Winter Hiking Intro

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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klawil
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Winter Hiking Intro

Post by klawil » Fri Jan 29, 2021 1:23 pm

Hey all!

I've done a decent bit of summer hiking but now I'm moving to Colorado and want to expand hiking to a 4-season activity. I've read a few of the winter hiking posts and my understanding is the most important thing is layers, keeping important things (electronics, water) water, and giving yourself more than ample time. I'm planning on using this list as a good starting point for deciding where to hike: https://www.summitpost.org/colorado-14e ... ter/337648

Gear
I have a pair of microspikes and hybrid mountaineering boots, should I also invest in snowshoes? What about an ice axe? What about full Avy gear? Is there anything else I'm missing gear wise?
I have a Garmin inReach for tracking/satellite messaging/SOS

Training
I plan on taking the Avalanche Awareness and Level 1, should I take these before doing any winter hiking or would it be safe to go on some hikes?
Once I do take those courses, when should I look at taking more advanced classes?

Clothing
I have ski gear (which I imagine is too bulky to hike well in), is that okay for starting out or should I buy specific pants? If so, any recommendations?

Diving In
I'm planning on asking for someone on this forum for my first few winter expeditions, what's the minimum level of experience (just trekking around on flat ground in my gear) and training I should have to avoid wasting someones time?

Is there any other miscellaneous information I should think about before venturing out in the winter?
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CaptCO
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Re: Winter Hiking Intro

Post by CaptCO » Fri Jan 29, 2021 1:31 pm

I’m fairly new as well but I’ll try to help.

1. Snowshoes and axe yes, they are also fun to use in spring. Stay off avy known routes, enjoy below tree line hikes to get used to snowshoes. My vote is for MSR Lightning ascents, the black diamond axes are a good intro-moderate option. Avy gear if you can afford it, but again just stay out of known areas.

2. Train, build endurance, and train again when you’ve mastered the basics imo

3. Fine for starting out, but once you start adding distance, weight is key for fatigue. Wool leggings under a light soft shell pant work well in above 0* conditions, thick socks, hand warmers, poly/wool base, windbreaker, gore tex soft shell, 1lb puffy is what I’ve been bringing. Garmin makes a great product.

Just get your feet wet and meet others with similar ideas/experience. My best advice is always stick with your gut and never take shortcuts in cold months.

Alec

(buy the melanzana micro grid hoodie) i've worn just that in -10 windchill with a good pace
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Re: Winter Hiking Intro

Post by daway8 » Fri Jan 29, 2021 1:39 pm

Sounds like you have a pretty good starting point to work with. If you have the funds and time taking AAIRE1 right away certainly wouldn't hurt but I wouldn't consider it essential if you start with easy peaks like Quandary and others listed on the summitpost link you mentioned.

Do at least make sure though that you know how to spot avy terrain (slope angle overlay on the 14ers map is the easiest starting point).

Some windblown routes you can still do fine on without snowshoes but they'll be increasingly useful as snow builds up over the winter.

That exact gear you wear isn't as important as effective layering - you need options for both warming up and cooling down as the day progresses.

You might consider trying something like Flattop in Rocky Mountain National Park as a warm-up hike to test your gear on.

Ice axe, avy gear, etc generally aren't needed on the easy peaks but I almost always carry them anyways just as an overkill precaution.

This thread has some other tips: https://www.14ers.com/forum/viewtopi ... 4&t=59447
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klawil
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Re: Winter Hiking Intro

Post by klawil » Fri Jan 29, 2021 2:09 pm

Thanks for the information! I'll read through that thread, look at getting snowshoes to extend my season, and get AAIRE 1 taken ASAP
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Re: Winter Hiking Intro

Post by markf » Fri Jan 29, 2021 3:00 pm

Snowshoes are useful, but they're in very short supply everywhere and probably will be until next winter. The Lightning Ascents are excellent snowshoes but MSR is sold out of them. Ice axes and crampons require a certain amount of practice to use effectively, and aren't really necessary until you get onto steeper terrain (Class 3-4). Microspikes are really useful on packed trails. You can hike safely on lots of trails in winter without taking Any classes, but they will be useful if you start backcountry skiing or traveling in remote, steep terrain. Just reading through the CAIC website and keeping up on their updates can tell you a lot of what you need to know to be safe. Ski clothing will work to start with, then start building a layering system. Stay away from cotton for winter hiking clothing, it doesn't insulate well and will absorb moisture and make you colder.
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Re: Winter Hiking Intro

Post by mtree » Fri Jan 29, 2021 3:10 pm

Daway pretty much hit it spot on. It doesn't have to be complicated.

Test whatever gear you have to see what works and replace as necessary. I find nearly all of my snowboarding gear is perfectly suited to winter hiking. Aside from snowshoes, I don't think I've purchased a single item specifically for winter hiking. But I don't take 15 mile treks or plan on overnight excursions.

Stay away from avy terrain and that will mitigate any avy gear. That said, know WHERE the safe routes are located and don't veer off the proscribed route. Don't be stupid or overly brave. Beware wind and whiteouts. The margin for error in winter can be very slim. Know when that window is closing.

Snowshoes are nice if that's what you're into. Come spring they may be required equipment. Spikes are always handy and are easily carried. Bring an ice ax if you know how to use it. Otherwise it just looks cool on your back. I find trekking poles far more useful.

Start small and work your way up through experience. Once you have your gear figured out and reach a comfort zone you can expand your adventures as you see fit. Keep hiking and it will all come together. Its that simple.
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Re: Winter Hiking Intro

Post by pvnisher » Fri Jan 29, 2021 8:37 pm

CaptCO wrote:
Fri Jan 29, 2021 1:31 pm
Just get your feet wet...
Couldn't disagree more. Please keep your feet dry at all costs.
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Re: Winter Hiking Intro

Post by daway8 » Fri Jan 29, 2021 9:53 pm

pvnisher wrote:
Fri Jan 29, 2021 8:37 pm
CaptCO wrote:
Fri Jan 29, 2021 1:31 pm
Just get your feet wet...
Couldn't disagree more. Please keep your feet dry at all costs.
Until after the hike when you take a hot soak...
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Re: Winter Hiking Intro

Post by +Gravy » Sun Feb 14, 2021 5:51 pm

Wow these are all my questions too! Let me know if you want a buddy! Completely new to the snow and altitude. Skilled fair-weather hiker and camper from out of state.
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Re: Winter Hiking Intro

Post by Jorts » Sun Feb 14, 2021 9:46 pm

A lot of SAR calls are fielded for winter hikers that have lost the trail during windy or snowy weather.

Get a reliable GPS. I use a watch and a phone. But a dedicated GPS unit is better. Do not rely solely on your phone and the trench. Until you have been above treeline in whiteout conditions with 40mph winds, it’s hard to grasp the importance of reliable nav.
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daway8
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Re: Winter Hiking Intro

Post by daway8 » Sun Feb 14, 2021 10:29 pm

Jorts wrote:
Sun Feb 14, 2021 9:46 pm
A lot of SAR calls are fielded for winter hikers that have lost the trail during windy or snowy weather.

Get a reliable GPS. I use a watch and a phone. But a dedicated GPS unit is better. Do not rely solely on your phone and the trench. Until you have been above treeline in whiteout conditions with 40mph winds, it’s hard to grasp the importance of reliable nav.
Um, better yet - especially for people who are new to winter 14ers - just stay off the mountain when there's snow in the forecast. I'm at 31 unique winter summits now (including 13ers) with 11 so far this season and that's mostly been done with relatively decent weather.

On the handful of occasions where I pushed the envelope (at least for my experience level) by rushing down a mountain to escape an incoming whiteout or crawling along a ridge due to 60mph+ wind gusts I've pretty much decided that foul weather in winter isn't worth messing with.

I see updates now and then from a few hard core folks who seem to go out in about anything but I would never recommend that for newbies reading a winter intro thread (in fact, I just wouldn't recommend it period, but each to their own).

Nevertheless, I do agree that a reliable GPS of some manner ought to be considered essential in winter, especially if you're new to the game (and I still consider myself fairly new at this). Backup navigation options are also critical...
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Re: Winter Hiking Intro

Post by ltlFish99 » Sun Feb 14, 2021 10:53 pm

Plus 1 on the above mention of navigation.
I was amazed how hard it was to find our way in conditions approaching a whiteout.
And this was in very familiar terrain, some place my friend and I had been dozens of times.
It was like instantly being in the dark, only worse because of all the wind and snow. We could see about 20 feet, sometimes a little more and decided the best thing to do was to try to get out of the wind, which was at least 50mph.
I find spikes very useful.
I love capaline and utilize 2 layers of that, fleece if necessary, a lightweight puffy, and light gortex pants. A warm comfortable balaclava was also a priority for me, and goggles.

I have had snowshoes for some time, but I might upgrade them soon.

Sniktau plus cupid is a fun, easy to access winter hike and can be extended to grizzly if conditions are good.
Black lake, chasm lake, the loch, and the lakes around bear lake in RMNP are wonderful winter hikes.
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