Sunday, February 21, 2010

Saturday February 20, 2010 Sun and Snow

Saturday February 20, 2010 Sun and Snow
Addendum Writen Friday February 26, 2010
I will be taking a refresher CPR and Wilderness First Aid course this weekend so I will not be on the mountain. I suspect that with the relatively warm weather during the week the trail conditions have gotten easier during the week. Besides the great report in the comment to this post I have had some email traffic telling me that the Ridge Trail is packed all the way to the summit and the Saddle Trail is getting better. If you want to see a picture of a real snow sheter check out Shenandoah Breeze's latest post(see link to right side of page). Keep in mind how fast trail conditions can change even one day to the next when you are dealing with snow and ice. Be safe but have a great time out there this weekend. I wish I did not need to sit in a classroom all weekend but training must be done.


Great mostly sunny day. Did not arrive at the mountain until around 12:00.


Ridge Trail
Much easier to negotiate than last week. Enough folks had packed it down that I easily negotiated without snowshoes. Every once in awhile you would break through the snow packed trail but this was fairly rare. I only went up to the first false summit and back but I am told that while less packed down the trail was fairly good all the way up to the summit. Snow conditions can change very rapidly. The packed snow on the Ridge Trail still offers some traction for boots without some type of micro-traction devices but it is only going to be a matter of time before packed corn snow transitions to slippery ice . Even though you can now move pretty fast compared to the last couple of weeks when you were postholing into deep snow the trail still required slower and more deliberate foot placement. Plan on your hiking speed being faster than deep snow but still slower than snow less trails.

Fire Roads Up To Old Rag Shelter
The snow on the fire roads has melted and compressed down to around 8-12 inches and up to the Old Rag Shelter It has well beaten footpaths on it but they require very deliberate foot placement since the beaten footpaths are uneven and slippery. Assume that your hiking times on the fire roads will be much slower than when they are clear and flat. Unlike warm weather road walking there is a real chance of rolling an ankle on the uneven slippery packed snow you will be walking on.

Saddle Trail
I have not been on the Saddle Trail but everyone I have spoken to that has been on it told me that it had very deep snow and was not well broken in yet. The one group of three college aged males who had hike the whole circuit on this Saturday and had also hiked Old Rag on many prior occasions stumbled out at around 22:00 talking about how exhausted they were and how hard the circuit had been to do in the snowy conditions. They reported that negotiating the Saddle Trail was particularly difficult because they were often post-holing up to their knees or waist in snow. With more and more parties packing down the Saddle Trail and the weather doing its part to melt the snow I expect the Saddle Trail will soon be as packed down as the Ridge Trail. As of Saturday February 20, 2010 it was not.

I noticed that some folks had both shoveled a path into the lower lot as well as shoveled a few parking spaces for their vehicles. There were about four vehicles parked there when I drove by on my way to the upper lot. Unless we get a lot more snow I am assuming that between melting and individuals digging out one parking space at a time the availability of spaces in the lower lot will be expanding with each passing week. As of this weekend, once you can get in past the snow banks the snow on the ground is not terribly deep 8 inches to a foot and digging a space for your car should not be difficult. Since the snow is melting and refreezing daily assume you will need a shovel that is good for dense heavy icy snow.

There were a couple of fisherman leaving the upper lot just as I arrived. The space occupied by their vehicle was the perfect spot for others to turn around in so I decided I would still dig out a new space for my car. Just as I was about done digging out my parking space one of two folks who had skied up to Skyline Drive and back on the fire roads arrived in the lot.

When you park your car, park it with the front of your vehicle pointing out and hopefully downhill. That way if someone who parks in the coveted extremely tight lot after you does not think about how much space you need to turn out of your parking space you will not be faced with needing to back down a half mile of winding country road before you get to a space wide enough to turn your car forward.


Shortly after the skier came out, around 20 hikers who had done an out and back to Old Rag shelter arrived. So shortly after I was done creating my new space or 14:15 five cars left the upper lot. If you look at the picture of the upper lot you can see that rather than its summertime 15 cars it can only hold about seven at the present time.

I took the time to dig out in front of the porta-johns doors while I was hanging out in the upper lot.

The following photo is from the spot on Nethers Road near the winery that I try to take at least once a month in order to monitor the seasonal changes. Clicking on most the pictures will show higher resolutions.

Upper lot. Parts of the picture have been purposely blurred. Notice the cars parked such that if the other cars park incorrectly they are at risk of not being able to turnaround in order to leave the lot faced in a forward direction.
The next picture shows the first part of a large party of twenty hikers who had done an up and back to Old Rag Shelter. All of this picture has been purposely blurred.

The sun falling behind the ridge line of Old Rag late in the day.
Note: the sun already reaches about 40 degrees in our sky and is climbing higher every day. In addition sundown is around 18:00 and getting later by about a minute every day.

The next pictures are for the trail maintainers benefit:
Blow down one.

Blow down two.

Blow down 3

Blow down 5. See last weeks post for blow down 4 the largest of the five current blow downs.

A picture of the snow shelter I built.
It is whimsically only fifteen inches high and is placed at the corner of a Ridge Trail switchback. Except for the woodland wee folk's survival needs it is only good for warming the big folks spirits with a little mirth. I thought it would be neat to make a truly big one for others to have available as a potential safe haven but I did not have the hour or two that would take to make it. Check out Shendandoah Breezes post around this same time for a picture of a real snow shelter. A little ways up the trail I could not resist leaving my mark on a smoothly glistening snow bank that provided a great whiteboard like canvas to scratch a big four foot HI in the snow with my ski pole basket. Sorry about breaking Leave No Trace ethics, hopefully my snow graffiti will be more appreciated than despised. At least it will be gone after just a few warm days.

At R19 just below the first false summit is the spot with the slippery ramp or tight crack squeeze. Today this spot was easier to negotiate than in the warm weather because the crack was filled up with snow which provided a staircase of nice foot steps.

Looking up the Ridge Trail from the top of the first false summit and start of the rock scramble just after sunset.

When I got out at 20:15 the three college guys vehicle was still in the lot. Knowing they only planned on doing a day hike and that they said they had planned on doing the circuit I decided to wait to make sure they got out OK. After waiting in the lot for about forty minutes I decided I would amble up the fire road in search of them coming out. I ran into the first two about ten minutes up the trail. They told me that their friend was having a much harder time than them. They were afraid that if they stayed with him none of them would get out. They wanted to make sure that at least they got out in case they had to go for help. They said that when they left him he was still moving slowly and that while he kept saying he did not think he could make it they thought he would keep moving down the trail. They said that when they left him he was a little bit panicked because he was cold and exhausted and seemed sure in his mind he would not make it out. I agreed they should go out and warm up in the car and I would continue up until I met him. About another half mile up the fire road I heard a voice yelling, "Help! Anyone out there!". The last of the three college guys was slowly stumbling down the road. When I got up to him he said he was not sure he could make it any further. He had a faint LED light in one of his bare glove less hands and a flashing strobe in the other of his bare glove less hands. His hands were so cold he had to ask me to turn off his lights after I outfitted him with my spare headlamp. This gave him much better light for walking and the ability to draw his cold hands up inside the ends of his jacket arms to keep them warm. After determining he did not have any underlying medical issues except being very cold and extremely exhausted I told him we did not have far to go. I went on to say that it would be best if he just slowly kept walking out. I told him that it was only about a mile and that even with walking very slowly we would make it out fairly quickly and walking would keep him warmer. He was so exhausted he had lost some coordination. He was stumbling a little and could not move very fast. Other than that he seemed to be doing fine. A lot of what he was dealing with was his own mortal fear. In his mind he was horrified at the thought that he might not make it out and die in the snow filled woods. As we slowly headed down the trail his panic subsided and he turned out to be good conversationalist and a pleasant hiking companion. It took us about thirty or forty minutes to amble/shuffle out at 22:00. His friends had their vehicle all warmed up for his arrival. I knew they were all going to be fine when the conversation turned to them asking where they could find the nearest open food establishment. I got the sense that the fellow I walked out was about to give me a great big hug but my New England roots deflected that into a good firm handshake. If I had been feeling impish I am sure I could have gotten him to promise me that he would name his first born kid after me. I know that he thinks he owes me some huge amount of thanks but he really does not. Being able to help folks in need while on Old Rag is one of the most selfish, gratifying and meaningful things that I do.
Note: The stars and moon were gorgeous on this relatively warm evening. These young men had placed themselves at the edge of their abilities with probably too little safety reserve. A cascade of unlucky events would have placed them into a really bad circumstance. As it turned out it was only a very scary and tiring experience for them. Hopefully the day's adventure has made them a little wiser and better people for it.
Outward Bound Another Story Of My Life
Outward Bound History
During World War II when German U boats were sinking merchant ships in the North Sea the survival statistics of merchant marines forced off their sinking ships showed an interesting aberration. The older physically less hearty seamen were surviving at higher rates than the young seamen. When interviews were done it was found that many of the young men were paralyzed by fear or gave up. They became mentally overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity and difficulty of their situation. Further interviews with the survivors found that the older men said that they were sure that having experienced and survived difficult times earlier in their merchant marine lives had given them the confidence to stay calm and persist. A program was established to expose young merchant marines to survival tests in the harsh and tumultuous North Sea. These tests were designed to be as close to the reality of being shipwrecked in the North Sea as safety would permit. They were meant to provide the young merchant marines with experience based knowledge, skills, and the mental fortitude to survive in the event they were on a ship that was actually sunk. The survival rates for those who had attended the course went up dramatically. This program was so successful that after the war it was decided it merited continuation. This was the beginning of what evolved into today's Outward Bound program.
Some Background On My Dad And Why I Went To Outward Bound
My farther whom I love dearly, is a very conservative taciturn old New England type. To outsiders he would seemed dispassionate but given some time to get to know him you realize he has a huge heart. He believed that young men needed to be challenged and kept busy. That without positive challenges young men with too much idle time were not developing to their full potential and or worse might get into trouble. During the late spring of my seventeenth year my Dad told me that through a business associate he could arrange for a summer stevedore's job on the New York City docks along with a living situation with a trustworthy family whose members also worked on the docks. I was actually pretty excited about this idea but before the final arrangements could be made my Dad brought home an Outward Bound brochure and asked me to take a look at it and tell him what I thought. Once I read it I desperately wanted to go to Outward Bound Hurricane Island even though it would mean missing my summer on the docks as well as needing to finish off the last part of my summer doing typical local summer youth jobs (house painting, landscaping, farm handing).
With my Dad, not being actively busy either with a constructive learning experience or working was NOT an option. From the time I was around ten my Dad's clearly expressed and religiously followed rule was that I either had to take the initiative and have a plan in which I was fully engaged in a constructive learning experience or working or he would come up with a plan for me. His plan would always make sure that I had a good eight hours of healthy physical labor to keep me busy each day. Since my family was gutting and remodeling an old farm house and we also owned forty acres of land, my Dad always had a very long list of projects to be done. If nothing else, in honor of Robert Frost's Mending Wall poem, he could set me about to building a stone wall perimeter for our property. The good news was that his projects were never just make work jobs. That said, I am sure that many of the items on my father's list would never have been conceived without the potential availability of my labors. In the rare situations I did not fill my schedule on my own initiative, my father's tasks always left me with a sense of pride and accomplishment after I finished them. To this day much of my handiwork still surrounds my every step or field of vision when I return home for a visit.
For example, I love to walk among a grove of what are now forty foot pine trees that I planted as eighteen inch seedlings at the age of twelve. I think back to the cold spring day when I worked for several hours planting several hundred pine seedlings. I would swing the grub hoe into the ground and rotate and pull up a clump of sod still hinged to the earth on one side. With one hand remaining on the grub hoe I would hold the sod clump in the air while with the other hand I would grab a seedling out of bucket full of seedlings at the side of my leg and whip its roots down into the hole behind the clump of sod. After the seedling's roots had been whipped down into the hole I would extract the grub hoe in a way that it let the hinged piece of sod rotate back into its hole. Stepping down on the sod would compress it fully back into its hole with the seedlings roots buried deep down in the ground. I would then step forward grub hoe in one hand and bucket of seedlings in the other and repeat the process over and over for a couple hundred times on that chilly, damp and overcast early spring day. What a marvel that such puny scrawny seedlings so crudely planted would grow up to be such large, strong and majestic trees for me to wander among. Parents, teachers, coaches and other folks that work with young people have a metaphorically similar opportunity with young people.
Reputable Outdoor Adventure Programs Like Outward Bound
As it turned out I went to Outward Bound Hurricane Island that summer. I will always remember this month as one of the most rewarding, formative, and influential months of my life. Ever since that time I have been a huge fan of outdoor adventure being used as a mechanism to develop young people. Properly handled, outdoor adventures can remain relatively safe while placing young individuals in situations that are mentally and physically challenging. Ropes courses, rock climbing, sailing in a pulling boat on the open seas, initiative tests, community service, short inspirational readings each day and wilderness solos, all present great character building experiences.
The following is an exerpt from:
Hurricane Island 30: New Tool for a Timeless Program
Outward Bound launches designer Rodger Martin’s new take on the program’s wooden pulling boats.
"Shipyard News" from our October 5, 2007, CW ReckoningsOct 2, 2007 By Steve Callahan
"Kurt Hahn, the inspirational father of Outward Bound, points out that many intelligent, knowledgeable people have been among the world's most heinous characters. Knowledge was but a derivative goal of Hahn's educational approach. Building character that balances self-reliance with compassion is far more important, and character can be fostered through the physical challenges of an expedition, especially one shared. Like Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor, Hahn understood that people's inherent need for meaning surpasses their need for entertainment, and that, ironically, meaning can more easily be found through wilderness adventures, where one is challenged and even suffers. "
If your child (or even an adult) ever show an interest in a reputable program similar to Outward Bound then encourage them in every way you can.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sunday, February 14, 2010
Note1: Not the 10 to 15 feet some would consider deep but deep for Virginia.

Note2: Out of prudent safety concerns, the organizations I volunteer for have suspended my volunteer activities on Old Rag until conditions improve.

Until it is prudent for volunteer activities to resume, I may still be recreating on Old Rag on some days but I will not be patrolling. If you are going to be on Old Rag in these conditions assume that you will need to self-rescue if you get hurt. This does not mean that I or others will not help, just that it is best to plan for the possibility that there will be no help available.

From Peola Mills Road
If you might be someone looking for low angle rocks to practice third or fourth class slide climbing than comparing snow pictures with non-snow pictures may help.

Pictures show higher resolution if clicked on.

From Nethers Road

Contact Station In Snow

In the next picture notice that you can not get into the parking lot unless you want to shovel for a couple hours. Assume that you may need to shovel out the door of a porta pottie if you want to use it. The doors are fragile so do not try to force them to clear the snow but rather make sure you shovel enough so the door can swing freely.

The upper lot was plowed but only had room for around six cars. I helped chip ice off the road in order to create tire tracks so that a car in front of me could get up to the upper lot. The road had one lane plowed but the packed snow and ice from snow melt was causing their wheels to spin uselessly until we chipped tire tracks through the ice to the pavement. I also ended up helping another party shovel out a parking space so they would not be blocking anyone in. If you have a squared off steel spade, snow shovel or ice chipper it is good to bring them along as a precaution.

I included the next shot just because of the Westover Snowshoes. Forty years ago these snowshoes were considered the state-of-the-art for the eastern mountains but there are much better ones available today.

There were numerous blow downs across the trail. The next picture shows one of the largest ones.

The next image gives you a sense of the trail conditions low on the Ridge Trail. The higher you got on the mountain the less beaten down the trail was. Most folks were going up the Ridge Trail than turning around at some point and doing an out and back. Very few were doing the whole circuit. I heard that it looked like there were only two sets of foot steps seen on the Saddle Trail as of 2/14/2010. It would be my guess that around a quarter of the hikers where not even making it to the first false summit on the Ridge Trail, half of the hikers were doing up and backs to the first false summit, around a quarter were doing up and backs to the summit, and less than ten percent were doing the circuit on this day. Based on reports from a group I met that had done the circuit by going up the Ridge Trail and coming down the Saddle Trail and fire roads it appeared that there were only a couple of sets of tracks all going down on the Saddle Trail as of 2/14/2010.
I spent most my time widening and flattening out the Ridge Trail with my snowshoes. The work I did should help both future snowshoers and also those with regular footwear. I only groomed trail up to the No Camping Sign on the Ridge Trail and back.
Notice that the poles in the next picture are in about 24 inches of snow. The bottom of the beaten foot trail was about 10 to 14 inches below the snow surface and probably was 6 to 10 inches above the ground. About every 30 steps I would see a deeper footprint that plunged downward 20 to 24 inches.

A couple hikers low on the Ridge Trail going up. They did an up and back to the first false summit.

A couple hikers coming down in the middle of the switch backs. They had done an up and back to the summit.

A picture from my day's highpoint the near the No Camping Sign on the Ridge Trail.

Because I was spending a lot of time trying to groom the trail with my snow shoes I did not get out until around 20:00. I had met a couple of day hikers in the upper lot around 12:00 who told me they planned on doing the circuit as they headed up the Ridge Trail. Their car was still in the lot when I got out so I waited until they made it out around 21:00. They said that coming down the Saddle Trail had been very difficult. They estimated that they were only the second party to wade down through the snow on the Saddle Trail. They reported that there were some big drifts on it.
If you are post holing up past your knees or your waist, expect to measure your progress in hours per mile not miles per hour.
Plan Ahead, Research, Practice, Make Mistakes, Research Some More, Buy New Equipment, Repeat
Please be extra cautious. At least put yourself through a mental simulation of what you would do if you became non-ambulatory and had to survive in place for 12-24 hours. Then the next time you take a long break and start to chill down in cold windy conditions think through your mental survival simulation again and ask yourself if your plans are adequate.
There is lots of cold weather survival reading material to help with your research.
If you are not in a rush think about practicing your snow shelter building skills. For example try making a snow trench shelter. Snow is a fun and fascinating medium to work with. Snow from the same storm but found in different locations will behave very differently. Some snow is great for making trench shelters and some is hopeless. Experimenting is the best way to learn. Better to practice in your back yard or on a friendly day hike then to try it for the first time when it is critical that you have perfected this skill. In the right conditions I greatly prefer using a snow shelter over a tent. Try using a snow saw which are not very heavy or expensive.
If you have not packed the proper emergency equipment or mentally prepared yourself then hypothermia and frostbite are serious risks. In the event SAR folks are responding by foot they will be slowed by the conditions. There are going to be far fewer fellow hikers that might happen by who can help than in warm weather. Cell phone reception is sporadic at best. There is an emergency phone located on the outside of the Old Rag Contact Station. Ground based SAR responders might take as long as 10 hours to get to the summit of Old Rag from the time they are contacted. They will get there as fast as is safe for them to make it and may make it in less than 10 hours but I would not plan on it. If you decide to go on a trip during a blizzard assume responders may not be able to even get to the parking lot until either the storm blows over or they can arrange for a snowplow escort. In critical situations there may be a helicopter available but weather or maintenance can often prevent their use.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Monday, February 8, 2010
content added with my usual constant grammar edits 2/11/2010

The picture below is looking out the back door where I live.

Since my Taurus is not designed to travel on uncleared roads and some of the area's roads were impassable for even high clearance four wheel drive vehicles I did not go out to Old Rag this weekend.

I may not go to Old Rag next weekend either. I will want to go. It is hard to miss two weekends in a row and I know I am already going to miss yet another weekend late in February when I go to a PATC CPR and Wilderness First Aid training class.

My brother-in-law owns a very large snow blower, an Ariens 11528. It is very satisfying working with this machine as it chews through hundreds of pounds of waist high snow and throws it 20 feet to the side. He and I spent the weekend first clearing out the long pipe-stem we live on (over 100 yards long) and then helping around 10 other neighbors to clear their driveways.

Some Of My Snow and Cold Bono-Fides
I grew up at 2,2oo feet on the ridge line of a rolling hill located halfway between Cazenovia and Hamilton NY. My parents receive an average of 140 inches of snowfall per year. More importantly, the winds constantly blow across their road and cause it to endlessly drift in even when it has not recently snowed. As a kid I would help my Dad put up several hundred yards of snow fence every Fall and then roll them up and store them every Spring. These snow fences capture blown snow into drifts in the fields before it can reach the road. Even with the help of the snow fences the snow banks along the road near my parents house get higher and higher as the winter wears on. The higher the banks get the more they act as windbreaks that cause yet more snow to drop on their leeward sides.


There used to be a company, Walter Trucks which designed and made wonderful huge heavy duty trucks called Walter Snow Fighters. There was another company, Frink which designed and made great plows for the Walter Snow Fighters. Frink made both huge 8 foot V plows and wonderful long wing plows. The wing plows could be hydraulically moved in and out, up and down and could also have their angle relative to the ground adjusted. With the in and out motion the wing plow could be moved from being flat back along the side of the truck to being swung way out almost perpendicular to the side of the truck. For the up and down motion the whole wing plow assembly was mounted on a heavy duty steel frame which allowed the complete wing plow assembly to be raised or lowered from ground level to perhaps as high as 10 feet in the air. For the angle relative to the level ground there was a cable which could raise or lower just the far end of the wing plow. A wing plow could be left parrallel to the ground or have its far end raised to around a twenty degree angle relative to the ground. With the whole wing plow assemble raised high in the air the driver could use it to push back the tops of the tallest ten or twelve foot snowbanks. When a Walters had wing plows on both sides, each one was set independently. A common configuration was to see the wing plow on the road side strectched out to the middle of the road flat on the ground while the wing plow on the snowbank side was set up high so as to push back the tops of the banks. Late in the seconde video linked below you can see a glimpse of this configuration being used.

The following two links show videos of a vintage Walter Snow Fighters with large Frink V plows and Frink wing plows being used to plow snow in upstate NY.

The link above is vintage. The link below is modern and very closely resembles both the plows and roads of my youth. The sound of the Walter on the second video brings back many memories. The Walter Snow Fighter's engines had a unique hum that is accurately reproduced on this video. As a kid that sound acted as a herald calling for me to run and watch the Walter Snow Fighter do its work.

Despite what the first video says about skilled operators of the plows, many of my boyhood neighbors learned to loosely mount their mailboxes on 4X4 poles that were placed inside of a ballasted milk can. If the snow plow hit their mailbox it would not get broken just thrown up into the snowbank. All you needed to do was find the three pieces, reassemble them and place them back on the shoulder of the road. This system had the added advantage that you could reposition your mailbox such that the mail person could place mail in it from inside his vehicle without worrying about getting stuck regardless of where the cleared street ended.

The road in front of my parents home is notorious for developing very large snowbanks. There was one rare winter when the banks had already built up to about 12 feet when a large windy snow storm filled the canyon between the banks with new snow all the way to its top. Even with getting a running start of 30mph the big Walter Snow Fighter would only progress a few feet each time it slammed into the wall of snow. Rather than risk breaking the Walters, the town gave up with the Walters and brought in a large D8 or D10 Caterpillar Bulldozer to clear the road and push back the banks.


One of the more fun aspects of the way snowdrifts would blow across the roads near my parents had to do with the fact that miles of clear road are periodically interrupted by an occasional wind blown snowdrift that was three to five feet high and 10 to 50 feet wide. With experience you learned which drifts where small enough to build up speed and crash your car through to the open road on the other side. Once in a Blue Moon you would crash through to the other side of the snow bank only to have your engine stall. When this happened you needed to pop open the hood and remove the snow packed up around the carburetor intake. Anytime you were going to crash through one of these snowdrifts you had to make sure of two things. First you had to make sure that nothing was either coming the other way or was in the road because once you hit the snowdrift you were going to be driving completely blind from white out for what seemed like an eternity but was in truth only 1 to 5 seconds. Second you had to make sure you had enough speed and momentum to make it all the way to the other side of the snowdrift. If you were timid and did not get up enough speed you were going to be deeply buried in the middle of the drift and might not even be able to get your doors opened but rather would need to crawl out a window.

Cold Weather Hiking and Camping

My coldest backpacking trip spanned four days and three nights. We were snowshoeing in the Adirondack High Peaks at the time. The highs never got above zero degrees and the lows reached around minus 30 degrees. One of the Adirondack Shelters we used was completely buried below the snow. In order to get in it we had to tunnel down a couple feet and slip under the edge of the roof and into the shelter.

During one January trip to the White Mountains I was able to snowshoe to the summit of Mount Washington twice in the same day. The first time up was with the rest of my group of three. It was very hard work because we had to break trail using snowshoes in very deep powder. We made it to the summit and back down to our campsite just before dark. After finishing dinner that night the skies were crystal clear, calm and there was a big moon in the sky so I decided to take a short hike up to a view point above our campsite. With it being so easy to snowshoe on the previously packed trail and the weather being so perfect, I could not resist zooming past my original planned destination and ended up going all the way to the summit a second time. On my back way down the weather started to change very rapidly. I found myself running and sliding as fast as I could go on my Westover Snowshoes so as to make it below timberline before the rapidly worsening conditions turned into a whiteout. I was not terribly familiar with the mountain and I also was not on a part of the mountain that provided any features you could follow in a whiteout like a ridgeline or gully to follow. Above timerline the snow and wind can very quickly blow in even deep tracks while below timberline it takes a lot longer. I made it back okay but the fearful experience of thinking about getting lost in a whiteout taught me a lesson about how rapidly conditions can change on Mt Washington.

Westover Snowshoes

These were made by the legendary (in very limited circles) Floyd Westover of Gloversville NY. Based on the 1962 article linked to below he was the first to use neoprene instead of rawhide on the snowshoes that he made. More importantly, Floyd Westover was one of those craftsmen who extensively used the products he made and he was constantly experimenting with the improvement of every aspect of their performance. I remember that he welcomed customers writing to him if they wanted customizations or ineeded repairs on snowshoes that he made.,231470

The following post has pictures of Modified Westover Snowshoes and explains why they did not catch on with illegal hunters.

Outdoor Hockey

I played on a very competitive travel hockey team (60 games a year) for the town of Cazenovia which maintained an outdoor rink complete with boards, nets and lights. There was no charge for using this rink and it was available for young hockey players to spend as much time between 9AM and 9PM as they wanted. There were seldom any organized practices claiming the ice so it was usually free to practice individual skills or play a game of pickup. Starting at age seven I spent many hours exposed to the cold while playing pick up hockey or practicing my individual skills on that rink.

Despite high chain link backstops behind the nets many a puck would leave the confines of the rink. You learned to try and watch where the puck plunged into the snow and sometimes you could find and retrieve the errant puck but just as often you could not. Once the snow melted in the spring it was fun to go and collect pucks. One time I collected over thirty. These were just added to my collection to be used during the next winter. The good thing about pucks is that being just chunks of solid dense rubber they are still as good as new to use even after being out in the weather for a couple of years.

While the pictures of the outdoor hockey rink deep into the post linked below are not the Burton Street Rink of my youth, they very closely resemble it.



Assume you are going to make a lot of mistakes as you learn about living outdoors in very cold weather. I have had frost byte at least 20 times and I have had frost nip hundreds of times. The excruciating burning throbbing pain you will feel as your body parts warm back up is no fun.

Even with all the mistakes and lessons learned in my past, I still make mistakes. You are most likely going to make lots of mistakes and learn lots of lessons the hard way as well.


As you learn plan to take baby steps with layers of safety so your mistakes only result in discomfort!

If you plan properly, truly life threatening situations should only arise when and if your multiple layers of safety get crashed through by a cascade of unlucky events. When dealing with the unforgiving nature of deep cold, consider backing out whenever any of your safety layers are compromised, even when you are still basically in good shape. If you decide to power through despite loosing some of your safety margin than do it with the understanding that cascades of unlucky events can happen. If you are caught in a cascade of unlucky events, Mother Nature has a lot of maternal duties and can at best prioritize your survival wishes in the que with the survival wishes of the billions of snowflakes all around you.

In my opinion, the most important rule dealing with the cold is to plan with the expectation that you are going to learn a lot of lessons by making mistakes. The lessons you are going to learn will cover a lot of bases; technique, behaviour, attitude, knowledge and equipment.

New lessons will need to be learned for every drop of twenty degrees of the thermometer. Behavior and equipment that worked at zero degrees may fail at minus twenty degrees. What worked at minus twenty degrees may fail at minus forty degrees.

Daytrips are good training but be prepared to learn a whole new set of lessons when you first start staying out for nights and mulitple days. It is best to plan your the first cold weather overnights such that you can easily bail out to the front country if you need to. For example, you could plan on a trip where your campsite is a relatively a short distance from your car and where you are then going to do multiple day hikes from your centrally located campsite hub. After you gain experience and become comfortable with living outside in the deep cold for extended periods of time, you can take trips where your campsites are more than a half day's travel from a frontcountry bailout.

Once wet, equipment is not going to insulate well. You will learn to manage you perspiration and you may want to carry a small wiskbroom for brushing snow off cloths in order to help keep them dry.

If you are camping and your boots are made of something that absorbs water make sure to keep them near your body in a water proof bag so they will not freeze solid at night. When I was really young I once woke to thoroughly rock solid frozen boots. It took me a very long time to use my bare stomach and a campstove to get them unfrozen and pliable enough to get on my feet.

You will learn why pull tabs on zippers are not just decorations and why you wished you paid more attention to learning which knots would not lock up after being loaded or which knots could be easily tied with your mittens on. There are wonderful Clamcleat guy line cleats that work allow you to adjust tent and tarp guylines without taking your big puffy mittens off.

Lithium batteries will work at colder temperatures than other types of batteries but in the deep cold it is best to plan on keeping any of your batteries warm with your body heat. If you google you can find lots of cold weather suggestions and or interesting light modifications. For example, dog sledders often fashion slap switches for turning their lights on and off.

In the really cold weather, boots made of materials that can not soak up water versus the typical materials used for hiking footwear will make more and more sense. The old army surplus bunny or mouse boots are a great example of equipment that seems ridiculous to use ten degrees above zero or when you know you are only out for a daytrip but become sensible when you are going to live outside in sub-zero weather for more than a day at a time.

Continuously using your warm torso to dry any dampened clothing becomes a clammy but useful trick.

You will learn that mittens work long after the best gloves fail and that layering with thin silk-like liner gloves or fingerless gloves can help for those times when you absolutely need to use your fingers.

Try repairing metal equipment in 10 below weather and you will learn a lot of lessons about how well your fingers work with metal tools and parts in the cold.

You will learn how to pace the use of your exertion-furnace. You will want to stay warm from exertion but not so warm that your cloths become soaked with sweat.

You will need to experiment with your sleeping equipment so as not to have an icy layer of frozen moisture build up on the outer layer of your sleeping system. At times waterproof inner liners may make sense. You will learn why some tents have frost liners.

In really cold situations wearing vapor barrier clothing may make sense.

It helps to plan on eating lots of individually wrapped mini meals/or snacks that you can stash in outer easily reached pockets so that you never need to take a long break to eat but rather can eat during frequent short five minute breaks.

I learned the hard way to change my thoughts about facemasks being ugly and unceccesary one day when it was ten below zero and the only way to the summit was to walk directly into a high wind laced with lots icy snow particles. Glacier creme and eyeprotection from reflected sun can become important for those bright sunny days.

If it gets cold enough and you have been out for enough days that your body has revved up its metabolism then you may learn that your tastes change. I was surprised to find that chewing on a raw stick of butter which I would normally find repulsive became extremely appetizing after being out in deep cold for a couple of days.

I learned to plan my day's activities so I could go from hiking on the trail to quickly being in my sleeping bag at the ends and beginnings of the day. When possible, meals and the next day's preparations were best done from within the sleeping bag. In the morning when my metabolism had slowed from its evening's rest, I would try to arrange everything so that I could go from being in my sleeping bag to being hiking on the trail in under ten minutes.

The good news is that there is snow everywhere which can be melted for water and the bad news is that it can be a challenge to keep it unfrozen in its drinkable liquid form.


Those are enough hints to get you started. You will need to learn most your own lessons the hard way. I know I still am.

Please give yourself enough of a safety margin that you come away from your hard lessons unbroken.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Sunday, January 31, 2010
New Snow
Big Parking News

More text later. Got to run. For now here are the weekends pictures. Check out the sign with news about the closure of the upper lot.

Big Upper Lot News! Read the sign. Click on pictures for better resolution.

Low in the Ridge Trail switchbacks.

The view from the No-Camping Sign spot on the Ridge Trail.

Looking up Ridge from spot with first views towards Etlan.

Looking up Ridge from first false summit.

Looking back up at first false summit.

Looking back at first false summit from below the cave

Looking down from the top of the chute.

Summit in the dark.