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The Great Outdoors: Cold weather hiking tips

Johnny Molloy • Updated Dec 22, 2016 at 8:49 AM

Winter comes every year, in fact every fourth season. However, just because we reach the chilliest days of the year doesn’t mean we have to quit exploring the outdoors. In actuality, winter brings a beauty of its own to our world.

Think about the naked landscape, where deciduous trees, stripped of their leaves, reveal the topography beneath them. Here, you can more easily see the lay of the land, the geology, rock outcrops, the contours of the terrain. The winter skies are generally clearer, allowing you to see farther on the horizon. Hate to sweat? Hate humidity? Then you will love hiking in the winter. We can avoid excessive sweating while walking amid the mountains. Do you like snow? Do you like tromping through the white stuff?

Well, you can get into plenty of powder in our region during winter. On average, Johnson City gets 16 inches of snow per year but at elevations of 5,000 feet and higher over 60 inches of snow fall annually. Therefore, even when there is no white stuff in the lowlands, the high country often has snow. Interestingly, you can see snow on the mountains from downtown Johnson City whenever it is on Buffalo Mountain or Holston Mountain — even on Big Bald over in Unicoi County, or the stateline ridge in Greene County. Hiking in the cold has its downside — the short days make it tough to drive to the mountain, get in a hike and get back before darkness falls.

You don’t get to see blooming flowers. Stream crossing can be difficult, especially with the cold water. Nevertheless, I recommend winter hiking because it sure beats sitting inside watching television. Here are some cold weather hiking tips to help you deal with the weather. Dress in layers. When hiking, we burn calories and develop internal heat, warming ourselves from the insides.

Therefore, as we warm up we can remove layers of clothing as we hike. I generally where lesser clothes, starting out cold, then warm up, rather than having lots of clothes on — being warm — then having to shed layers as I hike. However, adding and removing layers is sometimes a necessity since you can get hot while climbing uphill yet be cooler when hiking downhill.

Drink plenty of fluids. In winter, our thirst doesn’t develop as much because we don’t get as hot or sweat a lot, therefore desiring water. Go ahead and drink before thirsty, that way you won’t get dehydrated. Bring water. Bring easy-to-eat snacks. Cold temperatures and fumbling fingers make for challenging dining conditions.

Therefore, keep your snacks simple — pre-made sandwiches, or processed snacks. If hiking in subfreezing weather do not bring fruits and vegetables such as apples or carrots, as they can freeze. Know your limits. Snowy, wet or icy trails can make for slow going. Slower travel combined with short days can leave hikers stuck on the trail after dark. Don’t let this happen to you. Plan shorter hikes and factor in more time to get there.

Do not be over ambitious. Even the best planners get stuck out after dark in the winter. Therefore, bring a flashlight or headlamp in case you end up night hiking. The most important thing is to get out there and enjoy God’s creation year-round — even winter.