It was at Cascade Falls, 36 miles east of Princeton. I had mixed emotions. I was excited to see such a renowned and historic landmark, but was anxious because it was in winter conditions I had never hiked in.
The closer we got to the falls, the more freezing temperatures we encountered, slipping on the occasional ice patch.
But it was the most magical and beautiful hike I had ever been on. We followed a river for almost all of the trek and as we wove in and out of sunlight large portions of the river were frozen. The ice formations in the river, on small waterfalls, and the snowcapped mountains were breathtaking.
But when we finally got to the end of the trail at Cascade Falls, most of the 66-foot falls were frozen.
Before that I hike I thought that hiking was something you do when the weather’s nice, to enjoy the beauty of a nice day. But on the drive home I realized that had I hiked that trail in the summer, the views and even the trek would have been totally different. Maybe even a little less magical.
I’d like to encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone this winter. Maybe skiing isn’t your thing, and that’s okay. Keep trying different activities you can do in the winter to avoid closing yourself inside during these long months.
Here’s a few tips I learned from my first few winter trips.
Layer up – I thought that too many layers would make me really hot when I got to climbing up and down the mountainous trails. And you will get warm from moving, but you still want to dress in layers because you don’t want to get caught three miles into the woods and freezing. You can’t know where the sun will filter into the mountains, and where there is always shade. Here’s what I typically wear: fleece lined leggings, a regular pair of socks – topped with a pair of waterproof tall socks that come up over the bottom of the leggings – topped with sweatpants – topped with waterproof windbreaker pants (I found my favorite ones in the mens section at Walmart for $7), hiking boots with a good grip, a fleece lined long sleeve performance – topped with a long sleeve t-shirt – topped with a hoodie, ear warmers, and waterproof gloves.
Start early – I always try to be off the trail before sunset, but be especially vigilant about it in the winter because as it gets closer to sunset, the colder you will be.
Be prepared – I always carry a first aid kit with me in my backpack, even on short hikes. On a winter hike make sure to also have hand warmers in your pack and a headlamp. It’s a good idea to also carry a trail map because some trails can be hard to follow in winter conditions.
Take a camera – Most of my best hiking pictures were taken in the winter months. Trails are popular in the summertime when anyone and everyone flocks to them. But they are less traveled in the winter, so you can capture a picture not often seen.
You can find expert information about winter hiking and snowshoeing at backpacker.net.
I encourage you to trek a trail in West Virginia this winter. You can find some suggestions here.
This story was originally featured in the West Virginia Community Development Hub’s Blog