Hiking in Snow and Ice

We’ve already had quite an eventful winter! In December, we saw almost a foot of snow. We’ve also had a few icy showers and temperatures that didn’t get above the teens. Staying warm is important while Winter hiking. You can have the best clothes and sleep system and will do fine surviving in the cold. One aspect of Winter hiking that people tend to look over is snow and ice. What is the best way to keep hiking in these harsh conditions and what gear should you use? We are going to talk a little bit about those items you can take with you to help you tackle the Winter weather.

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Shoes
First off, you want to be prepared with the right shoes. This can depend on the person and may take some trial and error to figure out what you are comfortable with in the Winter. I have worn my trail runners, which is my usually shoe of choice, in the cold weather, and I suffered. I’ve learned that anything below freezing, I’m going to want boots. I have a waterproof boot that keeps my feet and toes warm in the Winter.

We currently have some great boots in the store. Oboz is our most popular brand and they won’t disappoint. The men’s Bridger are a waterproof boot that doesn’t need much break in time, and the women’s Phoenix is another waterproof boot that is comfortable and durable. All you need to do is try on a pair of Oboz and you will understand why they are our best seller. We have a bunch of other shoes currently on sale, including Keen, Salomon, La Sportiva, and Salewa. While not all of these are made for Winter hiking, check them out anyways! They are in the store and online here.

Gaiters
Gaiters are designed to keep items on the trail out of your shoes. In the summer, it is usually dirt, small rocks, mud, etc. In the winter, they can protect your feet from the snow and cold rain. If you know it is going to be really cold outside, and there is a chance of snow, I would definitely bring gaiters. They can be waterproof, durable, easy to attach to your shoe and fit around your leg, and they will keep snow from getting in your shoes.

We have the three different kinds of gaiters in our store. The Outdoor Research Stamina gaiters, are the simplest. If you are a trail runner, these are likely what you will want to wear in the winter. They are lightweight and will keep excess ice and snow particles out of your shoes. For those of you that are hikers and not runners, we have more durable options as well. The Outdoor Research Cirque gaiters are still shorter in length, but they are waterproof. Snug-fitting elastic top and bottom edges keep dirt, twigs, scree, and snow out of your footwear; ideal for light-to-midweight hiking. Lastly, for something extra tough, look into the Outdoor Research Crocodile gaiters. They come up to just below the knee, they have Gore-tex nylon uppers are durable and breathable, while lower panels of coated Cordura nylon are lined with packcloth. These are ideal if you our ou in deep snow for a day, or multi-day trip.

Traction
Snow is not as common down in Georgia, but you can see ice frequently in the Winter months.  After a little bit of freezing rain, the trail can become very slick. Even if it does snow a little bit, once people walk on the trail, it compacts the snow down into ice. This can be very treacherous hiking. If you come unprepared, you could risk getting an injury. Even if you decide to hike in these conditions, it can be damaging to the trail because you will inevitable try to walk around the ice on the trail, and trample areas besides the trail.

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Icy Trail

In the store, we have Yaktrax. These are chains that attach to the bottom of your shoe. For Georgia weather, they can usually get the job done. The chains act as an extra metal grip into the ice to prevent you from slipping. Another goot alternative are Microspikes. These are made by Kahtoola and they are spikes that attach to the bottom of your shoes. They are pricier, but they are more sureproof than the Yaktrax because the spikes have the ability to penetrate the ice further than the chains, therefore giving you more traction.

The last option is crampons. I have never even thought about using crampons down in Georgia because they are heavy duty and not necessary for the weather we see down here. They can come in handy if you plan on doing more mountaineering such as ice climbing and glacier walking. Crampons are heavier and need to be attached to boots.

These items will help you on your next snowy/icy Winter hike. I have definitely used all three so far this year to get out there and enjoy the snow. Don’t forget to look at the weather forecast ahead of time so you can prepare for the snow and cold. And always make sure someone knows where you are in case you have a slip and fall. Now get on out there and enjoy some Winter hikes in Southern Appalachia!

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Interview with a Wildland Firefighter

We are beyond happy to welcome Matt, aka “Pretzel”, back to Mountain Crossings after his first season as Wildland Firefighter out in Idaho. He was on a US Forest Service hand crew from May to October doing the incredibly hard work of keeping wildfires under control and contained. Here is what Pretzel had to say after his first season the fire lines.

What gave you the idea to become a Wilderness Firefighter?
I had always thought it sounded like a cool way to spend the summer. It wasn’t until I met a hiker here at Mountain Crossings who had worked on a fire crew, and got me thinking a little more seriously about the job. The following summer I hiked the PCT and met a woman that was a burn boss for the State of Florida. Thanks Dirty Harry, and Blazing Star for inspiring me to become a Wildland Firefighter!

Can you tell us your official title and what your job included?
The entry level firefighting position is called a Forestry Aid. I was on a Type 2 Initial Attack Hand Crew. Initial attack means we had the training to be at a fire as the first resource on scene. My first and foremost duty, was to suppress wildfire. I am a sawyer, which means I am certified to run chainsaws. This was important to work on the fireline. The fireline consists of removing all brush and material in a 20 foot swath with chainsaws, then digging a 2 foot wide trench down to mineral soil. This prevents the fire from crossing the line. My saw partner and I spent most of our 16 hour days on the fireline within a couple feet of each other. My partner and I would truly work together. When he was running the saw I would swamp for him, meaning I helped remove the material he would cut. At times I’d hold back material so he could cut it and move to the next cut faster. Efficiency is very important.

When we weren’t fighting fire we spend a lot of time cutting out forest service roads in our district. We lived in a remote duty station 17 miles from a paved road. The duty station was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, so we spent a lot of the summer replacing historic fences around the station. We would also spend a good hour or two of physical training, or PT. This could be everything from push ups, sit ups, to running a few miles wearing a weighted vest. Being in peak physical condition at all times is crucial. We had a saying on our crew, “There is safety in fitness.”

How did you feel the first time you were walking up against a wildfire?
My first experience on a fire was nothing short of exhilarating. There’s nothing like seeing the smoke column build from miles away, and driving toward it knowing soon you’ll have your pack, chaps, and saw slung over your shoulder hiking toward it!

What sort of training proceeded your first fire event?
There are federal standards everyone must meet to be on the fireline, regardless of their role. Everyone must go through basic fire school. This even includes the reporters that cover fires in the news. I sat next to a local celebrity from a Boise news station during fire school. In addition to the basic fire school, the crews need to go through additional training. I had to pass the S212 – Wildland firefighting chainsaw certification. I had a fair amount of time running saw for fire food and leading and working on trail crews, so this helped me obtain my certification. There were other great sawyers on my crew that didn’t pass the certification because they couldn’t hike in the saw and the gear that comes with it. Being a sawyer requires you to carry the saw , fuel, saw kit, and an extra tool which was around 40 lbs — in addition to 45 lbs of firefighting gear. So being a sawyer isn’t just about who can cut the best — you have to be able to hike the best. My captain said, we can teach people to run a saw, we can’t teach people how to hike. Thanks thru-hiking!

What was the most rewarding part of your job?
The product at the end of the day was extremely rewarding. We would finish the assignment and leave feeling as though we performed quality work for our Division Captain.  The camaraderie, and group suffering is another rewarding part of the job. I spent the entire summer working and living with the same 20 people. In a lot of ways thru-hiking and being on a fire crew are very similar!

What advice would you give someone thinking of taking up a career in wilderness firefighting?
It can be hard to break into the wildland firefighting world. My captain told me my background in thru-hiking, trail running, and trail maintenance was what got me the job. All federal fire jobs can be found at usajobs.gov. Jobs are usually posted October to March for the following summer fire season.