class notes: top five

Five tips for hiking in winter

Susan Reenan, BA ’93 Teacher, Gordon School (a private elementary school in East Providence, R.I.)

Illustration of two hikers traversing a trail in the snow.

Illustration: Barry Fitzgerald (MFA ’90)

Interview by Rebecca Rudell


When Susan Reenan isn’t teaching sixth-grade humanities, she’s most likely hiking up a mountain. Her love of the outdoors began in 2011 when she met Robert, a man who would eventually become her husband, and the two began hiking together—easy trails at first, then on to more challenging terrain, but always in the milder months. After logging many mountainous miles over several springs, summers and falls, they realized that something was missing from their hiking lives: winter.

So in 2014, the Reenans pledged to join the Winter 46ers, an elite group of approximately 700 people who have climbed all 46 Adirondack peaks in the period between Dec. 21 and March 21. Three years later, and shortly before her 46th birthday, Reenan became one of fewer than 200 women to achieve this feat—and an ideal person to ask about prepping for a chilly ascent.

Five tips for hiking in winter:

1. Buy the right gear
Gear can make or break your experience. It can get to well below minus 10 degrees in the mountains, so your equipment has to be capable of enduring those temperatures. Lithium batteries, for example, don’t freeze as easily as regular batteries. And down mittens and wool underwear are a must.

2. Pick a partner or join a team
Hiking alone in winter isn’t safe. Every minute counts when it’s that cold, and if you get hurt or need to make a quick decision, you need a buddy you can trust. Plus, it’s more fun! There are meetup groups on Facebook (like the Aspiring Adirondack 46ers) where you can find people to hike with.

3. Research your route
In the hiking world, it’s called “gathering beta.” You need to know a trail’s distance, elevation gain, landmarks and what the terrain is like. In winter, trails are often broken (meaning there’s a path in the snow), but if wind blows snow over that track or trail markers are covered, you could get in trouble. You also should know alternative routes in case you need to bail and find a different path back. Always bring a map, compass and GPS unit.

4. Bring food that doesn’t freeze
You’ll be out for a long time—our Adirondack hikes can last 12 hours—so pack snacks like cheese, jerky and peanut butter cups (our favorite). We also carry hot drinks in insulated bottle carriers so they don’t freeze as quickly on the trail.

5. Be knowledgeable, and brave
When your fingers start to go numb, it’s natural to get worried. But it’s all about knowing your body and acquiring skills, like how to get your circulation back. People are afraid of the cold, but hiking in winter is beautiful. It all comes down to planning and tenacity.