Tuesday, January 1, 2019

How to Enjoy the Snow!

This morning, residents of the Gila Valley awoke to a wonderful sight--snow in the Sonoran Desert. (Or at least the Sky Islands surrounding the desert.)
Mt. Graham  (Monika Ragland)
All week we have enjoyed cooler temperatures and the joy of snow.  And a few club members took the opportunity to head to higher elevations to enjoy some snowshoeing. It is a way to get away from those crowds parked in every pull-off and campground looking for a spot to build a snowman, tube down a slope, or throw a snowball.
While some "desert rats" shudder at the thought of being out in the cold for an extended time, we assure you that with a little forethought and preparation, even poikilothermics (those who think they have cold blood coursing through their veins) can enjoy a day out in the snow.

First, THINK ABOUT YOUR FEET.  Footwear is probably the most important consideration for winter hiking. if you don’t have the right shoes, you’re probably going to get cold, wet, and miserable.  Your shoes have to be waterproof, and that means not using stylish city boots, or the low cut breathable hiking shoe we wear in the desert.  You need heavy-duty winter boots that are waterproof.  (I bought mine at a clearance sale at Big 5 right after Christmas.) And make sure they are comfortable and flexible enough to allow for some movement of your toes and ankle when wearing socks.

If you know you will be doing serious hiking in icy conditions, buy a pair of crampons or ice cleats to strap to the bottom of your shoes.  Don't buy the most expensive, vicious looking spikes you can find.  You probably won't need them.  I bought an inexpensive pair ($20.00) at the Grand Canyon in March when we discovered an ice sheet at the top of South Kiabab Trail.

For socks, I use calf or knee-length wool socks. Wool and wool blend socks retain warmth longer even when wet.  Avoid cotton socks.  (And just in case your feet do get wet, carry an extra pair of dry socks with you.)

Your other choices in clothing are also important.  Remember that layering your clothing is of utmost importance during the winter.  Begin with a layer of long underwear.  Next, you want to add a long sleeve shirt and pants made of pile or fleece.  There is nothing like fleece lined pants when you're out in the snow.  Even lightweight ski pants work well.  Experiment on short forays into the snow.  It is easy to overheat, but with layers you can adjust until your figure out what works best for you. (For me: long underwear, fleece lined soft shell pants, long sleeve tee, hoodie, and down vest.)   For gloves I use fleece lined ski gloves.  My hoodie is often enough for keeping my head warm, but for cold days I’ll wear a wool cap or pair of ear muffs.  I also carry a handkerchief because my nose runs when it gets cold!

Hiking poles in the winter are a great idea because you never know when you might come across a patch of ice or how deep the snow may be, and this extra support is a big help.

The above will prepare you for hiking in 3-4" of snow or outlasting your enemy in a snowball fight, but if you have deep snow to hike through, consider snowshoes.  Today's brands are quick and easy to put on.  Modern snowshoes utilize aluminum frames, molded plastic toe and heel pieces, and nylon straps. (I purchased LLBean snowshoes in 2015 for $120. They came in a back pack with poles.)   Make sure they have cleats at the toe, forefoot, and heel.  Cleats at least one inch long should provide the traction you need.

I once read,  "There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."  So with a little preparation, any "desert rat" can enjoy the snow.

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