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The Adirondack Explorer is a nonprofit magazine covering the Adirondack Park's environment, recreation and communities.

Reader Interactions


  1. Ron Turbide says

    Knowing when to turn around and abort the trip is most important. Allowing one’s ego to take over and not turn back could be most problematic. After finishing our 46 in 1973, my hiking partner and I decided to climb MacNaughton the following February from the upper works on skis and snowshoes. We were only 500 feet from the summit when we noted heavy storm clouds to the west – we aborted and upon regaining the trail and our skis, were confronted by white-out conditions. Fortunately the return to our vehicle worked out fine. We often speculated on that close call. Thank goodness for our combined experience that led to the correct decision.

  2. Justin says

    Vapor barrier liner and a bivy sack for the sleep system. This prevents moisture incursion from inside and out. 0F down bag is all that is necessary. Tent is better than a lean-to for various reasons, including the ability to use a hanging stove and the fact it is at least 10F warmer in a 4 season tent. Well worth the weight. Honestly, while these people sound prepared, they weren’t experienced winter backpackers and it sounds like the camping aspect vs the hiking aspect is what did them in.

  3. James Close says

    The very first group to traverse the N-P trail in winter is pretty much lost to history, except for, perhaps, the fact that the Troy Record made note of the accomplishment in a tiny article in 1975: Four members of what was then-called the Albany State Outing Club (ASOC), skied the entire length of the trail in one push during the winter of 1974-75. Two of those were Steve Allen and Russ Wynn (hope I remembered that right).

    I was part of a support group that hiked/skied into Tirrell Pond to re-supply the group as they skied south. They were strung out for miles between them – maybe not a good idea if any of them got into trouble – but that most likely reflected the relative strengths and stamina of the four.

    I believe they all made it, and nobody died – that’s the important part. There’s likely no record of this seminal accomplishment except for the Troy Record and, perhaps, the archives (if they exist) of the ASOC. Given the difficulties of the trail in winter, it’s no small accomplishment; I and a partner skied from Whitehouse to Benson (18 miles) in unbroken snow in January, 1989, so I full well know how challenging this trail can be in winter.

  4. John says

    It’s sad that everything is about the ego; “a hiking resume” what a laugh! Everyone is hypnotized by our driven society to be #1; to win; to be first; to climb all 46,etc. It goes on and on ad nauseum and poisons sports/ academics/ the work place/ making money/ even driving a car/ and raising a family. Except it makes people sick. Constantly comparing and competing; envy, jealousy, rivalry, malice. Don’t be hypnotized by our false culture values. Do your best, and enjoy life. But don’t waste your time thinking about what others think. Cheers!

  5. Scott Copey says

    I through hiked in February 2016, after 2 aborted missions in 2015. I cheated and stayed one night at the Adirondack Inn….best burger and fries of my life.

  6. Joelaw11220 says

    September 17, 2020

    Dear Adirondack Explorer,
    Oh the perils of winter camping – at least when you use modern equipment. I read your article, “A Winter Trail Too Far,” with great interest. My sympathies to the brave team hiking the Northville-Placid trail in winter. Hearing about the toil of breaking trail, frozen clothes, iced-over boots and the physical exhaustion from days and day in the cold made me realize how inadequate modern equipment is for winter. In fact, looking at the photograph of Diana Niland that accompanied the article, I asked myself not why the team failed but how they could possibly have succeeded? I admire the group’s effort but I take issue with their conclusion that the trail conditions in winter are just too harsh. Consider that the Native American Inuit traveled much further, in deeper snow and in far colder conditions than those encountered by the NPT crew. Yet the Inuit survived, and thrived, year-after-year in these conditions. Why? Superior endurance? Acclimatization? Evolved specialized physical traits? No. The answer is they simply used superior methods and equipment as European Arctic explorers eventually realized. Modern gear is not appropriate for winter camping and is even downright dangerous. Sometimes we have to look to the past for the best ways. Believe it or not there is a method of winter travel that turns camping into an absolute paradise and it doesn’t involve a dog sled, horses or snow mobiles.
    Fortunately, Garrett and Alexandra Conover, two Maine guides, have researched this issue for us. They have rediscovered Inuit methods of winter travel and detailed how it’s done in their book “The Snow Walker’s Companion” which is widely sold throughout the Adirondacks. Most of what I will cover here appears in greater detail in the Conovers’ book. This includes clothing, eye cover, proper footwear, tools, face protection and more. In this letter I will touch only upon the four major mistakes I believe the NPT team made.
    First and foremost are the snowshoes. Let me be blunt: modern aluminum snowshoes are garbage. The type Ms. Niland wears are only designed to take the alpine climber from car to rock face and no further! They are useless on the trial. To see why watch Lure of the North’s video demonstration of snowshoe types on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SoY4pkqwgO0. There the LOTN spokesperson compares the performance of modern aluminum, traditional wood and hand-made Inuit snowshoes in deep powder.
    The LOTN person first dons a pair of modern Tubbs-like shoes similar to those Ms. Niland is wearing in the photograph. As the LOTN person walks he sinks into the snow up to his knees. I can’t imagine breaking trail while sinking that far into the snow. The sheer effort of lifting one’s foot to take another step would exhaust even the most fit individual When combined with a heavy backpack snow travel with a pair of Tubbs is absolute torture.
    Continuing with the video, LOTN next dons a pair of modern, wood-frame shoes. These work slightly better. LOTN sinks to a level, one or two inches, just below the knee. This is still far too deep for trail-breaking.
    The problem with modern snowshoes, both aluminum and wood frame, is that they do not provide enough “float” for a fully grown adult. Modern wood frames have rawhide webbing with large spaces between the strands. Consequently, the weave allows too much snow through and a person sinks. Aluminum shoes are worse. The frames are far too small in area to support a person and the plastic “webbing” doesn’t provide any support at all in deep powder. Even if you increased the area of these shoes snow would fall on the solid plastic making you lift an inch or more of snow with each step. There’s a reason snowshoes are made with webbing. Leave both types of snowshoes at home and get yourself a pair of superior, hand-made Inuit snowshoes.
    In the last few minutes of the video, LOTN dons a pair of tight-weave Inuit shoes. The results are dramatic: he sinks only an inch, at most, into the snow. And we’re talking powder! Why such superior performance? One look at Inuit shoes shows why. The weave of Inuit babiche (as it’s called) is incredibly tight and the spacing between strands extremely small. This provides excellent support while allowing snow to fall through the babiche with each step. Consequently the float is superior and there’s no snow accumulation on the top of the shoe. It’s not clear why modern manufacturers can’t make their shoes with a tighter weave. But they don’t. Therefore, for extended winter travel in deep snow Inuit snowshoes are a must! But be warned Inuit shoes don’t come cheap. You can expect to pay from several hundred to a thousand dollars for a pair but they’re worth every penny. I do see many of these snows for sale as antiques for very little money. I haven’t tried this yet but I wonder if a quick coat of varnish will bring them back to life? It’s something I plan to try down the line. You can Google for a photo Objiwa tight-weave snowshoes.

    So, armed with Inuit snowshoes the NPT team is already a quantum leap ahead. Breaking trail becomes vastly easier and more efficient. With this gain we can now go further and examine the rest of their gear. Let’s look at Ms. Niland’s clothing.
    In the photograph accompanying your article Diana Niland is shown wearing a heavy down parka as a top layer with a backpack to hold her gear. Breaking trail wearing a winter parka, while sinking up to your knee in the powder is like jogging in a fur coat. Ms. Niland must have been soaked by the end of the day.
    A better choice is a light weight shell that keeps wind out while allowing moisture to evaporate. Enter the snow walker’s anorak and pants. In their book, the Conovers recommend a suit made from light Egyptian cotton canvas. This type of material is made from long fibered cotton plants that allow for high strength and an extremely thin, and tight weave. The result is that the anorak keeps wind out while allowing perspiration to escape. Egyptian cotton cloth usually weights 4.5 oz per square foot so we’re not talking about the usual 10 oz duck one finds in outdoors stores and fabric shops. You can Google the internet for a photograph of Garrett Conover wearing his snow walker suit.

    Unfortunately, you can search the world over and you will not find Egyptian cotton canvas. The Conovers apparently bought the last batch. The fabric is simply not made any longer. Luckily, there’s a substitute. No, it’s not GoreTex! Garrett Conover makes a good point about Goretex’s breathability. It breathes but it doesn’t breathe fast enough. Thus, Goretex allows perspiration to build up under the anorak where it freezes into crystals. Better is British made Ventile.
    Developed during World War II, Ventile is almost identical to Egyptian cotton. It’s made from the exceptionally long fibers of cotton plants grown in Peru. The fibers are then woven into a tight, windproof weave that is also breathable. The British coat Ventile to make it almost water proof. Ventile, like Inuit snowshoes, is quite expensive. It takes four times longer to weave Ventile cloth than it does to make regular cotton fabric. I ordered “seconds” – fabric with tiny imperfections that do not affect the performance but prevent the manufacturer from selling it at top dollar. The lower price allowed me to have a custom sewn snow suit made for snowshoeing and there isn’t any noticeable imperfection I’ve noticed.
    A thin cotton shell also allows for quick changes of clothing. If conditions get cold, stop and don a sweater under your anorak. If the going gets tough and you start to sweat, stop and remove a layer. Since the shell is thin, changing undergarments is quick and easy – no zippers and no bulky coat to take on and off.
    So we’ve solved two major problems: bad snowshoes and overly heavy clothing. Next is shelter.
    Camping with a nylon tent and sleeping bag makes winter outings a miserably cold experience. As Keith Micoli notes there’s no way to thaw out your wet equipment. Worse still, your body is constantly burning fuel to keep you warm. Under these conditions, no matter how much sleep you get at night you’ll be exhausted within a few days. Your body simply cannot sustain this type of energy consumption for long periods. Hence, a different type of shelter is needed. Enter the “hot tent.”
    The hot tent is a canvas tent, hopefully made from Ventile, with a heat resistant silicone opening that allows a stove pipe to vent to the outside. There’s usually no floor but most people, myself included, cover the snow with a ground tarp. The outer rim of the tent has “snow flaps” – one foot extensions along the bottom that allow you to pile snow up around the tent edges sealing out cold air. A small wood burning stove is placed inside and the stove pipe run outside through the silicone opening. Light a fire and your entire winter experience is transformed from misery to absolute extravagance! It’s the height of luxury to sit inside a tent warmed to 72 degrees by a camp stove when it’s sub-zero temperature outside. This type of tent allows you to dry out clothing overnight, regenerate your energy and get a great and restful night’s sleep. If your clothing is especially wet, then stay put a few days, let them thaw, and recharge. The hot tent transforms winter camping into a wonderland of enjoyment. Snowstorm? No problem, Many of these tents are pyramid or cone shaped allowing them to easily shed wintry winds. Just sit out the storm inside your cozy tent and resume travel when the weather improves. I bought mine from Tentsmiths in Goric, New Hampshire. Peter Marques, Tentsmith’s proprietor, is an encyclopedia of tent knowledge. It’s a joy talking with him. You can Google the internet for photographs of hot tents.

    In your article, Mr. Micoli also mentions having trouble finding fire wood. Obviously, with a hot tent a route and camping location must be chosen that provides an abundant wood supply to feed the stove. I was hiking Old Farm Road last Labor Day and there were many trees that were at least 100 feet tall. I doubt the Adirondacks gets 100 feet of snow even before the days of global warming. So plan your route to include stops at wood-accessible locations. Also, bring along full sized tools such as a snow shovel, an ax and a tree saw (a chain saw is probably overkill). When using a camp stove you want logs, not twigs or squaw wood.

    Tight weave snowshoes that allow you to walk on the surface of the snow, a light outer shell that breaks the wind and allows for easy layering and a tent and stove that provides a toasty warm shelter. What else do you need? Obviously, a way to carry all this gear.
    Camp stove? canvas tent? full size ax and saw? How does this guy expect to fit this into a backpack? Enter the Inuit toboggan. Believe it or not the toboggan was never meant to be a child’s downhill sled. It was invented by the Inuit as a way to carry their belongings as they followed the food sources during their hunting migrations. Life in the Arctic meant bringing your stuff to the food and not vice versa. You can pull a tremendous amount of gear easily using a toboggan. In fact, the great outdoorsman Calvin Rustrum, in his book “Paradise Below Zero,” wrote how the Inuit considered summer the doldrums. The absence of snow meant they couldn’t move. Consequently, they had to make a permanent camp and wait for winter to return. The Inuit didn’t consider summer fun. But come winter they would load all of their personal belongings onto their toboggans and be off following the caribou, salmon, and seal. So for winter travel the toboggan is vastly superior to the backpack.

    Now, I’m sure some of you are already thinking of alternatives: the first that usually comes to mind is “a dog sled.” Deeply embedded in our lore of the north the husky is an endearing iconic animal that makes for heroic, and even funny (Snow Dogs), movies. But as a mode of transport they leave a lot to be desired. You might have noticed that dog legs are not very long. They sink as deep into powdery snow as any other animal. Add to that the effort needed to maintain eight or ten fussy huskies with extremely large appetites and who’s favorite occupation, after pulling, is fighting for dominance and you’ll quickly discover that the effort is not worth the convenience. And the convenience is not that great. Unless you’re traveling on hard pack dogs with their short legs are useless.
    Next, why not a snowmobile? These suffer from the same problem as dogs. You can’t use them in deep snow and they’re useless in the back country. However, some people combine them with komatiks, a sled pulled behind the snowmobile on which they load gear. Personally, I don’t like the noise or the smell of a snowmobile but if you like them this type of travel is also good. The Moose Plains would be a great area for snowmobile and komatik camping.
    Now caveats about toboggan travel. First and foremost is terrain. This must be fairly level. You can pull a toboggan up a hill and there are ways to lower it down again but you want to minimize the number of times you have to do this. Obviously, the toboggan is not for alpine climbing. However, from what I’ve read there was a conscious effort to avoid hills and mountains when building the NPT. This says to me that it may be level enough for toboggan travel. I would research this more and also consider alternative routes In places where the trail ascends steep hills, say a route around the mountain rather than up it.
    A bigger problem on the NPT that I see is water bodies. When lakes and streams are frozen, as they usually are in Inuit country and used to be in the Adirondacks before the days of global warming, crossing water presented no problem. But today, this is a changing as more and more of our waterways stay open during winter. One solution may be to reroute to a narrower, or frozen over section of the water. You must be able to read ice with toboggan travel especially river ice. Probing with an ice chisel for thickness and safety helps. Another, especially for the 90 foot Stony Creek crossing, is to get thick neoprene boots that will enable one to walk through the steam. Then modularize your toboggan packing, i.e. pack gear in multiple backpacks or waterproof dry bags. When you reach the river unpack the sled and shoulder each bag carrying it across the river. When everything is on the other side, including sled, repack. Carrying heavy neoprene boots or pack bags is not a problem when one is traveling with a toboggan. One hope I harbor is that more people will adopt the “hot tent” camping technique and the DEC will respond by building wider bridges to accommodate toboggan use. But until then we must adopt our methods of travel.
    So, there you have it: my proposal for easy winter travel, not only on the NPT, but throughout the Adirondacks. Inuit snowshoes, snow walker suit, hot tent and toboggan.
    Besides the NPT, many Adirondack trails can be navigated using the “hot tent” method. Santanoni Road immediately comes to mind. There’s also the Boreas Ponds. Even if Gulf Stream Road remains closed this winter a six mile trek with a toboggan from the parking lot at the Blue Ridge Parkway is not a big deal. A one mile trek from The LaBier upper lot is even easier. One could even tie a lost pond boat on top of the toboggan for paddling. Powley-Piseco road in the Southern region is also an excellent choice. The possibilities are endless and I hope this writing inspires more adventurers to try this method of winter camping.
    Some final words. The term “hot tent” was coined by folks out west and in Canada. I believe the proper term should be the “Conover Method” in honor of the couple who brought this means of travel to modern campers The Conovers have been leading toboggan expeditions across Canada and Maine for years. Why not give credit where it’s due.
    On another note we need to rethink the “glories” of endless walking in the wilderness. Tom Brown, Jr. America’s greatest outdoorsman, environmentalist, and nature writer says that walking with a set destination as a goal often means missing everything along the way. Wilderness trips should be defined by what you see and not by how far you travel. As Brown notes when in the woods slow down, better yet sit down and just take it in. I understand that when camping with a nylon tent and sleeping bag you want to get the experience over as fast as possible, but the Conover method gives you the luxury of staying put and taking in an exceptionally beautiful location. No need to rush!
    Best wishes and see you in the wilderness!

  7. Jim Frankenfield says

    Enjoyed the article. I attempted this trail in winter in 1984 as a solo trip, after much planning and preparation. I made it from Lake Placid to Long Lake but it was warm the entire time and the snowpack was slush from top to bottom. By Long Lake the stream crossings were becoming more challenging. I bailed out at Long lake due to these conditions.

    I managed to meticulously keep everything dry except the leather ski boots. One of my biggest fears was waking up to -40 temps and having boots frozen solid.

    I had done quite a bit of winter camping and was prepared for the regions possible cold temperatures but the warm soggy conditions were a challenge.

    The numbers of winter hikers next to the map are surely far too low, although I do doubt a lot of people have done it. I am not counted in those numbers. I got a lot of advice from a guy who had done the entire trail, and at least attempted it twice in winter. I don’t know if both efforts were successful but one was.

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