Winter in a Virginia State Park can bring so many different things.
The scenery can be beautiful but it can also bring elements of danger too. We need to get fresh air and exercise all year, but there are times that the weather does not cooperate. We can enjoy the outdoors in every season but we do have to wisely.
Grayson Highlands State Park is an access point to the Appalachian Trail
TheAppalachian Trail. In the past, the staff at the park has been involved with many search and rescue operations where hikers got caught in an unexpected inclement weather. People pass through the park, to get to the AT where they anticipate an easy and relaxing winter camping trip. But what happens when the weather suddenly changes to temperatures below freezing and white-out conditions?
Kevin Kelley, Chief Ranger at Grayson Highlands State Park, has offered to help with these tips. Kevin is an outdoor enthusiast living in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. Grayson Highlands is a state park near Mt. Rogers (the highest point in Virginia). With elevations above 4,000 feet and the weather at Grayson Highlands can be extreme during the winter months.
Here are a few tips from Kevin for a safe trip.
1) Do not hike or camp alone.
2) Cut everything in half. If you would normally hike 6 miles during the summer, only hike 3 miles during the winter. If you would normally stay 4 nights, only stay 2 nights.
3) Dress for the weather. Never wear cotton for winter camping.
4) Pack to include items such as a hiking stick or gators (hiking gear to provide extra protection and insulation to the lower leg). It may feel like you are over packing but better safe than sorry.
5) If you are hiking or camping make sure you take plenty of food and drink. You want to keep that inner fire burning. That helps to create heat within your body. You want to stay hydrated and eat plenty of carbohydrates. “Carbs are your friends” when camping during the winter.
Never hike alone
Things you will need if you are planning a winter hiking/camping trip.
1) Waterproof hiking boots will help protect your feet from the elements. Keeping your feet dry will help them stay warm.
2) You will want to take water bottles to carry with you throughout your hike.
3) A sleeping bag that has a minimum of a zero degree rating. And when looking into sleeping bags, down is the word. A down sleeping bag is made for warmth but is still lightweight for a hike.
4) For shelter you will want a four season tent. If you know you will be in an area with plenty of snow, a Quincy hut is another good option to remain warm.
5) You will need a cooking stove. However, something to remember is that the less rubber around the gaskets means less breakage due to the cold. They do make a shaker-jet style stove that are perfect for winter camping.
A group camping is always safer
Although Kevin does not recommend taking a camping trip in the middle of winter, he recognizes that some people want that adventure. For those people, he says, “Being prepared is risk management for winter camping. Please listen to authorities, recommendations, and the local weather forecast.”
The award-winning Virginia State Parks are managed by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
For more information about Virginia State Parks’ activities and amenities or to make reservations in one of the more than 1,800 campsites or 300 climate-controlled cabins, call the Virginia State Parks Reservation Center at 800-933-PARK or visit www.virginiastateparks.gov.