Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Hiking Bald Mountain in the Winter
Written by Linda Grace
Publicity Clerk,
Old Forge Visitor Information Center
Walking the "Dinosaur Spine" to the Fire Tower. Picture by Carol Perkins.

Bald Mountain is a moderate mountain to climb with a few nice lookouts on the way up. Before sunrise one winter morning, my hiking buddy and I sat in our cars in the trailhead parking area with our doors open and facing each other as we stretched crampons over our winter hiking boots. In the winter when hiking up a hill or mountain, it is a good idea to always carry crampons even if you think you don’t need them.  Soon our backpacks were on and we were chugging through the 5 to 6 inches of fluffy snow. If the snow had been any deeper, we would have worn snowshoes to avoid post holing.  Post holing is when you step into deeper snow without snowshoes and sink in to create a hole. Such holes make a trail that is ineffective and dangerous to walk on.

Picture by Carol Perkins.
The morning was warmer than the past few days, probably in the low to mid 20’s as compared to the teens in the days before. We are dressed in layers. I believe a warm wool hat and the base layer is one of the most important parts of my winter attire. The best clothing for winter activities are wool or synthetic materials. Whenever you are doing outdoor hiking, whether summer or winter, cotton is not a good choice because it holds in moisture. I suggest you get additional advice on winter hiking through the many online sources that have more winter experience with hiking than I do.

The beginning of the trail is a pleasant walk through the woods. This ends quickly when you come to the first and the steepest part of the trail. We skirt the boulder and find better traction on the side, but not leaving the trail. Coming back down these tricky areas is a little harder!
Picture by Carol Perkins.

Turning to talk to each other about our trail navigation, we sometimes forgot that we had headlamps on, and we often ended up blinding each other.  We were thankful for our trekking poles which kept us from tripping on the uneven snow covering the trail. Our poles also assisted us as we pulled ourselves up the hill and they gave us extra support on the way down. The trail markers are sparse, and we were breaking trail on the new snow and there is only so much light a headlamp can give. We both know the trail well as we have hiked it many times, but in the limited light it is good that we have each other to help with navigating.

New Year's Eve picture by Wende Swick.
After this section of the climb the ascent isn’t as noticeable, and we took time to notice the beauty of the winter and woods around us. Soon we came to the second hardest part of the trail up a boulder. Again, we looked to stay on the trail, but tried to skirt the rock in case it was too icy. Cracks in rocks or tree roots can help provide good footing and “steps” up. Trees and trekking poles can help give stability and a pull up. After getting past this part, one can congratulate oneself for making it through the hardest climbing part of the trail. But don’t relax too much, because there are some technical areas yet to come!

When you get to the top of the mountain, just before you get to the fire tower, the trail becomes very narrow along the top of a rock. This part of the trail makes me feel like I am hiking on a dinosaur’s spine. In the summer it takes slight balancing skills; in the winter it can be a little scarier, as there may be ice underneath the snow. That is why it is very important to wear crampons. This is where snow may be deeper as well because it is open while most of the trail has tree coverage. It can also be much colder on top and very windy as well. If you decide to go up into the fire tower the steps can be very icy. So if you decide to hike Bald Mountain in the winter, please be careful and watch your step.

Picture by Ray Finney.

So, now people may be wondering why I would want to climb Bald Mountain in the winter. Well, I hope some of the pictures included here can start to answer that question.
View from the top, picture by Carol Perkins.