The snow is beautiful… that is until you have to hike through it. Ever since my first hike eleven months ago (more here), I have been quite the fan of hiking, and I have been doing more and more of it (more here and here). On this day, however, I had my first real winter hiking experience, i.e. through the snow.
A few days before this Saturday hike, Boston (and much of the Northeast) experienced a snowstorm. In Boston, it began snowing Wednesday evening and continued all day on Thursday. Unlike a few other snowstorms this season, this time, the snow stuck to the ground. For this reason, the hike leaders in my outdoors group mandated that everyone wear hiking boots (rather than shoes) and microspikes (short metal spikes, that you can strap onto your hiking boots). Because there were several inches of snow on the ground, I also wore my gaiters (protective garments that keep snow and dirt out of the shoes) as well as snow pants.
Unlike the unseasonably warm Saturday mornings, on this morning when I arrived at the Blue Hills Reservation trailhead, the parking lot was half empty instead of packed to capacity. The snow sparkled in the freezing temperatures, but I felt comfortable under my four layers. It seemed like others were feeling similarly, as more than one person “de-layered” before we had even begun our hike. Once everyone was in attendance, the decision was made that a few members would wear their snowshoes. Snowshoes are gear that straps onto the boot to help increase your surface area and allows you to stay afloat in the deep snow. The snowshoes were particularly helpful in this case to help clear the path of unpacked snow. Everyone without snowshoes (like moi) put on their microspikes to prevent any slipping on the trails.
The start of the hike was pleasant as we were in awe of the sparking snow-covered trees and trails. The frozen ponds were a grayish white against the untouched snow, which gave the scene a painting-like appearance. The beauty could not distract us for long, however, as the snow made every step a laborious one. Not more than 15 minutes into our journey, we stopped for a water and de-layering break. I could not help but think, “My! This is going to be a long one!”
To reduce our exertion, we needed to stay on the packed snow. Because there were less hikers than usual out, the packed snow was no more than a narrow strip, which led us to hike single file, rather than in our usual clumps. While marching through the snow was strenuous, some of the hills felt easier somehow. Rather than carefully climbing up and gingerly stepping down, I slid, jumped, and stuck my microspikes in the most convenient spots. In this way, the snow felt like a safety net between us and the rocks underneath.
Two hours in, we did just over two miles — a slow pace. Although I wasn’t breathing hard (which is the case for me on the moderate hikes), I was sweating up a storm. I peeled off my hat from my forehead and removed my heaviest layer. I am usually sensitive to the cold but was feeling like a radiator from all of the exertion.
Our slow pace meant that we would not make it back in our 4-hour window if we pushed on to our midway point, which happened to be Chickatawbut hill. For this reason, we adjusted our route and took a “green dot” path back, which is less hilly. While we thought this would be the easy way back, it turned out that a good portion of the green dot path was untouched snow — meaning an even more strenuous trek back! Seriously though, had we returned on our current path (one with many ups and downs), then we would have been at least able to reap the benefits of our hard work packing down the snow with our boots and snowshoes. Instead, on the portion of the path less traveled, we trudged, and we tramped, and we plodded back on the unpacked, fluffy snow.
In the end, we ended up doing almost five strenuous miles with the views of the winter wonderland and the joyful spirit of comradery gained through shared experience as our sources of recompense. Our trampling will allow those who came after us to have a smooth path and unsullied experience on the trails. The views were magnificent, but in the end, when it comes to hiking post-snowstorm, it, perhaps, doesn’t pay off to be a trailblazer.