Winter Backpacking

Dustin Rand

Dustino
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Dec 31, 2016
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I started a thread a week or so ago regarding Winter Backpacking in Zion NP. After a little further research and feedback from the community, this might not be the most ideal place to hike. I love the idea of fewer people but there are too many unknowns with the weather.

In a perfect world we...

1. Spend 3-4 nights
2. Do not need to pack in water or very much water
3. We do a loop hike, or we hike into a basecamp near a bunch of trailheads

I did Canyonlands NP Needles District a couple years ago. We did the Chesler Park Look and the Druid Arch Hike. It was amazing. I'm tempted to head back but it would be nice to mix it up a little and do something different.

So I'm looking for a few ideas. How many of you have done Jan/Feb backpacking trips? Where have your travels taken you during this time of year?
 

LarryBoy

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Jan and Feb are prime season for stuff super far south, say Big Bend.
 

Wanderlust073

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Is this a planned months ahead vacation sort of thing or a flexible/cancel if a blizzard hits sort of thing?

If the latter, a four season tent and some snowshoes will get you a lot of places.
 

Nick

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What those guys said. If you're flexible then some things might be in great shape but could otherwise have a foot of snow. I backpacked at pretty high elevation in GSENM one January and it was amazing. The sun baked most of the rock clean but there were ice formations everywhere. Not reliable for long term planning though.
 

Kmatjhwy

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Now one might consider a kayak trip sort of things in the Everglades at this time of year. Also like Larryboy said concerning Big Bend. Many years ago in February I hiked all over (when one could) in Organ Pipe Cactus N.M. There is places also in Southern California like Mojave and Joshua Tree Nat'l Parks. In South Texas is wonderful Padre Island. South Texas in winter is a birder's paradise if you are a birder. I have a friend who winters in Tucson and he is always going up into some places outside of Tucson hiking. In Arizona there is the wonderful Mazatzal Wilderness with elevations from the lower deserts to high peaks. Also the Superstition Wilderness in Southern Arizona would be nice at this time of year. Deserts in the winter, Southern Utah Canyons mainly spring and fall. Then high country mountains in the summer. But one could always do a snowshoe winter hike for a winter trip in the mountains also. it is all just what do you want to do, go, and experience. Wishing You the Best!
 

Rockskipper

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I like to head down to the country around Valley of Fire and Gold Butte.
 

Jackson

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I've been on a few trips on the Colorado Plateau that time of year. I try to find where the weather will be the least bad, about a week in advance, or even closer to the start date if possible. It's really hard to plan it out months in advance just because temperatures and snow can vary so wildly out there. Fortunately, unless they've changed it since a year or two ago, Canyonlands has pretty lax permitting in the winter, so if you're flying out here, you could just have a few options that you end up deciding on at the last minute, based on current conditions.

Was your previous trip to the Needles in winter? If not, just remember how early the sun sets that time of year. That can be a whole lot of time spent in the tent. I'd recommend going somewhere where you are allowed to have a fire and where it's reasonable to do so. That way you can stay out a few hours past dark and not spend 12-14 hours in your tent every night. I like to do an overnighter or two every winter, but I think I'd get pretty tired of that on a 3-4 night trip.
 
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LarryBoy

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Just a couple considerations for winter backpacking on the Colorado Plateau in winter...

1) Elevation is everything. That stuff at 4k will possibly be doable in the winter, but the stuff at 8k definitely won't (given three-season experience and gear).
2) Consider your terrain very, very carefully. I once had to bail on a trip in the Needles (on the Peekaboo Tr between Squaw and Salt Creek canyons) because it went past a series of ledges. No problem when dry, but there had been a hard frost the previous night and even that tiny bit of ice on slickrock was enough to make it treacherous, and it would have been foolish to continue.
3) Watch out for soils rich in clay. Even if it hasn't rained/snowed recently, the sun angle is so low and the temperatures so cool that clay-rich soils will remain slippery, gooey, almost impassible (by foot as well as vehicle) for weeks after the most recent precip. Kmat mentioned Coalpits... I once cut a January trip short because the soil was so muddy that I ended up with multiple inches of mud stuck to the bottom of my shoes. Slipping and sliding all over the place. Halls Creek is another notoriously slippery spot.
 

Dustin Rand

Dustino
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Dec 31, 2016
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Jan and Feb are prime season for stuff super far south, say Big Bend.

We're considering Big Bend although it's remoteness poses a challenge. The flight + drive time might be a little much for the shortness of our trip.
 

Dustin Rand

Dustino
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Dec 31, 2016
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Is this a planned months ahead vacation sort of thing or a flexible/cancel if a blizzard hits sort of thing?

If the latter, a four season tent and some snowshoes will get you a lot of places.

The former unfortunately. That's why we were thinking the desert might be a good choice.

I'm still considering doing Canyonlands NP again. The Needles backpacking trip I took a few years ago offered some of the greatest hiking I've ever known. I might keep it simple and just do the same trails as last trip, staying in CP1, but also add the devils pocket to the trip. I like the idea of having a basecamp and CP1 is located near some pretty cool stuff.

I know it can get damn cold at night so maybe we'll push our trip back a few weeks. Late Feb or early March. Any issues with this area during this time of year?
 

Jackson

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The former unfortunately. That's why we were thinking the desert might be a good choice.

I'm still considering doing Canyonlands NP again. The Needles backpacking trip I took a few years ago offered some of the greatest hiking I've ever known. I might keep it simple and just do the same trails as last trip, staying in CP1, but also add the devils pocket to the trip. I like the idea of having a basecamp and CP1 is located near some pretty cool stuff.

I know it can get damn cold at night so maybe we'll push our trip back a few weeks. Late Feb or early March. Any issues with this area during this time of year?
You still run a risk of getting snowed on, but the chances may be a tad lower. In the middle of March this year, I took a trip down to the desert and it was near whiteout conditions with a snowstorm the entire first day. The other days were great though. You just never know what you're going to get. Late March through late May is optimal over there.
 
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