Conquering the Trails: Winter Hiking

Learning to Adapt

Get out and hike!

Now, I'm not going to pretend that the Adirondack Coast of Lake Champlain is covered in a blanket of white fluffy snow. Right now, it's not. Mother Nature has handed us a smorgasbord of weather so far this winter, with wildly fluctuating temperatures and at least 14 types of precipitation. This week? Sleet, rain, snow, sun. We haven't got a contract with her; and I am confident that the usual blanket of snow will arrive just a little bit later than expected this year.

In the meantime, we're Adirondackers, and that means that even if we have springlike conditions in January, we'll find a way to get outside and play. As such, this morning when the weatherman said it would be sunny with temps at about freezing, I decided to go hiking on my favorite short local trail with my 1-year old doberman mix.

Since we've had an odd year - snow, melt, ice; I figured that the well-trodden path up Coon Mountain in Westport would be comprised of "the ice formerly known as packed snow".

In preparation for the icy hike, I channelled my master carpenter husband's advice: "always use the right tool for the job".

Now, a lot of my "tools" might seem like "toys" to the careless onlooker. Seems we've accumulated kayaks, canoes, mountain and road bikes, skis of the alpine, cross-country, backcountry and telemark persuasion, rock and ice climbing gear, roller and ice skates, and all the required poles and helmets and pads, too.

Typically on this week in January, it would be safe to say that I'd need my trusty snowshoes to hike up Coon Mountain. Not today. Today, I was about to try out my newest tool, acquired just a few days ago. Microspikes.

We've got some aggressive snowshoes for icy conditions on snow, but I learned from a licensed guide (link) recently that they had been taking hikers out with microspikes as standard issue. I decided to invest in a pair, since the weather forecast hasn't changed.

Shoe SpikesThe spikes are lightweight and easily taken on and off as needed over your hiking boots. There are likely a lot of competitive manufacturers, and there are more rigid crampons (the kind we use for ice climbing), too, that would work.

I needed them just to get out of the car. The parking lot was empty, and a sheet of ice itself. I nodded to myself in approval of my plan.

I let the dog out of the car while I donned the spikes, and she was fine on the slick surface - she has built-in crampons with her soft pads/sharp nails combo.

We headed up the trail. It's a short one - with just one steep section of rocky steps as it winds to the top. It was about 32 degrees Fahrenheit, sunny, and I was master of the icy walkway. The more steps I took, the more I felt like Wonder Woman, conqueror of the slippery surface. The spikes made walking on ice, which would have been impossible to navigate with my boots, like, well, like a walk in the park.

Even the ice-covered waterfall that replaced the steep steps section was easily achieved. I walked right up as if anti-slip stair treads had been installed. Incidentally, the dog, of course, went around through the dry leaves and avoided the section altogether.

The landscape is different without the leaves, and the serene woods were alive with the sounds of a variety of birds, and squirrels roaming in the woods.

Katie on the Trail

We got to the top, and enjoyed the views of Lake Champlain to the East and South, and the High Peaks of the Adirondacks beyond the Champlain Valley fields to the West. And then headed back down, still relishing having the trail to ourselves.

On a side note, my husband was taking advantage of a different aspect of the ice while we were tromping through the woods. He and his buddies were nordic skating on a northern bay on Lake Champlain. The conditions were ideal in some sections, and
he's been enjoying a spectacular year of skating so far. In addition, I've received many reports that the ice climbing is stellar this season.

Skating on Lake ChamplainIce generally gets a bad rap. But let's all remember that it's very useful for figure, speed and nordic skating, pond hockey, for keeping the old fashioned ice box cold, for ice climbing, for building castles, and in the form of cubes that go in your drink.

I've conquered the all mighty icy trail, and added one more reason to go hiking in the shoulder seasons. Snow is fun when we've got it, and there's surely plenty of the fluffy stuff coming soon.

All I am saying, is give ice a chance.

Coon Mountain was developed and is maintained by the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, and is part of the Champlain Area Trails (CATS) Network.

-Kimberly Rielly is the director of communications for the Lake Placid CVB/Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism. 

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