We heard somewhere that hiking season was over in BC. That’s cute.
While it’s true that prime time for crowds has passed, the season is in full swing for the dedicated hiker, those who don’t want things to be too easy and embrace the challenge that winter brings to their favorite activity. And of course there is the whole new land and mountain-scape that the season affords, with beautiful snowcaps, frosted pines, and icy ponds to snap photos of along the way. We’re good with the fact that bears are hibernating too.
But for all of the awesomeness of winter hiking in British Columbia, it does require a bit more skill and a set of unique preparations to boot, better hiking boots included. As big fans of hiking in a winter wonderland Grindaholic is here to share our tips for the cold-shoulder season months ahead.
5 TIPS TOWARDS SAFER HIKING IN BC DURING THE WINTER SEASON
1. ACCOUNT FOR THE END OF DAYLIGHT SAVINGS
The days are much shorter in the winter. Plan your hike accordingly. That means starting your ascent as soon as day breaks (or soon after). You may think that starting around 11 AM or noon for a 2 hour (return) hike is fine, but things happen, and two hours can turn into four at the drop of a hat or twist of an ankle. You do not want to be making your way back to the starting point as dusk approaches. However, even though you will be following the advice above (right?) still prepare for a hike back in the dark. Bring a headlamp and an extra set of batteries, preferably lithium as they are more reliable in cold weather when compared to alkaline. And even though you should never hike alone in the winter (see item #5 below) be sure to let someone trustworthy know that if they don’t hear from you by dusk that they should alert the local authorities.
2. BE COVERED FOR WHEN SNOW COVERS TRAILS AND MARKERS
Snow may have obscured or completely covered paths, trails, and trail markers. Some hikers think that using their GPS (smartphone app, etc.) will cut it, but it doesn’t. If you’re venturing into a territory that has experienced snowfall, or is forecast to (even just 10%) on the day of your hike, come armed with topographical maps, a compass, and working knowledge of how to use them together.
3. KEEPING WARM
While a challenging hike will work up a sweat, even in the winter, you must bring excess layers regardless. Any unanticipated delay (i.e. a slight injury to yourself or hiking partner) that puts a halt to brisk movement can drop your body temperature fast.
However, we need to go beyond the standard advice of dressing in layers. Plan for the unexpected and be prepared to spend the night should you lose your way on longer hikes. That means packing extra clothing, glove and boot warmers, and even a lightweight emergency shelter that can be unfolded to help block cold winds and freezing temperatures until the morning arrives. Throw a box of matches into your pack for good measure.
Lastly, swap out the summertime hiking shoes and baseball cap for warm winter hiking boots, thick socks, and a toque.
4. STAY HYDRATED AND FED
Eat and drink frequently along longer winter hikes, even more than you normally would in the spring or summer. Drinking water is especially important as dehydration actually quickens the onset of hypothermia. But eating is important too. You burn a lot of calories on a hike, and if you factor in the more challenging conditions (trekking through snow using poles or snowshoes with a heavy pack in tow) you’re looking at burning approximately 600 calories per hour. A hike such as the Grouse Grind which normally burns 1000 calories in the summer can turn into 1200-1400 in the winter. You must make sure your body is fueled accordingly.
And as mentioned above, plan for the unexpected. If going on a long hike, pack enough food and water (if no heavy snow to consume) to sustain you through the night.
5. GO WITH EXPERIENCE
A hike that you may normally do in the spring or summer is a completely different animal come winter. There’s a 180-degree difference when hiking in 0 °C or below. If you’re not an advanced level hiker, go with someone who is, someone who has direct winter season experience hiking the trail you intend to go on.
Let’s take the Grouse Grind for example. Two weeks ago, Grindaholic founder Gerry Rahn shared an update noting that after some discussion, the Parks Board was considering extending the open dates of the Grouse Grind into the late autumn and winter. Well, that seems to have happened (thanks Gerry!), as at press (mid-November 2017) the Grind has been reopened. What this means however, is that fans of the Grouse Grind in the summer may head for the mountain and find the hike to be way more challenging than what they normally experience from May to September. This could lead to more rescue missions that the Parks Board (and taxpayers) can afford to conduct. Therefore, we urge anyone who intends to hike the Grind (or any BC trail) for the first time in the winter, to go with someone who has done it many times before. Don’t know anyone? You can either join one of our weekly groups or sign up for a custom guided tour.
Here’s to a fun and safe winter hiking season in BC!