Unpredictable winter weather and recent storms in backcountry areas are creating variable conditions, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos announced last week.
Visitors should be prepared with proper clothing and equipment for snow, ice and cold to ensure a safe winter experience.
“Winter conditions in New York’s backcountry areas include beautiful, unpredictable, and sometimes treacherous weather,” Seggos said. “While DEC encourages recreation year-round on state forest preserve lands, visitors are advised to pay careful attention to forecasted conditions when adventuring outdoors. Conditions can vary wildly across the state, as well as with elevation change, such as in the Adirondacks High Peaks region and the Catskills, where pleasant trailhead conditions can quickly shift into wet or frozen terrain as hikers advance up the trail.”
Snow depths range greatly throughout the Adirondacks, with the deepest snow at higher elevations in the High Peaks region and other mountains over 3,000 feet. Lower elevation trails have mixed conditions of snow, ice and slush, including many of the Catskill Mountains where the potential for icy trail conditions exist.
DEC recommends visitors to the backcountry carry snowshoes and trekking poles and use them when snow depths warrant. Snowshoes or skis ease travel on snow and prevent “post holing,” which can ruin trails and cause sudden falls, resulting in injuries. Crampons or other traction devices should be carried for use on icy portions of the trails including summits and other exposed areas. An ice axe may be necessary above tree line in the High Peaks.
Forest rangers strongly advise that current trail conditions will make travel without properly fitting traction devices extremely difficult. Check out DEC’s Winter Hiking Safety webpage at dec.ny.gov for further details on traction devices.
Some seasonal access roads remain open. However, the use of four-wheel drive vehicles is strongly recommended. Some seasonal access roads have transitioned to snowmobile use. Check local club, county and state webpages and resources, including the NYSSA Snowmobile Web map, for up-to-date snowmobile trail information.
While ice is beginning to form on some waterways, DEC advises outdoor enthusiasts to review ice safety guidelines before heading out.
In addition, backcountry visitors should hike smart and follow these safety guidelines:
- Check weather before entering the woods. If extreme cold is predicted or the weather is poor, postpone the trip.
- Be aware of weather conditions at all times and if the weather worsens, head out of the woods.
- Dress properly in layers of clothing made of wool fleece, and other materials that wick moisture (not cotton), including a wool or fleece hat, gloves or mittens, wind/rain resistant outerwear, and winter boots. Learn how to layer for a cold weather hike on DEC’s YouTube page.
- Carry a day pack with the following: ice axe, food and water, extra clothing, map and compass, first-aid kit, flashlight/headlamp, sunglasses, sunblock protection, ensolite pads, stove and extra fuel, and bivy sack or space blankets. Hypothermia can kill even when temperatures are above freezing. A tiny emergency “space blanket” can save your life.
- Carry plenty of food and water. Eat, drink and rest often. Being tired, hungry or dehydrated makes outdoor adventurers more susceptible to hypothermia.
- Know the terrain and physical capabilities. Remember that it takes more time and energy to travel through snow.
- Never travel alone and always inform someone of the intended route and return time.
Visit DEC’s Winter Hiking Safety webpage for information, resources, and videos on hiking safely in the winter.
Traveling through snow takes more energy and time than hiking the same distance, especially in freshly fallen snow. Plan trips accordingly. In an emergency call 911. To request forest ranger assistance, call 1-833-NYS-RANGERS.