Sunday, November 2, 2014

Inside The Moments - Winter Hiking: Planning A Single Winter Season Attempt of the 48 White Mountain 4000 Footers

Pondering the idea of planning and completing a single winter season of the 48 4000-footers and New England 4000-Footers were probably the two most exciting things I've ever done.  Indeed the hardest for sure, because they took months of planning, and weeks after week(ends) of execution (two years in a row).  In my younger days, I had incredible experiences playing youth and high school hockey and winning championships, but now, taking on my own challenges in the mountains has replaced those feelings of competitiveness and pursuit of challenging goals.  Winter peak-bagging does the trick.  Pursuing peak lists one after the other, and many all at once allows for a special kind of drive and motivation fed on by the magic of the mountains.  A single-winter season of the 4000-footers will leave you with an amazing feeling of accomplishment.
Looking back at Mt. Lincoln while ascending Mt. Lafayette at sunset
December 26, 2011
The end of 2011 and through the first half of 2012 was another memorable time period because I was going strong, doing some solid solo winter hikes as well as accompanying my brother on his own successful completion of the 48 in less than a year.  Looking back at my notes, it was September 2011 when I first starting researching and pondering the idea of a single winter season of the 48.  By starting the blog, writing trip reports, and keeping statistics on my adventures, I had all of the standard hike information on past hikes, which makes planning repeat hikes nice and easy.  This included about twenty-six 4000-footers in the winter prior to the '12-'13 winter season, so being really involved, it was easy as pie gathering the winter hike information I needed for those I had not done yet in winter.  It's a matter of doing the homework, and reading the past trip reports of others.  As much as I've hiked solo, I've learned from all of those in the hiking community who write and share their experiences like I do.  The point of all this, is that at my fingertips, I already had the information to plan approximately how many miles, how much elevation gain, how many hours, and how many hiking days, how much driving, it might take me to do a single winter season of the 4000-footers.  Keeping the stats in an excel sheet will do wonders for your trip planning, especially when the task is great.  I couldn't imagine not keeping an excel sheet of some kind.
Heavy trail breaking may be required any day. Always be prepared.
Mt. Osceola Trail, December, 2012
Especially as a full-time professional (community association property management at the time), finding the time to hike the 48 peaks within a two and a half month span in the winter is extremely difficult.  For me, it meant availability on only weekends, a few long weekends, and any vacation time I got available to fit in my hobby of peak-bagging.  While only having weekends available to hike was a tough challenge, it required longer hikes, longer days, and sometimes more than two hikes in a day, all of which needed to be planned out for weekends (Saturday and Sunday).  If it was a Monday holiday weekend, like MLK and President's Day, then great, those were extra days, and open to fit a hike in on.  I've done some awesome past hikes on MLK Day, President's Day, and New Year's Eve.  Of course, if one can plan a vacation for any period in the winter, that gives five to seven more possible hiking days for the winter.  If you are free to hike during the week days, then planning them out is much, much easier.

With all of the things I've explained above in mind, here is how I set up my excel sheet to prepare and plan an entire winter of hiking.

1. Set up an excel spreadsheet with the following columns:

DatePeaksHike Distance (mi.)Elevation Gain (ft.)Book TimeTrails# of 4000 Footers

2. Under the date column, enter all of the individual days you have available between the exact time of the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox to hike. I preferred to write out the day, as well, that way you can see the weekends, and/or you may have specific week-days available to hike. The start of your sheet may look like this....

Saturday, December 22, 2012
Thursday, December 27, 2012
Saturday, January 5, 2013
Sunday, January 6, 2013

3.  If you already have your hike stats saved out in excel from any previous hikes, your planning is much easier.  Now you just have to insert the 4Ks of the hike, hike distance, elevation gain, possible book time, trails used, and # of 4,000-footers, within the dates, which you think you can take on those hikes.  For me, it was copying and pasting my stats into this new sheet for the winter planning.  Enter all of the information below for the peaks/hikes until you have a full plan for the 48 peaks.  The best thing to do, is plan enough extra days at the end of the winter season as make up days for changes you may need to make along the way.

DatePeaksDistance (mi.)Elevation Gain (ft.)Book Time (hr:mm)Trails# of 4000 Footers
Saturday, December 22, 2012North Tripyramid
Middle Tripyramid
Mt. Whiteface
Mt. Passaconaway
16.75250...Downes Brook Trail
Downes Brook Slide Trail
Dicey's Mill Trail
Rollins Trail
Kate Sleeper Trail
Mt. Tripyramid Trail
Pine Bend Brook Trail
Thursday, December 27, 2012Mt. Osceola
Mt. Osceola, East
7.63100...Greeley Ponds Trail
Mt. Osceola Trail
Saturday, January 5, 2013Cannon
Mt. Kinsman
Mt. Kinsman, South
134700...Kinsman Ridge Trail
Fishin' Jimmy Trail
Sunday, January 6, 2013Tom
103400...A-Z Trail
Mt. Tom Spur
Willey Range Trail
Avalon Trail
Continue until all 48 are planned.

4.  So now, I have all of the hike information I need to complete the 48 in a single winter in a trusty excel worksheet, and its organized into a feasible plan that I think I'm capable of physically.  Don't forget to take into consideration your driving distance and times, and your car spots.  This was especially a major consideration for undertaking the NE67 in a single winter, where I drove 98 hours and over 5000 miles across snowy New England.  Past experience played a lot into the planning of the hikes.  Take the time to switch around the peaks and dates according to your past experience, book times, and upcoming forecasts before the winter starts, and be able to be flexible all throughout the winter.  Take these examples:  I completed a Wildcats to Moriah traverse twice already (once each way) before I did it in winter; I had done a Moosilauke and Tecumseh double hit and run already, and also, did Cabot and Waumbek separately in a single day once before attempting to do them the same way in winter.
Always pack a shovel and 4x4, in case you need to
shovel out parking lots like Appalachia after a blizzard.
Among the other smaller 4K hikes, I planned a winter pemi loop, a winter presidential traverse, and another hike with two peaks, but those three hikes turned into five hikes on my 1st season attempt, so I managed to only need to do two extra total hikes outside of my original plan - not bad.  This showed me that I have a pretty good perception on my physical ability both in summer and winter.  I guess I was still a little nuts thinking I might be able to do this by including all of the typical "death march" hikes.  The weather is guaranteed to come into play with your scheduled.  I wasn't surprised when the Presi Traverse got split up by weather. It was blizzard Nemo.  It was the morning after the blizzard that I had to shovel out Appalachia, just to be able to get Madison, Adams, Jefferson in.  An abnormally warm weekend in January of 2013 resulted in a shortened Pemi Loop attempt, which in turn resulted in me doing a Galehead to Hale hike, which was a memorable hike in 0 degree weather all day.  you have to be ready for anything.

With that, here are some final planning tips and things to think about before considering this challenge:
  • Always plan for the possibility that you will have to shovel out your parking spot at the trail head, plan the extra time or just be ready for the challenge.  Pack a shovel, blanket and extra warm clothes.
  • Especially for the NE67in1, car camping was necessary. Consider packing the sleeping bag, stove, and extra snacks and a fresh 2nd set of hiking clothes for your 2nd hike that weekend.
  • You might have to drive through blizzards and hazardous road conditions, so make sure you have a capable vehicle prepared for set-backs, such as flat tires, cracked windshields, or accidental snow bank collisions, and getting into and out of un-plowed trail heads.
  • You might arrive to the trail head to find that you'll be breaking trail all the way to the summit. 
  • Certainly, you should check and other online sources for assistance with at least knowing what you might expect for trail conditions.  Read prior year trip reports for additional useful information.
  • There will be many early starts and finishes in the dark. It's ok, there's  nothing to worry about in the woods, because most likely you will have been there once before you consider this challenge, and you can't be afraid of the dark to take this on.  Always bring 3 sources of light (2 headlamps and a flashlight w/ extra batteries for 1 headlamp and the reg. light).
  • Always let family and friends know your exact plans, and be able to contact them regularly, if needed.
  • Have fun, and embrace the challenges, should you consider it.  Even after doing half the 48 in winter before, it was still the toughest thing I'd ever done, but I was ready for those challenges. 
So there you have it - basic instructions showing how I set up my excel sheet, and some planning ideas and tips for your own attempt at a single-season of the 4000-footers.  By hiking all winter in 2012-2013, I had planned for some epic moments in between, such as finishing my 3rd round on Mt. Jackson, descending 2 peaks on sled, climbing Mt. Washington by Huntington Ravine, and finishing both my 1st winter 48 and my 1st single season attempt on West Bond with an epic sunrise hike.  It's all about the journey and experiences.  Peak-bagging, for me, isn't about the numbers, but its a way to live it up and take in epic experiences, because every hike is different.  Whether you want to take the planning as serious or not, that's totally up to you and certainly not required, but I never would have experienced so many incredible and epic hikes without the detailed planning.

To see my final spreadsheet for my 2012-2013 W48-in-1 season, CLICK HERE.
To see my final spreadsheet for my 2013-2014 W67-in-1 season, CLICK HERE.
My Journal of hiking the New England 4000-Footers Solo in a Single Winter Season (2013-2014)

Here is a video of my experience hiking the single season of the 48 4,000 footers.

Remember that the mountain will always be there. While this is a personal challenge with obvious risks to consider, always make good decisions for your own safety.  Good Luck, Stay Safe, and Have fun! Make every hike one to remember!
Mt. Washington, February 2012
Dont forget, you can check out special blog posts I've done related to my experiences, including specific winter hiking experiences, by checking out the other episodes of what I call, Inside the Moments.

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