Oct 19, 2006 at 5:59 pm #1219936
Hey guys, I’m planning a trip to the White Mountain Wilderness, NM for my Thanksgiving break from school this semester. Being from Austin, TX, I don’t know much about mountain conditions during this time of year, so there’s a lot of uncertainty in the planning. I understand that, even for seasoned veterans, there’s no predicting mountain weather, but you can certainly play the odds. I’ve only been on a few backpacking trips, one was into the Gila Wilderness in March, where there was still a few inches of snow everywhere but no precipitation, and the other was in August in the Wheeler Peak Wilderness, when there was no snow but tons of precipitation. I survived both without knowing very much what I was doing. I’ve learned a little bit since then but I need some help anticipating the conditions and the gear. Here’s what I have already–and also used in Wheeler Peak:
– cloudveil peak pants
– golite stratus jacket
– moonstone UL cirrus jacket
– synthetic and wool base layers
– warm hat and sun/rain hat
– Inov-8 terroc 330s
– golite feather-lite (circa 40 degree down)
– Thermo-lite bivvy
– open jet alcohol stove
– BPL ti esbit stove
– golite lair 1
– Adapt ultralight poles w/snow baskets
That’s where I’m at. I’m anticipating that I might need a little more insulation to survive the temperatures. I know the Lair 1 isn’t big enough (because I’m bringing my roommate along) so I’m looking for something snow-worthy and light to accommodate us, but I don’t know what features to look for in a cold-weather shelter. I don’t know whether my Terrocs will have enough traction on snow/ice for me to feel safe. As a side note, I’ve thought about a heat exchanger face mask thing before to complement my warm hat . . . are such things also more valuable for their condensation-prevention effects?
As I mentioned, I’m bringing a friend. He has a Gregory Reality pack and some XCR trail runners. We’re starting him from scratch, so if you have any clothing suggestions for him, we’d both appreciate that as well.
And while we’re here, I need more than gear help. Frankly since I haven’t dealt with these conditions before, I don’t know what’s possible and what’s safe. Can we hike up mountains without technical gear? Do snowstorms happen at this time of year? Should we modify our mileage estimates and food rations for the conditions we’ll face? Basically I need a primer on ALL this. I’ve done summer backpacking in the mountains with no problem, now I need the knowledge to do it in the late fall . . . without dying.
Thanks for anyone that might offer their guidance.Oct 19, 2006 at 6:06 pm #1365178
@crazypeteLocale: Above the Divided Line
I’ve hiked in the WM wildeness, and I can tell you that along the Crest trail especially there are a multiplicity of avalance chutes which will be covered in snow that the trail traverses. You won’t need a full fledged ice axe but I would suggest somelike like the Helix or the Black Diamond trekking pole adaptation.Oct 20, 2006 at 1:22 am #1365196
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
> I don’t know much about mountain conditions during this time of year, so there’s a lot of uncertainty in the planning. I understand that, even for seasoned veterans, there’s no predicting mountain weather, but you can certainly play the odds. I’ve only been on a few backpacking trips, one was into the Gila Wilderness in March, where there was still a few inches of snow everywhere but no precipitation, and the other was in August in the Wheeler Peak Wilderness, when there was no snow but tons of precipitation. I survived both without knowing very much what I was doing.
Can I very gently suggest that you could consider doing some more short trips to get some more experience first? Please!Oct 20, 2006 at 4:03 am #1365198
11,000 ft in any mountains in October ..and you could see snow easily. IMO, you’d be putting yourself at risk not preparing for snow and temps well below freezing.Oct 20, 2006 at 6:02 am #1365201
Winter hiking in the mountains is tough, even for the most experienced. Around Thanksgiving, some desert hiking might be much more enjoyable. I’ve been wanting to check out the new areas of Glen Canyon, left by the receding water, and am looking at going during the cooler months of the year to do this. Just an idea.Oct 20, 2006 at 6:50 am #1365204
The White Mtn Wilderness is an amazing area! We tried to hike part of the Crest Trail from Ski Apache to Monjeau Lookout at the end of Sept. Due to the crazy amount of rain that the Ruidoso area received this summer the trail was seriously overgrown. It was easy to follow for about 4 miles or so and then just disappeared. It was an great hike, but be prepared for some serious elevation gain! I think the whole crest trail is about 22-24 miles long.
Regarding the weather, you may or may not have alot of snow to deal with. From what we were told, last year was a record low snowfall for that area and I believe that Ski Apache opened much later than usual. That being said, you may want to re-think your sleeping bag choice or get some high-loft insulation to compliment it. The temps got into the upper 30’s when we were up there at the end of Sept.
If you want help with logistics, I would highly recommend Lincoln County Tours. They’re a guide service based in Ruidoso and can help you plan your hike. They’ll be able to give you all the beta you need and also have maps of the area if you need them. They also offer a shuttle service for about $30 which we used and it worked out great!Oct 20, 2006 at 6:59 am #1365205
One more note..even if it wasn’t overgrown, the Crest Trail (or at least the part that we hiked) is not necessarily well marked. We were told that it was, and there are certain areas where it was very clear, but others where you really have to pay attention. I bring this up because I can only imagine how easy it would be for one to get lost on this trail in the winter months.Oct 20, 2006 at 7:05 am #1365206
Hey thanks everyone for your insight. Now I’m thinking it might be a good idea to go ahead and plan for the WM wilderness and hope for the best, but then have a lower-elevation backup plan in case we get there and the conditions just aren’t right. I can hope for another winter like last year’s but have a plan B just in case.
Anyone have any good ideas for a ~3-day trip in the same area? Another idea we had was to stay in Texas and do some hiking in the Guadalupe Mtns or Big Bend, but from what little is available online I gather that we would need to bring all our own water on such a trip, which isn’t awful but also doesn’t really excite me. We’ve also considered Caprock Canyon or Palo Duro Canyon up in the panhandle, but I don’t k now very much about the backpacking in those places. Since they’re state parks, in TX, my suspicion is that we’d pay more in entrance and usage fees, and our camping areas would be highly restricted.
In addition, my thinking was that if we’re going to drive all the way across Texas for 10-11 hours to see the mountains or canyons or whatever, we might as well drive an extra couple of hours to see some more impressive terrain and scenery in NM. If anyone has any advice to the contrary, or if anyone has any other killer backpacking spots that we need to try that are within about 13-14 hrs drive from Austin, TX (the Ozarks?) then please advise. I just don’t know what’s out there.Oct 20, 2006 at 7:19 am #1365207
I’ve heard great stuff about the Ozark Highland trail in Arkansas, but you may have snow there too. The Ouachita (sp?) Mtns in SE OK are supposed to be fun too, but I believe the terrain is more like the Hill Country than actual mtns. Even if you do end up going to NM, don’t count on water sources. Even after all the rain this summer, we only came across once source, and that was at the beginning of the trail. Luckily we brought a good deal of water.Oct 20, 2006 at 6:40 pm #1365238
Depending on how long you are going to have to hike, the Ozark Highland Trail may be an option for you. It’s 165 miles long and can be hiked in 10 days, more or less. Some have done it in less time. Around Thanksgiving, you probably won’t see much in the way of snow, but the temps can get down into the upper 20s at night. Sleet and freezing rain could be more what you encounter. You can be at the trailhead west of White Mountain in about 8-8 1/2 hours from Dallas. You can check out http://www.hikearkansas.com/ohta.com for more information. By the way, the current fastrack record for the OHT is just over 3 days, but the guys were supported and got very little sleep. Also check out the Buffalo River Trail in NorthCentral Arkansas. It’s 28.5 miles and is a great 3-day hike.Oct 21, 2006 at 8:27 am #1365273
Consider your 3-4 Thanksgiving trip on the Ouachita Trail in Southeast Oklahoma/Southwest Arkansas. Fall is the best time to hike the OT and late November is not too late to enjoy it. You’re 8 driving hours away from Austin, TX.
Recommendations would be Section 2: Winding Stair Campground to Queen Wilhelmina Lodge if tent camping or Section 8: Iron Springs to Lake Sylvia for trail shelters.
For more info, here are three websites: http://www.friendsot.org for trail conditions, http://www.omhikers.net for a hiker schedule/advice and http://www.cloudland.net for a complete trail guidebook.
The OM Hikers have a planned hike during Thanksgiving and Tim Ernst at Cloudland.net just published his 4th edition (04/2006) to the Ouachita Trail.
If you like I have pdf files of the ten sections of the OT I can email you.Oct 21, 2006 at 9:30 am #1365279
Thanks for the suggestion, the websites are very informative but ultimately we’re looking for something with a little more elevation, vistas, open country, etc. From what pictures I could see, it appears the Ouachita Trail is mostly forested hills, am I right? This is the kind of stuff that I can find in central TX. Not to disparage the Ouachita Trail–I’m certain that it surpasses most of the stuff I could find in central TX, but I’m looking for terrain that’s a little further removed from what I call home. Heh . . . when I graduate I’m moving somewhere with some real public land. Well thanks everyone for your consideration and advice. Now my hiking partner is finding out how early he can get out of class before Thanksgiving. There’s a strong chance that we’ll both be able to skip almost the entire week, which gives us a lot more range in our potential destinations. With this kind of time we may just have to head all the way up to Utah or Wyoming or something. Now we have practically the entire southwest US, and then some, to consider for our trip. Any good suggestions for late November, anyone?Oct 21, 2006 at 5:04 pm #1365300
@vickrhinesLocale: Central Texas
A low-elevation backup that isn’t too far from Austin is the Big Bend National Park. If you get snow there, it won’t be the kind that kills. It’s open country with great views – especially from the South Rim trail, but it is all wide-open-spaces, so you will have views almost everywhere you walk. You can plan hikes of almost anylength and difficulty. There are lots of good loop hikes which makes logistics easy. If you want a straight-through hike and don’t want to take 2 vehicles, Far Flung Adventures in Terlinqua can run shuttle for you.
The BBNP is a magic place and you could spend months in there without having it wear thin.
The Ouichita trail is best in early spring. And it is a green tunnel almost all the way.Oct 21, 2006 at 7:53 pm #1365311
Thanks for the insight Vick. Actually Big Bend was our original plan. Once we realized we might have more time off than 4 days, we realized we could go further. To me, driving across west Texas needs a substantial reward, and I figure the kind of high mountain scenery that can be found in New Mexico and further would be more of a reward than Big Bend. But what you say makes me reconsider. It is, after all, one of Backpacker’s favorite parks in the whole US, so I guess it must be able to compete with the Rockies. Do you have any recommendations for a route that won’t require us to carry more than, say, 2-3 liters/person at any given time? I’ve heard horrible stories about dehydration out there, and I know that if you hike during the spring or summer it’s almost a necessity to cache water somewhere along your route. I do like what you say about open country though . . .Oct 22, 2006 at 2:37 pm #1365346
Ian, one more thought on the 2 Arkansas trails is that the fall is often a spectacular time to hike this area. The mountains are ancient so there aren’t the elevations of the Rockies but during the fall leaf off the views are fantastic.
Both the OHT and BRT are great hikes. My experience is that these trails are in better shape with more reliable access to water than the western end of the Ouachita Trail in OK/AR.
Around Thanksgiving, you can expect night time lows in the 20s and 30s. Snow is possible but not likely. Day time conditions this time of year do vary considerably.
Finally, Tim Ernst’s guide books are an excellent source for both trails.Oct 22, 2006 at 4:00 pm #1365347
@bugbombLocale: South Texas
I’m looking at almost the exact same areas for a Thanksgiving trip – Ozarks or Big Bend. This post is simply to say that I look forward to any responses to Ian’s last questions about water requirements in BBNP.
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