If you’ve wondered what winter hiking looks like, here’s a picture of Earl and I as we meandered thru the Androscoggin Riverlands State Park in Turner, Maine, this morning.
The temps were in the single digits. Brrrrr… I kept chuckling each time I looked at Earl and saw the icicles in his beard getting longer and longer.
Are you wondering what one wears on such a cold day? Here’s what I had on for layers starting at the top and working my way down.
Head/neck: Hat and buff. The buff was pulled up over my head partway so that it covered my cheeks and chin a bit. Each time I brought it over my mouth or nose my glasses fogged up. But my face really didn’t feel cold.
Upper body: Merino wool camisole, two merino wool mid-weight tops, a heavier weight merino wool hoodie (you can see the hoodie in the photo below) and a windbreaking shell. Yes, that’s a lot of layers and Earl is quick to tell me that I have too many on. But we have to hike our own hike and dress for our own hike. I knew that I could take layers off if I got too warm… which I did after a couple of miles. But I have to tell you, when we started out I was grateful for each an every ounce of warmth I was wearing!
Hands: Thin liner gloves and heavier Thinsulate gloves. When we started out my hands were extremely cold (I was only wearing the Thinsulate gloves when we started. After about 10 minutes I admitted that my fingers were freezing (uncomfortably so) and pulled on the liner gloves. It took about five minutes for the painful tingling sensation to kick in as my fingers warmed up and another five minutes or so before they felt warm again. Next time we go out I am going to get my fingers moving and the blood flowing to them before we hit the trail to see if that helps.
Lower body: Low-temp long underwear and my normal nylon hiking pants
Feet: Heavy-weight merino wool socks and insulated winter boots
Was I warm enough? After I took care of my fingers, I was definitely warm enough. One thing to be careful about when hiking in the winter is to manage your layers so you don’t start sweating. You can do this by slowing down, taking breaks, or as I did, removing a layer.
Donna and I started hiking by randomly picking a trail and saying “Lets try this one” This led us to trying Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park. Without a doubt, it’s the toughest trail in the park and not one to be taken lightly. We (meaning I) were (was) in no condition to attempt that. People have fallen and died on that trail. Its closed during the Summer so Peregrine falcons can nest without being disturbed.
As she mentioned, we were wearing jeans, cotton shirts and sneakers. We had one 3 liter water bottle that we carried with us. From the time we started up the trail head to when I was wiped out, exhausted and gave up .4 mile up the trail, was almost three hours. It was (to me) a crazy boulder scramble, leaping from rock to rock and scrambling up cliff faces. We got to our hotel room and I was thinking what a wild adventure! There is a visitor center in the park that has 52 steps leading up a slight incline. I started walking up and by the time I got to the top, I was winded and my legs were burning with the lactic acid build up. The next day we did a 14 mile bike ride. She has pictures of me flopped in the grass, once again, exhausted, at about 6 miles into the ride.
The next hike we did was on the way back from the Fryeburg Fair. We stopped at Pleasant Mountain to hike a trail. We really didn’t know exactly where the trail was, but the first trailhead sign we saw, we stopped and hiked it. I was wearing her LLBean Rucksack, carrying 5 or 6 liters of water, some snacks and apples. Halfway up the mountain, I let her carry the pack the rest of the way. Once again, I was wiped out. We finally made it to the yurt at the top of the ski slopes and was rewarded with a beautiful view of the western Maine forests wearing their fall colors. After we got back to the car (she was still carrying the pack) we checked the hiking trail book and we had again, picked the steepest, toughest trail up the mountain. That was our last hike for 2013. We talked about hiking more the following year. She mentioned that she always wanted to climb Mt Katahdin, it was on her bucket list. I realized that I need to start training. If 52 little steps wore me out, what was the 5 miles up Mt Katahdin going to do to me?
Now that we had a goal, we started making a plan. Starting in the Spring, as soon as the snow melted enough, we started going on short walks around town. I started carrying a day pack on my solo hikes and walks. We picked small hills and hiking trails. We climbed the towering 500′ peak of Bradbury Mountain (I was gagging at the top of that). We hiked parts of the Eastern Trail, which is fairly flat and smooth. We walked wherever we could. We researched clothing and equipment and purchased and tried out what works for us. We climbed steeper and taller hills such as Streaked Mountain in Buckfield, ME (1700’) I took Donna on a hike that my Grandfather showed us when we were kids that is now Little Concord Pond State Park. Climbing up Bald Mountain and then continuing to Speckled Mountain (2200′), we found patches of snow in May. Coming back down, I stumbled and fell and skinned my knee. I learned the value of carrying a first aid kit. I haven’t gone on a hike without it since. Streaked Mountain became my measuring stick of my conditioning. The first time we climbed it took us about an hour. I climbed it weekly and watched the time it took me creep downward to 40 minutes. In that time, I kept adding weight to my pack until it weighed about around 20 lbs. I found another State Park in my home town of Turner with 23 miles of hiking trails. Riverlands State Park used to be a game preserve. Now it is multi-use with hiking, ATV, mountain bike and horse trails. Donna and I progressively added higher mountains to our hikes and adding more and more distance. By late June we had progressed to hiking 3000 footers.
During this time, we decided we were going to start working on the AMC 4k’ers list. The first one we did was Saddleback Mountain. It was a 13-mile, 10 hour hike for us. Don’t let the roots and rocks on the trail photos scare you. Maine is one of the hardest states of the Appalachian Trail. It makes a good training ground for our proposed AT hike in 2019.
A week later, we climbed Mt Katahdin in the pouring rain. It was a long hike. It took us 6 hours to climb the 5.3 miles of the Hunt trail, scrambling up slippery, wet rocks. The clouds cleared a couple times and I looked down and instantly got vertigo. The clouds closed in and I kept my face to mountain and continued the climb. We got to the top and the Appalachian Trail thru-hikers that passed us on the trail were just vacating the summit. We were tired, damp from the fog, rain and our own exertions, but we were not cold, nor defeated. After a snack and some drinks, we decided to not try Hunt trail again and took Saddle Trail down thinking it was easier. Easier is a relative term. It was definitely not easy. At one point I threw my pack down a 20 foot cliff face and scaled it grabbing for hand and toe holds. Incredulous and doubting that this was the trail, I kept scanning for blue blazes and finding them. There was water still running down the rock faces of the cliffs. Rather than the weather and glacier worn rounded rocks of the Hunt trail, the Saddle trail had sharp edged and jagged rocks because it was formed by a fairly recent rock slide. It made for some pretty good steps and hand holds. I kept singing this song in my head:
“The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain, to see what he could see”
Once we got down the mountain, got to Chimney Pond Campground, checked in with the ranger there, we still had 3 miles to get to Roaring Brook Campground and hope we could hitch a ride back to Katahdin Stream Campground. Once we got to Roaring Brook, there was only one car in the day use parking lot. We resigned ourselves to hiking the 18 miles back to our campsite, hoping that someone would drive by. If not, we figured we could be there by 1 a.m. A mile into our walk back, an older couple from North Carolina stopped and picked us up. Trail Angels. There is a recurring theme along the AT. “The trail will provide”. We swapped stories of our hiking adventures, while our Angel drove like a madman on the twisty, narrow dirt roads. Fortunately a higher power was looking out for us and we made it back safely.
In four short months, not doing anything but hiking and climbing progressively higher mountains, and adding more weight to my pack, I went from almost vomiting on the top of 500′ Bradbury mountain, to climbing 5267′ Mt Katahdin with energy enough to contemplate an 18 mile walk back to our car. The point is that once you have a goal in mind, find something you enjoy doing that makes you sweat, that challenges you. You will get incrementally stronger, you will lose weight and you will feel better and you will have amazing stories and photos to share.
After working a few hours this morning and then attending the funeral services for a dear friend, I needed time and space in the woods.
Luckily my neighbor was willing to leave the warmth of her home to join me for a 3-mile trek through the woods. We went to Clifford Park, a local treasure that I only discovered about a year ago. The temperature was in the mid teens, but my merino wool base layers and down jacket kept me toasty warm.
I am grateful for the woods and a good friend to share them with. Although today’s walk could not completely shed the heavy blanket of sadness that had covered my heart earlier in the day, it helped. I felt better and my heart felt lighter.
R.I.P. Liz Patterson. You were an amazing woman and an inspiration to so many. Please watch over me as I hike through the woods.
January 1, 2015. Happy New Year! That’s what we always say, right?
It’s kind of awesome that I’m starting this new website and blog on January 1st. It’s the perfect day for new beginnings. I wish I could say that I’d planned it this way, but I didn’t. I just happened to choose this day to act upon an idea that had been spinning in my head for a few months.
In 2014 I discovered a comforting joy in hiking in the woods. Although I have dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail since I was a teenager, and I flirted with the idea of climbing Mt. Katahdin when I moved to Maine in 1991, I am definitely not your typical outdoorsy type woman.
Basically, I’m a scaredy cat.
But in the fall of 2013, I was seeing a man who was willing to take me into the woods and climb mountains with me. We were both out of shape and not prepared to hike even the lower elevation mountains. But it was something we enjoyed doing together.
In 2014 we revisited those low elevation mountains that had kicked our butts on the first attempt. With each mountain we climbed, our confidence and interest grew. No longer were we couch potatoes, happily watching life pass us by on the screens of the TV set or computer monitor. Instead we were Snails on Trails, watching other hikers pass us by on the trails in the Maine and New Hampshire woods.
So all that led me to starting this Snails on Trails website and blog. My goal is to share my adventures and inspire other couch potatoes to take a walk in the woods. The pace you travel on the trail does not matter. In fact, if you slow down a bit, I may just catch up with you.