Outdoor Adventurers Encouraged to Prepare for Snow, Ice, and Cold
Current snow and cold weather are providing good conditions for winter outdoor recreation in the Adirondacks, Catskills, and other backcountry areas. To ensure a safe and enjoyable winter experience, visitors are advised to plan ahead and prepare with proper clothing and equipment for snow, ice, and cold.
Snow depths range greatly throughout the Adirondacks, with the deepest snow at higher elevations in the High Peaks region and on mountains over 3,000 feet. Snow depths are thinner in the southeastern and northwestern Adirondacks. Ice is also present on high elevation trails, as well as many low-lying trails. Much of the Catskill Mountains are covered in snow, with icy trail conditions.
DEC recommends visitors to the backcountry carry snowshoes and trekking poles and use them when snow depths warrant. Snowshoes or skis ease travel on snow and prevent “post holing,” which can ruin trails and cause sudden falls resulting in injuries. Crampons or other traction devices should be carried for use on icy portions of the trails, including summits and other exposed areas. An ice axe may be necessary above the tree line in the High Peaks. In the High Peaks Wilderness, snowshoes, or skis are required where snow depth exceeds eight inches. For more information about the High Peaks region, visit DEC’s Backcountry Information for the High Peaks Region webpage. DEC Forest Rangers strongly advise that current trail conditions will make travel without properly fitting traction devices extremely difficult. Check out DEC’s Winter Hiking Safety webpage for further details on traction devices.
Although some seasonal access roads remain open, the use of four-wheel drive vehicles is strongly recommended and many seasonal access roads have transitioned to snowmobile use. Visitors are advised to plan ahead and check local club, county, and State webpages and resources, including the NYSSA Snowmobile webmap, for up-to-date snowmobile trail information.
Ice has formed on ponds, bays of lakes, slow-moving streams, and backwaters of rivers. Not all ice is safe at this time. Although ice may have snow on the surface, it may not be thick enough to hold the weight of a person. When trying to decide whether ice is safe to walk on, always err on the side of caution. Test ice before putting full weight on it. Ice is always thinner where there are springs or other moving water, such as at the mouths of tributaries, near outlets and inlets, and along shorelines. It’s better to remain dry and warm than to cross questionable ice just to save time.
Backcountry visitors should follow these safety guidelines:
- Check weather before entering the woods. If extreme cold is predicted or the weather is poor, postpone the trip.
- Be aware of weather conditions at all times and if the weather worsens, head out of the woods.
- Dress properly in layers of clothing made of wool, fleece, and other materials that wick moisture (not cotton), including a wool or fleece hat, gloves or mittens, wind/rain resistant outerwear, and winter boots. Learn how to layer for a cold weather hike on DEC’s YouTube page.
- Carry a day pack with the following: ice axe, food and water, extra clothing, map and compass, first-aid kit, flashlight/headlamp, sunglasses, sunblock protection, ensolite pads, stove and extra fuel, and bivy sack or space blankets. Hypothermia can kill even when temperatures are above freezing. A tiny emergency “space blanket” can save your life.
- Carry plenty of food and water. Eat, drink, and rest often. Being tired, hungry, or dehydrated makes outdoor adventurers more susceptible to hypothermia.
- Know the terrain and physical capabilities. Remember that it takes more time and energy to travel through snow.
- Never travel alone and always inform someone of the intended route and return time.
Common Winter Challenges
Looking ahead to this weekend, the National Weather Service issued a wind chill watch in effect for northern New York, with dangerously cold wind chills as low as 30 to 40 below zero possible.
Challenges common to winter include avalanches, snow squalls, frostbite, and thin ice. Except for those who recreate in the backcountry, most people are unlikely to become victims of avalanches. However, almost everyone has experienced a snow squall, which can obliterate vision and create slippery surfaces. Squalls tend to be brief, so stay put if you’re caught in one. Frostbite is the freezing of living tissues that causes a breakdown of their cell structure. It may affect the extremities after prolonged exposure to temperatures below freezing. Frostbite injury can range from superficial redness of the skin, slight numbness or blisters to skin discoloration, obstruction of blood flow or blood clots. Rubbing frostbitten skin, once a popular “remedy,” can cause further damage; don’t do it.
Traveling through snow takes more energy and time than hiking the same distance, especially in freshly fallen snow. Plan trips accordingly. In an emergency call 911. To request Forest Ranger assistance, call 1-833-NYS-RANGERS.
DEC’s Adirondack Backcountry Information and Catskill Backcountry Information webpages provide current trail conditions and other important information to help ensure a safe and enjoyable backcountry winter experience.
Photo by Jackie Woodcock