Where to Hike this Winter
Matt: My son and I are taking a road trip to Washington D.C. in December to see some historic sites and to visit colleges along the way. We are thinking about hiking a portion of the AT as part of our trip. Any part of the trail between here and DC is an option, but I’m particularly drawn to the Smokies or blue ridge mts. We are thinking about a 2-3 day hike, maybe 50 miles total.
We’re both in good shape (I run marathons and Reid is a HS cross country athlete), but we have virtually no overnight hiking experience, especially in cold weather. I was thinking about getting your advice on preparation (gear and physical prep) and scheduling.
Jen: Oh my goodness, BRRRRRR!! I hope you two are tougher than me.
WInter hiking is definitely possible on the AT, but make sure that you have the right gear, including a sleeping bag rated to 0 degrees and good technical clothing. I do not think that the Smokies will be a possibility at that point, they are usually covered in snow and ice in mid-winter and things in the Smokies can always get much worse, very quickly. My suggestion would actually be to hike near DC. The elevation is lower in Northern Virginia and there are enough roads to where you can bail out pretty quickly if a snow storm comes. As far as your distance is concerned, you will also have to take into account the shorter days. I have no doubt you guys are capable of 50 miles in 3 days, but you will probably only have full daylight from about 8 - 5, so you might want to consider aiming for a 30-40 mile hike to give some more flexibility for cooking and breaks during the day.
Here are the two sections that I would recommend:
Front Royal, VA to Bluemont, VA - 35 miles
This stretch starts, or finishes, right after the Shenandoah National Park. It features moderate terrain and some really nice walking through Sky Meadows State Park. The section ends on a portion of the AT called the Rollarcoaster, which is a set of 13 hills that are basically all a half-mile up and then a half-mile down. There is a great hostel off the trail near Bluemont called Bears Den Hostel, it is a beautiful rock building that is open year-round and they may or may not be able to help you with a car shuttle.
Pen/Mar State Park to Harpers Ferry, WV - 40 miles
I would recommend hiking this section south into Harper's Ferry, because HF is a really cool, pretty spot to end a section hike. The hike starts at the Pennsylvania/Maryland state line, and if you choose this route you will get to hike through 3 states in 3 days. It offers a more urban and level trail experience than most of the AT, but it passes some really cool historic spots including: the original Washington Monument, a historic pub and church at Turner's Gap, Gathland State Park, and the historic C&O canal. Not to mention Harper's Ferry!
Scottish Hiking Vocabulary:
West Highland Way – A fabulous trail. A 100 mile footpath that leads from the outskirts of Glasgow to the center of Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. Loch – Lake. (My only connotation of the word Loch was the Loch Ness Monster, but after spending two days hiking along the shore of Loch Lomond I realized that Loch actually means lake and that the Loch Ness monster is actually an unnamed...
Wet and Wild Wales
I always romanticize hiking on the beach. I envision walking barefoot in the sand with the sun sinking behind me and dolphins playing beside me. However, my first night on the 186 mile Pembrokeshire Coastal Path in Wales it was rainy, windy and tide was so high that I found myself wading through water searching desperately for dry land where I could pitch my tent. The next morning when we awoke...