The temperature was 37 degrees with clouds and rain when we pulled into the Hale Brook parking area. It was a perfect day for hiking. Well, at least it was for us, because today was a day for gear testing. We needed a relatively short hike, but one with a few streams crossings, plus some steep sections to really see what our new stuff would do, in addition to the weather conditions. Hale seemed like a good choice because it would be in the woods and a bit better protected from the weather and Cameron hadn’t visited Hale in five years. Hale was the first 4K Cameron hiked when he was six years old.
I was finishing testing an EMS jacket (for which I will write a full review next week), and Cameron was testing a couple of pieces of his new winter gear. We’ve decided to outfit him for winter hiking, with the expectation that much of his gear will double for snowboarding, sledding and playing in the snow. With that in mind, he was testing new boots and some new gloves. We bought him a pair of North Face Chilkats boots, which are waterproof and rated for use down to 25 below zero, a serious improvement on his summer trail runners. Today’s trek including streams crossings, slick leaves, water on the trail, wet rocks and snow all of which was perfect for our purposes. He said his feet never got cold or wet. I know it was below freezing closer to the summit, as my Camelbak tube froze and then thawed out closer to the parking area. The traction was pretty good, as evidenced by his jumping off and on wet rocks with a dusting of snow on the descent. He didn’t slip and was really happy about that. Going both uphill and downhill, his feet didn’t rub in all the suspect places – the heels or toes, and for me, that was a major test. There is nothing worse than a long hike with blisters and hurting feet.
The gloves were another huge improvement. On our recent trip to Garfield, I realized that Cameron is still small enough to need to use his hands in sections with large rocks and boulders, so waterproofing with mobility is important. Thin liner gloves got wet quickly on snow covered rocks, and even switching to my wool gloves wasn’t quite enough to keep his hands warm enough when they got wet on that trip. When we saw the Seirus Xtreme All Weather gloves on a recent shopping trip to EMS, we thought we might as well give them a try. If he didn’t like them, I’d use them this winter. They are warm, waterproof, yet not bulky, with their weight being more like a liner glove. They ended up being perfect. His hands were warm and dry, despite the outside being wet by the end of the hike due to using his hands a few times and writing in the snow on the rocks.
We experienced wet conditions all day, either being rained on, iced on or snowed on the entire hike. We had enough layers, including waterproof ones to keep us dry and warm, venting as as needed. The hike up Hale Brook trail was easy in the first short section and then steeper as it ascended a long steady grade up to the first brook crossing. Right around the first brook crossing, we saw the first signs of snow.
Another short climb later, the trail leveled as it approached the second brook crossing and enters the switch backs, and by this point the snow had built up from a dusting to an inch or a little more.
Once through with the switch backs, we had the last half mile or so of ascent until we saw the opening at the end of tunnels of trees and knew the summit was right there. The summit of Hale had no views, but we were glad to be there.
After a few pictures, we went back to the trees for a snack and then the descent. This is where the rest of the gear testing would take place, going downhill on snow, wet rocks and slick leaves, plus the continued precipitation. Down we went, encountering the first hiker we’d see that day. In the end we counted 18 people and one dog, more than we thought we’d see on this not so perfect weather day.
We actually had a really good day, staying dry and comfortable in our gear. Every new piece passed the test and in colder, drier conditions the pieces should work well for some real winter fun!