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Editorial: Hikers need to be extra cautious in winter

Editorial: Hikers need to be extra cautious in winter

Editorial: Hikers need to be extra cautious in winter
A helicopter hovers over the Adirondacks during a rescue mission last year.
Photographer: State Department of Environmental Conservation

Down here, fall is in full swing. We’ve got pretty leaves, pumpkins and falling pine needles.

Up in the Adirondacks, they’ve already gotten snow.

The forecast for some of the High Peaks next week calls for snow and rain showers with temperatures in the 20s and 30s.

That should serve as an early warning for Adirondack hikers and campers who have it in their heads that the weather at home is the same as their higher-elevation destinations.

Just for context, here’s a blog post from an Adirondacks High Peaks forum from a hiker from Vermont looking to do some bushwhacking on Donaldson Mountain in Franklin County last week.

“One of those hikes where you wish your alarm clock never went off that morning.
“Left the Coreys trailhead and it was raining. As soon as my wife and I headed up the Calkins brook trail it started snowing. Snow was covering the ground and the conifer boughs all around us. Renee continued up the trail to climb Donaldson, while I veered off to do the short bushwhack to Donaldson West Peak. The whack was immediately terrible. Thick conifers, tricky terrain, and increasing amounts of snow. Even my bone marrow got soaked. I needed a full-on snowsuit and muck boots, possibly an Astronaut Uniform.
“I was under prepared for the early October winter conditions. It took me 2.5 hours to go about one mile round trip. This bushwhack can only be described as traumatizing marked by forlorn hopelessness and masochistic despair. Snow and branches pummeling me everywhere and drenched feet which are the worst. So cold. As I was departing the summit of Donaldson West a snow squall blew in and it was whiteout conditions for about 10 minutes. It was the bushwhack equivalent of getting run over and then the person backing up over you again to see what they hit.
“I was going to climb North Seward but it was too dangerous, I blitzed down the Calkins trail after the whack and got to my car as quickly as I could. I felt like I had been entombed in ice by a zamboni.”

The post, accompanied by photos of snow-covered branches and a white vista, was dated Oct. 16, 2018.

That was last Tuesday.

As they say, we’re just gettin’ warmed up. 

Each year, dozens of people have to be rescued in the Adirondacks and Catskills because they get lost or injured. A lot of the rescues happen in the summer, when more people are likely to venture out.

But a lot of people also head out in the fall and winter, unaware that winter arrives earlier in the Adirondacks than it does down where most of us live, and that conditions on the mountains change more rapidly -- usually for the worse.

Winter rescues are particularly challenging and dangerous, both for the hiker and the people who have to traverse through deep snow and contend with frigid temperatures and wind chills to bring people to safety. When rescuers have to go out in storms or at night, up and down treacherous slopes, for hours at a time, the danger is particularly high.

One of the main reasons why people need to be rescued is that they are unprepared for the conditions they might face.

Also Sunday in Opinion:

One minute it might be sunny and comfortable, the next there could be blizzard-like weather that not only makes the conditions physically unbearable, but can contribute to hikers getting disoriented, lost or stranded. Conditions can change on a dime, and if you haven’t brought adequate clothing, footwear, food, a compass, some kind of shelter and the means to start a fire, you can easily and quickly be in danger. And if you’re one of those people who think your cell phone will save you, don’t. Many locations in the Adirondacks lack cell phone coverage, and phone batteries don’t stay charged as long in the cold.

The first thing people need to do before venturing out is check the forecast for the area they’re planning to hike. It’s not one-size-fits-all.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation hosts information on its website, www.dec.ny.gov, that includes links to specific mountains that provide hour-by-hour weather forecasts.

It’s also a good idea to check websites and blogs where experienced hikers document their adventures and share trail conditions.

Another is to make sure you’re prepared, even over-prepared, for an unexpected change in weather or hiking conditions.

Also, make sure you’re in physical condition to handle an unexpected challenge. A walk in the woods is different than a hike in the mountains.

State forest rangers recommend hikers check out a website sponsored by the hikeSafe program that provides hikers and campers with information to prepare people for their outdoors experience, including safety recommendations. For more information on hikeSafe, visit http://www.hikesafe.com.

Hiking in the fall and winter bring significantly more challenges than summer hikes. Be aware that winter conditions are settling in now. 

Don’t be one of those people who needs to be rescued.

Not only do you put yourself in danger, but also the lives of the people who have to come rescue you.

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