Fall and Winter Hiking: Know Before You Go
With fall firmly settled in across New England, it’s an exciting time for mountain hikers. Summer crowds are long gone and each hike carries with it a wonderful diversity of trail conditions, weather, and natural surroundings. It’s possible (likely, even) to start an easy-going day on a nice, leaf-covered trailhead with warm sun and to end coming down from a snow-covered, blustery peak. From now until mid-spring, it’s particularly important for hikers to know as much as they can about weather patterns and trail conditions. Thankfully, there are some incredibly reliable and robust resources available. I’d like to take this opportunity to share a couple of my favorites: TrailsNH and Mountain-Forecast. For the next few months, they are just as important to me as are my boots.
TrailsNH is a sort of New England hiker’s information paradise. Offering insight into all of New England, the site gathers data and trip reports from nearly 150 of the most relevant websites and pins that information onto an easily navigable map. From the site’s “Where ya Headed?” search field, a visitor is brought to pictures, videos, descriptions, maps, and super recent trail condition reports. From a region to a specific trail, the site’s database is easily queried.
Additionally, TrailsNH offers updated information on mountain road closings, trail advisories, and my favorite – snow reports! Check it out, spend some time clicking around, and I’m sure you’ll agree. I also urge you to visit the TrailsNH Facebook community for updates on features and easy access to members who are happy to help navigate the site’s capabilities.
For the next few months, understanding mountain weather is tantamount to knowing trail conditions. Weather in the mountains is a prickly thing and is often hard to predict. In summer, an unexpected shift in weather can be frustrating and dangerous. But with fall and winter hiking, there’s no fooling around – a sudden change in weather can be deadly to an unprepared hiker. To check the local forecast is to know only half the story. Weather at the trailhead is often wildly different from weather at higher elevations. Mountain-Forecast provides detailed forecasts for individual peaks.
By entering a specific peak into a search field, or by navigating the site’s drop-down menu, a visitor can search for weather forecasts specific to their planned hike. It’s amazing how different the weather can be on the summit of Moosilauke (western-most peak in the Whites) when compared to the conditions atop Carter Dome just a few miles to the East. Further, the difference in weather from a trailhead to a summit is even more striking which is a critical thing when choosing gear for fall and winter hiking. (Note: Click the elevation number inside the forecast tab to ensure you’re looking at the right information. It’s not always intuitive.)
A Wintery Franconia Ridge, as Seen from Lonesome Lake in Early Spring, 2013 A Late March Hike Up to Lonesome Lake
Here in New England, fall and winter hiking can be one of your best experiences of the year. Just remember that during this time of year in addition to the right clothing for the conditions, knowledge is the most important thing to pack.