Winter adventures present a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong. Whether it’s the snow, or the cold, or the short days, if you’re not 100 percent prepared, it would be easy for a winter adventure to turn into a winter misadventure. And, even if they don’t end up in a shiver bivy, rescue, or injury, we all have those stories of winter trips gone wrong. We asked you to share your stories! What happened and what would you do differently the next time? Or did you swear off winter hiking for good? Share your story here and get a $25 gift card if we publish it. 

Courtesy: Lindsay H

It was mid February, when I decided I wanted to conquer the Four State Challenge. I was working full time, and COVID was slowing down, but the hospital was still busy. I was tired of work, tired of school, and behind on my miles for my 2021 Mental Health Awareness Challenge, so I was gearing up for a big win.

I met an ultra runner and outdoors enthusiast that I hiked the western side of Devil’s Path with and we had the chemistry of a great hiking team. My snowshoes had broken and were on their way to MSR to be repaired. I was working at a hospital in Maryland where temps were in the 50s and 60s. So I invited Matt down for the Four State, thinking we could get a hike without snowshoes. I thought Northbound was the best strategy, so I met Matt in PA, since it was closer to him, and drove him to the lot in Harpers Ferry. There was no snow on my drive up, and Matt made a comment about the snow in PA, but I thought it would be fine. It didn’t look too deep. We got to the parking lot to start, and the snow was packed down, but on the way up to the WV/VA border, it got deeper. It was just over my ankle and my feet were getting wet, but it was in the 30s and we were staying warm. I figured 4 pairs of socks and an extra pair of shoes would help me through it.

Around halfway (somewhere around 20 miles), I put on my second pair of socks. I was feeling good, the sun was out and I was warm. It was actually an amazing sunrise and a perfect day. By 2 or 3pm I caved for my 3rd pair of socks in my wet shoes after we slogged through about a mile of slush. It was fun running through it, until temps seemed to drop and the sun was making its way down. At sunset, I was feeling the cold and I thought we were closer to the car than we actually were. The wind was picking up, so we stopped for a complete outfit change and I put on my dry shoes and last pair of dry socks. Matt gave me his spare pair of dry gloves, but I was still cold. Hoping we would warm back up as we started moving again, I felt a pain in my hip and my gait felt rigid. We still had at least 10 miles to go. It felt like I had cinder blocks tied to my feet and as if my hips were rusty hinges. I kept insisting to Matt I was fine, all the while wincing with every step. If he needed to stop, I kept moving, as it hurt less if I just kept moving slowly. We eventually made it to a gap, where I thought we has less than 6 miles to go (revisiting this later it was actually more than 10). I was effectively in shock and pre hypothermic. He pointed out I was soaked up to my knees even though I couldn’t feel it. We had come so far and I insisted we were so close. This part of the trail wasn’t broken, and the slushy snow was starting to freeze in the now cold temperatures, but still wasn’t going to be ideal conditions in my already soaking wet feet.

We decided to bail on the challenge and walk into town to find a ride back to our nearest car. Crying the last mile or so into a ghost town, we were lucky to find a cop parked in the plaza. He saw our duress and drove us back to the vehicle. He put the heat on blast with the seat heater on, and helped me get my pack off and store our gear in the back. The ride home he told us we made a good call and that this happens sometimes, and that he had attempted this challenge once or twice before finishing as well. I went from discouraged to humbled, and then realized how bad of shape I was in when we arrived at our car and the cold hit me again. It was only seconds before I started shivering vigorously and could barely grab my gear. Matt saw the situation unfolding and acted immediately; he told me to drop my bags as he ran to turn the car on and ushered me into the front seat trying to help me get some layers off. I panicked. I felt like my space was being invaded and pushed him off. Trying not to argue, he put the heat on full blast and pushed my seat back to give me room and started looking for dry layers to give me while I started to take off my outer layers. I ultimately ended up just curling up in my seat, exhausted, as Matt rushed us into town. Worried of my condition, he got some warm liquids/food and found a hotel where he got me inside immediately and told me to get in the bathroom and he would put dry clothes outside the door for me. Had it not been for him, I may have tried to continue the hike and ended up seriously hurt, or dead. It was the first time I had experienced failure at my own expense and I was mortified that I brought someone into a hike I couldn’t handle. From now on, I keep my snowshoes and spikes in the car at all times from fall through spring and double and triple check conditions. — Lindsay H (@Legendary_Lindsay)