Essentials for a winter adventure in Hocking Hills
A little preparation goes a long way
Whether you’re preparing for a romantic getaway by a fire or a serious adventure hiking the snow-covered trails that lace the county, winter is the season of choice in Hocking County for many seasoned travelers.
The Hills, really the foot of the Appalachian mountain range, wear the colors of every season well, but many consider the area to be best dressed in the cold months, when nearly every rock wall and cavern don icy fringes and waterfalls slow and become glistening sculptures, their spray piling up in temporary but chilling stalactites of pure mineral ice.
However, unless caution is taken, there can be pitfalls to this, from the inconvenient to the dangerous. Here are a few tips for travelers looking to undertake the Hills’ frozen beauty.
Save cotton for summer
While the ubiquitous “fabric of our lives,” cotton can also be the single worst decision you make on a winter trip that involves the great outdoors. Cotton tends to get wet easily and hold moisture and, on a cold hike, that can present problems ranging from chilly toes to hypothermia.
Wool is an excellent material for the Hills, as it is not only a great insulator, it retains its insulative properties even when it’s wet — depending on the weave and weight, up to 80 percent of its effectiveness, in fact. And unlike synthetic fibers, wool doesn’t burn (think cheerful, sparky campfires) and has less of a tendency to smell funny after a day’s hike. Its major drawback is that it’s heavy and expensive — still, we don’t go anywhere without several pairs of wool socks, at least.
TIP: For best results, layer! While it might seem counterintuitive to leave your warmest coat at home, the truth is it’s the air between layers of fabric that actually insulate you. A warm base layer (again, wool far outperforms cotton here), several layers of mid-weight insulation, and an outer “shell” that blocks the wind is the tried and true method. Also, avoid tight or constricting clothes, as they restrict circulation and squeeze out those valuable pockets of insulating air.
Firewood is everywhere, but doesn’t start without sticks
Any experienced campfire-ist knows that that big chunk of pine is going to start if you hold a match to it. You need to have a supply of smaller diameter sticks, or “kindling,” if you expect to get a campfire (or fireplace) going the old fashioned way, and wandering around looking for them in the snow burns up valuable time you could be relaxing.
A good tip is to take starter logs with you, particularly in the winter. These long-burning composite logs are made from compressed wood waste and wax, and just one log can be broken into several pieces. If you’re camping for three days, you’ll probably be able to get along with one starter log broken into three or four pieces (although it never hurts to have a back-up!)
It's also important to note what Ohio's rules are for moving firewood. (Basically, don't move it.)
Footwear that’s ready for action
One all-too-common mistake probably results in more icy bruises and sprained ankles than all the rest. Quality footwear appropriate for hiking is a necessity.
Remember the ice that makes everything beautiful? It’s on the trails, too. Strap-on snow studs for your boots offer incredible traction for a price that doesn’t break the bank; options like Yaktrax fit over most hiking boots and can be obtained for around $40 — much cheaper and more fun than falling off the trail. These can be obtained at most sporting goods stores and give you a ton of confidence on even the iciest trail.
Prepare your vehicle
The remoteness that is the source of the Hocking Hill’s famed beauty can also make it dangerous for the unprepared. Roads can freeze over and savvy motorists still slide off once in a while.
If your vehicle gets stuck, you might be there a little while before help arrives. Pack a roadside kit. Have plenty (and I mean, plenty!) of extra blankets and keep them in the vehicle. Hand and toe warmers are a must-have, too; these little chemical heaters are activated by exposure to air and are an inexpensive insurance policy.
TIP: If you do find yourself with an inoperable vehicle on the road and don’t have reception, stay with your vehicle and wait for help. Road flares are another good idea; just be careful when you are putting them out, as many are roads are narrow and have tight corners.
Assemble a basic safety kit before you embark
Forethought is the name of the game here. A first aid kit is a must. Flashlights, too, are critical, and Hocking County has some of the least light pollution in the state — which makes the stars bright, but the forests dark. Very dark. Don’t count on your cell phone alone. A little redundancy goes a long way in the Hills, too, so don’t just bring one pair of shoes or boots — it’s the fastest way into a puddle.
TIP: It’s a good idea to keep a list of the people in your group with identifying information for each person as well as a list of medications each takes, and any known allergens — just in case.
Adventure with confidence, knowing you’re prepared! Preparation will give you confidence, and confidence lets you keep a clear head — the cycle of preparedness often means that the forethought you put into the trip will prevent the things you prepared for from even happening.