March is one of those months that always keeps us guessing. One day, we’re basking in warm sunshine, and it feels like spring is just around the corner. The next day we’re bundling up in every article of winter clothing we have to survive a -10 rush to the car!
March: fake spring and real winter! This fickle weather can create some interesting conditions for those of us who love recreating in winter. We refer to it as ‘freeze-thaw’ conditions or the ‘shoulder season.’
When this time of year comes around, it’s great to remember a few rules of thumb, and possibly the most important is that warm weather in the valley doesn’t always translate to warm weather on the summits of Vermont’s higher peaks.
Bring it all! Adam and I have hiked quite a bit in this season, and we’ve learned you always bring everything. Snowshoes? You could hit some deep snow. Microspikes? You bet you’ll have plenty of ice to contend with! Warm layers? Absolutely, the wind at the summit can still be very wintry!
I remember a hike we took up Camel’s Hump in March of 2019. It was a glorious bluebird day. There was still plenty of snow in the valley, but there was a lot of snow on the trail!
How can there still be that much snow up there? The snow on the way up was so deep that the blue blazes on the Burrow’s Trail were at my knees! In the summer, those blazes are over my head! As we hiked into the conifers, I had to bend over to make my way through the ‘tops’ of the trees; the snow was so deep.
If you’ve ever hiked Camel’s Hump, you’ve probably seen the sign just before the approach to the summit. It’s about even with my head, I think. On that day, the sign was completely buried! Someone had dug out the top so hikers could read the trail directions.
At the summit, the wind was blowing, and rime ice covered the rocks and trees. The world was grey and white below us, a sharp contrast to the gorgeous blue sky overhead. It always amazes me to think that the landscape will be rich and green in a few short months.
Terrain changes in hours: On the way down the mountain, the sun was warm and bright; the snow in the trail turned to corn snow and stuck to our spikes. Icy patches made it hard to ditch the traction, but it was equally hard to keep knocking our soles on rocks and trees to clean out the cleats.
Don’t worry, warm weather is coming! There’s a party-like atmosphere in the parking lots on that kind of day. Everyone is glad to be warm, the sun makes for smiles, and while we all love winter hiking, it’s hard not to look forward to t-shirts, light boots, and light packs.
If you decide to head out and hit a peak this weekend, remember to pack for winter, even if the valleys feel like spring!