour and a half of ice time.

6. Play 17 hours of table tennis

With the family home for the holidays, it can be a great time for game nights! If you’re looking for some friendly competition indoors or out, table tennis for 17 hours straight will burn those calories away! If you’re skilled enough to rally the ball the entire time, you could even set a world record!

 

Although some of these activities are out of reach for the average person, it’s always important to be aware of what goes into your body, and how you can stay healthy. Have a safe and happy holiday, and if you’re out exploring, don’t forget to tag your photos with #goEast for a chance to be featured!

How will you be burning off those 4,500 calories?


A Guide to Northeast Sufferfests

If you’re hiking in the Northeast, and you see someone dressed as Wonder Woman flying by, accompanied by a small white wolf, chances are you’ve just met Alton and Cole. Look fast, because you’ll have a hard time finding a more extreme duo. Alton, a licensed mental health clinician by day, is an accomplished triathlete who was nationally ranked in her Ironman days. Today, she spends most of her time power-hiking monster treks that would bury the average day-hiker, often in fluorescent superhero costumes with her Shiba Inu companion.

Any hike they take on isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you’re feeling ambitious, this is where Alton recommends taking a look. However, exercise some caution: Some of the routes described are extremely difficult undertakings, and should only be attempted by hikers with the appropriate experience, gear, skills, and fitness.

1. Hut to Hut Traverse, White Mountains, New Hampshire

The “Hut to Hut” is a gnarly route that connects each of the AMC’s eight mountain huts. It stretches more than 50 miles over rugged terrain, and has a mind-blowing 16,000-plus feet of elevation gain. Alton crushed it in 21 hours straight, solo in 2011.

Best Memory: Finishing! Also, experiencing and learning a massive portion of the trail system.

Worst Memory: Exhaustion at mile 45, and the brief doubts about the desire to finish.

Advice: Leading up to an attempt, get plenty of sleep beforehand. Try this as a “day” hike, and you’re guaranteed to look like the walking dead by the end. Also, avoid spending much time at the huts. The comforts can tempt you to stick around, and the time will add up!

Alton Ultrahikes
Photo courtesy of Alton Eckel.

2. Winter Mahoosuc Traverse, Mahoosuc Range, New Hampshire and Maine

This route contains well over 30 miles and 10,000 feet of vertical, including what many consider to be one of the Appalachian Trail’s hardest stretches. Doing it in deep snow and sub-zero temperatures is simply unheard of. Last winter, Alton and Cole, with a few superhero friends, defied the odds and became the first to complete a full winter traverse in a single day, at 22 hours.

Best Memory: Working as a team to literally survive this one. Passing Cole through treacherous icy boulders and crevasses covered in deep snow in the dark was pretty rad.

Worst Memory: Thinking we might not finish in under 24 hours, and water supplies freezing up.

Advice: Don’t attempt this one solo. You will likely break trail in snowshoes all day, and there are very few bail-out points.

Alton Ultrahikes
Photo courtesy of Alton Eckel.

3. Winter Great Range Traverse, Adirondack High Peaks, New York

This is a classic Northeast challenge that spans over 26 miles and adds over 10,000 feet of elevation gain. The extremely rugged trails, exposed ledges, and cliff scrambles help explain why Backpacker Magazine once labeled this the third-hardest day hike in North America. I had the pleasure of joining Alton and her crew for this hike last year in an especially icy February. Alton hiked it in about 15.5 hours, while I limped into the finish about an hour later.

Best Memory: Catching the sunset on Haystack. Our whole crew grew silent and took it all in during a true Zen moment.

Worst Memory: Honestly, nothing. That day went really well.

Advice: Be sure to have crampons, as you are bound to hit loads of steep ice.

4. Northern Presi “Ravine Day,” Presidential Range, New Hampshire

This is a custom route Alton, Cole, and her boyfriend Nate crushed this summer. It is basically a combination of ascents and descents on the Northern Presidential Range’s steepest and most terrifying trails. Head up Caps Ridge, down the Sphinx Trail, up an abandoned Adams Slide, down into the Great Gully, up King Ravine, down Buttress, up Six Husbands, and finally back down Caps Ridge, for a total of 20 treacherous miles and nearly 11,000 feet of elevation gain. The power couple completed this in a mind-blowing 13 hours.

Best Memory: Exploring so much technical trail and a pile of challenging rock routes, all in one trip.

Worst Memory: Missing the sunset on Jefferson’s summit by a mere 15 minutes.

Advice: Only attempt this hike if you are very comfortable on steep rock slab.

Alton Ultrahikes
Photo courtesy of Alton Eckel.

5. Winter Pemi Loop, Pemigewasset Wilderness, New Hampshire

This loop hike runs roughly 34 miles around the western half of the Wilderness, over New Hampshire’s highest peaks outside of the Presidential Range, and includes a total elevation gain of about 10,000 feet. Alton and Cole became the third female and the first dog to complete a full winter Pemi in a single day. Alton likes this one so much, she has done it three times, all between 14 and 16 hours!

Best Memory: The thrill of victory when completing this myself, and then later with Cole. Also, a great sunset on Mt. Bond during my last trip.

Worst Memory: Anxiety before this trip. I’m rarely nervous before a hike, but this one had me thinking of all the things that could go wrong.

Advice: Pack smart to stay light. A heavy pack will wear you down on these 30 mile-plus days.