Hiking and overnight cabin stays provide more than exercise
Hiking in the winter, especially overnight, is one of my favorite things. It’s this time of year the parks and trails turn into magical fairy lands that are perfect to explore and cherish. I’m assuming your hiking boots are not packed away — they should be on your feet during all four seasons so you can enjoy the different colors, smells, and sights of the ever-changing landscapes. The crowds are gone, bears are hibernating, and the pesky bugs are not around; you can truly appreciate the wilderness, solitude, pervading peacefulness and the sounds of your breath and the crunch of your boot. Are you ready for a winter hike?
Preparing for winter hikes
Wintertime demands different skills and gear than summertime for an enjoyable hike.
- Wear layers: Layering is key to staying warm and maintaining a consistent body temperature. A base layer will wick moisture off your body, a ﬂeece jacket will provide warmth, and a shell will protect you from the wind and rain. Cotton clothing should be avoided, because once it becomes wet it no longer insulates; instead, it pulls out your body heat. Do not forget a warm hat, a balaclava, gloves, and an extra pair of socks. It is important to keep your feet warm and dry on the trail — wear gaiters to keep snow out of your shoes. Also, consider using hiking poles as they assist with balance, especially on any treacherous or icy trails.
- Stay fueled: According to Napoleon, an army marches on its stomach. He knew that marching in the cold, especially in snow, burns up to 50 percent more calories. Without enough food in your belly you can get cold fast. Bring plenty of food with you on the trail and pack it so that it cannot freeze.
- Stay hydrated: Dry winter air can easily lead to dehydration and possibly hypothermia. Drink a lot of ﬂuids to prevent dehydration. Water bottles and hydration packs should be insulated to prevent freezing. Hot tea or soup provide excellent hydration alternatives.
- Think of safety: Check the weather before you start your hike. This is VERY important. Unexpected storms may come on fast, and snow and ice may cover the trails. Be sure you know the area where you are hiking very well. Always bring a map and compass with you, as well as a ﬁrst aid kit, a ﬁre starter and matches, a pocket knife, and an emergency blanket. It is also very important someone knows where you are hiking and when you are expected back.
Hiking in winter opens up new vistas and adventures, especially when you turn it into an overnight cabin hike. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) has 40 cabins available for rent along the trail from Charlottesville to Pine Grove, Pennsylvania. Even if you are not a member, you have the opportunity to enjoy the woods and mountains along the Appalachian Trail and trails and forests in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Each PATC cabin has a rich history: some were the homes of early settlers, and some were built by the Club, forest rangers, or the Civilian Conservation Corps. Each building is unique. Most are primitive or semi-primitive, while others are modern. Most require a hike in. Plan your cabin hike on their website at patc.net.
A Winter Night to Remember
It was January when ﬁve guys from the Boots ’n Beer hiking club decided to hike and stay overnight at the Range View Cabin in the Shenandoah National Park. We were bundled for the freezing temperatures, but even so the cutting wind stung our faces. Icy patches on the trail slowed us down. After several miles of this all we could think about was reaching the cabin, warming our frigid bones near a roaring ﬁre, and taking a big swig of ﬁrewater.
Once we arrived at the cabin, our backpacks came off and we all fanned out to ﬁnd ﬁrewood. We collected so much blown-down wood that we took turns sawing and splitting. Time passed quickly as we sang, laughed, told stories and jokes, and stacked enough ﬁrewood for future hikers to enjoy as well.
Our ﬁre master created a blazing ﬁre in the iron stove — hot enough to accept damp wood and heat the cabin. After a candlelight dinner cooked on our small individual camp stoves and served with locally crafted wine, we all settled into playing cards and sharing tales of adventures before exhaustion overcame us, and one after another we started to crawl into our bunks.
Around 10 p.m. one of our hikers started snoring — softly and slowly at ﬁrst. Eventually the snores became a little louder and then turned into a hard crescendo which sounded like a two hundred year-old oak tree being brought down with a heavy-duty chain saw. At midnight, one of our members had had enough: with a tirade of unmentionable curses he leapt from his bunk, grabbed several blankets and a mattress, and went out to the porch where he could enjoy the quiet of a crystal-clear cold night and get some sleep. Within half an hour, three more hikers followed, leaving our wood-cutting snorer in the warm cabin. Four hikers soon slept cowboy-style under a porch roof and the stars very happily.
On our way back to the trailhead the next day we maneuvered over the icy ground, this time with the wind at our backs, and we couldn’t stop laughing over our night of camaraderie and the unwelcome concert that would not stop. This is how great memories are made on the trail.
Gift Ideas for Hikers
Christmas is the joyous season of love and gratitude. When giving gifts, I believe they should be thoughtful, useful, and of high quality. With that in mind, let me suggest a few possible gifts for hikers and campers which I personally use on my hikes or backpacking trips.
- Thermacell Backpacker Mosquito Repeller. This lightweight, compact, and portable mosquito repeller creates a 15-square-foot zone of protection and provides up to 90 hours of run-time from a 4 ounce gas canister. It really works and lets you enjoy a pest-free retreat.
- Black Diamond Moji Lantern. Lightweight and bright with 100 lumens of light in a three-ounce frame for incredible visibility at backcountry campsites. Runs on 3 AAA batteries and lasts up to 70 hours on low intensity.
- Swiss Army Climber Knife. This 3.5-ounce compact pocket knife has a selection of 10 tools that are useful while camping. The scissor comes in handy when dealing with moleskin pads.
- PowerCore 13000 by Anker. A portable charger which can charge an iPhone 6s almost five times or a Galaxy S6 about three times. This freedom from a wall charger is welcome to hikers who use their iPhones to navigate the trails.
- Helinox Chair Zero. Weighing in at one pound, The Chair Zero is a light, comfortable camp chair that packs down no bigger than the size of most water bottles. The seat is 11 inches off the ground and supports up to 265 pounds. Easy to pack and carry with included stuff sack.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! ~ Andreas A. Keller