|Wild Earth Adventures|
|Wild Earth Adventures|
Winter would never win a seasonal popularity contest, but there’s a substantial minority of winter enthusiasts who are unquestionably enamored of the season.
Best known among them would be the many millions of avid skiers who choose to head out into the snow as often as possible for fun and thrills on the slopes.
But there’s also a quieter, less-publicized group of people who find a different source of outdoor enjoyment during the winter months, namely winter hikers.
Since hiking doesn’t require expensive resorts, or the technology of chairlifts, and isn’t advertised the way downhill skiing is, non-hikers may know little about it.
There are actually tens of millions of people in the United States who take a hike (on a designated hiking trail) at least occasionally. The news media rarely notice.
For obvious reasons, the warmer months are most popular for outdoor activities. Colder weather requires more preparation and may involve certain challenges.
But while some people who hike regularly from spring through fall put their hiking clothing and boots away in late fall and take a winter hiatus, many others don’t.
Your average indoors-oriented-person might wonder, “why in the world would anyone in their right mind choose to spend several hours outside on a cold day?”
Of course, people who don’t hike or have a special appreciation for the natural world may not understand the major joys and pleasures of outdoor recreation.
We also live in a world where the media, movies, and novels focus relentlessly on the negative or scary side of nature, rather than the positive, healthy, uplifting side.
Pleasures of Winter
There’s so much that’s beautiful and inspiring about the winter season that’s overlooked or ignored by most people, in favor of all that’s perceived as negative.
Yes, in order to stay warm while we’re outside we have to take care to dress properly with lots of layers, although warm spells are often common in the winter.
And when we have to drive a car or otherwise get around after a snowstorm -- or when roads are icy -- winter can unquestionably entail some real hassles.
Sometimes during and after a winter storm it simply makes sense to stay home, relax, and take it easy. That’s an ideal time to practice patience and “not having to accomplish anything,” which can be therapeutic and a refreshing change.
But how gloriously beautiful the natural world becomes when it’s blanketed in fresh, sparkling snow. How unbelievably peaceful and quiet everything becomes.
And when we go out, how good it feels to walk (or hike, or snowshoe) in freshly-fallen snow, inhaling ultra-clean air, clearing our heads of thoughts and concerns.
The natural world has a much more spare appearance in the northeastern U.S. during winter, especially when there’s no snow, but it has a beauty of its own.
The sometimes stark appearance of barren trees against a clear sky can make a striking impression, like a vast, expressive sculpture garden of woody forms.
Then there are large groves of spruce, pine, and other sweet-scented conifers with their boughs swaying -- and needles hissing and whistling -- in the wind.
And after snow has fallen, things can appear positively otherworldly, when bushes and trees are beautifully snow-coated. It’s often a stunning bright white sight.
Wildlife and birds aren’t nearly as ubiquitous in winter as in springtime or other warmer seasons, yet in time we do see and hear birds, occasionally spot deer, etc.
Since many creatures prefer to avoid us, and they can often see or smell us before we spot them, we’re sometimes only aware of them by their tracks in the snow.
Walking, hiking, or snowshoeing through a snowy landscape gives us the soothing feeling that we’re utterly removed from the frantic and stressful everyday world.
Health Benefits of Winter Hiking
Exercise is essential to good health, and walking is one of the most natural forms of human exercise that exists. Hiking merely takes walking out “into the woods.”
It’s no mystery why research keeps showing that the health benefits of walking and hiking are almost unlimited, and it has now been proven (by a long-term study in the UK) that vigorous exercise extends the average life span by several years or more.
Indoor exercise is always an option in winter or other seasons, but doing it in the natural world adds a number of benefits, including exposure to healthy fresh air.
Then there’s the issue of winter blues, winter depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which affect a number of people. The most recommended therapy is sunshine or full-spectrum sunlight, which is even available on a cloudy day.
Also, immersing ourselves in nature for a time (preferably at least an hour or more) is virtually always a morale-booster, just about guaranteed to lift anyone’s spirits.
There’s also the fun and adventure of exploring wooded trails or paths in any season. Since many of us spend far too much time indoors in winter, it’s an especially good time to “break our routines” and venture out into the wild.
Learning to Enjoy Winter Hiking
You don’t have to love something to benefit from it, but hiking is one of those activities that grows on many people, even those who have their doubts at first.
Often it’s fears or concerns that get in the way. We endlessly hear warnings during the winter months about the supposed hazards of the season, including the cold.
Granted that with totally inadequate clothing, a cold day could become a miserable one, and even put us at risk. Taking care of ourselves at any time of year means knowing how to dress properly in all kinds of weather, hot or cold, dry or wet.
If you’re someone who fears or dreads the cold, or who is convinced that you’d be uncomfortable spending several hours outdoors, you almost certainly have been dressing inadequately in the past. Maybe you don’t own the right outdoor clothing.
Some of our members who hike with us regularly were initially pretty sure that “winter hiking wasn’t for them” – until someone convinced them to give it a try.
Our membership includes a sizable number of people who often enjoy telling others -- some of whom are skeptics -- that they absolutely LOVE winter hiking.
Chances are that if you learn to layer up with the proper clothing, you could discover that hiking in winter can be as exhilarating as in any other season.
And in fact, since we tend to spend most of our time indoors during the week at this time of year, in winter the “natural high” of hiking can be unusually intense.
If you’re not yet a winter hiking enthusiast, are you willing to take a chance (at minimal risk, of course) to see if you might actually learn to enjoy or even love it?