The Gear You Need to Climb Mount Marcy in the Winter

For a winter adventure that’s equal parts unforgettable and challenging, it’s hard to beat a winter ascent of Mount Marcy in the Adirondack High Peaks. Checking in at an elevation of 5,344 feet, Mount Marcy is the highest peak in New York and offers commanding views of the surrounding mountains, lakes, and valleys in all directions. With over 3,000 feet of elevation gain and a round-trip distance of nearly 15 miles via the shortest route to the summit, Mount Marcy makes for a long and challenging hike any time of year, but especially in winter when the temperature drops, the wind howls, and the days are short. Along with possessing the necessary fitness and knowledge, having the proper gear is paramount to completing a winter summit bid not only successfully, but also safely. In addition to common essentials such as a winter hat, gloves/mittens, snowshoes, and waterproof (and possibly insulated) hiking boots, the following 10 gear items are critical for any winter climb of Marcy.

Traction: EMS Ice Talons

Proper traction in winter is absolutely essential, and it seems like every winter weekend an unprepared hiker in bare boots (or even tennis shoes) slips and gets hurt in the High Peaks. With the amount of snow and ice varying from week to week in the winter, as well as with elevation, it’s wise to be prepared for hiking in both deep powder and ice-coated rock slabs on any winter ascent of Marcy. Even when the trail leading to the final summit approach is covered in feet of fluffy snow, the exposed, wind-swept rock slabs that comprise the summit dome are often largely devoid of powdery snow and are instead coated in a thick layer of ice. Snowshoes are typically too clunky and don’t offer sufficient traction for such terrain, but this is where traction devices such as the EMS Ice Talons really shine. Lighter and much more user-friendly than classic crampons, the EMS Ice Talons will allow you to confidently and safely navigate the rime ice and crunchy snow that will almost certainly be encountered below Marcy’s summit.

Trekking Poles: Leki Makalu Lite Cor Tec

The use of trekking poles while hiking is largely a personal decision, but they can be especially handy on a winter ascent of Marcy. In addition to alleviating some lower body stress (especially on the knees while descending), trekking poles can provide critical stability on the exposed final summit push where the wind can be so strong it can throw off your balance and sometimes even knock you on your feet. For hiking in powdery snow, be sure to put some wider baskets at the end of the trekking poles. Similar in concept to snowshoes, broader winter baskets give trekking poles better flotation in deep snow.

Snow Goggles

Snow googles will serve two purposes on this hike. For one thing, they’ll keep your eyelids from freezing shut if the summit is windy (which it often is) and snow is blowing in the air. Secondly, most snow goggles also act as sunglasses to protect against snow blindness, which can occur when unprotected eyes are subjected to extended periods of bright sunshine reflecting off of white snow. While you might be able to get away with using typical sunglasses for eye protection on calm days, mountain weather is unpredictable and winds can whip up in an instant, making snow goggles a prudent accessory to toss in your pack for a winter climb of Marcy.

Wicking Base Layer: EMS Lightweight Synthetic Base Layer Tights and Crewneck Long Sleeve Shirt

Sweating too much while hiking in the winter is one sure-fire way to get into a dangerous, hypothermic situation. Dressing in layers is essential for regulating body temperature, and it all starts with the next-to-skin base layer. Choosing a base layer material that’s wicking and quick-drying is key, and the old adage “cotton kills” comes to mind here. Unlike cotton, which takes a long time to dry once it’s wet and will sap your body of heat, it’s best to utilize synthetic materials or merino wool when choosing a base layer. The EMS Lightweight Synthetic Base Layer tights and crewneck long sleeve, for example, are made of moisture-wicking and quick-drying 100% polyester, which will pull perspiration away from the body to better regulate body temperature and prevent a bone-chilling cold to set in, especially while stopping for a break.

More: How to Dress While Snowshoeing

Credit: Joey Priola

Outdoor Research Skyward II Pants and Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket

Being at the highest elevation in the state comes with some of the harshest weather in the Northeast. For protection against wind, precipitation, and trudging through deep snow, a breathable outer layer that’s wind and water-proof is key. Pants such as the Skyward II, and a jacket such as the Interstellar (both from Outdoor Research) help form a protective barrier between you and the harsh winter elements, especially when in the exposed alpine zone.

Gaiters: Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters

Wet, cold feet are likely the most common complaint among people new to winter hiking. In addition to hiking in sturdy and waterproof boots, gaiters are the best accessory to ensure that feet stay dry and toasty, and are worth their weight in gold on hikes through deep snow. Gaiters effectively cover boot tops and prevent snow from getting in, even when hiking through waist-deep snow. The Outdoor Research Crocodile gaiters are the classic, gold-standard gaiter for winter hiking, and come with a Gore-Tex membrane to ensure that the gaiters don’t wet-out even in slushy conditions.

Credit: Joey Priola

Socks: EMS X-Static Sock Liners and Smartwool Women’s PhD Pro Medium Crew Socks

Continuing with the keeping feet warm and dry theme, choosing the right socks can be the difference between a safe and comfortable hike and a painful and dangerous slog. Just as the aforementioned base layers for your upper and lower body help manage sweat and regulate body temperature, use a thin pair of synthetic liner socks like the EMS X-Static Sock Liners help to pull perspiration away from the foot to prevent cold and clammy feet. Following up the liner sock with a mid-weight sock such as the Smartwool PhD Pro adds extra insulation without overheating.

Down Jacket: EMS Men’s Feather Pack Hooded Jacket

As previously mentioned, layering clothing is critical in winter. A warm yet lightweight insulated jacket should always be in your pack in winter, and will come in handy while stopping to take a snack break and for braving the exposed alpine zone on the final approach to Marcy’s summit. Down offers an optimal warmth-to-weight ratio, and modern down jackets such as the EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket now offer water-repellent down which retains its insulation value even in wet conditions.

More: How to Choose the Right Jacket for Winter Adventures

Credit: Joey Priola

Headlamp: Petzl Tikka

Short winter days coupled with a nearly 15 mile round-trip hike means that part of your hike will likely be spent in the dark. Packing a headlamp (and spare batteries) such as the Petzl Tikka will help keep the trail illuminated and you safe when it’s dark out.

Insulated Water Bottle: Camelbak Carry Cap 32 oz Insulated Stainless Steel Bottle

Staying properly hydrated is always important while hiking, but no matter how much water you carry, it won’t do you any good if it’s frozen. Boiling water before the hike and keeping water bottles inside your backpack is typically good enough to keep water from freezing on a day hike, but an insulated water bottle or thermos such as the Camelbak Carry Cap 32 oz Insulated Stainless Steel Bottle will eliminate any doubt that your beverage of choice will be in a liquid state when you need it.


The Best Adirondack Peaks for a Winter Sunset

Encompassing six million acres and possessing a myriad of mountains ranging in size from mile-high Mount Marcy to short and wooded summits, the Adirondacks has a mountain for every schedule and ability. Few outdoor experiences are more memorable or enjoyable than watching the sunset in solitude from a mountain summit, and the experience is made even more memorable with the extra challenges and solitude present in the winter season. With that in mind, here is a collection of Adirondack peaks that are all excellent winter sunset destinations.

Credit: Joey Priola

Phelps Mountain

While not one of the tallest or the highest Adirondack High Peaks, Phelps Mountain is my personal favorite Adirondack peak for watching and photographing a winter sunset. Ringing in at a round-trip distance of 8.8 miles with almost 2,000 feet of elevation gain if departing from the Adirondack Loj (parking fee of $15/day, reduced to $7/day for Adirondack Mountain Club members), Phelps is in that sweet spot of providing enough of a challenge to make you feel like you’ve really accomplished something, while being short enough so that you won’t be hiking back in the dark for hours on end.

After a quick 2 mile jaunt to Marcy Dam and a little over a mile of gradual climbing along Phelps Brook, a classic steep and rugged Adirondack trail diverges from the Van Hoevenberg Trail to climb 1.2 miles to the summit of Phelps. Two characteristics of Phelps make this peak particularly amenable to winter sunsets. First, although the summit offers expansive views, it’s not completely exposed and hardy evergreens provide protection from the wind and make for interesting photo subjects when they’re caked with snow and ice. Second, Phelps offers wide-open views to the west, meaning that you’ll have a clear vantage point of the sun setting over the lofty summits of Mount Colden and Algonquin Peak, with Mount Marcy catching beautiful sidelight. While views from the summit proper are exceptional, ledges a couple hundred yards shy of the summit might provide an even better vantage point to watch the setting sun cast a warm glow on the snowy landscape.

Cascade Mountain

As one of the shortest and easiest of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks to climb, Cascade Mountain is a justly popular peak. While winter crowds are typically less than those found in summer and fall, the small parking lots on Rt. 73 can easily get overwhelmed on weekends. The late start that you’ll get to time it right to catch sunset from the summit typically makes this a moot point, but aim to do this one on a weekday if possible, just in case.

The vast majority of this hike is spent sheltered in the woods, and while the grade never gets too obnoxious, the climbing begins right from the parking lot and doesn’t let up much for the duration of the hike. A junction with the trail to Porter Mountain (another High Peak that’s often combined with a trek up Cascade) is reached at 2.1 miles, and then the final push to the exposed summit begins. Shortly after the trail junction is a good time to bundle up, as the wind is often much stronger on the exposed summit than the sheltered approach trail. Even though it only comes in as the 36th tallest peak in the High Peaks Region, Cascade offers a panoramic view that is likely a top 10 summit view in the Adirondacks.

Credit: Joey Priola

Coney Mountain

With a round-trip distance of only 2.2 miles and an elevation gain of about 550 feet, Coney Mountain is one of the best bang-for-your-buck mountains in all of New York. Located off of Route 30 between Long Lake and Tupper Lake, Coney is a great destination to enjoy your first mountaintop winter sunset. A sheltered trail climbs gradually from the small parking lot through a beautiful forest before reaching the mostly open summit. Part of Tupper Lake can be seen in the distance and nearby Goodman Mountain (which itself is another good sunset hike) adds visual interest to the view. If the sky is clear and weather calm, hanging around after sunset to watch the stars is an incredibly rewarding experience, and the short distance back to the trailhead makes the return hike in the dark a breeze.

Credit: Joey Priola

Mount Marcy

Standing as the highest mountain in New York at an elevation of 5,344 feet, Mount Marcy draws hikers from near and far. There’s just something about being at the highest point in a state that’s alluring, and from the icy winter summit of Marcy, all of the Adirondacks spreads out below your lofty perch. With a round-trip distance of nearly 15 miles coupled with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain, climbing Marcy makes for a long day, and catching the sunset from the summit means that you’ll have several hours of hiking in the dark back to the trailhead to look forward to. For those that have the requisite experience, fitness, and gear, though, it doesn’t get any better than this. After gradually ascending to treeline, the final half-mile push to the summit is on the wide-open and rocky summit block, with no protection from the elements. Once on the summit, a panoramic view of mountains and lakes spreads as far as the eye can see. As the sun sets over the distant horizon, take pride in the fact that no one in the state is higher than you, physically and maybe emotionally too, before readying for the long and dark sojourn home.

Credit: Joey Priola

Algonquin and Wright Peaks

Two of the more popular High Peaks to climb, Algonquin and Wright are neighbors that share the same route for the first 3.4 miles from the Adirondack Loj and are thus often climbed in tandem. Coming in at round-trip distances of 7.6 (with 2,400 feet of elevation gain) and 8.6 (with 2900 feet of elevation gain) miles respectively, Wright and Algonquin are both classic Adirondack climbs that make for excellent sunset destinations. Both of these summits are quite exposed, though, which means expansive views but also little to no protection from the elements. It’s thus best to get some safer sunset summits under your belt before aiming for Wright or Algonquin.

From the Wright-Algonquin trail junction reached 3.4 miles from the Adirondack Loj parking lot, a left turns leads 0.4 miles to the summit of Wright. Views abound in all directions, with Whiteface and the ski jumps of Lake Placid in the distance to the north. The best part of Wright’s vantage point, though, is its proximity to the summit block of Algonquin, which towers above you and the seemingly endless procession of snow-covered evergreens that fill the divide between Wright and Algonquin. If the wind is howling, descending a bit from the summit to treeline provides a more sheltered, and possibly more interesting vantage point from which to watch the sunset over the shoulder of Algonquin and light up the flanks of Wright in brilliantly glowing sunset hues.

If at the aforementioned trail junction you’re feeling up for some added distance and elevation, rather than taking the side trail up to Wright continue on 0.9 miles to the exposed alpine summit of Algonquin. Views from the rocky tundra are unfettered and include Colden with its many slides and Trap Dike. Due to its entirely exposed nature, Algonquin is a peak best saved for a calm day. Spend some time exploring the summit before sunset (while being careful not to trample the rare and delicate alpine plants that make the summit home) and marvel at how the raking winds have sculpted the snow into fanciful shapes. As the second highest peak in the Adirondacks, Algonquin has a “top of the world” feel to it, and lingering on the summit and watching the sunset sky transition from orange to magenta to the deepest blue-black imaginable is an experience that could never be forgotten.

Credit: Joey Priola

Why I Hike on Weekdays

I pulled into the trailhead at around 9 a.m. and I could hardly believe my eyes: The scene that opened up before me was not a sea of parked cars crammed into every last nook, as I had become so used to seeing here. It was an open expanse, dotted with only two other vehicles. 

This was the Garden Trailhead in the heart of the Adirondack High Peaks, after all, where arriving any time after 6 a.m. was usually a lost cause. But not today, because after years of trying to beat the weekend rush, I was doing something revolutionary: hiking on a Thursday.

Okay, so maybe revolutionary is too strong a word. But since I’ve started working for myself and making my own schedule, hiking on weekdays has totally transformed my adventure experience for the better. And I’m convinced that everyone should try to make weekday hiking a more frequent part of their rotation.

Reason 1: Hitting the Snooze Button

The most obvious benefit of hiking on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays—safely separated from weekenders—is the lack of traffic. This is no small thing, especially in the Adirondacks. The summer of Covid-19 brought a rush of hikers the likes of which northern New York state has never seen. It was a new high-water mark after years of suffocating crowds in the High Peaks region, which regularly leads to overflowing trailheads on weekends.

My tactic for avoiding this mess had always been a matter of timing: How early could I manage to roll out of bed and hit the road? It wasn’t uncommon for my alarm to go off at 4 or even 3 a.m. Keep in mind, I only live two hours from most trailheads in the Adirondacks.

While I did derive a certain amount of pride from my hardcore hiking schedule, shifting my outings to weekdays has been a complete delight. Now I often don’t even leave my apartment until 7:30 a.m., without a worry in the world about finding a parking spot. 

Reason 2: A Softer Step

Enough about traveling to the trailhead. Hiking on weekdays is much better when you’re on the trail, too.

For one, I often go entire days without encountering another person. That gives me a real sense of solitude and space to let my mind decompress, especially in constantly-stressful Covid times. I can listen to the snow crunch under my boots, and marvel at the drooping branches encased in snow and ice.

Being mostly alone on the trails also helps reduce the trampling effect of large crowds who increasingly swarm popular mountains on the weekend. (For reference, about 34,500 people hiked Cascade Mountain in 2016, compared to 12,000 in 2010.) That overuse has contributed to soil loss, erosion and damage to natural vegetation, and highlighted the need for many trails to be rebuilt to handle higher capacity.

It’s not that I haven’t contributed to this problem — I’ve done many a weekend group hike in peak season. But now that Covid has totally reshaped how and when I hike, I can be one less set of boots beating down on the trails during the busiest times, which means I have fewer people to get around (potentially widening trails), can spread out a little bit more at the popular overlooks, and without a pile of cars overflowing onto shoulders and unintended parking areas, there’s less erosion to worry about near the road. 

How You Can Hike on Weekdays

This is great and all, but I realize most people’s work schedule doesn’t allow for hiking on any day they desire. Still, I think there are opportunities to shift even a fraction of your outings away from the weekends. 

Here’s one simple way: Burn some of that vacation time you’ve been hoarding throughout the pandemic. There’s no certainty about when you might be able to hop on a plane again, or go visit your favorite city. But what’s stopping you from taking a day or two off in the middle of the week, jumping in the car and taking a hike?

You can also think about taking advantage of weekday holidays. Especially in the time of Covid, when traditional holiday gatherings are all but out of the question, why not celebrate in a new way by visiting your favorite mountain? I’m willing to bet experiencing it without the rush of weekend crowds will make you love it even more.

It may be harder to carve out room for a weekday hike, but the benefits are so worth it. Once you’re out there enjoying a trail practically to yourself, you’ll be determined to make it happen again.


How to Choose The Right Jacket for Winter Adventures

Whether it’s to keep us dry, help us stay warm, fend off the wind, or shed snow, we ask a lot of our jackets—this is why so many hikers, climbers, and skiers are obsessed with them. On any given trip, our hiking packs likely contain three to four coats, which allows us to adjust for the ever-changing weather found in the mountains. There’s a difference between pulling a coat from your pack and grabbing the “right” coat from your pack, especially when Mother Nature rears her ugly head. Here’s how to dial your outer layer setup this winter.

Insulation

Down puffies like EMS’s Feather Pack and synthetic puffies such as the EMS Primapack offer exceptional warmth for their (very light) weight, making them incredibly versatile jackets to have in your quiver. The EMS Feather Pack and Primapack are favorites for cold-weather activities like winter hiking, backcountry skiing and snowboarding, ice climbing, and mountaineering. Since these jackets take up minimal space in your pack and provide exceptional warmth, they’re common additions to three-season hiking packs for chilly summits or to use in the event of an emergency. Walk any city street and you’ll notice that puffies like the Feather Pack and Primapack are extremely popular for everyday wear as well.

A word of caution: the thin nylon face fabric used on many lightweight puffies—including the Feather Pack and Primapack—can rip when exposed to sharp stuff like ice tools, ski edges, and tough branches. Consequently, they’re best worn under a hardshell or softshell during tear-prone activities such as tree skiing or when used near the sharp picks and points of ice tools and crampons.

Down Insulation: The Feather Pack

The Feather Pack’s down insulation provides unrivaled warmth-to-weight—down is, pound for pound, the world’s best insulator. The Feather Pack, and jackets like it, are popular with a broad spectrum of users who covet their superior warmth, minimal weight, and small size when packed. However, down is susceptible to moisture (like snow and rain), and while some jackets, like the Feather Pack, are made with hydrophobic down to improve water resistance, there are better options for wet-weather activities.

Best Use: Insulating jacket on cold, dry days when aerobic output is low and weight and space are at a premium.  

Synthetic Insulation: The Prima Pack

Synthetic puffies like the EMS Primapack offer many of the same advantages as those of down puffies, namely, they’re light, packable, and warm. Synthetic insulation generally outperforms down in wet weather—it provides insulation even when wet and dries more quickly than its down counterparts. As a result, synthetic-insulation jackets, such as the EMS Primapack, are popular with those living in wet climates or participating in activities where moisture is inevitable. The downside of synthetic insulation is that it does not pack up quite as small as comparable down jackets.

Best Use: Daily driver on cold days and for outings where warmth is critical and the conditions are likely to be wet. 

Active Insulation: The Vortex

Active insulation, like that used in the EMS Vortex, is a must-have for on-the-move athletes in cold-weather—think heading uphill while backcountry skiing, cross-country skiing, and fast-paced hikes. Active insulation is designed to breathe during high-exertion activities and move moisture from the inside to the outside, making it an awesome part of any layering system. Active insulation pieces like the Vortex work great on their own, but what allows the insulation to breathe also allows the wind to penetrate through it. Consequently, they’re best paired with an outer layer, such as under a hardshell or softshell, in windy conditions.

Best Use: Higher-output aerobic activity in cold weather like hiking, climbing, or backcountry skiing. 

Hardshell: The NimbusFlex

Another key piece of the outerwear puzzle is a hardshell, such as the EMS NimbusFlex Rain Jacket. An outer layer like this has minimal insulating value itself but plays a critical role in your insulating system by keeping the elements (such as rain and snow) off the layers you’re wearing underneath. An added benefit of hardshells is that they do a great job blocking the wind.

Best Use: As an outer layer when it’s wet (resort skiing, ice climbing, hiking during a storm) or very windy (above-treeline travel).

The EMS Clipper

Softshell: The Clipper

Bridging the gap between true insulating layers (like the Feather Pack,  Primapack, and Vortex) and traditional hardshells, a softshell like the EMS Clipper is a great option for active pursuits. Typically worn over a base layer, the Clipper offers wind and water resistance in addition to providing some insulation. Breathable, stretchy, and rugged, you’ll see many folks wearing softshells while climbing, skiing, and hiking.

Best Use: Daily driver for aerobic activities on spring, fall, and mild winter days. 

Three-in-One: The Nor’easter

Where a softshell molds the best features of a hardshell and insulation together, a three-in-one jacket like the EMS Nor’easter zips them together. These jackets feature a burly hardshell with an insulating layer zipped inside, giving you the option to wear just the hardshell over a baselayer on a warm-but-wet day, just the insulation (in the case of the Nor’easter, it’s a fleece) when you need warmth and breathability but no weather protection, or zip them together to make a burly do-it-all coat.

Best Use: Skiing (especially at a resort), cold and/or poor weather aerobic activities in deep winter. 

Putting It All Together

The best jacket choice is often activity-dependent, and finding the right combination of layers for you involves many personal preferences. One common practice in the Northeast for hiking, backcountry skiing, and climbing is a base layer and softshell, with users donning a puffy (rest breaks, exposed ridgelines, and emergencies) and a hardshell (precip and high winds) at appropriate junctions. On colder days, consider swapping the softshell with an active insulator like the Vortex.


How to Choose Winter Traction

When you step out of the car at a wintry trailhead, the decision about what to put on your feet can be stressful: Can I get by with spikes? Is this a snowshow situation? Or will I need to break out the crampons?! While it’s always best to come prepared with options, there are a few tips to keep in mind that will make your winter traction decisions easier. Here’s what you need to know, and how to make the right choices.

The wide array of sharp, shiny and bulky boot attachments on the market can be really dizzying. Winter traction options vary widely in their design and application, not to mention their price tag. But there are three main categories of winter traction you should think about before you hit the trail.

Courtesy: Yaktrax

Coil Cleats

The lightest form of traction, and most common with beginners, are the traction cleats made popular by Yaktrax. You probably recognize them: Rubber webs wrapped in metal coils that easily strap to your boots.  

These are the most affordable option, and definitely give you a bit more grip on snowy surfaces, and are great for snowy walks in the park, or road runs, or shoveling the driveway. But their utility can really go downhill (pun intended) on steep mountain trails, and especially on icy surfaces.

Traction Spikes

That’s where the next level of traction comes in, with a product like the EMS Ice Talons. These are similar to coil cleats, but in place of coils, the bottom of your boot is wrapped in stainless steel chains and short, hardened steel spikes. These are still relatively lightweight and affordable, but dig deeper into snow and ice and are far more durable. 

For most winter adventures and hikes in the East where you don’t need the floatation of snowshoes, items like the Ice Talons are your best bet. Spikes give you a good grip on a snowy trail that’s already been packed down and might still be a little slippery under bare boots. Plus, the Ice Talons can give you solid grip on icy patches: the spikes dig in where coils would likely slip. For 90 percent of the trails and summits in the East, they’ll keep you firmly planted on the ground and will last years. Plus, the Ice Talons are light and minimal enough that you don’t need to worry about cutting up your pants or carrying any extra weight, and the beefy elastomer band makes them easy to secure to any boots.

Crampons

Where those aren’t enough, you might turn to the more intense beasts of winter traction: crampons. These go up in price pretty quickly, but they arm the bottom of your boots with tall, incisive claws that are meant to grip sheer ice and virtually guarantee traction in a range of wintry conditions. They are best used when ice climbing or climbing steep glaciers outside of the Northeast. Just be careful where you wave those sharpened boots.

Snowshoes

And finally, there’s one more type of traction to consider: snowshoes. If you’re hitting a trail that has yet to be broken out by hikers, snowshoes are the best way to proceed without “post-holing” (leaving big holes in the snow with each step you take). In fact, snowshoes are required on such trails in the Adirondacks during winter months. But most are also built with some degree of traction on the bottom, meaning you can go from deep snow below treeline, to slippery ice above, without stopping to change out your footwear. 

Having the right level of traction can go a long way, not only toward making sure you keep from slipping on the trail, but toward making you more efficient as a hiker. More often than not, a set of spikes like the Ice Talons will get you where you need to go, but pick the right device for the conditions you’re hiking.


The Dos and Don’ts of Winter Hiking

The pandemic encouraged a lot of people to take up hiking this year. If you’re planning to continue your mountain adventures even as the temperatures drop and the snow accumulates, keep reading for some tips on how to stay safe while winter hiking this season.

Credit: Tim Peck

Winter Hiking “Dos”

Tell a friend: Spending an unplanned night out in the mountains of the Northeast is potentially deadly, even during the mildest months. Leave an itinerary and a return time with a responsible friend or relative. If you fail to get back by the prearranged time, they can direct help to you, speeding up the rescue effort.

Save yourself: Self-sufficiency is something every hiker should strive for, especially right now when rescuers and resources in busy regions like the White Mountains are so stressed due to added demand. Having extra layers, an emergency bivy, sleeping bag, and/or pad in your pack can make all the difference in the event of an accident or unplanned overnight.

Plan for shorter days: Winter days are a lot shorter. Starting early is a good strategy for maximizing daylight, and a headlamp is a nice safety net if you’re running behind schedule while winter hiking. Keep in mind it’s not only harder to navigate after the sun sets, it also gets significantly colder.

Stay hydrated: Sweat evaporates quickly and we lose more fluids through respiration in winter’s cold, dry air. Also, our body’s thirst response is diminished by up to 40% in the cold! Make sure to sip every time you stop and to protect your water from freezing by using an insulated bottle or by adding some sports drink to your water (the sugar and salt in it lowers the freezing point). Even better—bring a thermos of hot chocolate or sugary tea for some mid-route warmth and hydration.

Credit: Tim Peck

Dress in layers: Having a variety of different layers allows you to adjust to both the weather and your level of exertion, minimizing sweating and keeping you dry and comfortable.

Remember your puffy at rest breaks: Leaving your puffy in the pack is a recipe for a rapid cooldown any time you stop for more than a minute or two. Putting it on while you’re standing still is a great way to maintain some of that warmth you’ve built up.

Feed the furnace: Studies show that exercising in cold weather like winter hiking burns more calories than exercising in warm weather. Eat regularly and pack cold-weather friendly foods that won’t freeze—PB&J, trail mix, and leftover pizza are all excellent options.

Study trail conditions: Reading trip reports from people who’ve recently hiked the same peak you’re planning to summit is a good way to get information about what you’ll be getting into. Pay close attention to information about deep snow and downed trees, two things that can really slow you down. If there are no recent trail reports, anticipate that you’ll likely be breaking trail from car to summit.

Credit: Tim Peck

And “Don’ts”

Underestimate the challenge: Shorter days, harder terrain, and less forgiving weather all conspire to make winter hiking more demanding. That June hike that you finished with time to spare might end in the dark during December.

Tackle too-big objectives: If you’re just getting into cold-weather hiking, start small with hikes you are familiar with and know you can accomplish in the time you’ve allotted. Consider a guided trip if you have a bucket-list winter hike in mind, like Mount Washington, but are unsure of your abilities.

Go barefoot: Wading through deep snow is slow and exhausting, and ice is outright dangerous; consequently, it’s essential to have the appropriate flotation/traction device—whether it’s snowshoes, crampons, or Ice Talons/MICROspikes. Remember, the clear conditions you encounter at the trailhead don’t always reflect what you’ll come across at higher elevations.

Get fixed on a single objective: Learn to take what the weather gives you. If there are high winds above the treeline, audible to a more protected objective. If you make a last-minute pivot in your plan before losing cell service, make sure to update the person you left your itinerary with.

Credit: Tim Peck

Fly blind: Know what weather you’re in for—and what type of hike to tackle— by checking Higher Summits Forecast (if you’re hiking near the Whites) before your trip. Remember the forecasted weather for the nearest town might be different from the surrounding summits.

Wear cotton: “Cotton kills” is a favorite saying of outdoorsy people. Cotton retains moisture (unlike synthetic and wool layers, which dry more quickly), nullifying its insulation properties—leaving you feeling cold and putting you on the path to hypothermia.

Start your hike too warm: Your body generates a lot of heat when hiking, especially in the mountains. Hitting the trail a little chilled and letting your excursion warm you up helps avoid soaking through critical layers early in your trip.

Think it can’t happen to you: Even if you’re with an experienced group, accidents happen; Sliding falls, fast-moving weather, and navigational issues are realities for even the most seasoned hikers. Being prepared for an unfortunate situation like this—both in terms of equipment and training—may make all the difference.

Lastly, whatever hiking trips you take this winter, DO remember to have fun and stay safe!

Credit: Tim Peck

52 in 52: The Ultimate Northeast Peakbagger’s Checklist

It’s time to put 2020 in the past (phew!) and start looking ahead. If you dream of filling your 2021 with sitting on craggy mountain tops, running narrow ridgelines, and exploring high places, then we’ve got the list for you. Below are 52 peaks to explore over the next 52 weeks.

Hiking along Franconia Ridge. | Credit: Tim Peck

Winter

  1. Kick off the new year with an ascent of the Northeast’s tallest mountain via its most classic route—the Lion Head on Mount Washington.
  2. What’s better than hiking up New Hampshire’s Mount Moosilaukee? Skiing down it!
  3. Tick not one, but three High Peak summits—Wright, Algonquin, and Iroquois—with a winter traverse of the MacIntyre Range.
  4. Summit Mount Watatic, the southern terminus of the Wapack Trail, and enjoy some pow on the descent. It’s so nice, you’ll want to summit twice.
  5. Climb Mount Colden by the Trap Dike.
  6. Slide into New Hampshire’s 52 With a View with a ski ascent/descent of Mount Cardigan.
  7. Tag two New Hampshire 4,000-footers on one of the most stunning hikes in the White Mountains: Franconia Ridge.
  8. Take the road less traveled by a ski ascent/descent of Whiteface Mountain on the auto road.
  9. Challenge yourself on one of the premier mountaineering routes in the Adirondacks (and tick the tenth highest peak in the range)—the North Face of Gothics.
  10. Get a start on earning your membership to the Catskill 3500 Club with an ascent of Panther Peak, or one of these other awesome winter hikes for aspiring Catskill 3500ers.
  11. Get off trail in the Adirondacks and bushwack to the summit of Number 8 Mountain.
  12. Dip your toe into winter hiking with an ascent of Bauneg Beg Mountain in North Berwick, Maine.
  13. Climb New Hampshire’s best moderate ice climb, Shoestring Gully, then scamper to the top of Mount Webster.
Taking in the views from the rocky summit of Monadnock. | Credit: Tim Peck

Spring

  1. Beat the crowds to the summit of Mount Monadnock—the U.S.’s most-hiked peak—with an early season ascent.
  2. Summit one of the Catskill’s two 4,000-footers, or put your early season legs to the test and try to do them both in a day.
  3. The Thunderbolt Trail on Mount Greylock is one of New England’s most historic ski runs, but once the snow melts, it’s time to challenge your hiking legs on its steep slopes.
  4. “Hike” or “non-technical climbing route”? Either way, the Precipice Trail is one of the best adventures in the Northeast.
  5. Go bouldering and tackle tiny rocks in the country’s smallest state at Lincoln Woods—the Iron Cross boulder might only be 10ish-feet tall, but conquering it by its namesake problem is an accomplishment any pebble wrestler will appreciate.
  6. Take on Connecticut’s tallest peak, Bear Mountain
  7. Climb the fire tower that adorns the summit of New Jersey’s Apple Pie Hill—the highest point in the Pine Barrens at 209 feet above sea level—with a backpacking trip on the Batona Trail.
  8. Ski season at Killington winds down at the end of spring, but hiking season at Killington is just starting.
  9. Escape to warmer weather and complete Virginia’s Triple Crown.
  10. Tick off the peaks along the Skyline Trail in the Blue Hills while the more northern mountains thaw out.
  11. Take in one of the best views in the White Mountains from the summit of Mount Carrigain (and don’t forget to check out the ghost town near its base).
  12. Lay low during mud season, but not too low with an ascent of Vermont’s 968-foot-tall Mount Philo.
  13. Hike to the top of Bald Mountain and take in the views of Sugarloaf and Mount Washington, both of which might still have snow (and skiers!) on them.

Summer

  1. Visit the summit of Monument Mountain and earn bonus points for reciting the famous William Cullen Bryant poem of the same name at the peak.
  2. Avoid crowded summer trails on a trip to the top of Mount Isolation or one of the other often-avoided New Hampshire 4,000-footers.
  3. A dip in a lake is a favorite summer activity for some, others prefer a stellar summit in the Lakes.
  4. Visit Ben & Jerry’s in Waterbury, Vermont….ugh, we mean summit Camel’s Hump.
  5. Try a classic Northeast Sufferfest like the White Mountain Hut to Hut Traverse. Let us know if you remember summiting South Twin! 
  6. Summit, swim, and sit back with your toes in the sand on the Beehive in Acadia National Park.
  7. Take advantage of long summer days to make this nearly 15-mile trek to the tallest peak in the Adirondacks, Mount Marcy.
  8. Discover what the Von Trapps meant when they sang, “The hills are alive…” on Vermont’s Mount Mansfield.
  9. Summit Mount Katahdin then edge your way across its most recognizable feature—the Knife Edge Trail.
  10. Take a trip to the Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy and climb the highest hill in Providence, Rhode Island, at 296 feet above sea level.
  11. There’s no better trip in the White Mountains for standing on the summits of 4,000-footers than the Pemi Loop—you can tick twelve summits from your list, a quarter of the NH48!
  12. Tackle one of these popular Franconia Notch peaks from a different direction.
  13. Climb the aptly named Ladder Trail to the summit of Dorr Mountain and take in the incredible 360-degree view.  
Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain. | Credit: Tim Peck

Fall

  1. Get an early start on the South Ridge on Cadillac Mountain and be one of the first people in the U.S. to see the sunrise.
  2. Explore a local foliage fave, Pack Monadnock, in southern New Hampshire. If your legs are springy, add North Pack to your hike as well.
  3. Get out of The City for some hiking—try Bear Mountain or one of these other spectacular peaks. 
  4. Dodge leaf peepers and peak baggers on Mount Guyot or one of these other non-counting New Hampshire 4,000 footers.
  5. Enjoy the foliage from two of Pennsylvania’s best viewpoints, the summits of Pulpit the Pinnacle.
  6. The top of the Eaglet in Franconia Notch is undoubtedly one of the most striking spots in the Northeast.
  7. There’s no better time for a trip to South and North Hancock than after the leaves have hit the ground and traffic quiets down on the Kancamagus.
  8. Bag your first ADK 46er with a trip to the top of Cascade Mountain.
  9. Country roads, take me home / to the place, I belong…West Virginia, mountain(s).
  10. Make the march to the summit of Storm King Mountain and then take a break for a beer at Industrial Arts Brewing Company.
  11. Summit four New Hampshire 4,000-footers—Pierce, Eisenhower, Monroe, and Washington—on a hike along  the country’s oldest continuously maintained hiking trail, the Crawford Path.
  12. Cross the summit of six more New Hampshire 4,000-footers off your list with a backpacking trip across the Carter Range.
  13. Sneak in a trip up Maine’s Mount Reddington before winter conditions make it one of the Northeast’s toughest climbs.

Let’s hope the weirdness peaked in 2020 and we can focus on getting to the top of these 52 peaks in 2021!

Descending Killington. | Credit: Tim Peck

Alpha Guide: Hiking the Burroughs Range Traverse in Winter

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Three high peaks and arguably the best view in the Catskills make a winter traverse of the Burroughs Range one of the finest day hikes in the Northeast.

Alongside the Devil’s Path and the Escarpment Trail, the Burroughs Range Trail (also known as the Wittenberg–Cornell–Slide Trail) is one of the most enjoyable—and justifiably popular—routes in the Catskills. Over its 9.8 miles, it traces the highest ridgeline in the 47,500-acre Slide Mountain Wilderness—the Catskills’ largest wilderness area—traversing three distinct high peaks in the process: the Wittenberg (locally known known as the Wittenberg, with no “Mount” or “Mountain” required) with it’s steep upper reaches and sweeping summit views; Cornell Mountain, a viewless summit accessed by a fun, semi-technical rock formation known as the Cornell Crack, and; Slide Mountain, the highest peak—and one of only two 4,000-footers—in the region.

While each mountain has its own, individual charm, the trail is invariably, characteristically Catskills—rugged terrain, steep ascents, and a wilderness feel beyond what you’d expect for somewhere so close to New York City.

Quick Facts

Distance: 9.8 miles, one-way
Time to Complete: Full day for most.
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery:★★★★★


Season: December through March (as a winter hike)
Fees/Permits: None*
Contact: https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/9150.html

*While there are no fees or permits in winter, day-use fees are applicable from mid-May to Mid October, when the campground is open.

 


Turn-By-Turn

This is a one-way ticket, so the first thing you’ll need to do is post a shuttle car at the Slide Mountain parking area on CR-47. From the Thruway, take exit 19 for Kingston/Rhinecliff Bridge. Follow the exit ramp to a rotary and bear right onto NY–28 west. After 30.7 miles, take a left onto CR-47 and continue for 15 miles. The Slide Mountain parking area (42.00889, -74.42756) will be on the left, just 2.0 miles after the hairpin turn.

From here, getting to the start of the trail is as simple as backtracking to NY-28, taking a right, and heading east for 7.7 miles. Take a right at Woodland Valley Road, and continue for 5.0 miles to the Woodland Valley trailhead parking area, just before the Woodland Valley State Campground’s main entrance. Find the trailhead by crossing the road and heading back east, following the red blazes to where the trail departs the campground (42.03600, -74.35665) between sites 45 and 46.

The expansive view from Wittenberg’s open summit. | Credit: John Lepak

The Wittenberg

As it exits the campground, the red-blazed Burroughs Range Trail—also known as the Slide–Cornell–Wittenberg Trail—crosses a brook on a wooden footbridge and immediately begins climbing at a moderate grade, passing a trail register. This is a popular route, so unless there’s been a recent snowfall of significance, you’ll likely have a well-established snowshoe trail to follow. After 1.3 miles of moderately steep climbing through mixed hardwood forest, the grade eases a bit and the trail starts to bear left (southeast), skirting the rim of a deep ravine to the north. Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain are visible through the leafless trees.

At mile 2.6, the yellow-blazed Terrace Mountain Trail breaks off to the left (42.01869, -74.34056) as the Burroughs Range Trail takes a right. Just 0.2 miles later, the recently-constructed, blue-blazed leg of the Phoenicia–East Branch splits off the left as well.

From here, the ascent becomes steep, and the trail winds its way up and over three, successively steeper ledges, steadily gaining the Wittenberg’s upper reaches. Eventually, the grade eases slightly, and the mountain runs out of ledges to throw at you as the trees change over from mixed hardwood to densely packed pine.

At mile 3.9, the trees give way to an open ledge (42.00839, -74.34692) and the summit of Wittenberg (3,780 feet). An extraordinary easterly view, including the mountains of the Devil’s Path and the Blackhead Range to the north, the high peaks of Friday, Balsam Cap, Peekamoose, and Table Mountains to the south, and the distinct figure of the Ashokan Reservoir front-and-center.

With a good chunk of elevation gain behind you, the open summit area is a great spot to grab a breather. Get in the lee of the wind and enjoy one of the best views in the Catskills.

The Cornell Crack, an ice-filled cleft in the rock just shy of Cornell’s summit. | Credit: John Lepak

Cornell

Head west across the open summit to continue on the red-blazed Burroughs Range Trail. Very quickly, the trail descends over a few icy ledges before flattening—This short but pleasant little col is commonly referred to as Bruin Causeway. At mile 4.5 the trail starts to climb again, steeply in places, until it reaches a formidable cleft in the rock known as the Cornell Crack (42.00256, -74.35564). This obstacle is tricky in the summer, but even more so in winter, when it fills with snow and ice. If you’re willing to carry them, a pair of front-point crampons and an ice axe make this a breeze.

Past the crack, at mile 4.7 the wooded summit of Cornell (3,860 feet) waits, indicated by a short spur trail to the left (42.00146, -74.35666) that offers limited views. Just beyond though, before the trail starts to descend, an open, west-facing ledge offers a preview of what’s up next: Slide.

Slide’s broad, open—but viewless—summit. | Credit: John Lepak

Slide

Begin descending Cornell’s slope by continuing west, passing several excellent viewpoints. At mile 5.5 the grade eases, marking the low point of the saddle. The trail is relatively flat in this area and several designated campsites make it a great place to set-up camp for anyone looking to spend the night. The trail begins climbing again past the campsite to another good view to the northeast, gained via a short spur trail that diverges to the left. The grade increases, climbing over snow-covered wooden stairways and stone steps until the summit ledge is finally reached at mile 7.0.

A bronze plaque celebrating the memory of the naturalist John Burroughs, for whom the range is named, marks the occasion. The summit of Slide (4,180 feet) is broad and open but with limited views (42.99892, -74.38578). Crossing the summit of Slide, the Burroughs Range Trail begins to descend very gently until another extensive view opens up to the north. Several more Catskill High Peaks are visible, including Hunter (the region’s only other 4000-footer), the Devil’s Path, the Blackhead Range, and Kaaterskill High Peak, which was at one point thought to be the highest in the region (until Slide was properly surveyed, of course).

The grade is easy and the trail is wide here, following the track of an old woods road built to service an erstwhile fire tower. At 7.7 miles, the Curtis-Ormsbee Trail—a beautiful way to climb Slide from the west—splits to the left (42.00117, -74.39668). Keep on following the red blazes of the Burroughs Range Trail until, at mile 9.1, it reaches its confluence with the yellow-blazed Phoenicia–East Branch Trail. Head right, following the Phoenicia–East Branch trail as it continues to descend another 0.7 miles  in before reaching a water crossing—easy if iced-over, a bit of rock hopping if not—and the Slide Mountain parking area on CR-47 (42.00889, -74.42756).


A vignette from Cornell’s summit proper, accessed by a short spur trail. | Credit: John Lepak

The Kit

  • The Catskills can get very cold in the winter and traversing the Burroughs Range makes for a long day in freezing temperatures. The EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket (men’s|women’s) is an ideal insulating layer for a trip like this—warm enough to keep the body heat up when you’re resting, packable enough to stash in the bag when you’re not.
  • Some hot coffee, tea, or water in insulated thermos—like the Camelbak 20oz Hot Cap Water Bottle—won’t take up a ton of room in your pack and will make a big difference on a frigid day in the Cats.
  • The upper reaches of Wittenberg and the Cornell Crack require some handwork, so bring a good pair of gloves like the Black Diamond Arc. If it’s really cold or really wet, throw some hand warmers in an extra pair of liners and toss them in your pack for later.
  • Heavy annual snowfall, steep terrain, and local trail etiquette make a pair of snowshoes with climbing bars, like the MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes, a necessity.
  • Cell service is sketchy in the Catskills at best, so a compass and a paper map are essential. The Catskill Mountains Trail Map from the Appalachian Mountain Club is waterproof and covers the whole region in detail.

Early morning on the way up the Wittenberg. | Credit: John Lepak

Keys to the Trip

  • The Slide Mountain Wilderness Area is incredibly popular with both day hikers and backpackers year-round. The crowds are a little less of an issue in winter, but—with the exception of the remote col between Cornell and Slide—it’s unlikely you’ll be on your own all that much. Please help mitigate the human impact on this area by hiking responsibly, signing in at the trail registers, and following Leave No Trace principles.
  • Provided you’re comfortable starting and finishing a hike by headlamp, the Burroughs Range in winter is totally doable as a long, single day hike. Some folks do, however, opt to split this into a two-day affair, which is not a bad idea since backcountry camping above 3,500 feet is only permitted in the Catskills in winter (December 21–March 21). Be prepared to set up camp in the snow and always adhere to New York State DEC rules and guidelines.
  • The range and trail are named for John Burroughs, a naturalist and advocate for the region. His 1910 essay In the Heart of the Southern Catskills details his first experiences exploring the area now known as the Slide Mountain Wilderness. It’s an interesting historical perspective and a great read to build the pre-hike excitement or to reflect maintain the buzz long after the aprés.
  • Warm up after a long day in the cold with a post-hike bite at the perpetually hopping Phoenicia Diner. Think classic diner meets modern weekender. Breakfast served all day.

Current Conditions

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


goEast Countdown to Winter Advent(ure) Calendar

For those who are more amped about snowy fun than Christmas Day, you can count down to the official start of winter with this 21-day advent(ure) calendar. Tick them daily for a treat-a-day leading up to December 21, or use it as a guide to the most wonderful time of year. Either way, you’re in for a whole lot of fun!

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Tim Peck

  • December 18: Not ready to tackle Tucks? Ski Mount Washington from the west along the more mellow Cog Railway.
  • December 19: Some argue the best skiing in New Hampshire isn’t found on the state’s biggest peaks, but rather in the woods. Check out some of the Granite State’s best tree skiing.
  • December 20: Conquer a classic multi-pitch ice climb with an ascent of Shoestring Gully.
  • December 21: Celebrate the first official day of winter in style—check one of the Northeast’s most classic mountaineering lines off your list with an ascent of the Lion Head on Mount Washington. Not ready to go it alone? The EMS Climbing School runs trips up the Rockpile all winter.

’Tis the season to be jolly, especially if you tick these awesome activities off this winter. Have other adventures schemed up for the advent of winter? If so, let us know about them in the comments!


My 16-year-old and His Friend Hiked Vermont’s Long Trail...By Themselves

As I watched my 16-year-old son and his friend walk into the woods at the Massachusetts/Vermont border to begin their northbound thru-hike to Canada—alone—I fought the urge to run up the trail with them. Despite my beaming smile and outward excitement, I was still conflicted about whether or not we’d made the right choice.

Happily heading into the woods. | Credit: Sarah Hunter

The boys first approached us about this adventure a year earlier, after returning home from camp. They had spent ten days that summer backpacking a section of Vermont’s Long Trail, a 272-mile footpath through the Green Mountains, with six other friends and two counselors. It had been hot, their packs were heavy, and the mountains were steep, but they loved it. They wanted to return the following summer to hike the entire trail, by themselves.

Despite my beaming smile and outward excitement, I was still conflicted about whether or not we’d made the right choice.

We knew they had the experience and training to do it. They had hiked and paddled hundreds of miles with their families and with each other for the past five summers at camp. They practiced Leave No Trace and impeccable trail etiquette, and both were certified in Wilderness First Aid. This adventure was well within their skill-set and it had all the makings of a true coming-of-age experience. We couldn’t let our fears hold them back. We said yes.

In the spring, they planned their route, including evacuation options and resupply stops. They developed a meal plan based on the calories, fat, and weight of each item. They made a packing list, assessed their gear, and determined what they had and what they needed. Soon packages were arriving regularly at our doorstep: a JetBoil, gravity water filter, and the all-important two-way satellite communicator that would track their route and allow them to check in with us at the end of each day.

Sunset on Killington. | Credit: Silas Hunter

When summer arrived, my son and I tested his new gear during a weekend backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, during which he cooked our meals, filtered our water, and hung our bear bag each night. All I had to do was hike. My husband had the even easier task of following along from home, watching our path on the website. With one click, we sent him a message each evening: We’re checking in; everything is fine. It worked like a charm. We were ready.

The day before their start day, though, I broke down in a panicked what-did-we-agree-to moment. Even though they were prepared to go, I realized I’d never be fully prepared to let them go. But as I watched them walk into the woods together the next day, laden with heavy packs made heavier by their summer reading books, I put on a brave face. I was out of my comfort zone, but so were they. They were doing a brave thing. The least I could do was to be brave, too.

But as I watched them walk into the woods together the next day, laden with heavy packs made heavier by their summer reading books, I put on a brave face. I was out of my comfort zone, but so were they. They were doing a brave thing. The least I could do was to be brave, too.

Over the next three weeks I followed the map as they made their way north through the Green Mountains. I checked the weather. I worried. But each time I met them for a resupply my spirits were buoyed. They were doing fine. Better than fine. They were swimming in clear, quiet ponds, climbing fire towers, hiking in the dark for mountain-top sunrises. They were doing great. My worrying didn’t help them, or me.

When we met them at the northern terminus of the trail on the Canadian border we were overjoyed, and so were they. They were visibly tired and sore and dirty and also thoroughly, deeply, happy. For 21 days they had taken care of themselves and each other while traversing rugged peaks and steep valleys again and again. They faced countless decisions every day. Important decisions. On their own. Their reward for their perseverance, fortitude, and bravery, and ours, was etched on their faces. They had completed an incredible journey, one that they will carry with them always. It came at the expense of sore muscles and blisters (for them) and several more gray hairs (for us), but it was, without a doubt, one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

Resupply day! | Credit: Sarah Hunter