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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Mud Season Hiking - Mud and Ice in March, April and May

One of the first things that you will realize "Spring" Hiking is that anything is possible. Mid-winter conditions, Knee Deep Mud. Melting Snow and Rain, Bugs. And did I mention Mud. Basically anything that mother nature wants to throw at you.

It is important to remember that the conditions at the trail head may not be anything like the conditions on the summit. Here in the Northeast the approaches to summits and the higher peaks will have snow for some time. Snowshoes are really important for these types of situations and you should find a system for carrying snowshoes on your backpack. Personally I have several Osprey backpacks with lips that allow me to stick my snowshoes MSR Denali's (affectionately know as milk crates). The next important tip is to use them.

If there is over 6-12 inches of snow and you walk through it  creates an effect called post-holing. In heavy snow it is important to take care of your feet. You will often get abrasions from the snowshoes rubbing on your feet. Carry moleskin to cushion or protect those areas.

The next type of condition you will often encounter is hard packed, icy or monorail conditions. It is important to start early in the morning as the surface is much easier to walk on when solid.
I use Kahtoola micro spikes for light conditions and crampons for heavier ice. Microspikes are a great tool but will slide in many situations where the heavier crampons are needed. Movement should be made to take advantage of natural cracks etc. When to use what traction is up to the individual.

Often there will be wet snow or snow melting off the trees. You want to have a good shell there is no joy from these cold wet showers. If you keep your hood up it will keep you dry longer. These conditions often create hypothermia conditions. It is important to have warm dry layers and to protect them with a pack cover or line your sack with trash bags. Trash bags aren't very sexy but are a great tool in emergency situations.

With the melt of snow and ice conditions will begin to get muddy. It is suggested to stay in the middle of the trail or find stepping stones that have hopefully been placed. When you start working out to the side of the trail, the trail just starts getting bigger and more eroded. With even the best boots hours of exposure to water and mud will cause feet to get wet. One solution is to wear waterproof sox or if boots wet through to change your sox and powder your feet or if things get to bad put you feet in plastic bags. If you do this for a few hours it will keep your feet warm. If you tried to do it for several days though you will get immersion foot.

It's kind of frustrating -- you get a couple of nice days then all of sudden the bugs are out in hordes. There are two solutions neither very good. A head net of bug suit. These work great but are very hot or a high deet repellent which also works well but good knows what you are absorbing into your body.

A couple of additions since I wrote this back in March. I've done close to 60 peaks since then. First off I started using MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes early in April. Definitely cut the amount of sliding which is great. Snapped my first tooth last Friday :( hopefully warrantee process will be easy. I started using a set of foam cut outs that my friend Wayne made by cutting up a mat and the foam is inserted where the bindings cut into your feet. They help a lot but do move at times. Feet have been getting wet but there seems to be no cure for that.

All in all spring hiking can be a lot of fun but it is a season you have to be prepared for mentally and otherwise. Questions call 800-448-7965 or email info@vtarmynavy.com

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