By Amanda Wheelock
A Wonder in Winter
My friend Chloe seemed surprised when I quickly agreed to go backpacking with her one winter Saturday. “Really? Are you sure?” I doubled down. “A night on the A.T.? That’s exactly what I need.” “Awesome!” she replied. “And here I thought January camping would be a tough sell.”
Chloe works for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and needed to hit the Trail to scout a route for a “How to Hike the A.T.” backpacking course she’d be leading that spring, but I had my own motivations for joining her. I had just found out that I would be moving to Colorado in three weeks. While I was excited for all the skiing I would soon be doing, I knew that my hiking boots would get tucked away in a corner of my closet for the next few months. The mountains of western North Carolina had been my home for almost four years, and I couldn’t think of a better way to say goodbye for now than to spend a weekend exploring a new section of that familiar white-blazed Trail. So what if it was January?
Chris Gallaway, a writer, photographer and filmmaker, has produced this beautiful and calming short video featuring winter hiking and spring thaw. Chris and his wife, “Sunshine,” live in Black Mountain, North Carolina with their young son and infant daughter.
Chris’ award-winning production company, Horizonline Pictures, produced ATC’s exceptional myATstory video series, which featured inspiring stories and individuals from the Appalachian Trail. Chris also produced and developed the critically-acclaimed documentary,“The Long Start to the Journey,” which chronicles his 2013 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.
We packed our sleeping bag liners and our puffy jackets and headed out of Asheville toward Wayah Gap, where we intended to start our hike. The same parking area that is full to the brim during every summer weekend was practically empty when we arrived. Snow lingered on the ground from a storm the week before, but the Trail itself was clear, and those classic southern Appalachian steeps had us shedding layers in no time. Eventually, we arrived at Siler Bald, where we set up camp, watched a gorgeous sunset, cooked dinner, and snuggled into our tent. In other words, it was a wonderful, completely uneventful night on the A.T.
Once the leaves have fallen, many people seem to think that they must shutter themselves away for a long season of hibernation. It’s too cold outside, the road is closed for winter, the Trail is covered in snow — the excuses are many. To be sure, winter hiking requires a bit more planning than your average summer stroll, but with the right gear and proper preparation, winter hikes can become some of your favorite days on the Trail. Cooler temperatures keep the crowds away, providing more of a sense of solitude. Bare branches make much better windows than leafy canopies. And if you’ve never seen the shimmer of hoarfrost at sunrise on a grassy bald, well, you don’t know what you’re missing.
The A.T. wove its way into Amanda Wheelock’s life when she moved from Georgia to New Hampshire to attend Dartmouth College. There, she worked on a Trail crew, taught backpacking, and hiked from Hanover to Moosilauke because it was “tradition.” She quickly discovered that her love of long-distance trails was more than just a college fling.
Amanda now works for the Continental Divide Trail Coalition and stays connected to her first love by volunteering on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Next Generation Advisory Council. “Writing about winter hiking toward the end of a year jam-packed with change gave me a welcome opportunity to look back at a wonderful weekend spent on the A.T.”