Our staffers wholeheartedly believe in collecting experiences. Jimmy VandenHurk likes the woods, he likes the gear, and when he can put the two together…well just read on and see for yourself!
Check out Jimmy’s YouTube Video for an excerpt of his hike!
Testing Out Gear on Mt. Washington
By: Jimmy VandenHurk
It’s hard to forget how humbling it is to try standing on the top of Mt. Washington, New England’s highest peak, and the focal point for some of the harshest weather on Earth. The memory is still fresh in my mind: howling wind, piercing cold rain, the occasional clap of thunder, a few tourists walking around in their blue jeans with pizza in hand… Yes, it is a memorable, yet humbling experience indeed.
It was late July, 2013, and I had just walked almost 2,000 miles from Springer Mtn, Georgia on a mission to thru-hike the A.T. I had heard many stories of the infamous Mt. Washington and it’s ability to blow a grown man clear off the summit like a small feather in a hurricane. Needless to say, I was excited to see what all the fuss was about. It turned out there was not much to see at all. In fact, it was so incredibly socked in with clouds and windy rain that I couldn’t see more than 10 feet in any direction. Don’t get me wrong; it was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget, but I still couldn’t help but think, “One day, I’ll come back to Mt. Washington on a clear day and actually get a nice view!” Little did I know, there are said to be only about 30 days in any given year when the summit of Mt. Washington has clear weather. Regardless of this dismal statistic, I decided to give it a shot last week.
I was in New Hampshire a week ago visiting some family, when my soon-to-be brother inlaw came up with the crazy idea of day hiking up to the summit of Washington in the dead of winter. I don’t think the question had fully exited his mouth before I interjected an emphatic “Yes!” of course! You can’t embark on such an expedition without using proper clothing and gear! We assembled what we needed the night before: sturdy backpacks, trekking poles, Merino wool base layers, insulated windproof jackets, windproof gloves, windproof pants, windproof balaclavas, (pretty much windproof everything), wool glove liners, buffs, ski goggles, toboggans, mountaineering boots, microspikes, wool socks, insulated koozies for our water bottles, and not to forget my zseat, which I carry with me on every hiking trip. I was ready.
We woke up at 4am on January 15th and drove 2 hours to the trailhead at Pinkham Notch. The cold temperature chilled us to the bone, but it didn’t take long to get our blood pumping and warmed up. We reached treeline about one and a half miles from the summit, and the weather seemed to change instantly. I was pleased to find that my Icebreaker Tech T Merino Wool shirt was keeping my core warm the whole time, even after sweating in it during the ascent. Likewise, my Icebreaker Merino RealFleece gloves and long underwear were doing the same for my legs and hands. After switching to more windproof outfits, my companion and I paced up the steep trail until we finally reached the top around noon. We were above the clouds, and the view was breathtaking. It was everything I had imagined it to be and more.
We snapped some photos at the summit sign and walked around in awe with blue skies above us. I couldn’t help but think of the time over a year earlier, when I was shivering in the rain in that very spot, with nothing but a tshirt, convertible hiking pants, a light rain jacket, and a bandanna to protect me against the cold, unforgiving elements of that mountain. This time, I was more than ready. The temperature at the top was around 5 F with a windchill of -25 or so.
My favorite piece of gear was definitely the Kahtoola MICROspikes. We noticed on the descent that we could practically jog down the steep trail of sheer ice and snow with these little beauties. Even scrambling over boulders was no problem for our durable MICROspikes.
Now back in East Tennessee, I am reflecting on my time in the White Mountains of the North and thinking of ways that I can improve on my winter hiking gear for here in the Smoky Mountains. These southern giants can be just as demanding at times, with plenty of snow and ice to get around.
At Little River Trading Company, where I work, I can find everything I could possibly need: Osprey and ULA backpacks, Leki and Black Diamond trekking poles, sturdy Goretex hiking boots from brands like Salewa, Asolo, and Salomon, Kahtoola MICROspikes, Smartwool and Darn Tough wool socks, Icebreaker and Smartwool Merino wool base layers, Western Mountaineering and Montbell down parkas, Goretex rain shell jackets from Marmot and Patagonia, wool Buffs, GoreStopper windproof balaclavas, Merino wool gloves from Icebreaker, wind/waterproof mittens from Outdoor Research, windproof toboggan hats from O.R., North Face snow pants, and of course the ThermaRest Zseat which no hiker should be without!
Come by today and check out our winter hiking selection! And if it’s overnight winter backpacking you desire, we have some top of the line down winter sleeping bags from brands like The North Face, Marmot, and Western Mountaineering. If you stop by, we’ll be happy to show you our favorite pieces of gear and offer advice on all that we can.
Jimmy “Railsplitter” VandenHurk