Better Weekends Take Bigger Views (And Sometimes Gaiters)
by Alie Kouzoukian, KEEN Graphic Designer
On a crisp, cold Saturday morning, I stumbled uphill on a snowy trail in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, out of breath, red in the face, and exhausted. My nose was sniffling, eyes tearing up a bit from the cold, yet I was absolutely enthralled and my senses were firing on all circuits. As I crested the last hill, I caught up to Maliah and her dog, Pixel, and stopped to look around. The view was stunning enough to take more of my breath away—A 360° view of the Cascades was the reward for this uphill endeavor, and it’s safe to say that it was the best weekend I have had in a while.
At various times prior to this moment, I had contemplated turning back. My Saturdays are usually about sleeping in, taking it easy, and brunch. Motivating myself to get out in the cold instead of falling into my normal routine was already a small victory. Once we arrived at the trailhead and started hiking, I found that the going was rocky, as remnants of a former road left hundreds of small stones on the path to navigate along with the increasing steepness of the climb. I was winded, sweating, and questioning my choice of weekend activity.
All of the ‘Why did I do this?’ mental chatter that had rattled around in my mind turned into a chorus of ‘This is the best thing ever, and why don’t I do this more often?’
Thankfully, with good companions comes good conversation and laughs. All of a sudden, my temporal struggles seemed to fade away. Before I knew it, I was sweating through my layers, laughing at my lack of grace as I stumbled on bumps in the road, throwing snowballs for Pixel, catching views of snow-covered valleys, and marveling at the beautiful geologic features on each side of the trail. All of the “Why did I do this?” mental chatter that had rattled around in my mind turned into a chorus of “This is the best thing ever, and why don’t I do this more often?”
The thing is, I love a good adventure, but realistically my weekends often are less epic and far more mundane urban ordeals—navigating dicey grocery store parking lots, strenuous laundry activities, maybe even a crosstown trek of errands. I’ve found that it helps to have a pre-baked plan and a friend who will hold you accountable if you want to break out of the ordinary and do something that leaves you feeling inspired.
My recipe for a better weekend outside of my routine is a sweet spot that involves the outdoors, friends, and a slightly ambitious plan that makes me a bit nervous but excited at the same time. Having a plan, some basic gear, a public lands recreation pass, and a sense of humor helps me execute on my goals, and then a big dinner after a long day to celebrate and toast to future adventures is the icing on the peak.
Things I’ve learned for better winter weekend adventures
Be ready the night before: The less you need to do in the morning, the faster you can get out on the trail. Pack a bag, plan your route, and download a terrain map and a road trip Spotify playlist. Charge up your phone and clear some storage so you can take a bunch of photos. You’ll also want to figure out which recreation pass you need for your chosen hike. For example, winter access to some sites might require a separate Sno-Park Pass, whereas other sites call for a state forest pass.
Pack the right snacks: Think about packing a balance between instant energy and longer-lasting protein snacks to carry along with you, as well as some delicious rewards. Dried mango, jerky or other portable protein, peanut butter sandwiches, chocolate, and energy bars are all great ideas. Snacks can freeze quickly in a cold bag, so you might want to throw a bar in your pocket while you’re hiking to warm it up before you get hungry. Another thing to think about is leaving some snacks waiting for you in the car—you’ll save weight in your pack and have something to look forward to on the drive home.
Wear layers: Temperatures can shift quickly, so bringing a full range of layers is the way to go for a cold weather hike. Merino wool is a great base layer with fleece, a synthetic/down jacket, and a shell/rain jacket to keep the wind out. Even when it’s cold, you heat up quickly on the trail, so make sure you have room to stow the excess when you need to shed those layers.
Share your plans: Text a friend (who isn’t joining you) and let them know where you’re going. When you get back into cell service, let them know you made it home safely.
Prepare for adverse conditions: Gloves, gaiters, microspikes, a portable cellphone charger, basic first aid kit, lighter, multi-tool, hand warmers, and an extra pair of socks are all smart choices. Throw a set of chains in your trunk in case you end up on some icy roads.