Category Archives: Hiking in snow

Snow Foolin’ — Stranded in a snow storm – Part 1

Flashback Sunday: though winter is “officially” over, I’m reminded how fickle and unpredictable it can be!

Write in Front of Me

English: Photographer: HanumanIX

As I mounted the North flank of Jay Peak in Vermont it became plain that I was going to be snowed in.  During my climb ponderous clouds unleashed snowfall.  The wind lashed ice pellets at my face with shotgun blast intensity.  My breathing was strained, my hands were losing sensitivity, and my field of vision was diminished to mere feet.

I knew the crest was within reach in about ten more minutes of hiking.  Even so, I knew that if conditions continued to worsen at the rate I observed them, the trail would become concealed in a torrent of white and I would be stumbling for direction in a blizzard.  Instantly I knew what it felt like to be apprehended by a blizzard without reference points.

I fished my compass from my pocket and formed my best calculation, slogging forward through drifts of snow which threatened to bury the way…

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Courage, Decision making, Hiking, Hiking in snow, Living, outdoors, risk, snow storms, Writing

The Appalachian Trail…thinking about the weather

Appalachian Winter

Appalachian Winter (Photo credit: Hunterrrr)

With the escalating popularity of the Appalachian Trail in recent years have come aspirant thru-hikers who want to start the trail early.  When once the traditional “start day” for an A.T. hike was April 1st, some now venture forth in early March, and it’s not unknown to hear of a backpacker leaving for Katahdin in late February.

If you or someone you know should be straining at the bit to get started for Maine, I offer the following information to help you be informed and prepared for situations you may encounter as you head for the trail terminus in Georgia.

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy…

Appalachian Trail w/Snow

Appalachian Trail w/Snow (Photo credit: Shan213)

Weather. Winter holds its grip on the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine during the traditional “spring break” period of March and early April. Though temperatures in lowlands may be springlike in the South, the high elevations of the mountains experience weather comparable to New England. Annual snowfall in places (most notably the Smokies in Tennessee/North Carolina) exceeds 100 inches a year. Snow in March and April is common. But, wide temperature swings are the norm. Be prepared for temperatures in the teens (or even colder at elevations above 5000 feet in the South); also be prepared for some warmer days. Trees at high elevations will be bare until May in the South, so pack sunscreen. The least severe weather on the entire A.T. typically occurs in the northern Virginia/Maryland section of A.T., and Georgia, which have the most favorable combinations of low elevation and/or a southerly latitude. (published by the Appalachian Trail Conference [now known as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy], revised March, 2005; accessed February 1, 2013 – http://www.appalachiantrail.org/docs/default-document-library/spring-break-hiking-3-15-05_lep.pdf)

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Decision making, Hiking, Hiking in snow, Hypothermia, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges

Snow Foolin’ – Stranded in a snow storm – Part 2

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Photo courtesy of Raymond Shobe at Flickr

Since nothing betters the disposition like hot soup, I put some on the stove in quick order.  I mulled my state of affairs over as the brew simmered. I was grounded on the summit in a snowstorm, the extent of which I could only speculate.  I had checked the weather forecast before setting out and no storms were imminent.  Yet, I harbored no illusions.  I realized New England mountain conditions could wax volatile and cruel abruptly.  I was in for a doubtful spell of waiting.  As this was my first day on a week-long trip, I was provisioned with ample food.  I reckoned if the situation turned dire I would break into the summit house, set off the alarm, and precipitate a rescue.  Hopefully that would summon help.

The tram cables screeched long into the night and into a foggy Monday morning. The winds wailed and raged but did not diminish.  I did a full inventory of my gear, read a book, and ate an early lunch while being entertained by the violin from hell that the White Devil played outside the windows.  By late afternoon I became bored and anxious.  The storm had not lessened.  How long would it last? Having never been stranded on a mountain in a blizzard I realized my options were limited. Was this a brief accumulation of snow or the beginning of a more furious, longer storm?  At what point should I send for help?

Monday night the cantata of rattling and sing-song cable screeches moaned on, backed by pounding winds which begged to get in at me.  I tossed in my sleeping bag, wishing I had earplugs, and finally resorted to wads of tissue to block out the merciless racket.

Morning came.  Silence.  Visibility out the windows was mere feet.  But sunrise had come.  The snow had lessened, but I could not judge its depth by looking out the windows.  At least the battering wind was over.

I set to making hot oatmeal and put coffee on.  After breakfast, around midmorning, I observed a stirring in the clouds outside.  Moments later I was thrilled to see them dissipate enough to show patches of blue sky above.  I reined in my elation.  This might be the end of the storm — or only a reprieve.

Within the hour the cloud cover dissolved completely, revealing the most lavish sky blue I had ever seen.  Elation changed to euphoria.  I ventured to the door, elbowing against the door hesitantly.  It opened with little effort, revealing a half-foot of snow on the ground.  I was relieved the exit was unblocked.  Tromping out the door, I basked in the rays of sun that blessed Jay Peak.  I waded through a knee-deep drift to reach the upper level, which allowed me a more distant view.  The area around Jay Peak was mantled in snow for about a mile, but the lowlands seemed snow free.

Vermont trail cabin

Vermont “lodge” style cabin.  Picture courtesy Flickr

My journey down the other side of Jay Peak consisted of slippery and slow going through pockets of blown snow, and the repeated need to scout for blazes on tree trunks to confirm I was still on the trail.  After a long and anxious hour I emerged from the snowbound region and walked onto bare ground.  Hazen’s Notch camp was my glorious reward, a fully enclosed cabin with wood stove.  A local caretaker had kindly laid in nearly a half cord of firewood.  I was giddy.  That night, I enjoyed the company of a young married couple hiking to Canada on the Long Trail from Johnson, Vermont.  Over hot coffee and tea we traded stories about the trail, the mercurial weather, and our adventures during our journeys.

Past hiking expeditions have had me doing a dance with lightning on Mount Moosilauke on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, grappling in a heart-stopping rock climb eighty feet above the ground on Vermont’s Mount Mansfield in cold, saturating rain, and dealing with the incapacitating pain of a torn Achilles heel while trekking in remote Maine wilderness.  My unplanned delay on Jay Peak may be another chapter to add to my adventure journal, but it’s also an important reminder to habitually manage outdoor challenges with practiced knowledge, flexibility, and a good dose of humility.

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Filed under Adventure, Adversity, Anxiety, Backpacking, Decision making, Fear, Hiking in snow, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Winter storm