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  1. #1
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    Default 2021 February NOBO start - winter conditions

    I've pretty much decided to do a NOBO start from Georgia, probably starting on 2/18/2021. I'll be 55 years old. I've done relatively little hiking in recent years, but I'm not in horrible condition, I was running marathons five years ago, and I still run some. I've lived in New England my entire life, nearly half of that in NH. I can deal with cold weather, I hate the heat. So, that's part of the reason for an early start. I also have an event in Appomattox, VA that I want to attend from 4/22-4/25, and another event that I want to attend toward the end of August in Newfoundland, so that start date seems good to fit in with that.

    I plan on doing some multi-day hikes this fall and maybe this winter in the White Mountains. I've never done anything longer than an overnight hike previously. It may sound naive, but I'm really not worried about my relative lack of backcountry experience, other than how it relates to ice and snow. I took the NOLS Wilderness First Aid class two years ago. I think that having been a somewhat serious runner and dealing with some runner injuries, going to PT, helps prepare me mentally for what the trail may do to me in that regard. I plan on doing some strengthening exercises between now and then, and if I fail to do enough, well, shame on me.

    I don't have specific questions about my gear, but more about how different the weather and ground conditions typically are in February/March when comparing Georgia, or the Great Smoky Mountains, to what I'm used to in the White Mountains. I've watched so many Youtube videos, where there's no snow or ice on the ground down south in February, but I realize that isn't always the case.

    I own a pair of 30" Tubbs snowshoes. Do I just check on what the ground conditions are several days out from flying to Georgia, and make a decision then on what to bring as far as snowshoes, microspikes, etc.? Nobody wants to lug around a 4.5 pound pair of snowshoes for no reason, but I feel like I would rather have them through GSMNP and not need them, than to have my trip derailed, because I wasn't prepared for winter conditions. February weather and ground conditions in Georgia/North Carolina/Tennessee seem radically different than what I would encounter in the White Mountains of NH. Down south, it certainly gets cold, but my impression is that even the Great Smoky Mountains don't get anything like the snow I'm used to in NH. What are everyone's thoughts on that, and how to be prepared?

    I have fairly light gear, but I won't have an ultralight pack, so carrying extra winter gear isn't a problem. I'm thinking that I will shed some of my winter gear once I get past GSMNP. By the time I'm in Glasgow/Appomattox, I'll probably be carrying just what I would carry until Katahdin.

    -Pete

  2. #2

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    Ya know the kind of raw spring weather we commonly have here in NH for April and early May when we pretty much live in a cloud? That's the kind of weather you will have for about 3 months. But with the potential for a really cold night from time to time, along with maybe some snow if a storm hits you while in the Smokies. It seems to me the weather trend is for shorter, but more intense winters.

    So, be prepared to be damp and cold much of the time. Then later on, don't be fooled by a few warm days thinking the cold is gone for good. It isn't.
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  3. #3
    4eyedbuzzard's Avatar
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    Of concern is your comment
    I've never done anything longer than an overnight hike previously.
    There's a big difference between going day hiking or overnight/weekends in cold weather, even in the Whites, and being out in winter on an extended AT thru hike, both physically, and perhaps even more important, mentally. Day hiking and overnights/weekends don't present the same challenge in staying warm and dry for the days and weeks on end that thru-hiking will. Don't underestimate the winter weather down south - plan on seeing single digits and possibly even negative numbers temperature wise, snow, ice, cold rain, etc., especially in early March in GSMNP and higher elevations north of there. You could see freezing temps all the way through roughly late April/May through the higher elevations in southern VA. Once you get cold, it's really hard to warm up when the wind is blowing and snow (even worse is cold rain) is falling in freezing temps, and more so if you're tired, hungry, wet, and your gear has come to equilibrium with the nominal damp, cold environment. When the weather turns bad, it tends to wind up being a slow losing struggle trying to stay warm and dry while making much progress, which is why most hikers will bail out to towns and wait out the bad storms. It's a compromise. If you carry heavier gear to survive the worst, it slows you down and tires you out under the good conditions when it's not needed, but even if you do carry it, you still don't make a lot more miles in the bad conditions anyway.
    As to foot wear in winter? Microspikes, sure. Snowshoes? On the AT in the south? No. Go to http://www.highonleconte.com/daily-posts and follow the links to the daily log posts for 2018 and 2019 in Feb and March (no 2020 logs due to COVID) to get an idea of temperatures and snow/ice/rain.
    Going against you is your lack of any long distance or even just multiday hiking experience AND starting at an unforgiving time. It would be really good if you could take a 3 to 4 day hike under mild but cold winter conditions sometime in Nov/Dec as a tune up/test run. [Maybe in the Pemi?] Being confident with all the mechanical stuff beyond just walking - pitching tents and cooking in wind/cold, making and breaking camp, what works and what doesn't gear and technique wise - it's all more important with a winter start. Daylight is short, nights are long, stuff that's easy in benign conditions doesn't stay that way in cold and worse. And by day 3 or 4, you'll have gained a much better chance of getting off to a good start.
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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slo-go'en View Post
    So, be prepared to be damp and cold much of the time. Then later on, don't be fooled by a few warm days thinking the cold is gone for good. It isn't.
    I've watched countless hours of youtube videos of people through hiking during various years, and I'm just surprised by how little snow is on the ground at higher elevations. But, I've seen plenty of hiking through rain/sleet/fog with high winds, where people's gear appears to be soaked through, and they're making it clear how cold they are.

    Quote Originally Posted by 4eyedbuzzard View Post
    Of concern is your comment There's a big difference between going day hiking or overnight/weekends in cold weather, even in the Whites, and being out in winter on an extended Don't underestimate the winter weather down south - plan on seeing single digits and possibly even negative numbers temperature wise, snow, ice, cold rain, etc., especially in early March in GSMNP and higher elevations north of there. You could see freezing temps all the way through roughly late April/May through the higher elevations in southern VA. Once you get cold, it's really hard to warm up when the wind is blowing and snow (even worse is cold rain) is falling in freezing temps, and more so if you're tired, hungry, wet, and your gear has come to equilibrium with the nominal damp, cold environment.
    I don't think I'm underestimating the weather down there, but I understand your concern in pointing out that surviving a single overnight in cold/wet temps is not the same as surviving multiple consecutive days of those conditions. For overnight I'll have a 15 degree (650 fill) down mummy bag, a SeaToSummit Reactor mummy bag liner, a Ghost Whisperer down jacket, and a dry change of clothes, etc., that will all be packed in dry sacks. I know down is useless when it's wet, and what it's like when it's even slightly damp. I'm also thinking that I'll initially take my REI All Season Bivy, then swap it out later for one of my tents. The bivy is warmer, and can even be used for extra warmth in a shelter. Daytime hiking gear will include a Gore-tex rain jacket and pants, a REV'IT (they make motorcycle gear) Polartec Alpha mid-layer jacket, and synthetic running shirts, tights, shorts, etc. I have a couple pairs of DexShell waterproof socks on order - they seem to get great reviews. Otherwise, I have an assortment of Smartwool socks. I've got a pair of waterproof ASICS mitten shells with glove liners which I think will be good around camp, but I'll need to figure out if my existing ski gloves will cut it for hiking/climbing or whether I need to pick up a more rugged pair of waterproof mittens with liners.

    Quote Originally Posted by 4eyedbuzzard View Post
    As to foot wear in winter? Microspikes, sure. Snowshoes? On the AT in the south? No. Go to http://www.highonleconte.com/daily-posts and follow the links to the daily log posts for 2018 and 2019 in Feb and March (no 2020 logs due to COVID) to get an idea of temperatures and snow/ice/rain.
    That site is helpful - thanks. Looking through the February 2019 weather at LeConte, there were plenty of nighttime lows well below freezing, and even some daytime highs that were below freezing, but I'm just surprised that so little snow seems to stick around. Of course, they could get a big snowstorm while I happen to be there, but I'll be watching weather forecasts and planning accordingly.

    Quote Originally Posted by 4eyedbuzzard View Post
    Of concern is your comment There's a big difference between going day hiking or overnight/weekends in cold weather, even in the Whites, and being out in winter on an extended Going against you is your lack of any long distance or even just multiday hiking experience AND starting at an unforgiving time. It would be really good if you could take a 3 to 4 day hike under mild but cold winter conditions sometime in Nov/Dec as a tune up/test run. [Maybe in the Pemi?] Being confident with all the mechanical stuff beyond just walking - pitching tents and cooking in wind/cold, making and breaking camp, what works and what doesn't gear and technique wise - it's all more important with a winter start. Daylight is short, nights are long, stuff that's easy in benign conditions doesn't stay that way in cold and worse. And by day 3 or 4, you'll have gained a much better chance of getting off to a good start.
    That's my plan. Choosing to go on a multi-day trip when it's raining and 35 degrees may be a far better test than going when it's clear and 15 degrees. Getting out during some icy conditions would be a good idea as well.

  5. #5
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    NHPete- also be aware that every year is different- I left Springer March 1st in 2010 for a LASH to Harpers Ferry. The second day it snowed 6 inches and we didn't see the ground again for almost 2 weeks. The trail was often an ice pack and we postholed to knee depth in numerous sections. The Smokies were almost impassible with waist deep drifts. Even in VA my water bottle froze inside my bivy at Thomas Knob (9 degrees, 40 mph winds). Don't underestimate the south.

    Other years folks have gone Georgia to VA without a flake of snow. Be prepared, embrace the suck and stay flexible and you will be fine.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by DripDry View Post
    NHPete- also be aware that every year is different- I left Springer March 1st in 2010 for a LASH to Harpers Ferry. The second day it snowed 6 inches and we didn't see the ground again for almost 2 weeks. The trail was often an ice pack and we postholed to knee depth in numerous sections. The Smokies were almost impassible with waist deep drifts. Even in VA my water bottle froze inside my bivy at Thomas Knob (9 degrees, 40 mph winds). Don't underestimate the south.

    Other years folks have gone Georgia to VA without a flake of snow. Be prepared, embrace the suck and stay flexible and you will be fine.

    Thanks for another perspective. I personally know someone who had a similar experience with regards to the snow, and that was the end of his hike.

  7. #7
    Registered User ScottTrip's Avatar
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    Don't underestimate the mountains of Northern Georgia, they can be very cold that early. I started my hike on March 7th and had night time temps into the 20s most evenings. My first snow of concern was in GSMNP about 2 weeks later, it snowed 6 to 8 inches during my entire hike across the park. Again several nights were in the teens, very cold. After reaching Standing Bear another snow storm hit at Max Patch and we hiked through snow and cold until Hot Springs. I did have cold weather gear and slept as well has can be expected in such temps. Most of the time the shelters were packed with hikers and we helped each other out to make it through. I wore trail runners the entire hike with nothing special when hiking in the snow, I don't recall anyone with snowshoes or even boots. As post above have said, you just never know what the weather will be in the South at that time so best to be prepared.

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