Once football season is upon us and the leaves start to turn, some hikers pack up their hiking sticks and await Spring before heading back out to the waterfalls. That is a mistake if for no other reason than secluding oneself for months from one of the finest of outdoor adventures.
When comparing warm-weather waterfall hiking to cold-weather waterfall hiking………well, actually that’s not correct, you really can’t compare them. You can’t list pros and cons or advantages and disadvantages, let’s just say the two experiences are different and list the differences.
- Dress. It’s the old adage to “dress in layers.” If you’re out in below freezing weather, you may want to include light-weight thermal underwear.
- Dry Socks. Socks and a dry cloth are mandatory for your backpack or fannypack at any time of the year, but it is more essential during cold weather. A little splash in the creek during a rock hop isn’t nearly as much fun at 20 degrees as it is at 85 degrees. Walking 2 miles back to the car in cold, wet socks can be drudgery. A dry pair of sock can “save” a hike.
- Headgear. Don’t forget that 80% of your lost body heat is through the top of your head, so having a good stocking cap is the best thing you can do to conserve your warmth.
- Hydration. Just because it is cold doesn’t mean you won’t sweat and need water so always carry it. However, having some hot chocolate back at the car or in a backpack thermos is a welcome treat.
- Perishables. Since the whole world is basically refrigerated, carrying perishables in your backpack adds something fresh to your snack or lunch. Even sandwiches with mayonnaise will be fine at 40 degrees.
- Animals. Hey, it’s winter, most everybody is asleep so you won’t be seeing any snakes in the middle of the trail, neither will you find much evidence of large animals such as bear.
- Foliage. Don’t expect much in the way of flora, either. Most everything is either brown or has died back awaiting warmer weather.
- Daylight. There is a lot less daylight in the wintertime. Even more so, the deep valleys below the ridges will get even darker quicker. Don’t be heading out on a 2 mile hike at 4 in the afternoon. You could be caught on the trail in the dark – not a good place to be.
- Views. With the leaves off the trees, you’ll be treated with some spectacular views that you will not be able to see during warmer weather. Plus being able to see the landscape and topography will assist you in knowing where you are on the trail.
- Trails. You may have a lot more leaves on the trail and, depending on the temperature, ice or hoar frost. All 3 can make a trail slick and treacherous. “Wet” spots on rocks can well be ice, not water. On the bright side, no worries about poison ivy.
- Waterfalls. Hiking to a waterfall in below-freezing weather can bring some unexpected pleasures. For example. In 16 degrees, the mist of Rainbow Falls freezes and it “snows” at the base of the falls. It is not unusual for large drifts of this “snow” to be present. Likewise, low volume waterfalls become winter wonderlands. Firewater Falls, on Caesar’s Head, develops a wall of 10-foot icicles for 30 feet across the front of its cavern.
For some of us, winter is actually our preferred time to hit the trails and visit waterfalls. Get out there this winter and find out why.