N.H. Fish and Game: Winter Conditions Prevail in the Mountains -- Hike Safe this Spring
April 8, 2009
With the arrival of mid-April, many outdoor enthusiasts are thinking that winter is over, and surely spring is finally here. While that may be the case in some locations, hikers, climbers, and skiers should be aware that winter conditions can linger well into May in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. With sometimes- challenging backcountry conditions in mind, the NH Outdoor Council and outdoors authorities are advising Granite State residents and springtime visitors to "Hike Safe."
"New Hampshire's woods and mountains are a great place for spring recreation," notes New Hampshire Fish and Game Conservation Officer Lieutenant Todd Bogardus. "If you're involved in activities such as hiking or backcountry skiing, there are many fantastic opportunities here. But the nature of the mountain environment is that it can be a dangerous place. Visitors who are looking forward to a mountain adventure have to realize that spring is very slow in coming, and winter conditions will persist here long after springtime appears further south, and at lower elevations." According to Bogardus, the lingering mountain snowpack, plus the usual cool spring weather, mean that hikers and others need to take special precautions to enjoy their adventures safely.
"Hikers should expect to find deep snows that make traveling and trail-finding difficult well into April - perhaps even into early May," says Bogardus, "and that means bringing along snowshoes for springtime hikes." He also advises that as conditions cause ice or icy snow on trails, crampons (ice spikes, strapped to sturdy boots) or similar equipment will be needed for safe footing. "In planning your trip, hikers should anticipate that extra time will be needed to find snow-covered paths and negotiate snowy and icy trails," he adds.
While snow levels will eventually diminish, making high-country travel a bit easier, that process will result in another spring hazard: challenging stream crossings. "Many backcountry river crossings are not bridged, and require care to cross safely even with low water levels," warns Bogardus. "With the extra water of snowmelt, plus more water from time to time due to spring rains, some stream crossings may be very difficult or even impossible to negotiate safely. Hikers definitely need to be ready to change their plans if such obstacles present themselves."
Another prominent hazard is that mountain weather in springtime is often much more severe than most people expect. High in the White Mountains, temperatures can get below zero even in May, winds are often strong and chilling, visibility can be very poor in low clouds, and snow can fall at any time. Dressing in layers (to suit varying conditions), and including warm clothing and raingear, are recommended.
Some locations in the White Mountains have added hazards. "Avalanche conditions can exist on Mount Washington well into spring," says Rebecca Oreskes, of the White Mountain National Forest. "Similar hazards can be encountered in other areas, especially those with steep, open slopes. All backcountry hikers, climbers, and skiers should be aware of avalanche danger and other hazards, such as falling ice and "undermined" areas, where there may be thin and weak snow cover over frigid streams." Oreskes notes that any climber venturing onto steep snow slopes also has to have appropriate equipment, such as an ice ax, and must be skilled in climbing techniques such as "self arrest."
Guidelines for safe hiking are set out in the principles of "hikeSafe," a joint initiative of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and the White Mountain National Forest to promote safe and responsible hiking. The hikeSafe "Hiker Responsibility Code" sums up the basic tenets of backcountry safety:
- Be prepared with appropriate knowledge and gear;
- Let someone else know your plans;
- Hiking groups should stay together, and not let themselves become separated;
- Hikers should always be ready to turn back if circumstances, such as changing weather, dictate;
- Hikers should be ready for emergencies, and, ideally, be set to effect "self rescue"; and
- Those who know the code should share its lessons with others.
"In spite of the challenges, most springtime visitors to our state's forests and mountains have great experiences," says Bogardus, "and there's a better chance of having a memorable and satisfying trip if hikers follow the hikeSafe principles."
For more information about the hikeSafe program, visit hikesafe.com and the NH Outdoor Council at nhoutdoorcouncil.org.
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department works in partnership with the public to conserve, manage and protect the state's fish, wildlife and marine resources and their habitats. Visit WildNH.com.
PO Box 157
Kearsarge, NH 03847-0157
nhocsecretary at nhoutdoorcouncil dot org