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.


How to Choose Cross Country Ski Gear

In cross country skiing (also known as “Nordic” skiing) your skis, boots, and poles form a bond with your body that allows you to swiftly glide your way through a snow-covered forest, so making sure you have the right equipment for your outing can mean the difference between an unforgettable day exploring and a day that deters you from ever clicking in again. So how do you choose the right cross country ski set up for your upcoming expedition? It all depends on the type of skiing you’re about to embark upon.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Types of Cross Country Skis

There are three main types of cross country skis which correspond to the type of skiing you’re hoping to do: Touring, classic, and skate. Each ski type will aid you in a different skiing technique and on a different set of surfaces.

Touring

Touring skis can be used on groomed or ungroomed trails. They are also known as “backcountry” skis because of how rugged they can be. Generally, these skis are longer, light in weight, and a little bit thicker in width to provide more stability to skiers who decide to take on ungroomed trails. If you’re looking to utilize your skis both on groomed trails at your local XC ski center and on your local hiking trails, investing is a pair of touring skis is highly suggested. Those looking to tackle steeper and deeper conditions should also look at purchasing skis with metal edges.

Classic

Classic skis are used on groomed trails that provide a track set, grooves within the snow that your skis glide through. Track sets can be found at your local XC ski center. These skis are long, narrow, lightweight, and have a range in stiffness depending on the performance you are looking for.

Skate

Skate skiing is used on groomed trails. These skis are long, narrow, lightweight, and have a stiff flex to help transfer power from one stride to the next. This technique used for skate skiing resembles that of ice skating.

GO: Cross Country Skis | Boots | Bindings | Poles

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Length

It is a common misconception that you pick your skis based off you height and that the taller you are, the longer your skies should be. This is untrue in many cases. The length of your ski is going to depend on your weight. You need to be able to evenly disperse your weight across the ski properly to get the best kick, which transfers your power to the snow.

However, there will be many instances where your weight may fall into two different length skies. In this instance you want to factor in your ability level. The longer your, ski the faster you generally go. Those who are beginner to intermediate you may want to go with the short size in your weight range so you have more control. Once you get to the upper intermediate and advanced they you will upgrade to the longer version in your weight range.

This basic chart should give you an idea of the right length ski to have, but once you pick out a specific ski, pay attention to the recommendations of the specific manufacturer:

SKIER WEIGHT CLASSIC SKI LENGTH SKATE SKI LENGTH
100 – 110 lbs 180 – 190 cm 170-180 cm
110 – 120 lbs 182 – 192 cm 172-182 cm
120 – 130 lbs 185 – 195 cm 175-185 cm
130 – 140 lbs 187 – 200 cm 177-187 cm
140 – 150 lbs 190 – 205 cm 180-190 cm
150 – 160 lbs 195 – 210 cm 185-195 cm
160 – 180 lbs 200 – 210 cm 190-200 cm
>180 lbs 205 – 210 cm 190-200 cm

 

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Camber and Flex

The camber and flex of your cross country skis plays a huge roll in the performance you’ll get out on the snow. Both of these factors are usually determined based on your weight too, so don’t be bashful when asked—It could be the difference between an enjoyable easy gliding day or a day that makes you feel like you’re constantly fighting an uphill battle.

Camber

Camber refers to the upward curve in the middle of the ski, seen looking from the side. Classic skis tend to have more camber, while skate skis tend to have less. This is because classic skis require grip on the snow while you transfer your weight forward into your next gliding motion, and skate skis rely mainly on pushing from the edge.

To determine the camber, place both skis on the snow, click in, and the ski should level out based off your weight with the part under your foot just “kissing” the snow. Too much camber and not enough contact with the snow will result in a day of minimal grip on the snow and a lot of slipping when trying to glide forward. Too little camber and too much contact with the snow and you’ll stick like glue to it, requiring extra effort to glide forward.

Ski Flex

The flex of your skis refers to the bend or give they have as well as the power transfer and kick you get out of them. Stiffer flex skis springboard you forward a bit more than those that are softer. Again, this is determined primarily by your weight. Your cross country ski’s flex comes into play when talking about speed and turning comfort. Softer flex skis, which have more bend or give to them, grip the snow, making it easier to turn on softer snow and at slower speed. Stiffer flex skis provide you with speed and work best when the snow is firmer. If you are looking to get into racing, ski flex will become a bigger deciding factor in your purchase. The flex you choose should depend on the conditions. However, beginners should look into a softer flex ski until they feel more comfortable gliding along.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Waxable vs. Waxless Skis

All cross country skis have a wax base. The wax is what allows you to glide across the snow effortlessly as it reduces the friction created between the ski base and the snow. With cross country skis, there are two types of wax: kick wax and glide wax. Depending on the ski you choose, it may use kick wax and glide wax or just glide wax. Kick wax is what will allow your ski to grip the snow in what is called the “wax pocket” on your ski. It helps grip the snow as you shift your weight from ski to ski. Glide wax does just what you are thinking, it helps you glide. It moves across the snow reducing the friction between the ski and the snow.

Waxable cross country skis allow skiers to apply various types of kick wax depending on the snow temperature or hardness. Waxable skis utilize both glide wax and kick wax to enhance overall performance and are applied by heating up the wax and spreading it the length and width of the ski base.

Waxable skis are desired by many who are ultimately looking to compete or get the most out of their ski on any given day. This is because you can change up the wax you apply to the bottom to fit the conditions outside. Everything from air temperature, snow temperature, snowpack, and terrain can come into play. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of all-around waxes you can use too so you don’t have to keep reapplying wax before every ski session.

Waxless base cross country skis require low maintenance as they do not require the reapplication of kick wax throughout the season. Ridges are cut into the base of the ski that mimics the effects of kick wax. So, don’t be fooled by the naming, you’ll still need to apply glide wax to the base of your skis from time to time. Waxless skis require less maintenance, making them great for beginning skiers and those who want to save the time involved in waxing.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Boots

Your boots are what form the bond between you and your skis. Finding the perfect balance between comfort and performance is important. Don’t forget the fit, weight, and stiffness of these boots to make sure they’re comfortable, but just like the skis themselves, you’ll want to address a few performance factors to find the best pair for you.

Classic Ski Boots

If you’re going to be classic skiing, then you’ll want classic style ski boots. These boots offer more flexibility in the ball of your foot than the other styles. They have a lower cuff, usually around your ankle, for a greater range of motion while striding forward. The soles also range in stiffness to assist with your turning ability and responsiveness. Many boots also feature lace covers to keep your feet warm, dry, and protected while out on the trails.

Skate Ski Boots

Skate ski boots are stiff, responsive, and often feature carbon fiber ankle support to maximize your kick. These boots feature a high ankle cuff, usually Velcro or ratchet system, which assists with transferring power to the skis. Soles are stiff and lacing systems vary to keep your foot locked in for fast skiing.

Combi Ski Boots

Not sure which style skiing you want to take part in? Maybe you enjoy classic skiing but want to get into skate skiing. Combi boots blend classic ski boots and skate ski boots to offer all-around performance no matter which style you’re skiing. Offering a great range of motion for classic, higher ankle cuff for power transfer to your skate skis, and overall comfort, you’ll be out on the trail all day long with these boots.

Touring/Backcountry Boots

If you are using touring or backcountry skis, you will generally look at classic style boots where the flexibility is on the balls of your feet. There are touring/backcountry style boots however. They are often higher around the ankle to keep snow out and provide a bit more insulation for warmth while out on the trails.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Bindings

Bindings are what keep your boots connected to your skis as you glide your way through the snow-covered forest. Bindings are small but essential for all setups. Make sure you are aware of the pattern of your boot before you select a binding to be placed on your skis—Not all boots are compatible with all bindings.

NNN, or New Nordic Norm, pattern bindings feature two thin ridges that are raised to match the sole pattern on your boot. Boots connect to the binding by a single metal bar that runs across the tip of the boot. The boot to binding paring acts like a hinge as you glide forward in both classic and skate techniques.

SNS, or Salomon Nordic System, pattern bindings feature a single raised ridge that spans the bottom of your boot. Like the NNN pattern binding, the SNS utilizes a single metal bar to connect the boot to the binding allowing it to hinge as you glide along. Note that there is a variation of the SNS, the SNS Pilot, which uses two metal bars to connect the boot to the binding, allowing for superior flex and kicking motion without compromising stability.

NIS, or Nordic Integrated System, is essentially the same as the NNN pattern just attached to the ski in a different way. This baseplate pattern is compatible with the NNN pattern boots.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Poles

Ski poles will help you propel yourself along the trail while also providing stability for uneven terrain. You want ski poles that have some flex to them, a spiked end to grip the snow for added propulsion and stability, and comfortable hand grips—you’ll be holding these the entire time.

Touring and Classic Ski Poles

When classic skiing, you’re going to want a lightweight and sturdy pole. The pole should reach your armpit when standing flat on a groomed trail. For those who will be racing, you may want to add a few centimeters to the length and look at poles made entirely of carbon fiber. If you’re touring off groomed trails, seek out poles that are durable and have a telescopic option.

Skate Ski Poles

When searching for skate skiing poles, you want to look for ones that are stiff and lightweight. The size of your skate ski poles should be about 90 percent of your height: This mean the tops of them are between your chin and your nose when standing flat on the ground. The length of your poles plays a crucial part in maximizing your stroke efficiency because it allows you to engage your abs and your upper body to generate more speed.

 

Purchasing your first cross country ski package is an exciting time. You’ll have everything you need to hit the trails and take in the snow-covered forest as you slide along the trail. Stop into your local Eastern Mountain Sport and let the experts walk you through choosing the right ski, boot, binding, and poles for your desired cross country skiing technique.


6 Tips for Winter Hiking With Your Dog

Hiking with your dog is awesome, and doing so in winter is no exception. Shorter daylight hours, freezing temperatures and the potential for dangerous weather do, however, compound the necessary precaution warranted before a winter outing—for both you and your K9. But, with a little advance planning you can hit the trail with your furry little buddy any time of year no problem. Here’s what to consider when the temperature drops and the terrain gets real.

1. Get them some warm clothing

While some dogs are naturally adorned with thick winter coats, others are woefully unprepared to go out in chillier climes. For our not-so-furry furry friends, a jacket will likely be necessary.

Dog jackets come in as many shapes, sizes, and prices as human jackets do, so a little research will help. Consider the needs of your pup, the conditions you’re likely to encounter, and dive head-first into the wild and varied world of dog outerwear. Just make sure it’s functional—it needs to fit, it can’t restrict movement, and it damn sure can’t interfere with your dog’s ability to answer nature’s call.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

2. Protect their paws

Snow, ice, and frozen rock can be hard on paws. So can salted parking areas. If you can get your pup into the idea, options abound for dog winter footwear that both insulate from the cold and protect from the harsh terrain.

If your dog is not the boot-wearing type, consider a topical application like Musher’s Secret as an alternative. Musher’s Secret—not just a brand name but actually developed in Canada for sled dogs—is a natural, breathable wax. When applied, it absorbs into the paws and protects them from salt, ice, snow build-up, and cuts or scrapes. It also allows dogs to use their claws—nature’s crampons—to travel well over icier terrain.

3. We all need food and water

Breaking trail is rough work—rougher still when you consider how many steps your dog is taking for your one. Stock up on food and water, pack a dog bowl, and keep morale high by doling out treats liberally.

4. Coat them in blaze orange

Hunting seasons vary from place to place but oftentimes overlap with winter hiking season. Know where you’re going, if hunting is permitted there, and what’s in-season. Nip any doubts in the bud and get your pup a blaze orange bandana or vest anyway.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

5. Be wary of hypothermia

Just like humans, dogs are susceptible to hypothermia. Since they can’t tell you what’s up, you need to know the signs. If your pup is shivering, breathing slow, or is stumbling around, warm them up with a sleeping bag or emergency blanket immediately.

6. Make a plan

Above all else, make a plan. Keep an eye on trail conditions and weather reports and be aware of your pup’s ability—just like with humans, conditioning and training is important. If it’s wicked cold or the snow is wicked deep, it may be wiser to leave your dog at home—or just bail all together.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

52 (More) goEast New Year's Resolutions

As we approach the New Year, it’s natural to look back and reflect on the 12 months that just passed. And, while it’s fun to think about our favorite summits, trips, and trails from that period, it’s equally exciting to look ahead and plan what’s next. With that in mind, we’ve gathered some more of our favorite articles from the past year to put together the ultimate outdoor-focused list of New Year’s resolutions. Make these ideas part of your bucket list for 2019.

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Winter

  1. A few of the Unbeatable Speed Records in the Northeast were broken last year. Start training now to find out how fast you can go.
  2. Go winter camping in comfort.
  3. Hike the Adirondacks’ MacIntyre Range and summit three of the High Peaks.
  4. Visit one of these unique ice climbing crags.
  5. Start working on New Hampshire’s other list, the 52 With a View. They’re awesome in the winter, and you won’t encounter the masses found on some of the Whites’ most popular 4,000-footers.
  6. Hike the Lion Head, one of Mount Washington’s iconic winter routes.
  7. Pray for weekend pow, and ski the Whiteface Auto Road.
  8. Ice climb Shoestring Gully.
  9. Learn the dos and don’ts of climbing in the gym.
  10. Celebrate Presidents’ Day by getting presidential in the White Mountains.
  11. Take your skis or snowboard on a trip.
  12. Lighten up the dark days of winter by brightening up your wardrobe.
  13. You’re not going to send your project by sitting on the couch—start training at home and crush it at the crag this year.

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Spring

  1. Don’t stop skiing just yet.
  2. Give your gear room a spring cleaning.
  3. Hike Mount Monadnock, the world’s second-most popular mountain.
  4. Ski Tuckerman Ravine, the epicenter of backcountry skiing in the Northeast.
  5. Break out your mountain bike early.
  6. No need to wait for Rocktober—send something this spring.
  7. Tackle one of Connecticut’s top-notch trails.
  8. Leave the tent behind and camp in a hammock.
  9. Find out if your pup is man’s best friend or man’s best hiking partner.
  10. Vow to keep your mountain bike clean through mud season.
  11. Get outside: Take your climbing from the gym to the crag.
  12. See how it feels to use trekking poles on your next hike.
  13. Take your road bike for a century ride—that’s one hundred(!) miles.

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Summer

  1. Summit the Catskills’ two 4,000 footers—even better, do it in a day.
  2. Hike Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast.
  3. Paddle the Adirondacks’ Seven Carries Route.
  4. Be a better (nicer) hiker.
  5. Hike the Thunderbolt Trail to the top of the tallest peak in Massachusetts.
  6. Go alpine climbing on the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle.
  7. Kick back with a cold one, and enjoy one of these top brews.
  8. Tick five High Peaks off your list by traversing the Dix Range.
  9. Take the kids for a hike in the ‘Daks this summer.
  10. Prove that big views don’t require big elevations.
  11. Avoid these backpacking no-nos on your next multi-day trip. (Did somebody say Pemi Loop?)
  12. Stretch out your paddling season.
  13. New York City might be so nice they named it twice, but every now and then, you need to escape the Empire City.

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Fall

  1. See great foliage without ever leaving Boston.
  2. Layer up for cool fall temps and go climb High E in the Gunks.
  3. Take a backpacking trip to New Hampshire’s Carter Range.
  4. Get out of Gotham, and get to these fantastic fall hikes.
  5. Peep leaves at these Adirondack hotspots.
  6. Ditch the single-pitch crowds at Rumney, and explore the area’s multi-pitch moderates.
  7. Make stretching after a run your new mantra.
  8. Stop avoiding these New Hampshire 4,000-footers.
  9. Hike Vermont’s tallest peak, Mount Mansfield.
  10. Celebrate the season—vest weather is the best weather!
  11. Do it the old-fashioned way by ditching the digital camera and try taking photos with film.
  12. Take your running off road.
  13. Donate on Giving Tuesday to one of these great Northeast organizations.

Of course, these are just a few outdoor-oriented New Year’s resolutions. We want to hear about what’s in store for 2019, so leave your plans in the comments!


8 Tips for Taking Good Pictures in the Snow

You want to preserve the memories of your snowy wintertime outdoor adventures, but taking photos in the snow is hard. Sound familiar? The freezing temperatures make your fingers too numb to press the shutter button. The blinding sun reflects off the snow and into your photos. The beautiful snowflakes are moving so fast, you just can’t seem to capture them. Whether you have a DSLR with all the trimmings or a simple smartphone camera, snow photography is no walk in the park. But, if you want to take great pictures, so you can remember your time in this winter wonderland all summer, these eight tips will help you do it.

1. Keep your camera cold

If you’re out in the elements with an expensive camera, your first instinct might be to keep it warm under your coat, but this is actually a bad idea. In warmer environments, condensation may gather on your camera, fogging up the lens to the point it’s impossible to take a good picture until the moisture has cleared. Keeping your camera the same temperature as the outside air ensures it won’t form condensation when you pull it out.

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2. Use manual mode

Often, a camera or iPhone will look at a snowy scene and automatically dial the exposure down. As a result, the snow comes out gray. As a solution, consider using manual mode and then slightly overexposing your photo. Expose for whatever you want to highlight (trees, a person, etc.). If you’re on an iPhone, change the exposure by simply tapping the screen on top of the object you want to expose, and then, you can tap and hold to lock the exposure.

3. Take advantage of shadows and silhouettes

In wintertime, the sun is lower in the sky, and thus creates longer shadows. These winter shadows may add a unique touch to a photo that otherwise would have been drab. As well, don’t be afraid to take several shots, experimenting with the sun’s placement and how you can best use the shadows. Try using the shadows to create leading lines. For an example, maybe tree shadows can “point” to the person who’s the subject of your photo, creating an interesting effect.

Credit: Hailey Hudson
Credit: Hailey Hudson

4. Use color

If all you can see is white snow, find something colorful to help your photo pop. This could be a person wearing a bright red jacket, a blue sky, or non-snow-covered trees—anything nearby that will add some variation into the frame.

5. Invest in fingerless gloves

Shooting in the snow can be dangerously cold, but if you’re trying to press buttons on your iPhone, you’ll need bare fingertips. Purchase some touchscreen-compatible or fingerless gloves, so you can work your iPhone camera while staying warm.

6. Watch out for footprints

There’s nothing worse than getting your settings just right, snapping some beautiful photos of a snowy scene, and only then realizing the photo is full of footprints. Stand in one place as you think about from where you want to shoot, and then, carefully choose your route to that place. Watch out for your shadow, too.

Credit: Hailey Hudson
Credit: Hailey Hudson

7. Use a lens hood

In the winter, photos often end up with a flare from the sun, because the snow is so reflective. As a solution, use a lens hood to shield your lens. For another benefit, it helps keep the snow off your lens.

8. Move around

Photographing your young hiking buddy? Getting low to the ground to shoot at a kid’s eye level will create a much better photo. Likewise, getting up high on a log or hill helps you capture every bit of a big, snowy meadow. This can also help you find something else to add to the photo, such as distant trees, so the picture includes something other than just white.


How to Choose Crampons

When the mountains are covered in snow and summer’s flowing waterfalls turn into ribbons of ice, traction is the name of your winter travel game. But, when your objectives get more serious, crampons should be your footwear of choice. Whether you’re simply looking to climb a snow gully or become a mixed climbing master, you’re going to need crampons to keep from sliding off the snow and rock. Different crampon types suit different needs, though, so you’ll want to make sure you have the right hardware.

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The Three Types

How you attach a set to your boots distinguishes one crampon type from another and offers insight into their intended use. There are three common attachment methods:

Step-In

Providing the most secure attachment, step-in crampons are a popular choice for technical objectives. In fact, you’ll frequently see them adorning the feet of ice climbers, technical mountaineers, and ski mountaineers. Step-in crampons use a lockable heel tab and a wire toe bail to securely stay in place on the boot. This setup requires that your boots have heel and toe welts for the tab and toe bail to clip into.

Almost all types feature some kind of webbing. For step-in models, the webbing prevents the crampon from taking a ride to the bottom of a route, in the event the attachment comes loose.

Hybrid

These crampons use the same lockable heel tab found on step-in models, but, instead of a step-in toe bail, have a flexible plastic loop that extends over the toe box. Hybrid crampons are commonly used with alpine climbing boots, which sacrifice an integrated toe welt for improved climbing ability without crampons.

Because of this, the webbing loop plays a more significant role on hybrid crampons. It helps keep the front secured to the boot and the heel lock engaged.

Strap-On

Because you can use them with almost any type of footwear, including mountaineering boots, hiking boots, snowboard boots, and approach shoes, strap-on crampons are the most versatile type. For this reason, they suit the person looking for one pair to do it all, although they’re best for walking activities, as opposed to climbing. Using the same type of flexible toe piece as hybrid models, strap-on crampons replace the lockable heel tab with another flexible plastic piece that wraps around the heel.

GO: Step-In | Strap-On

Courtesy: Petzl
Courtesy: Petzl

Number of Points

The number of points featured further indicates a crampon’s intended use. In general, there are two configurations: 10-point and 12-point. 10-points are ideal for basic mountaineering routes and snow climbs—for example, the Lion Head Winter Route. 12-points, meanwhile, are better suited for technical mountaineering routes and ice climbs, like Shoestring Gully.

Front Points

The orientation of the front points also shows where they will excel. Crampons with horizontal front points are best used for snow climbs and glacier travel, as the wide footprint provides more purchase in soft conditions, such as snow.

Vertical front points are the clear choice for ice and mixed climbing. In these instances, the points act like the pick of an ice tool, making them more adept at penetrating hard ice. Also, because the orientation aligns with the ice’s grain, vertical front points fracture ice less than horizontal front points.

Mono and Offset Front Points

Front points also have a number of other distinguishing characteristics. For vertical front points, mono points (i.e., a single vertical front point) have increased in popularity with ice, mixed, and alpine climbers. Mono points offer more precision than dual points and can fit into pockets, cracks, and grooves more easily.

Many high-end crampons allow users to switch between dual and mono points (modular front points). This feature enables climbers to reconfigure their crampons for particular activities and objectives. As another advantage, the front points can be replaced. As a result of sharpening, front points become shorter and less effective over the course of time. To learn more about sharpening your crampons, read 8 Tips to Prep for Ice Climbing Season.

Offset front points are another recent trend. Specifically, the crampon has two front points but one is longer than the other. Offset crampons, whether horizontal or vertical, offer the increased precision of a mono point with the better stability of a dual-point model.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Secondary Points

Secondary points also determine whether the crampon is intended for basic snow travel or technical climbing. As a good rule of thumb, the more aggressive and significant the points directly behind the front points are, the better the crampon is for technical and vertical climbing.

Materials

Crampons are primarily constructed using two materials: steel or aluminum. Steel offers superior durability and corrosion resistance compared to aluminum. Therefore, these crampons are ideal for technical ice, mixed climbs, and alpine climbs. Steel’s strength comes at a cost, however, as these are heavier than aluminum crampons. Due to their lighter weight, aluminum crampons are fantastic for glacier travel, ski mountaineering, and snow climbing.

Anti-Balling Plates

These small pieces of plastic prevent snow from getting packed between your boots and crampons, and are essential if you’re going to be traveling on snow. Anti-balling plates attach to the crampon’s bottom to prevent snow and ice from caking up and sticking while you hike or climb. And, because you’ll likely see at least some snow, they come standard on almost all modern models.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Sizing Crampons

Most every crampon consists of two components, the front and heel pieces, connected by a center bar. The center bars typically have a string of holes, which let you adjust the crampons. In turn, the pair covers a wide range of foot sizes and can be sized to your specific boot. If you have really big feet, however, keep in mind that you might need to purchase a longer center bar from the manufacturer.

Pro Tip: If you already own mountaineering boots, bring them to the shop to test the crampons’ fit. Some brands might fit better, and it’s preferable to figure that out before you’re staring up at that dream ice climb.

Courtesy: Petzl
Courtesy: Petzl

So, Which Crampons Should I Get?

For snow climbs and classic mountaineering routes like Avalanche Gulch on California’s Mount Shasta, a lightweight pair of 10-point crampons with horizontal front points and anti-balling plates, like the Black Diamond Contact, is ideal. Step-in crampons offer better security, but any attachment method will work. Focus on finding a good fit between your crampon and mountaineering boot.

For more technical objectives involving snow climbing and steep ice, such as the Adirondacks’ Trap Dike, 12-point crampons with horizontal points and anti-balling plates are the perfect choice. A step-in attachment—like what you’ll find on the Black Diamond Serac Pro—is preferable.

For vertical ice climbing in the Adirondacks and the White Mountains, a 12-point crampon with vertical front points is the best choice. Crampons like the Black Diamond Cyborg Pro feature a step-in attachment and modular front points, so you can switch between a mono and dual setup. In turn, you can match your setup to the terrain or simply see which way you are more comfortable climbing. And, if you’ll be using your crampons with boots with and without toe welts, consider the Petzl Lynx Modular, known for adjustable bails depending on boot type.

For missions where weight comes at a premium—think alpine routes with some snow climbing sections or ski mountaineering missions in Tuckerman Ravine or on the Cog Railway—check out the ultra-lightweight Black Diamond Neve Strap Crampon. Weighing in at just 1 lb., 4.3 oz., these babies pack a punch without taking up much space in your pack.

GO: Crampons for Mixed Climbing | Mountaineering | Vertical Ice | Winter Hiking

 


Alpha Guide: Skiing the Whiteface Auto Road

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

A staple winter outing for cross-country and backcountry skiers in the Adirondacks, Whiteface’s Toll Road offers ease of access, a long route, and a large ascent, making it a great objective for those being introduced to backcountry skiing and for those looking to maintain their fitness for bigger objectives.

The Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway is a five-mile stretch of paved road that ascends the opposite side of the mountain from the well-known ski resort. Every year, the Toll Road gates close for the winter season and re-open after all the snow melts in the spring, so winter access to the Toll Road is for non-motorized traffic only. This turns the five miles of eight-percent incline pavement into a long and flowing skiable trail.

As one advantage, the Toll Road doesn’t need much snow to be skiable. Because the base is smooth pavement instead of a rocky and lumpy trail, just a few inches of fluffy stuff transform the surface and make it one of the most reliable early-season ski tours. However, skiing to the top of Whiteface is only half the fun. From the end of the road, you have multiple options for descents, depending on conditions and ability.

NOTICE: There is work scheduled on the Whiteface summit elevator for the 2018/19 winter season. Because of this, the Toll Road will be plowed on weekdays. 

Quick Facts

Distance: 10.5 miles, out and back to the summit.
Time to Complete: Half-day for most
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: November through April
Fees/Permits: None.
Contact: https://www.whiteface.com/activities/whiteface-veterans-memorial-highway

Download

Turn-By-Turn

From I-87 North, Take Exit 30 for 73W. Drive through Keene Valley and into Keene, bearing right onto 9N North. Take 9N into Jay and make a left onto 86, which will take you into Wilmington. At the main intersection of 86 and 431, follow 431 straight and up the hill to the toll house, following signs for the Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway.

The parking area to ski the Toll Road is right at the Whiteface Memorial Highway toll booth (44.402276, -73.877192). In winter, the road is plowed up to this point. The toll booth will have its gate down and locked. Park to the side of the road, but be careful not to pull too far off the shoulder into the soft snow.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Ascent

The Toll Road keeps a constant eight-percent grade for the entire 2,300 vertical feet, so the climbing begins immediately from the car and never lets off. Although the climb is consistent, however, it never feels steep. This lets you find a rhythm for efficient and consistent uphill skinning. It also helps those new to skinning get the basic motions down.

The road stretches and winds for a few miles. Along the way, the roadside picnic tables offer a few opportunities to take a break and enjoy the view. The higher you climb, the more the snow depth increases, and the trees become more and more buried. At 3.3 miles in, the road opens up to a northwest-facing view, with a picnic table. This spot also makes the base for the upper slides that run between the switchbacks (44.371359, -73.905634).

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Switchbacks

Here, you’ll spot the top of the mountain, so it might seem like you are just about finished, but you still have 1.7 miles of road and 700 feet of elevation to climb through the switchbacks. So, don’t get too excited yet. As you continue onto the switchbacks’ first turn—aptly names the Lake Placid Turn—you will find that the road opens up to a fantastic view of Lake Placid and the High Peaks. On a clear day, it’s easy to spend a lot of time here soaking in the sun and the views.

Past here, the road continues up, with a 0.8-mile stretch until the next switchback, which offers views of Lake Champlain, the Green Mountains, and beyond. Finishing the second switchback sends the road back west and into the final stretch to the Castle. This last section is just about at treeline, so expect high winds for the final stretch. The Castle (44.367348, -73.906213) is normally an operating cafe with warm drinks and food, but in the winter season, don’t expect to find any unlocked doors or hot meals waiting for you. As one benefit, it offers some shelter from the biting winds.

From the Castle, unclip your skis, and make the final ascent up the shoulder trail to Whiteface’s summit (44.365852, -73.903005). This section of the mountain is often windswept, so expect to find both bare ice or rock and deep snow drifts. Traction aids are highly recommended.

As is the case with any Adirondack summit, the top of Whiteface can offer spectacular 360-degree views on a clear day, or you could find yourself completely socked in with dense clouds. The summit may also be windswept and bitter cold; if you are trying to stay for more than just a few moments, the weather station, although locked, provides the only break from the biting winds. If you are fortunate enough to be up top on a clear day, the views of the surrounding High Peaks are crystal clear, and peering even farther to the east reveals the Green Mountains of Vermont and even New Hampshire’s Presidential Range beyond.

Lake Placid from the road. | Credit: Aaron Courain
Lake Placid from the road. | Credit: Aaron Courain

The Descent

Here is where skiers get more opportunities for backcountry fun. For skiers who are on Nordic setups or who are looking for a mellow descent, simply turn around and make your way back down the Toll Road. The mild pitch doesn’t make for fast skiing, but if you stay in your uphill skin track to build up momentum, you can shoot into the deeper snow to link a few turns before you slow down.

For backcountry skiers or snowboarders who are prepared and have the right abilities, and for when the conditions are good (having advanced avalanche knowledge is necessary), the top of the Whiteface Toll Road provides access to multiple slides. The previously mentioned slide that cuts through the Toll Road switchbacks is the obvious choice if you want to easily end up back at your car.

The slide begins at the top of the Toll Road near the Castle. However, entrance to the slide requires a careful hop over the stone wall into the snow. Be sure not to hop over at the wrong spot; otherwise, you will have a long fall. Once at the base of the Toll Road wall, clip or strap in, and make your way down the slide to the Toll Road’s first crossing. The slide’s upper portion is steeper than the lower portion, and may have an icy base obscured by a thin layer of snow.

When the slide reaches the Toll Road, cross and find a weakness in the trees on the other side of the road. The entrance to the slide’s lower half is steep, but it soon mellows out. Keep in mind that this section seems to collect snow more easily, due to having more vegetation and less wind exposure. When you get to the Toll Road again at the switchbacks’ bottom, you have reached the end of the slide. Now you can opt to head back up for another lap, or continue back to your car.


Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Kit

  • Every backcountry adventure requires a place to stash your layers, food, and extra gear. The Osprey Kamber 32 Ski Pack has all the durability, volume, and accessories you need to hold your skis and equipment for whatever tour or winter adventure you find yourself in.
  • Proper layering is key to a happy day of ski touring. The EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket is a lightweight, packable, and very warm down jacket, which itself is a crucial component of any layering system. You will be happy to have the low weight on the uphill and the extreme warmth on the downhill.
  • While a simple pair of sunglasses suffices on Whiteface’s summit in the summertime, in the winter, you will want the added protection of a pair of ski goggles, like the Native Eyewear Spindrift. These goggles have a wide field of vision and offer an easily interchangeable lens system, which lets you choose the right lens color for the conditions ahead.
  • While countless skis are appropriate for skiing the Toll Road and more routes, the Fischer S-Bound 112 finds a happy place between a Nordic touring ski and a true backcountry ski. The waxless base with a scaled mid section allows for plenty of grip on the uphill, and for steeper tours, the ski is also compatible with climbing skins for when more traction is needed. The shaped cut with a 78mm waist provides plenty of float and turning ability for the downhill in all but the deep powder days.
  • Collapsible trekking poles often have an advantage in the backcountry over a solid ski pole. But, any pole needs to have a set of powder baskets at the bottom, or else, it will basically be useless in deep, fluffy snow.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Keys to the Trip

  • It’s always a good idea to check the ski conditions and recent snowfall before a day of backcountry skiing. Too little snow means scraping your skis up and down pavement for miles. After a big dumping of snow, however, the Toll Road’s mellow grade may require just as much effort to go downhill as it does for uphill. The NERFC provides plenty of snow forecasting and data, so that you can make informed decisions on the best time to ski.
  • If you are venturing into Adirondack slide skiing, avalanche safety and preparedness are a must. Unlike Tuckerman Ravine, the Adirondacks have no avalanche forecasting. Nonetheless, having the proper knowledge is crucial for a safe day of backcountry skiing. Thankfully, the EMS Schools offer avalanche training for those who want to venture into the snowy backcountry.
  • When you come back down from the summit, head right back down the hill into Wilmington to stop at Pourman’s Taphouse. They have delicious, warm food with plenty of beers on tap to get the creative juices flowing for planning your next trip.
  • There is work scheduled on the summit elevator for the 2018/19 winter season. Because of this, the Toll Road will be plowed on weekdays. However, if a Friday or weekend snow fills in the Toll Road for the weekend, then, it’s game on!

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Current Conditions

Have you recently skied Whiteface’s Toll Road? What did you think? Post your experience in the comments for others!


7 Hacks for Cold Weather Camping

Camping in the winter can either be fun or a complete disaster. Among the cold, wet weather, and heavy gear, a lot can go wrong. Fortunately, if you know how to do it, winter can also be one of the most fun times to camp. To prepare, take a look at these tips to make your winter camping trip the highlight of your season.

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1. Bring extra water

It might seem like extra bottles of water are only necessary for those sweaty summer camping trips, but it’s all too easy to get dehydrated in the winter. Sweat evaporates more quickly in cold, dry air, and you could be left dangerously dehydrated, even if you don’t notice the moisture soaking into your shirt. So, bring extra water (or extra fuel to melt snow), and make sure to keep drinking, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

2. Use a foam pad

Sleep with two pads, including an extra foam one between your standard inflatable pad and the ground. Not only will this protect your inflatable pad, but R-values are additive, meaning you’re boosting the amount of insulation keeping you warm underneath. Don’t have a foam pad? A yoga mat will work, too.

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3. Do your research

This is no time to be stingy: Invest in high-quality gear before heading into the elements. You don’t want to be stuck in frigid temperatures when you discover your jacket isn’t as insulated as you thought. Instead, read reviews, try all of your gear on, ask for recommendations, and take things out for a test-spin before you head out for real.

4. Hand warmers are your best friend

Hand warmers are versatile: Use them for their intended purpose—on your hands—and you can even put them in your boots and in your sleeping bag. They help dry out damp shoes and also bring relief to sore muscles after a long day of hiking in the snow. To keep your drink liquid and warm, place them around the outside of a cup or bottle. And, since batteries get finicky in cold weather, this wintertime essential could help there, too.

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5. Pack a flint fire striker

It’s especially important to know how to start a fire in the snow. First, make sure the spot you choose is protected from the wind. Then, in case your matches or lighters get damp, pack a flint striker, too—they’re cheap and easy to bring along. Grab some tinder, and you’re good to go.

6. Keep your food warm

Use wooden utensils instead of metal ones, as the latter gets very cold. That chill could then get transferred to the food you’re cooking or into your hands every time you try to take a bite. To keep your coffee, hot chocolate, or beverage of choice warm, bring along a thermos. You can also store water bottles upside down. Ideally, they’ll freeze at the bottom first, so you can still drink from the top.

7. Eat fatty foods

Your body needs fuel to produce heat, and your metabolism processes fat more slowly than carbs. So, if the weather forecast is frigid, pack lots of fatty foods. Cheese, olive oil, and nuts are good options. Other good meals and snacks to fuel you through your winter camping trip include instant oatmeal, granola, dried fruit, instant soup, macaroni and cheese, and chili.

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