Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
At the March 10 Nantahala Hiking Club meeting, which took place at Macon County Public Library in Franklin and was open to the public, outdoor enthusiast Jonathan Byrd educated attendees regarding outdoor mountain-related activities. Having grown up in the Adirondack mountains of New York, Byrd explained that he spent the majority of the winters there hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, and ice climbing due to the area’s long – about nine months – winter season. He spends less time doing the same type of winter-related pursuits, but said the region’s four distinct seasons provide ongoing hiking, biking, and walking opportunities.
“Winter can come at multiple times here,” he quipped. “But most trails are accessible year-round, so the key is to layer during different times.”
He educated that since cotton is a cooling fabric, it is ideal for warm weather outdoor activities, but not so much for winter pursuits.
“Hypothermia can start at 31 degrees Fahrenheit,” he said, if a person is not layered adequately. “Cotton is great for summer, for example, but there are other fabrics, such as merino wool or synthetics, that are better for cold weather days.”
He shared that skiing locally is an option if there is even a little snow accumulation. Skis are available that offer both downhill and cross-country skiing capabilities and pointed out that some of the national forest roads are accessible for this type of activity referred to as Nordic skiing.
Byrd also informed the group that many people are under the misconception that more hydration should occur during warm weather than during cold days.
“But just as much water needs to be consumed in all seasons,” he said. “I’ve made lots of mistakes playing in the woods over the years, and one of those is running out of water on top of a mountain where there are no streams for filling up.”
He suggested during his presentation that not only should extra water be packed – even for a day outing – but also snacks, a flashlight, a rain jacket, etc.
“And always check the weather conditions often, consider how many daylight hours you will have, and tell someone your plans – where you are and your departure time and estimated return time.”
Finally, Byrd noted that the right gear can make the difference in terms of comfort and safety. “Some of the best ice climbing in the Southeast is right here (Winding Stair pass on Hwy. 64), when the weather cooperates, but you have to know what you need to keep make this experience, and other experiences, safe ones.”