When spring comes, we can't wait to start the new season's fun outdoor activities. There are a few things to keep in mind to make our early spring ventures more enjoyable.
While there are great advantages:
- clear air and high visibility
- no bugs in the deep wilderness areas
- uncrowded conditions
There are also some cautions:
- unpredictable weather
- lower temperatures with wider swings
- fussier equipment needs
Paddling in the deep blue
Spring has the most incredible deep blue water (see above.) That's actually because... it just melted. It's a tad colder than in summer, so the light bounces around more slowly, giving it that incredible spring color.
But it's not exactly swimming temperature.
If we are boating, a windbreaker under our lifejacket might be all we need. With boating, wind chill is the most important factor in our staying comfortable. We must not underestimate that. Which is easy to do, standing on the dock, feeling the spring sun warm us. Once we are out on the water, things change.
Spring winds often pick up away from the land, since winds are sensitive to temperature gradients and the water is still colder than the air. Also, there is nothing on the water to break the wind's power. Once it has swept across the entire lake, it has picked up more speed.
In addition, the boat itself is going much faster than when we climbed aboard. Wind speed + boat speed = more wind chill!
And don't think of skipping that life jacket. It actually blocks the wind from our core most effectively of all. From November first to May first, it is also the law.
The biggest problem, of course, would be taking a dunking. I've been paddling for over a decade without falling out of the kayak. But these odds are like a coin flip; the past does not matter. Every time we go out, the chances reset to zero.
We literally cannot expect the unexpected. So the next best thing is prepare for a worst case scenario.
If we intend to do a lot of spring paddling, especially in a more remote area, a drysuit (for whitewater especially) or a wetsuit can be a worthwhile investment. We don't have to choose a whole body variety, either; there are variations, such as the popular Farmer John/Jane type, which is long pants but sleeveless tops.
But whatever we choose, we need to dress in layers that are quick-drying and somewhat breathable. If it's uncomfortable, we won't wear them. A couple of high-tech layers with fleece tops and bottoms are a versatile, inexpensive, and warm solution.
Better yet, take two sets, and keep one in a waterproof bag. If we are in the middle of nowhere, it's actually safer to shuck out of our wet things and get into our dry ones as soon as possible. And there's no one around to see us take them off!
Whatever we do, don't paddle wearing Death Cloth -- anything made of cotton. It can seem warm and comfortable to wear jeans and a sweatshirt, until they get wet. Then this outfit becomes a heat sink; the cold water will stay in the cotton (there's a reason it's the highest setting on the laundry drier) and drain all warmth from our bodies.
We don't even have to fall in to get into hypothermia trouble. A splash from one good-sized wave can have almost the same effect as a full dunking.
Spring hiking has many glories. There's the way it works wonders with vistas and visibility, for instance.
Spring's cool temperatures mean low humidity, and crystal clear air. But there's another consideration, which is that even in the deep woods, our paths will be much better lighted than during summer's far more leafy season.
We will literally see more, and further, than we can with the exact same vantage point during the height of summer.
This can create a pleasant surprise. But an unpleasant one is how temperature can change as we climb higher. For every 1,000 feet of ascent, the thermometer drops 3-5 degrees.
This means relatively little with a small mountain like Baker, with its 884 feet of ascent, but can make for a big difference with a remote mountain like McKenzie, with its 2,221 feet of ascent. A refreshing forty degrees upon starting out can turn into less than thirty degrees by the summit. Now, even without a windchill, it is below freezing.
With sudden shifts in weather, especially common in spring, mountain temperatures can drop 20-30 degrees in the span of a few hours. It all adds up to colder temperatures that we want to be prepared for.
That's only one of the reasons spring hikers are encouraged to keep their elevation under 3,000 feet until the DEC declares the higher elevations ready for hiking. There's also the need to protect the delicate Alpine vegetation.
These fragile plants need all the help they can get to survive extreme conditions and short growing seasons. Their blooms can be small, or in subtle colors, that are easily missed by a hiker. There's also the fact that muddy trails can lead a hiker away from the center, and onto an area where they can create damage and erosion.
Look for shorter mountains if we really want to summit, and rockier or well-drained trails for hiking on the flat. Avoid the ones which are cross-country trails in the winter, since they aren't crafted with drainage in mind.
If it's muddy, stick to the center of the trail anyway.
It is almost as important to choose layered clothing with the proper wind resistance and moisture wicking properties for hiking as it is for paddling. We are less likely to get a dunking, but the muddy trails means our feet are more likely to get wet. We are more likely to exert ourselves, and get sweaty, when we are climbing up a trail.
It's also important to be comfortable when we come down from the mountain, so we aren't in a hurry. More accidents happen on the way down than on the way up.
Biking with some care
Cycling is so popular that we've even come up with ways to do it all year, like fat tire bikes for winter riding.
Still, as soon as the ground thaws, mountain biking trails are at their highest level of erosion vulnerablility. Take advice from the experts at Dewey Mountain, where there is a great mountain biking trail system:
Be sure to stay off the trails until they dry out!
Rutted trails make more work for trail maintainers and take longer to dry out.
Road biking is great, though, with spring's low traffic and cooler temps compared to the height of summer. (Which is still lower traffic and cooler temps than most places in summer.)
One caution if we are starting early in the season is that it takes a while for the cleanup trucks to go around and scoop up all the sand that gave us traction on winter snow. This tends to accumulate on the sides of the road, right where we like to ride.
So be careful in town, and aware of it on the major roads, which tend to have nice, wide, shoulders to ride on, and more places to disperse the sand.
Rural back roads might have some muddy patches, depending on how much shade they get. If we want to move to the more packed down tire lanes, just be alert for approaching vehicles.
That's pretty easy. Our roads are so quiet, and wrapped in forest.
By dressing properly, bringing plenty of food and water, and making the right decisions, spring can be a most delightful season to enjoy the Adirondack outdoors.
“It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke
The Adirondacks Spring Into Action this week: