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Old 01-31-2020, 03:31 AM   #1
IndLk_Brett
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Winter NPT Attempt

Thought some might find this group's winter thru hike attempt interesting.


https://www.adirondackexplorer.org/s...-winter-hikers
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Old 01-31-2020, 10:14 AM   #2
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Thanks for posting that.
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Old 01-31-2020, 11:37 AM   #3
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The trails near the road access of the NPT are often broken out for a short while, so many assume the trail is not that tough in winter. The inner depths of the NPT are no joke in winter.
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Old 01-31-2020, 11:50 AM   #4
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It should be stressed that these hikers were in top condition, had started planning the excursion months in advance, were VERY experienced and well equipped, and still had to bag the hike, and it sounds like those who remained when they decided to completely abort the trip had a challenge in just covering the 15 miles from where they decided to stop back to the last road crossing. Would that all hikers exercised the same level of due diligence at all times of year, but especially in Winter.
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Old 01-31-2020, 12:31 PM   #5
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@ducttape, it ain't that hard to hike a few miles in winter and then camp in a LT with a winter wind blaring in your face, is it??!?! (This is Will btw)

Yeah, their adventure was no joke. I've just done a handful of miles this winter and a few nights out, and it is indescribably more difficult than any other time of year. Also, not on the NPT. People able to succeed at this will be few and far between, and somewhat lucky.
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Old 01-31-2020, 01:46 PM   #6
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Yeah. I know some of the folks. They knew what they were doing and had the experience, yet still could not overcome the hardships. The fact they recognized when to turn back is evidence of their knowledge/experience.

Will, yep!
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Old 01-31-2020, 04:03 PM   #7
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That was a good read. They seemed experienced and well equipped but knew they pushed the limit on this one. Kudos to them for making the right call. Thanks for posting.
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Old 01-31-2020, 05:23 PM   #8
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I agree with you all that it's nice to see a group with this level of awareness. To know when to turn around before you put yourself in a truly bad situation is vital to staying safe. That was a lonely stretch of trail they were on had something happened.

As a bit of an aside .. I love to read and learn about the early inhabitants of the Adirondacks and this story gives me even more of an appreciation for the lives they lived. Especially those old trappers who were able to successfully run their lines in these areas midwinter. I think it shines a light on how incredible and impressive those men were.

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Old 02-03-2020, 01:17 PM   #9
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I agree with you all that it's nice to see a group with this level of awareness. To know when to turn around before you put yourself in a truly bad situation is vital to staying safe. That was a lonely stretch of trail they were on had something happened.

As a bit of an aside .. I love to read and learn about the early inhabitants of the Adirondacks and this story gives me even more of an appreciation for the lives they lived. Especially those old trappers who were able to successfully run their lines in these areas midwinter. I think it shines a light on how incredible and impressive those men were.
They were before the NYSDEC regulation that traps have to be checked every 24 hours. French Louie and the men he trapped with had cabins or other shelters interspersed on their lines, and when the weather got really bad they would hunker down until it broke. Had to be pretty boring though. Rondeau left Cold River for the worst part of most winters.
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Old 02-04-2020, 11:34 AM   #10
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I spent two nights out last winter and found it thoroughly enjoyable. A group was meeting to hike Treadway mountain and I went up solo Fri night and hung out (hammock camper) down by Grizzle Ocean and then met group Sat Am and did Treadway and overnighted at Clear Pond.

This area is fairly well traveled with hikers and Putnam Pond is popular with ice fishing.

Yes, gear and experience and the weather was in our favor. I did a local hike in Rochester this last weekend. Snow and high thirties. I was amazed how wet we got.

I did a few miles of day-hiking on NPT over summer and actually have been thinking of trying a segment or two as out and backs in winter.

I was going to find something with no significant river crossings and as an out and back be super conservative on when we turn back.
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Old 02-05-2020, 01:50 AM   #11
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I can definitely empathize with the struggles faced by this group. I believe that the 4 mentioned in the article as having section hiked the NPT in winter are my friends and I- over 2 consecutive winter breaks while students at Paul Smith's College, the 4 of us hiked the entire NPT over 4 separate trips.

Our initial goal was also a thru-hike; and by the end of the second day out of Benson it became pretty obvious that this was unattainable for us. Our itinerary was overly ambitious and we were under prepared. We had wisely spotted cars (with resupplies) at each of the major road crossings on the trail, and so when we reached Piseco it was easy enough for us to bail, return to civilization for a couple of nights to warm ourselves up and dry our gear out, and come up with our 2 winter plan for tackling the rest of the trail in sections. All told, it took us 22 total days of hiking to finish the (then) 122 miles of trail.

A couple of observations from the article (which admittedly is a bit light on the details so my suppositions may not necessarily be accurate):

Their pace sounds absolutely Herculean in nature. We also initially thought that we'd be able to maintain 10 mpd to complete the trail within 12-13 days, but even after factoring in a buffer of several days worth of extra food on top of this, it quickly became clear that this was an impossible task. Ultimately, our average daily pace across the full trail (excluding both high and low outliers) clocked in at just over 5.6 mpd- and even this demanded substantial effort on some days to reach the evening's destination before dark. With a sustained pace of 10 mpd over the better part of a week in those conditions, with packs laden with the necessary gear, I'm honestly not at all surprised that some members of the group faced debilitating injuries, with ramifications lasting weeks and even months.

And the challenges of keeping up even a modest pace for us weren't just physical- there was the mental challenge of navigation as well. The NPT isn't always well marked to begin with, and in the winter with deep snow (both on the ground and weighting tree branches down) the trail corridor isn't always obvious either, regardless of markers. On most stretches we found ourselves spreading out in search of any sign of the continuation of the trail at least several times a day. The worst sections found us losing as much as the better part of an hour trying to find the continuation of the trail. (For several weeks after each section, I would have dreams about looking in vain for blue trail markers in snow-covered woods.)

I think that a slower pace also gave us a substantial psychological advantage: We weren't forced to have AM chores completed, with camp broken down and packs ready to go by sunrise every morning. I don't think the value of being able to eat breakfast and pack up in day light can be understated, especially for a winter trip of this length- the idea of feeling like you have to force yourself out of your sleeping bag well before sunrise, morning after morning after morning, for several weeks straight, just does not sound like it would in any way be conducive towards my overall enjoyment of such a trip in the the least.

It also sounds like this group had some major problems with moisture management. One thing that we didn't do that I absolutely would mandate for all group members were I to attempt something like this again is to carry vapor barrier liners for use inside of our sleeping bags. Moisture build up in sleeping bag insulation is absolutely a major concern on extended winter trips. Furthermore, it's rarely consequential on relatively short 1 or 2 night trips, so it's not an issue that would likely be apparent during a shorter shake-down trip- and so is easily overlooked in the absence of prior experience on longer-duration winter trips. It's on those longer trips particularly that it's not unheard of to see sleeping bags lose substantial insulating power over consecutive nights due to moisture build up.

We definitely had our own moisture issues- across the longest section (10 days) we accumulated enough moisture in our clothing/gear to make us end that section a couple of days earlier than we'd originally intended despite having enough food and supplies to continue. Still, it sounds like our issues were never anywhere near as bad as those faced by this group- in any case, we certainly did not accumulate moisture anywhere nearly as quickly, which makes me wonder what some of the differences were. Some possibilities:
  • Perhaps the group made the mistake of "burrowing" into their sleeping bags- we knew to keep our mouths centered in the opening (with a balaclava for insulation) so as to allow the moisture from our breath to escape, rather than condense in the bag's insulation.
  • Possibly the substantial sweating resulting in soaked clothes was a result of trying to keep up such an inhuman pace over consecutive days.
  • It's also possible that some group members were over-dressed during the day, further contributing to and exacerbating the sweating.
  • Even after we adjusted our itinerary to plan for roughly 5-6 mile days, we still included a buffer of several days worth of extra food for each section. This allowed us to take advantage of several zero and "nearo" days, which most importantly, allowed us to avoid hiking in rain. These days also gave us the opportunity to make some modest efforts to get gear dried out.
  • We also carried a handheld weather radio so as to always have an up to date weather forecast- which came in handy several times by allowing us to plan our days around worse weather (i.e., if we knew that a storm was due to hit the next afternoon, we'd make an effort to get up early and try to get to our next destination before the storm hit).
  • To some extent, it may also have been a matter of just plain luck.
The article mentions that the group faced some challenging stream crossings- this was hands down the single biggest challenge we faced (and we didn't have to deal with the Stoney Creek crossing, even). During one section we had the misfortune of facing a January thaw- which meant that all of the snow melted, and streams that were ordinarily mere trickles of water, perhaps a few feet wide and easy to hop across without a second thought, were instead raging torrents 30 feet or more across. Seriously, these were no joke- and crossing them demanded some serious, careful consideration of our options (plus also no shortage of luck). At one such crossing, we were lucky enough to find a canoe nearby. At another, we found a way across but judged it too precarious to attempt with 60-70 pound packs on our backs- so we ended up setting up hand-line across the stream and shuttled our gear across, piece by piece (so as not to risk a laden pack snapping the hand line and spilling the entire contents of the pack into deep, swift moving cold water).

They also mention the difficulty of getting fires going. We had a few on our trips, but we were very explicit in that our preparations were to allow us complete self-sufficiency without any reliance on fire- any campfire we were able to have was simply an added bonus. In any case, our experiences matched those of this group- finding good dead and downed wood that wasn't soaked and/or hidden beneath deep snow was usually more trouble that it was worth.

Another consideration that the article sort of hints at but doesn't outright state: A good number of the lean-tos on the NPT are situated on the eastern shoreline of lakes/ponds, and are both un-sheltered and face westward, directly into the prevailing winds. Great spots to camp at in the summer when afternoon breezes off the water will keep the bugs at bay, but horrible spots to camp at in the winter. I will never forget the night we spent weathering a storm at Plumley's Point on Long Lake; we were in our sleeping bags for 16 straight hours while the storm raged, with essentially no vegetative screening to keep the winds from roaring off the lake and straight into the lean-to. The winds absolutely howled all night long, loudly enough that sleeping was a challenge. Even with a tarp across the front of the lean-to, sunrise still found us with an inch of fresh snow covering everything inside the shelter.

To be clear, by no means am I attempting to qualify this group as inexperienced- it sounds like they were anything but (honestly, they sound very much more experienced than we were when we set out with the same goal in mind). However, the article is pretty vague on the specifics- I'd especially be curious to know what they'd do differently given the opportunity to try this again. In the absence of more detailed information, one is left only to speculate about what exactly lead to the issues faced by the group.

And if I'm being perfectly honest with myself, I think the biggest advantage working in our favor was not necessarily tied to experience- we were able to recognize early on that a 5-6 mpd pace was much more achievable than what we'd originally planned on, and as college students with a lengthy winter recess every year, we had ample free time at our disposal to quickly and easily switch to a substantially longer section-hike itinerary. It sounds like some of the members of the group featured in the article do work in academia and likely enjoy a similar winter recess- but I don't doubt that some group members very well may have had a 2-week deadline, after which vacation time would be used up and jobs would be expecting a return to work. This very well may have resulted in a "2 weeks or bust" attitude that ended up pushing the group beyond their limits.
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Old 02-05-2020, 09:32 AM   #12
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They were before the NYSDEC regulation that traps have to be checked every 24 hours.
True if you were trapping in the Southern Zone, but the trap check regulation in the Northern Zone is 48 hours.
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Old 02-05-2020, 10:30 AM   #13
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True if you were trapping in the Southern Zone, but the trap check regulation in the Northern Zone is 48 hours.
Thanks for the correction. It has been >40 years since I set for muskrats down here in the flatlands, and I never trapped up north.
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Old 02-08-2020, 07:43 PM   #14
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There are I think 2 or 3 guys that started an NPT through hike today.
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