Winter Solstice, 2003, Waterloo-Pinckney Trail by Andy Mytys

Reports by Andy Mytys | Ken Knight | John Lawton | Dennis Shubitowski

The Winter Solestice Death Marche was very comfortable, with temps ranging from the upper 20's to 42 F.

We started out our hike with about two inches of powdered snow on the ground, but as temps increased so did the slush factor.

We started out at the trailhead feeling a slight chill. In the winter, a chill at the start of the day is a good sign that you are wearing just enough clothing. If you are not chilled, than after a mile or so of hiking, when your circulatory system is in gear, you will begin to sweat - something that you want to avoid in the winter at all costs.

In terms of clothes, I wore the following: Hat, REI MTS midweight long-sleaved top, 100 wt fleece top, Patagonia Helium windshirt, Patagonia LW Capeline tights, REI Sahara convertable pants (summer hiking pants that convert to shorts), a pair of 200 wt fleece socks, a pair of SealSkinz insulating/water resistant socks, a pair of sandles, a pair of 200 wt fleece gloves, a pair of REI All-Mountain mitts, and a neck gaiter.

The key gear in this list is the windshirt (blocks the wind, retains heat), neck gaiter (creates a tight seal at the top of your jacket, locking in the heat... also keeps throat/neck warm), hat and gloves. These items are crucial to my layering system, and they are taken off and put back on frequently during the course of my winter hiking to keep me comfortable and sweat free. I wouldn't go on any winter hike without them.

The items of clothing that I remove and put on while hiking are stored inside my windshirt. My pack's hipbelt seals the windshirt at my hip so nothing can fall out, and I just unzip the windshirt and throw items into my makeshift "pocket".

It didn't take long for me to heat up, at which point I removed my REI All-Mountain mitts. These mitts have adjustable loops on them, so you can let them just dangle off of your wrist, which is what I did. I still had my 200 wt fleece gloves on, which insulated my hands but let enough air to pass through that my hands could breath and feel a cooling effect from the outside air.

The next piece of gear to go was the neck gaiter, which was slipped into the windshirt. As temps increased, I would remove the 200 wt fleece gloves and even my hat. However, it was a windy day so when we stopped to rest, I quickly put my hat and gloves back on.

At the warmest time of our hike, I had my windshirt's zipper down halfway, the zipper from my 100 wt fleece pulled down (it's a half- zipper) and allowed myself increased exposure to the cool air. I was completely comfortable.

During rest breaks, I put on my down jacket to trap the heat I had built up during the hike.

In retrospect, I was a bit lazy on our hike. I should have exercised the option of zipping off my pantlegs and converting to shorts. The long-underwear I wore underneath was overkill for moving while temps were in the mid 30's to low 40's, and I did have some sweating in the legs.

During extended rest breaks, like on lunch, we were all happy to have our sleeping/sit pads handy. This insulated us from the wet and cold ground, allowing us to maintain a comfortable temperature.

After about eight miles of hiking, my knees started to complain. I began to high-step, forcing my knees into full movement. This warmed them up a bit and the aches went away. By mile-16 though, I felt that I had extended the usefullness of my "warming" method to its limits and opted to insulate my knees with a pair of neoprene knee braces.

Other hikers in the group with knee problems had been hiking with braces since the very start of the day.

I was very happy hiking in my sandals and insulated socks. While the wet snow and slush eventually penetrated into my outer sock and made for a wet foot, the other hikers in the party had the same experience in their boots. At the 16-mile point of our hike, I changed from my 200 wt fleece socks into a fresh pair of wool socks, putting the outer, water-resistant, sock, which was already saturated, over this. It took about five-miles for my wool sock to become wet enough to where I could feel the dampness in my foot. My footware solution worked just as well as that of my fellow hikers, but I had less weight to lift with each step by avoiding heavier boots.

In terms of water, comsumed about five liters over the course of the 25-mile hike. While this is a small amount of water given this distance for most people, I tend to need less water than others. There were absolutely no signs of dehydration coming from my system - I was running "clear" :0

I started the day with 3-liters of BOILING water in my Platypus Big- Zip bag, which was wrapped in a 18-inch wide section of 1/2" closed- cell foam for insulation. It took five-hours before the water stored in my pack had cooled enough to be "drinkable" without burning my tongue. However, I use a hydration system equipped with a 18" hose. This hose is not well insulated, so water held in it cools quickly. I was therefore always able to drink a few mouthfuls of water from the hose, before it was resupplied by water from the bladder and began delivering water that was too hot to drink. The water also slowly rises in temperature as the hose contents begins to fill with water from the bladder, so I could tell when I needed to stop dragging from the hose and wait a few minutes before drinking again.

As the pace was comfortable and I was not sweating or breathing hard, I really didn't need much water at any given time. I just took in water at regular intervals to keep my body well hydrated.

I also had a stainless steel Stanley 2-liter thermos with me (weight, 49 oz!) This was also filled with boiling water at 5 am. I used the water in the thermos 12-hours later, pouring some into a container with Ramen noodles. After waiting six-minutes, the ramen mix was ready and was still almost too warm to eat without first blowing on it. The remainder of the water in my thermos was used to resupply my 3-liter Platypus, which had about 1/2-liter of cooled, but still warm, water in it. Mixing the boiling water with the remaining warm water resulted in a supply that was just barely drinkable, in terms of its high temperature.

All in all, I was happy to have access to warm/hot water during the entire hike. In cool temperatures, it can be difficult to drink water that has been cooled by the environment to temperatures below 50 F. Such cold water can irritate the throat and bring on headaches.

I did find that warm water could have a negative effect though, as it brought my warmed my core temperature to the point close to sweating. I could have easily stripped off my 100 wt fleece top and still been comfortable *while moving*.

As a final comment, I wish that I had kept my lip balm close at hand. I was too lazy to plunge into the deep recesses of my pack for it, and the result was that I had hiked almost 17-miles before I had applied it. By that time, I had experienced some chapping of the lips.


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Last updated: January 1, 2004