There may be crocuses blooming in your front yard, but winter lingers in the high hills and shaded woods.
This time of year — somewhere between full winter and full spring — I get restless with the shifting seasons. While I’m fitting in as many runs as I can in a waning ski season, I’m also looking ahead to warmer-weather pursuits — like hiking.
It was that mindset that put me on the trail a few days ago wearing hiking boots rather than ski boots as I set off with the dog toward Bridal Veil Falls in Franconia.
Only the merest of snowbanks lined the muddy road leading to the trailhead. But once on the trail, I encountered everything from bumpy thawed-and-refrozen boot tracks to crusty ice and packed snow with a layer of sugary stuff on top. I was glad to have my microspikes attached to my boots. Snowshoes would have worked, too, especially in the areas where the top layer of snow slid easily from the dense, packed layer below.
Hiking — or any outdoor pursuit — during this in-between season is often a mixed bag, and hikers should be prepared for both wintery and spring-like weather and trail conditions. That means layered clothing, traction devices, and following the guidelines outlined at www.hikesafe.com.
The Appalachian Mountain Club updates trail and weather conditions daily at www.outdoors.org for the areas it maintains, and hikers post updates for trails throughout the state at www.newenglandtrailconditions.com.
No matter what season you hit the trail, it’s important to stay on said trail.
“Compacted snow and ice on trails is often the last to melt out,” said Alex DeLucia, the Leave No Trace program manager for the Appalachian Mountain Club. “Hikers who are not prepared for these conditions end up walking outside of the trail corridor and contribute to trail widening. Above treeline, this impact can significantly damage fragile alpine plants that grow alongside the trail.”
My hike was well below treeline, on a trail tucked into the shadow of the Kinsman Range. Still, I noticed several spots along the way where other hikers had post-holed into deep snow when stepping off the beaten path. The Coppermine Trail to the falls meanders along its namesake brook. Deep pillows of pure white snow concealed the brook in most places, but the deep gurgle of the water flowing below its winter cover suggested it won’t be long before the brook melts free.
Bodies of water everywhere are thawing this time of year, which means hikers need to use extra caution on water crossings.
While this trail is busy during the summer months, when hikers are rewarded at the apex of the hike with the prospect of a refreshing dunk in the pool at the base of the falls, we had the trail almost to ourselves the other day, meeting only two other hikers along the way.
Above the partially-frozen pool we climbed a cascade of packed snow to sit among what seemed a fairy tale castle. The falls, which in summer tumble and roar over the rocks, now hung suspended as tall, thick shelves of icicles, tinged blue and yellow.
The signs of mud season’s approach are evident in the yard and beyond. Soon — for a while, anyway — it will be too muddy to amble along many of my favorite hiking trails. But for now, for a little while longer, winter lingers here in the cool shelter of woods and mountains.
Winter Notes is published on Fridays during ski season. Contact Meghan McCarthy McPhaul at firstname.lastname@example.org.