Video: First Ever Zeppelin Ski Drop

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Video: Utah Avalanche Burial

This avalanche burial and rescue is hard to watch.


5 Steps for Setting Up Camp in the Snow

All of those fun, multi-day trips into the mountains you did this past summer don’t need to stop just because of a little bit of snow. Backcountry camping in the winter is not only possible, it’s awesome. There are no bugs, way fewer people, and all of the roots and rocks you slept on in July are under a nice comfy snowpack in March. With the right gear and a little bit of planning ahead, you can get out there year round. But setting up camp in the snow is a little different than during the summer. Follow these steps to make sure your winter abode is comfortable.

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1. Pick Your Spot

Just like the rest of the year, picking the right spot to pitch your tent is super important to ensuring a good—and safe—night outside. First thing first, read up on the local backcountry camping regulations to make sure your spot is legal. These guidelines vary from place to place, but generally mean keeping away from water sources, trails, established backcountry sites (like cabins, shelters and established campgrounds), and sensitive ecosystems.

Natural hazards are important considerations in three-season camping but are especially critical in winter. Stay far, far away from avalanche-prone areas and be mindful of wind and weather—do some research ahead of time and be aware of local conditions. If you’re in the woods, check out the surrounding trees to make sure you’re not in range of anything dead, broken, or otherwise ready to fall.

2. Make a Footprint

Once you’ve got a solid spot picked out, the first thing you want to do is pack down a footprint for the tent. Packed snow will melt slower and insulate better than loose powder and will make things a whole lot more comfortable. Keep your skis or snowshoes on and hop around in the spot you plan to set up until it forms a nice firm base.

Side note: Insulation is key to a comfortable night out in winter. An appropriately rated sleeping bag is a start, but bring an extra sleeping pad and you’ll be straight toasty.

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3. Pitch the Tent

Next, pitch your tent just like you would any other time of year but for one small difference: the stakes. Your run-of-the-mill, three-season tent stakes are probably not going to do great in the snow, so a heavier duty option—like these—are a good way to go. Tying off and burying found objects—like gear, rocks, or fallen branches—is a good alternative too. A buried ice axe makes a solid anchor and keeps those sharp edges away from ripping a real bummer of a hole in your tent.

Provided the weather reports aren’t grim, a three-season tent can be totally workable in winter. The big difference between winter and three-season tents are stronger poles (for snow accumulation) and sturdier fabric (for wind resistance). If the forecast is clear of heavy snow or high winds, you’re golden. Just lash down that rainfly right so the cold air doesn’t creep in.

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4. Use the Snow

The coolest thing about winter camping is that, with the snow, you can really go to town customizing your site to fit your needs. If you need a bit more space for gear you can dig out your tent’s vestibule and stash it there. If the wind is crazy you can build a snow wall and keep yourself in the lee.

5. Break it Down

Before heading out it’s important to make sure you’ve broken down your site in the most Leave No Trace way possible. Break down or fill in those cool man-made features and always pack out what you pack in.

Do you have any other suggestions for setting up camp in the snow? Leave them in the comments!


6 Skills to Know Before Climbing Mount Washington This Winter

Hiking Mount Washington is a feat in the warmer months, but a winter summit exposes you to extremely volatile and ferocious weather conditions on the tallest mountain in the Northeast, which means there are specific skills that you’ll want to know for this climb that may not have been as important on other winter excursions.

READ MORE: Mount Washington via the Lion Head Winter Route

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Check the conditions ahead of time

Mount Washington holds records for the most extreme weather in the world. Between frigid temperatures (year round!), regular hurricane force winds, and lots of snow, you’re going to want to know what you’re getting into ahead of time. Be sure to read the Mount Washington Observatory’s Higher Summit’s Forecast before you start climbing. The risk of frostbite and hypothermia is real, and if the wind is over 50 mph, the summit temperature near zero, or heavy snow is expected it may require you to postpone your climb. In whiteout conditions, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the amazing summit views anyway.

Avalanches are not something we often expect to need to be prepared for while hiking in the East. However, these are a real danger on Mount Washington, so check the Avalanche Forecast before you head out.

READ MORE: Safe To Climb, Reading Weather Reports for Mount Washington

Courtesy: Mount Washington Observatory
Courtesy: Mount Washington Observatory

2. Be prepared for wind to avoid frostbite

Frostbite becomes a real danger when temperatures and wind are as wild as they are on Mount Washington. Be sure to bring a balaclava and ski goggles to cover any skin from being exposed to these harsh elements. Be sure to test out the equipment before you actually leave for your hike.

3. Know how to walk in crampons

Crampons are important on Mount Washington’s icy summit but walking in them is quite different than walking in winter boots and MICROspikes.

READ MORE: How to Choose Crampons

Each foot has to be lifted horizontally off the ground and stomped into the ground in the same manner, with knees flexed and shoulder width apart. This is known as the French (or flat foot) technique, and is best for flat ground or minimal incline.  It is very easy to rip a pair of hiking pants or tripping over yourself, so be aware of your footing!

Once your trail becomes a bit steeper and you are unable to keep your feet flat on the slope, the technique that is required is known as “front point.” As you face directly into the mountain, kick the toe of your boot straight into the slope. Take very small steps, and remember that you are only using the front spikes of your crampons rather than the entire foot. This technique can be extremely tiring, so a hybrid technique may help on certain slopes.

Practice this on snow beforehand: High on Mount Washington is not the place to attempt mastering walking in crampons.

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4. Learn how to self-arrest

Attempting to summit Mount Washington in the winter is definitely more of a mountaineering feat than your average winter hike. One skill to practice and be comfortable with is using your ice axe to self-arrest and stop a slide on snow.

Hold the ice axe at the head with the pick of the axe pointing backwards. If you do slip and start to slide, bring the ice axe across your chest diagonally at shoulder level with one hand on the top of the axe with the pick now facing out, and the other hand on the shaft. Keep your arms tucked into your sides and a very firm grip on the axe. Once in this position, place as much pressure as you can on the pick of the axe to stop your slide. Arch your back, keep your knees wide, try to keep your stomach off the snow, and continue to put pressure on the pick until you slow and stop.

Take a mountaineering course from Eastern Mountain Sports Schools to get proper instruction on self-arrest, and practice is regularly before climbing Mount Washington via a snowy route like Tuckerman Ravine.

5. Stay hydrated

We have all been there: Several hours into your winter hike, starting to get parched and you reach for your water only to find that the top has been frozen. Being stuck on Mount. Washington without water is less than ideal. To prevent this from happening, fill your water bottle with boiling hot water and bury it deep in your backpack with your insulating layers, or use an insulated water bottle or Nalgene Thermos. You will probably need 2 to 3 liters of water for your hike up Mount Washington.

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

6. Don’t go at it alone

Usually hiking alone isn’t a problem, but the tough terrain on Mount Washington may make you think otherwise. If you have never hiked mountains in the Presidential Range in winter, it may be recommended to try these before you try Mount Washington. Even if you do feel you are experienced enough, the terrain is tough, cairns are often nearly impossible to find, whiteout conditions are common, and ferocious winds can make hiking alone extremely dangerous. Going with a group of similarly-experienced winter hikers, may make the dangers more manageable and enjoyable!

Do you have any other tips for climbing Mount Washington in the winter? Leave them in the comments!


3 Beginner-Friendly Ice Climbs in Crawford Notch

There’s no denying the great ice climbing found in the Northeast. The entire region is home to fantastic flows, even in the most unexpected places. However, one ice climbing destination stands out among the rest: Crawford Notch. With numerous test-piece climbs at Frankenstein Cliffs, a multitude of multi-pitch routes on Mount Willard, and the uber-classic Shoestring Gully on Mount Webster, it’s no wonder why this winter wonderland attracts ice aficionados from across the country. However, it’s not just ice climbing experts flocking to Crawford Notch—the area is also home to some of the best moderate ice climbs in the Northeast. Below are a few great destinations for newer ice climbers looking to gain experience on ice in Crawford Notch.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Willey’s Slide

With an easy approach and an abundance of low-angle ice (between four and six pitches of ice graded no harder than WI2), it’s no wonder why so many Northeast ice climbers have kicked their first steps on Willey’s Slide.

Willey’s Slide is the large slab on the side of Mount Willey. It is easily spotted above the aptly named Willey House while driving Route 302 as it winds through Crawford Notch, allowing climbers to get a sense of ice conditions before making the 15-minute approach. Parking for the slide is in the plowed pull-off just after the Willey House if coming from Conway (or before it, if heading south from the Highland Center). Leaving the parking lot, climbers will typically find a well-traveled path leading up the hill and eventually crossing the railroad tracks before depositing them at the base of the climb. Don’t over-layer in the parking lot or you’ll be roasting by the time you reach the slide.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Willey’s Slide is great for newer ice climbers as it offers numerous opportunities to increase or decrease the difficulty of the climbing. Climbers looking to challenge themselves will find the steepest climbing in the center of the slab, while the slab’s sides offer lower-angle, less-challenging climbing. Even better, climbers tackling the climber’s left side of the route can bail into the woods and onto the descent trail at almost any point if the climbing becomes uncomfortable. Speaking of the descent, there’s no need to rappel or make tricky v-threads to descend the climb; at the top, climbers can simply follow a normally well-packed trail through the woods to the base.

Two warnings about climbing at Willey’s Slide: First, it can get busy, as it is a popular destination for many of the area’s climbing schools, our EMS Climbing School included. Second, the slide has avalanched, so use caution after any heavy snow.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Silver Cascade

A short drive north on Route 302 is Silver Cascade, a gold-star route for those with aspirations of climbing the Northeast’s classic gullies. And, unlike Willey’s Slide, encountering hordes of fellow ice climbers here is a rarity.

Much like Willey’s Slide, Silver Cascade is easily viewable from the road making conditions easy to ascertain. In fact, the route begins at the intersection of the cascade and Route 302. Parking for the route is located at the top of the notch in a small lot just before the AMC’s Highland Center (if coming from North Conway). There’s also a lot directly across from Silver Cascade for summer tourists, but it is not always plowed and folks regularly get stuck.

Once on the route, ice climbers are treated to a wide variety of ice and conditions as they ascend the climb’s four to five pitches. Silver Cascade offers an ample amount of low-angle terrain with the most challenging sections rated no harder than an intermediate-ice-climber-friendly WI2+. After the initial steep, almost all the most challenging sections of Silver Cascade can be avoided, if less-experienced climbers don’t feel up to the challenge. Also, if anchors prove challenging, the climbing is taking longer than expected, or climbers feel like they are in over their head, bailing off the route is as easy as moving into the woods on climber’s right. After four to five pitches, the ice peters out and most climbers descend via a well-trod trail through the woods on the climber’s right side of the climb—once again negating the need to rappel.

One trick to having the best experience on Silver Cascade is to climb it before the snow begins stacking up or in low snow years—climbing Silver Cascade when there is lots of snow is still possible, it’s just more steep snow climbing and a little less fun.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Flume Cascade

Sharing the same parking lot as Silver Cascade is another moderately-graded frozen flow that is sure to please: Flume Cascade.

Similar in character to its neighbor, Flume Cascade delivers a wide variety of climbing, with steep curtains of ice, graded up to WI2+/WI3, interspersed with long sections of snow. Continuing for four to five pitches, the varied terrain on Flume Cascade (very easy initially, followed by several bulgy sections) makes for an engaging outing and is great training for tackling longer, more challenging adventures in Crawford Notch. Like the aforementioned climbs, the most challenging sections of Flume Cascade can be avoided by taking less-steep variations, and the woods on climber’s right (also the descent trail) provide a reliable bail-out option for almost the entire climb—although, you’ll want to try to make it to the top, as Flume Cascade concludes in a very cool cave-like feature.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Although Silver and Flume Cascade are rarely super busy, the variety of climbing options allow ample opportunity for more experienced climbers to pass novice parties—a luxury not found on all of Crawford Notch’s classic ice climbs. Additionally, the proximity of Flume Cascade to Silver Cascade along with the easy walk-offs for both climbs mean that many climbers can tick both routes—and between eight and ten pitches of climbing—in a day.

One word of caution for both Silver and Flume Cascades: these are active streams that are often running during even the coldest spells. Their volume tends to increase significantly (and quickly) if it rains, so be sure to head for the woods if liquid starts falling from the sky.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Do you have a favorite ice climb in Crawford Notch? Whether it’s a super-steep single-pitch line or a more moderate multi-pitch route, we want to hear about it—so tell us about it in the comments below.


How to Choose Snowshoes

Whether you’re heading into the mountains or just getting a little exercise, snowshoes are a key piece of gear for winter exploration. They make winter travel easier and more efficient by dispersing a person’s weight over a large surface area, providing flotation, and preventing them from sinking into the snow. Can’t figure out what snowshoe is right for you? Keep reading to discover which features and benefits are best for you in a snowshoe.

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Terrain

Snowshoeing means different things to different people. For some, snowshoes offer access to untracked powder deep in the mountains; For others, they are simply a way to enjoy the outdoors in winter. Because of this, snowshoes are designed to perform in a wide variety of terrain and applications, making the knowledge of how and where you’re going to use them one of the simplest ways to narrow down your snowshoe choice.

Hiking and Recreational Snowshoes

Designed to handle conditions encountered by the majority of users, recreational/hiking snowshoes are capable of handling all but the steepest and iciest terrain. They’re built for comfort and ease of use with enough traction and technical features to handle moderate terrain and hiking off the beaten track. Most snowshoes fall into this category.

Mountaineering and Backcountry Snowshoes

Mountaineering and backcountry snowshoes are designed for people going deep into the mountains and tackling demanding terrain. They feature more aggressive crampons (and, in many cases, serrated side rails and rear crampons) than hiking/recreational snowshoes for improved performance in steep and icy conditions. Since users in this category will be traveling far from civilization, mountaineering/backcountry snowshoes are built using burlier and more rugged materials and are typically field-repairable. Lastly, many snowshoes in this category have bindings designed to accommodate bulkier boots such as snowboard or mountaineering boots.

Running

Running snowshoes represent a small niche of the snowshoe market, but are popular for people looking to take a break from pounding the pavement during the winter. Running snowshoes tend to be shorter, narrower, and lighter than other snowshoe styles, sacrificing some flotation to facilitate a more natural running motion. Additionally, the bindings found on running snowshoes are designed to accommodate sneakers, rather than boots.

Pro Tip: To ensure your feet stay warm and dry, wear waterproof trail runners and ankle gaiters with your running snowshoes.

GO: Snowshoes for Gentile | Rolling | Steep Terrain

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Men’s, Women’s, and Children’s Snowshoes

Men’s (typically also considered unisex) snowshoes are designed for bigger bodies carrying heavier loads and come with bindings designed to fit larger boots. Conversely, women’s snowshoes are engineered for smaller people, lighter loads, and smaller feet. Women’s-specific snowshoes also frequently feature a tapered tail to account for a woman’s narrower stride. With that being said, many women can still be comfortable wearing a men’s/unisex snowshoe.

Children’s snowshoes vary by age, but most are built to be easy on and off. Snowshoes for younger children are typically made for backyard use rather than backcountry, but snowshoes designed for older children incorporate the technical features found on adult models.

GO: Men’s Snowshoes | Women’s | Kids’s

Courtesy: Tubbs Snowshoes
Courtesy: Tubbs Snowshoes

Sizing Snowshoes

Snowshoes work by dispersing a person’s weight over the surface area of the snowshoe—therefore, it’s important to get an appropriately-sized snowshoe for the load it will have to carry. Every snowshoe comes with a recommended weight range, which should be consulted before purchasing.

As a general matter, if you’re under 150 pounds (with gear), you should be looking at snowshoes in the 21 to 25 inch range. For folks between 150 and 200 pounds (again, with gear), consider a snowshoe in the 25 to 30 inch range. Finally, for individuals weighing more than 200 pounds (including gear), look for a snowshoe over 30 inches. Balance this, however, with the terrain you’ll be traveling in—in deeper snow you’ll want a bigger size, while on well-packed trails a smaller shoe will be easier to use.

Pro Tip: A good rule of thumb is to choose the smallest snowshoe available that is capable of carrying the load and handling the conditions you anticipate encountering, as smaller snowshoes are easier to walk in and weigh less than their larger brethren. This is especially true for hikers expecting to snowshoe predominantly on packed trails.

GO: 40-90 lbs.80-150 lbs. | 120-200 lbs. | 170-250 lbs. | 220+ lbs.

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Construction Type

Today’s snowshoes fall into two different types of construction: wrapped frame and plastic decking.

Wrapped Frame

Most snowshoes are constructed using the wrapped frame model. Wrapped-frame snowshoes take their cues from the traditional wood-and-leather snowshoes of the past, updated with more modern materials like metal and rubber. Wrapped-frame snowshoes deliver a nice balance of light weight and performance and are well suited for use in soft snow.

Plastic Decked

Plastic-decked snowshoes have become increasingly common in recent years. Unlike wrapped-frame snowshoes, plastic-decked snowshoes typically do not feature a separate frame—rather, the frame and deck are a single piece, making them more durable. Plastic-decked snowshoes are more packable than wrapped-frame snowshoes, but frequently are only available in one size, ruling them out for users headed for deep powder (although some modular snowshoes come with “tail”-like extensions).

There are a few exceptions when it comes to snowshoe construction, most notably the MSR Lightning series snowshoes. Rather than using a tube frame, MSR Lightning snowshoes feature a metal frame with serrated edges (and a rubber decking) to provide a snowshoe that blends the advantages of both wrapped-frame and plastic-deck snowshoes.

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Crampons and Traction

A clear indicator of a snowshoe’s intended use is the design of its crampon and the traction system. The more aggressive the crampon, the more advanced terrain it’s built for. For example, a basic recreational snowshoe might have a simple toe crampon, while a mountaineering snowshoe will feature a toe crampon, a heel crampon, and side rails for additional traction in steep terrain. More so, crampons designed for steep and icy terrain will also typically be more aggressively-shaped to provide purchase in gnarly terrain. It’s also common for snowshoes designed for more extreme terrain to be outfitted with traction systems made of more rugged materials—switching aluminum construction out in favor of steel.

Bindings

There are two things to consider when looking at a snowshoe’s binding: how it attaches to your foot and how the binding interacts with the snowshoe.

Manufacturers use numerous ways to connect the binding to your foot. In fact, it’s common to see multiple connection methods used on the same snowshoes. Popular binding closures are webbing straps, rubber straps, snowboard-like ratcheting straps, and Boa dials. Webbing and rubber straps are the most utilitarian binding systems (and allow for replacement in the field), while ratchet straps and Boa dials are more easily adjusted and easier to use.

Whether the snowshoe’s binding is “fully rotational” or “fixed” also impacts its performance. A fully rotational binding is attached to the snowshoe with a pivot or hinge and delivers a wider range of motion than what’s offered by fixed bindings. Rotational bindings allow for a more natural stride and make it easier to gain purchase on steep slopes.

Alternately, fixed bindings attach the binding to the snowshoe with a strap or band. Fixed bindings bring the snowshoe tail up with each step, making them ideal for activities like running where a rotating snowshoe could present a tripping hazard.

Heel Risers

Heel risers, also called heel lifts or climbing bars, have become increasingly common on many snowshoes and are particularly beneficial on mountaineering and backcountry snowshoes. Heel risers can be flipped up to support the heel when ascending steeper terrain, putting the foot in a more natural position for increased comfort and less strain.

 

Do you have a favorite snowshoe model or a suggestion for something new snowshoers should be on the lookout for? If so, we want to hear about it—leave your suggestion in the comments below!

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Understanding the Sleeping Pad R-Value

Shopping for sleeping pads is about to get a whole lot easier.

The second law of thermodynamics states that heat will naturally flow from hot to cold. Without getting too nerdy, this is why we use sleeping bags while camping: They slow down that heat transfer from hot (you and your body) to cold (the outside air). Unfortunately, a sleeping bag is only as good as its loft, and when your body compresses the bag between you and the ground, all of your body heat will easily be lost into the ground. Enter the sleeping pad.

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What does a sleeping pad do?

At first glance to novice campers and backpackers, the sleeping pad just a poor excuse for a mattress, attempting to make the sticks and rocks less noticeable, but it’s real function is to thermally insulate your body from the cold ground. But how well a particular sleeping bag does that job has been hard to quantify.

For many years, sleeping pads were rated in a similar fashion to sleeping bags: with temperature ranges. The problem with this method is that its subjective to both the manufacturer and the user so there is no way to accurately compare the warmth of sleeping pads between brands. Also, a sleeping pad insulates you from ground temperature, which can be very different from the air temperature, and is more difficult to forecast or predict.

More recently, pads have been rated using a number called the “R-Value,” which is a method of rating thermal resistance (how well a material insulates against conductive, or contact, heat transfer). This universal method of rating insulation can now be used to compare the insulating properties of almost any material or product! The problem? Until now, it hasn’t actually been universal. Brands tested their pads to find the R-value using a variety of different techniques and without a standardized method, the numbers listed on sleeping pads were often hard to compare and make sense of—some brands opted to not include an R-value at all.

But, at the end of last year, a coalition of industry brands announced that they would be standardizing the R-value tests and requiring that all pads list the new, easier to understand number by 2020.

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So, how will it work?

So how will the R-Value for a mattress be figured out? A thermal testing rig which contains a hot and cold side is set up with the mattress sandwiched in between the two sides. The hot side is heated with an electric coil, and the amount of energy required to keep the hot side at a constant temperature is measured. A mattress that insulates well, will let the heating coil use less energy to maintain the set temperature because less heat is being conducted through the mattress to the cold side. This measured amount of energy is then converted with some fun math equations into the R-Value that will be assigned to that specific mattress.

Thankfully many of the gear companies have already done much of the legwork for you and have come up with some recommended R-Value ranges for the season or warmth you might be looking for:

“Season” Summer 3-Season Winter Extreme Cold
Recommended R-Value 1+ 2+ 3+ 5+

Much like a sleeping bag, the trade off of increasing R-Value is increasing the weight. A high R-Value sleeping pad will naturally weigh more than a sleeping pad with a lower R-Value using the same material technology.

The good news for consumers who don’t want to own a different sleeping pad for every season, is that R-value is simply added together linearly in order to increase its insulating properties. For example, this means you can stack an inflatable mattress with an R-value of 3 on top of a closed cell foam mattress with an R-value of 2 and have the equivalent of a new mattress with an R-value of 5!

You may be asking yourself why any of this matters. After all, if a company tells you that a mattress is rated for 15 degree weather, why not believe them? The true advantage of incorporating a standardized method of rating is being able to compare mattresses from different companies and not having to worry about marketing tactics or personal bias. Relying on a scientific standard for rating the insulating properties of camping mattresses lets you, the camper, make informed and complete decisions on how to spend your hard earned money.


8 Tips for Winter Hikes Above Treeline

While the mountains of the Northeast may not contain the vast alpine climates of the American West or other regions, many peaks of the Adirondacks, Greens, Whites, and Maine do require extensive travel above treeline to reach summit. Hiking above treeline, especially in winter, can be some of the most spectacular and rewarding hiking around, but it doesn’t come without challenged or danger. The unpredictable and harsh weather, inhospitable terrain, and difficulty of getting help all the way up there makes preparation necessary any time you venture into the Alpine, and these tips will start you in the right direction.

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1. Do the proper planning.

While sound preparation is a must for any safe hiking experience, it becomes even more important when visiting above treeline trails. You should carefully study your route, read trip reports or descriptions of your hike, and take careful note of weather predictions. Higher summit forecasts can be very different than general weather reports, and you should account for being exposed to any wind or precipitation which can often be more intense on exposed summits and ridgelines. As with any hike, be sure to let others know a detailed itinerary and when to expect you in case of emergency.

2. Practice makes perfect.

Before entering an alpine zone in winter, you should have a chance to test and dial in your gear and technique on lesser objectives and more forgiving trails. A windswept cold summit is not the place to find your water has frozen or your crampons don’t fit your boots. Pick a cold and windy day to try a small hike above treeline where you know you have an easy exit to test out your skill, gear, and resolve.

3. Adjust your risk assessments.

A part of more extreme peak bagging that is often learned through (sometimes negative) experiences is decision making and knowing when it is best to bail on an objective. When deciding to travel above treeline, the risks you are willing to take should be adjusted accordingly. Travelling solo or pressing on despite issues can have much more severe consequences here. Have alternative plans, expect the worst, and be willing to bail if needed rather than risk injury or worse.

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4. Carry the proper water and food.

Realize that subzero wind chills and exposure to the elements and weather will change the way you eat and drink. You will be uncomfortable or even dangerously cold if trying to fumble with preparing food or melting snow for water. Carry what you need for fluids in insulated containers to prevent freezing—winter alpine regions are no place for hydration packs whose tubes can freeze easily. Carry snacks that won’t freeze in easily accessible pouches or pockets so you can eat on the move without having to access you pack frequently.

5. Dress for the cold.

You will want to be sure to carry and wear the correct clothing. Typical winter layers may also require a heavy down insulating layer and a waterproof/windproof shell depending on conditions. Don’t over layer as you will still generate a great deal of heat even in freezing conditions. However, think about what you would need to stay warm should you become immobile for hours or, at worst, even overnight. Depending on the duration of your time above treeline, the availability of bailout options, and other factors, it may even be wise to carry basic winter shelter such as a bivy or emergency blanket as needed.

6. Wear the right traction.

While most winter hikes will include the need for traction devices such as snowshoes or Microspikes, this becomes even more crucial above treeline. The above treeline areas of the Northeast are often rocky, icy, and/or exposed—you may even require full crampons for safety. It is better to have all these devices than to find yourself sliding into a possible injury along a fully exposed section of trail. Be sure to be properly trained in crampon technique before using this potentially dangerous equipment.

7. Protect your face and eyes.

Blasting winds and ice over long stretches of ridgeline can quickly create uncomfortable or even dangerous frostbite conditions on any exposed skin. Carry and use adequate gear to protect your face. While a simple Buff may suffice for cold windy hikes in the woods, alpine exposure may require a full face mask, as well as goggles or glacier glasses to protect your eyes. It seems simple, but some forget that hiking with no vision can quickly lead to disaster.

8. Navigate carefully.

The regions above treeline in winter look much like the moon. They can be uniform landscapes of rocky white with at best an occasional cairn to mark routes. Besides studying routes ahead of time, it is crucial to take extra steps to ensure proper navigation. Consider carrying a GPS, and always be equipped with a map and compass. As you enter an alpine zone, take careful note of the direction you came from, the direction you are heading, and any notable landmarks or indicators. It is wise to even take a quick bearing on your compass of the exit and/or target routes. It is not uncommon for a clear summit to become a windswept and engulfed in whiteout conditions in just minutes. If you do get caught in extreme weather, don’t panic. Think carefully for a minute of the information you have and make sound decisions to get below treeline rather than rashly scrambling in what might be a dangerous direction.

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Video: Skiing Stereotypes

Which skiing stereotype are you?


How Important Is Winter Sun Protection?

We all have that friend who says, “Meh, it’s January. I don’t need to worry about sunscreen,”—Or maybe you are that friend. It’s easy to think that the sun is not as strong since the average highs in the the winter months are more like 15 to 20 degrees, instead of 75. But don’t let the low temperatures have you fooled—It takes only one bluebird day on the mountain to get a second degree burn all over your face. If you’re the type that usually wears sunscreen only in the warmer months, take the following into consideration before stepping out of the cabin.

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Why is the sun so potent in the winter?

Here in the Northeast, we are pretty far from the equator, which means that for about six months of the year, we are pretty far from direct solar rays. But regardless of geographical latitude, there are some hidden factors that make winter sun exposure scary.

Elevation increases sun intensity and exposure. The atmosphere is thinner and there is less of it blocking the suns rays from hitting you than when you’re at sea level. With every 3,280 feet you gain from sea level, UV levels increase by about 10 percent.

The other factor increasing your exposure to UV rays in the winter is all that white stuff that we love to romp in. Snow can reflect up to 80 percent of the overhead UV rays, and inevitably increases the angles at which sun will hit you. Meaning, rays will be coming at you from below and the periphery, hitting spots where, normally, “the sun don’t shine.”

What parts of my body should I protect?

Fortunately, most of our skin is already protected from the sun during the winter, because of the clothing we need to stay comfortable outdoors. However, the head and upper torso are still likely to be uncovered, especially during high-exertion activities like nordic skiing and snowshoeing. Prominent facial features like your nose, cheeks, and lips are most susceptible to sun damage from the direct UV rays overhead. The areas often-forgotten are usually hit hardest by the reflected UV rays: think underneath your chin, the bottom of your nose around your nostrils, and your neck. Pay special attention to your peepers this time of year too. The intense sun overhead and reflection off a bright white layer of snow can really do a number on your eyes and lead to snow blindness: a temporary loss of vision due to sunburned corneas.

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How do I prevent sun damage?

There are a handful of options to protect your skin and eyes from harmful solar rays, ranging from skin care and apparel accessories to sunglasses and ski goggles.

Skin Care

Sunscreen is a classic option for protecting skin on your face without physically covering up. Look for a sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 and broad-spectrum coverage. A really convenient option is sunscreen that comes in a solid form like Beyond Coastal’s Active Face Stick. These make it easy to apply on the spot without taking off your mittens, and it will fit in your pocket. Whatever form you choose, just don’t forget to re-apply every hour or two.

Apparel Accessories

For days when it is brutally cold or the wind is barreling out of control, physically covering your skin will likely be the best option for sun and weather protection. Balaclavas are a face mask, neck gaiter, and helmet liner all sewn into one accessory. For the best protection, opt for one that offers full face coverage, as it can always be pulled down or rolled up to allow for increased breathability. For days when it’s not frigid, neck gaiters are a versatile piece that will cover just your neck, or can be pulled up and over your cheeks and nose for all-over protection while providing a little bit of insulation.

Eye Protection

Sunglasses will be the most versatile choice for eye protection. In addition to lenses that offer 100 percent UVA and UVB protection, they should have a wrap-around frame or have side shields on the arms to provide lateral protection from the sun’s rays. Glacier sunglasses are super dark and are designed specifically for protection from snow glare and are great for winter trekking and mountaineering. Ski goggles are your eyes best line of defense when skiing or riding. Opt for goggles that feature lenses filtering 100 percent of UV rays.

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The sun doesn’t take a break at any point in the year from emitting UV radiation. Considering this is the number one cause of skin cancer, among other damaging skin conditions, it’s important to take preventative measures to protect your skin during all seasons, even if much of it is spent bundled up from head to toe. You’ll be glad when those rosy cheeks don’t turn into a blistering mess.