October 20, 2014 / Comments (1)

Hiking in the Shoulder Season

Mount Jackson in October

For many peak baggers, winter in the White Mountains means the end of their hiking season. What many don’t realize is how difficult hiking in the shoulder season can be!

Autumn and Spring can be extremely beautiful times to hike in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. Oftentimes people underestimate the changes they may encounter once they head up a trail. If you are prepared, shoulder season hiking can be a unique experience on beautiful trails without the crowds! The shoulder season refers to the time just before or just after the peak hiking period. For example, right after fall foliage season or muddy early spring hiking.

Weather Worries:

Year round, the weather in the Whites can be unpredictable, but with temperatures in the upper 30’s or even plummeting below freezing, cold rain or even snow can be expected on your hike! Hiking in the rain without the proper equipment can lead to hypothermia. Be sure to have light layers as you may be warm enough to hike in short sleeves below treeline, but may need an insulating layer and a outer shell or puffy for above treeline trekking. Pack gloves and a hat as well. A balaclava may be needed on hikes with long exposed ridges.

May favorite resources for mountain weather include the following:

Mount Washington Observatory: Even if I won’t be hiking in the Presidential range, I check for the “worst case scenario”. There is also a higher summits forecast.

Mountain-Forecast: This is definitely my favorite site. It is remarkably accurate! You can search for the forecast for the trailhead and the summit including wind chill. Whoa.

NOAA: For those looking for graphs and visuals, this is your site.

Prepare Your Feet:

The trail may be icy, especially on sections with rock slabs or sections exposed to the elements. Wear wool socks and bring microspikes for proper traction. In the spring, melting snow may cause streams to swell. You may want to toss in some shoes for water crossings and an extra pair of socks. You may want to break out the gaiters as well. Depending on when and where you hike, you may find significant snow at elevation which may require snowshoes. The conditions can be difficult to hike in even with snowshoes due to warmer temperatures and melting/mashed potato snow. Be prepared for these conditions. Proper gear will help, but a good head on your shoulders is even better. Understand your ability and stick to a turnaround time.

Keeping my feet happy with gaiters and microspikes

Time it Right:

Daylight begins to dwindle in the fall. Take action by giving yourself plenty of time to hike. Look at book time and make sure to account for any breaks you’ll be taking or extra time needed due to unexpected delays. Bring a headlamp in case you do end up hiking out in the dark. Make sure you know when sunset is and plan accordingly. Icy/snow covered trails could add a significant time to your hike. Plan accordingly.

Don’t Be Surprised:

After the first snowfall some forest roads leading may be closed. Be sure to check to see for any forest road closures.

Research your planned hike. Simply looking at hike stats may be deceiving. On paper a hike may look easier than it proves to be. Know if you will be climbing a chimney, traversing over a ridge, or navigating a tricky stream crossing. You do not want to find out the hike may be too much for you when you’re in the thick of it. There are many resources available online. You can find out if there are new blowdowns on the trail or if it is exceptionally icy or muddy by looking on New England Trail Conditions or Trails NH. Another resource for Winter and Spring hikes is the Mount Washington Avalanche Center site. Some trails, like Tuckerman and Huntington Ravine on Mt. Washington are prone to avalanches.

mt moriah

Icy trails on Mount Moriah
 For those who don’t hike during the winter season, shoulder season hiking can be a great time to enjoy the trails without the crowds, hike in cooler weather, and get a little taste of winter hiking.

Plan your trips carefully and only go if you are prepared.

Happy hiking!


-updated 5/6/2015

Last modified: May 6, 2015

One Response to :
Hiking in the Shoulder Season

  1. Beckie Jani says:

    You can tell it’s that time of year when we have the Teva’s and the spikes along with us! Good info!

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