Winter Hiking Safety and Photography

Appalachian Trail - Half moon at dawn from the summit of Mount Pierce in the White Mountains, New Hampshire.
Mt Pierce at dawn – White Mountains, NH 

Winter Hiking Safety and Photography – One winter, before sunrise, I was setup near the summit of Mt Pierce in the New Hampshire White Mountains photographing the moon. It was a perfect morning to be on the ridge with the temperature around 10 degrees.

As I was doing this, I watched a hiker come up out of the brush on the east / southeastern side of Mt Pierce. He was completely off track, and not on the trail. It caught me by surprise because the southeastern side of the mountain is not the best place to be during the winter months.

The Presidential Range from Crawford Path and Webster Cliff Trail Junction .in the White Mountains, New Hampshire.
Crawford Path / Webster Cliff Trail Junction – White Mountains, NH 

When using the Crawford Path to hike Mount Eisenhower, hikers not familiar with the trail seem to drift off it just after the junction of Webster Cliff Trail. And they start to circle around Mount Pierce towards the east / southeast like this hiker appeared to have done.

The Presidential Range at sunrise from the summit of Mount Pierce in the White Mountains, New Hampshire.
Presidential Range from Mount Pierce – White Mountains, NH 

After talking to me, he proceeded down near a rock cairn and ended up standing in my shot. He was wearing dark cloths, so he blended well into the scene. It was obvious just how cold he was by the amount of jumping around and shaking of his arms he was doing. He seemed to be completely out of his element and I started to wonder why he was on the ridge. I got a good laugh when I realized he was hand-holding sunrise shots.  

A winter hiker ascends the Airline Trail in extreme weather conditions during the winter months in the White Mountains, New Hampshire.
Hiker ascending the Airline Trail – White Mountains, NH

Photographing along the ridges is no easy task during the winter and can be harmful to one’s self if not done safely. The simple process of putting a lens cap on can turn into a disaster. Over the years, I have dropped camera bodies, lenses, and filters into the snow.

Appalachian Trail - Extreme weather conditions near the summit of Mount Washington during the winter months in the White Mountains, New Hampshire.
 Mount Washington – White Mountains, NH Whiteout 

The weather can and does change very quickly in the White Mountains. And you can easily get a case of frostbite on the fingers or destroy a piece of camera gear if things go wrong. Being properly prepared will make the difference for a safe photography adventure along the open ridges.

A hiker photographing along the Carter-Moriah Trail in winter conditions near the summit of Carter Dome in the White Mountains, New Hampshire.
 Winter Photographer  – White Mountains, NH

For a safe winter photography experience:

1) Practice using your camera in winter conditions at lower elevations. Know your camera inside and out. Get use to removing the lens cap, mounting the camera to a tripod and operating all the buttons with gloves on. 

2) Get comfortable hiking in winter conditions. Proper hiking gear is essential, since you may be at the same location for an extended amount of time waiting to get the perfect shot. Hat, gloves and jacket are a must.

Shooting safely on the ridges is very important and great images can be made, but you need to make sure you are safe. Winter hikers can checkout for helpful information on hiking safely.

Happy image making..


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Erin Paul is a professional photographer, writer, and author who specializes in environmental conservation and historic preservation photography in the New Hampshire White Mountains. His work is published worldwide, and credits include; Backpacker Magazine, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and The Wilderness Society.

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