Here’s a very real down-to-earth winter backpacking experience. I’ve been passing along advice on how to prepare for, and actually do, an overnight winter hike, putting up with the rigors inevitably produced by the weather at that time of year. Now I’ll relate how I personally fared on one of those outings.
This backpacking hike took place on the first day of Spring, so technically it was not a winter hike, unless we consider it to be the last day of Winter.
Roger Maurais, a good friend with roots in the state of Maine with its much harsher clime compared to the wilds of Pennsylvania, thought an overnight hike in Tioga State Forest’s northern section would be a piece of cake. I agreed, particularly in light of a recent warm spell that had melted all the snow around town.
The unpaved Asaph Run Road leading up to our starting point at Asaph Picnic and Camping area is posted “No Winter Maintenance.” We drove as far as we could, which was about one mile north of the village of Asaph. Surprised to find the road icy and impassable (except, perhaps, for snowmobiles), one mile short of our actual intended trailhead, we parked the vehicle, donned our backpacks and hiked in.
The snow and ice around town may have disappeared, but it sure had not in this sun protected valley. The north facing hillsides had plenty of hard-crusted snow that had semi-melted and then froze over. But we were determined.
We set up camp at the confluence of the north- and west-branch of Asaph Run, utilizing the open-air picnic shelter. I cheated by using a picnic table for my sleeping arrangements whereas Roger would have none of that. His tent was his home for the night, erected on a bare spot just outside the shelter.
We did not expect the weather to be a deterrent. Of course, I hadn’t researched it but should have. During the night it snowed about six inches, covering Roger’s tent. Most of all it added to the difficulty of hiking on the trail.
Our intent was to hike a loop, starting on the 1.6 mile trail from the picnic area to Frying Pan Hollow, and use that 1.01 mile trail to deposit us onto the short Goodall Trail. Then the Forks Trail would lead us back to Asaph Picnic area, where we had stashed our backpacks. This was less than six miles. As we had predicted, “A piece of cake.”
Here’s what actually happened. We broke camp, stowed the heavy items of our backpacks in the rafters of the picnic shelter, taking with us bare essentials, and started hiking. I can’t actually call it “hiking” because we trudged through the knee deep half-frozen snow on the north-facing mountainside, post-holing with every extremely difficult step.
Calculating our progress, which was only a half mile per hour, we realized it would take us almost 12 hours to complete the loop. This was not acceptable, of course, because, some time after 5 p.m., our intended time to be home, the family would have alerted Search and Rescue to come looking for two lost hikers. Additionally, we did not have the proper gear to hike after dark, which would occur about 6 p.m. If we made it we would not be out of the woods until about 10 p.m. So we did what any prudent person would do: we bailed out after a “hike” of less that 2.0 miles, none the worst for wear.
We learned a great deal from the experience. Can you spot our mistakes? I’d be interested in hearing from you. Email at email@example.com.