The snow is here to stay in Alaska, and that means that I’ll be winter hiking for the next 6 months. There’s so much I love about hiking in the winter: snow on all the trees, brightness in the forest even when it’s dark outside, gorgeous mountaintops glittering everywhere.
But there’s a lot that makes winter hiking tougher than summer hiking. In fact, I’d probably call winter hiking “Type 2 Fun” – not exactly fun in the moment, but afterwards I’m really glad it happened and I want to do it again as soon as I forget how hard it is. I’ve had a ton of Type 2 Fun experiences in the outdoors, but when I look back on those experiences I feel like they mostly happened in the winter. When I look back at pictures of winter hikes I mostly think about how amazing it was to get to that epic and sometimes remote destination, how quiet and gorgeous things were, and how accomplished I felt afterwards. But there’s so many things that I forget about winter hiking until I’m doing it again. And all of that has been coming back to me in the past few weeks.
It turns out that despite my happy memories of winter hiking, it’s pretty tough! I’m still learning how to layer properly to avoid sweating or freezing. It’s much more slippery out on the trails and I’m paranoid about falling. My hair and eyelashes freeze sometimes when it’s really cold outside. I have to carry more gear, and I have to spend more time putting gear on myself and even my dog (he has to wear booties!). My usual water bottles freeze and my favorite trail snacks freeze too. And the amount of time I have on a trail is so much shorter in the winter when there’s only a few hours of daylight and when the sun doesn’t rise high enough to reach some of the trails.
Sunday’s hike was definitely Type 2 Fun. My friend/fellow GWH ambassador and I decided to do a test run of the #optoutside hike that we are hosting for Girls Who Hike and the 52 Hike Challenge. As we drove out to the Eagle River Nature Center, we realized that the sun wasn’t going high enough in the sky to reach the valley we were hiking in. It was about 10 degrees, and a thick frost covered everything that wasn’t already covered in snow. Our chosen trail, the Dew Mound Trail, was a 6 mile loop that took us on the Iditarod trail. We walked up and down rolling hills through forests of trees covered in white with lots of large mountains peeking through, and an absolutely gorgeous frozen lake at the midway point. It should have been easy and enjoyable. But overall the hike was mentally and physically tough. I was too cold for the first part, and then as soon as we started going uphill I was too warm. My hair froze and stuck to my jacket. My phone died in the cold. When we finally got to Dew Mound and stood overlooking the lake, I couldn’t help but think, “We’re only halfway done?!”. We were all starting to feel a lot more tired than we usually would on a hike of this difficulty level. We all thought this would be a literal walk in the park, but we were fading fast. The rest of the hike passed by in a cold, grumpy blur. The last mile seemed to drag on forever and we all commented on how it was the longest mile we’d ever walked. By the end of the hike I was so glad to see the car and to be able to sit somewhere warm and eat non-frozen food!
We’ll be doing this hike again on Black Friday with our GWH group, and while I know it’s going to be another “fun” winter hike I’m glad that I know what to expect this time. Every time I do a winter hike I learn a little bit more about how to layer, what to bring, and how to fuel/hydrate so that I’m actually having more fun while I’m out there. I’m already thinking that my lack of warm drinks on the hike needs to change next time, and I’d layer differently too. Now that I’m sitting here bundled up on my warm sofa it’s already hard to remember how tough that hike was, especially when I look at the pictures we took and think about how peaceful that valley was. And that’s the reason why Type 2 Fun is so tricky – I forget the struggles right away and want to get back out there as soon as possible. I’m actually looking forward to doing a re-do of this trail on Black Friday so that I can make it a truly fun experience!
Do you ever have Type 2 Fun? Tell me about a time when you were not having fun in the moment, but you remembered it as being pretty awesome later!