Adirondack Hiking Safety Tips

This has been such a weird winter, especially for hiking. In the Adirondack Hiking Facebook groups there are numerous posts every day asking about trail conditions. You never really know what the conditions will be until you get there, and it is best to be prepared. Unfortunately, there have been some deaths recently in the Adirondacks. One was due to a hiker’s unpreparedness, while the other was an unfortunate accident. It saddens me when such tragedy happens my in my beloved Adirondacks, and my thoughts are with the families of these victims. But this just goes to show that anything happen in the Adirondack Wilderness; these mountains can be unforgiving.

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As the weather gets nicer, more and more people want to get outside and enjoy the mountains. This is a great thing! But this time of year is not the best time to start hiking the harder peaks as beginner. Many people don’t have the appropriate gear needed for the trail conditions, which can range from mud, ice, and even feet of snow near the summits, when the trailheads were dry. If you aren’t willing to invest in the proper gear, please wait until summer when trails are dry and conditions are much better! But if you don’t want to wait, here are my tips for hiking in these conditions.

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Get the proper gear and when in doubt, bring microspikes.  I can’t stress this enough! A few weeks ago there was no snow on the ground near Bolton Landing, but as soon as we hit the trail, we were walking on a thick sheet of ice the entire hike to Cat Mountain. I saw so many people without traction devices (microspikes, crampons, or yaxtrax) on their feet. This can lead to slips and falls which can cause serious injury. I slipped and fell (with microspikes on!) when descending Cat and banged my ankle, and it’s been bothering me ever since. DEC regulations also state that snowshoes are required in the winter on trails about 3,000 feet in elevation.

Always carry the 10 essentials. This is even more important in the winter, I think. In the summer, you may be able to get away with a night in the woods, but in the winter, at night the temperature can drop well below zero in the mountains. Without the proper emergency gear, you run the risk of getting frostbite or hypothermia. This is what happened to the poor woman on Mcnaughton Mountain a few weeks ago. The 10 Essentials, according to the Adirondack Mountain Club are:

  1. Navigation (map and compass) **and know how to use it!**
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight) **and extra batteries**
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
  7. Repair kit and tools (knife, cordage, duct tape, etc.)
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter (tent/emergency blanket)

Check weather and trail conditions. DEC posts the trail conditions for all areas of the Adirondacks. I find the high peaks page especially useful.  I also make sure to check NOAA’s higher summit forecast for the weather report before I go hiking. The report will even tell you if the higher summits will be obscured in clouds.

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Tell someone where you’re going. Before I hike, I always tell someone what peak I’m headed to, the trail I’ll be taking and where the trailhead is located. This past weekend, I sent Jordan a screen shot of my planned route to Marshall on the map. I also never hike alone in the winter! It is just not something I ever plan to do.

Are there any other tips you’d recommend? Overall, the point of this post is to hike smart! Don’t underestimate the mountains, and always be prepared. Happy (and safe) hiking!

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4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. One I don’t see mentioned enough: know when to turn back. Especially with so many lists and challenges where people are trying to score a nice check mark, it can be difficult to get partway to a goal and make the smart decision to turn around when weather, trail conditions, skill level, equipment or lack thereof, or personal condition make it dangerous to keep going. The mountains and trails will be there another day.

    1. YES! this is the hardest one! I usually set a time that if i’m not at the summit by then it’s time to turn back! Especially during winter when we have less daylight hours.

  2. Great post, especially found the weather and trail conditions links helpful. Been wanting to get back into the high peaks, but pushing it back because I don’t have spikes.

  3. Those “Hot Hands” warmers are good for day and great at the bottom of a sleeping bag at night.
    They can save your life!

    Also solar/crank lights.

    And a good whistle tucked away somewhere in case of emergency/bears.

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