An ode to winter hiking

After traveling to Carrabassett Valley (western Maine) last week and finding myself “snowshoeing” in 60-degree weather and running into bald spots where the sun had melted away all snow, I’ve realized that the snow may just be about gone for this year’s winter hiking season. I know, northern Maine still has some stuff to work with, but in general, for Maine, spring seems to be snipping off the tail end of winter this March.

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki. An ice shack is set up on Fields Pond on Feb. 3, 2012.

This winter wasn’t the snowiest. No. It was not.

But I did get out on snowshoes … three times? four?

Now it’s time to attack clearance clothing racks at local outfitters and snag last year’s hiking shorts and T-shirts before other people start to realize that the temperature is rising and pretty soon, ice and snow won’t be a hazard on Maine’s many trails. But before I get carried away (as if I’d ever would), I’m going to take a second to appreciate the snow we did get this year — and talk a bit about the joys of winter hiking.

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki. Snow clouds lift off Mount Katahdin on Feb. 19, 2012.

“Act out with Aislinn” launched at the end of fall 2011, and my vision for a weekly video and informative article was the “One-Minute Hike.” Genius, I know. But there is one thing I didn’t factor into this beautiful, social media, high-tech, adventure-based project … winter.

By Aislinn Sarnacki. Hikers snowshoe up the Abol Trail on Mount Katahdin on Feb. 19, 2012.

Before this year, I have never been a “winter hiker.” I hiked during the summer — like most people. But starting up the “One-Minute Hike” series, I had devoted myself to becoming a winter hiker.

I don’t think that far ahead, I guess.

So I learned. And in order to wrap my head around hiking in winter, I reached back into my childhood memories of playing in the snow all day long. In our back yard in Winterport, Maine, my older sister, Jillian, and I would build caves in the snow hills (created by the plowman, whom we loved for that very reason). We would fly down hills in our bright pink saucer sled and build snow horses until the sun set. Our eyes would adjust so that we wouldn’t even notice, and our parents would call us inside for dinner.

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki. A view from Little Moose Mountain on March 5, 2012.

So I asked myself, “Why has the idea of winter changed so much for me?” As I grew older, I learned to avoid the cold – despise it even. I race from my house to my car, and then from my car to the office. At some point, for me, the winter stopped being a time for playing outside.

I’ve been told that if you’re going to live (happily) in Maine, you need to pick up a snow sport, but I’d never heeded that advice. Now I see the wisdom in it.

When I was a child, my parents would bundle me up pretty good. Mittens, snow pants, crazy-looking hats, fluffy ski jackets and felt-lined boots. So, to hike in the winter, I followed suit — but this time, I could clothe myself, thank you very much. I bundled right up… a bit overkill, at times. And once I got moving, it wasn’t so cold. It wasn’t unpleasant at all.

And now, as the winter ends, I’m actually sad to see it go.

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki. A view near the top of Black Cap Mountain on Feb. 12, 2012.

When you hike in the winter, mosquitos and black flies aren’t a problem. Chocolate bars don’t melt — though they might freeze. You rarely overheat – if you wear layers. The trails aren’t crowded with tourists. If you do meet hikers on the trail, they’re usually happy to be there because odds are, they’re fairly avid hikers. If you fall, it hurts less (due to the combination of snow and snow pants). Animal tracks are easier to see. Bare trees allow you to see farther into the forest. And if the snow is deep enough, you can use cool equipment such as snowshoes and cross-country skis.

And most of all, from my weekly hiking adventures, I’ve rediscovered winter’s beauty. Trails that I know intimately in the summer appeared completely different coated in ice and glittering white, bare of foliage.

So before everything melts away, I suggest you get out and walk in the woods.

By Aislinn Sarnacki. Fresh Pond in Holbrook Island Sanctuary on Feb. 14, 2012.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at