Hiking the mountains in the “shoulder season”

As October shoulders its way into November, the cool sunny days can easily lull us into a sense of comfortable complacency. Hikers call this time of year the “shoulder season,” when the golden days of fall are gone, but full-blown winter isn’t quite here.

Most people try to forget about the coming cold, snow, and wind, but the advance of seasons has already begun in the mountains. Everyone enjoys the gift of a mild October or early November day, but rest assured, winter has already begun to lay its icy foundation.

When planning a day in the woods, consider that the ambient temperature when it’s clear is almost 5.5 degrees colder for every 1,000 feet of elevation change. If the weather forecast predicts a high of 42 degrees near where you live at an elevation of 300 feet, then it will be 31 degrees in the woods where you hike at 2,300 feet. The wet rocks, streams or the previous thaw will now be ice.

By mid-October it’s time to hang up the summer daypack and start carrying the more commodious “beast,” filling it with “twos:” two, two pairs of gloves, two fleeces and the extra contingency stuff of winter.

The lightweight rain shell is put away, replaced by a warmer, heavier soft shell. Two water bottles migrate to the pack, replacing the hydration system whose hose freezes in cold temperatures. The water bottles should be in insulated koozies or wrapped in clothing to keep them from getting too cold. The foam pad that cushioned the summer lunch breaks now insulates and keeps you warm.

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