A few winters ago, my brother Jonathan and I did something we had never done before. With several inches of freshly fallen snow on the ground and predictions for more in the forecast, we jumped into the Envoy and headed out to Coopers Rock State Forest in the mountains around Bruceton Mills, WV. The chance to get a good workout while doing some West Virginia winter landscape photography was something I had been hoping to do for a long time!
The park was a completely different place in winter than in summer. Instead of driving out to the famous rock outcropping that overlooks the Cheat River, we had to hike in 3 miles and out 3 miles on snow-covered roads and trails. What a fun day!
Here are a few things we learned from our memorable afternoon excursion:
- Most park roads are closed during winter. This should be common knowledge, but I don’t go to parks in the winter very often. Just prepare to do a lot of walking.
- Calculate exact distances before you set a timetable. When I was planning the trip, all I read was, “During the winter months, you must park at the entrance parking lot and walk in.” No problem, park entrances are close to the main attraction, right? Well, not always. It wasn’t until I had arrived at the parking lot that I realized it was a three-mile hike to our destination. Three miles isn’t far, but it is a long way to walk for an afternoon excursion.
- Plan more time than you expect. Things like what I just describe happen to me more often than not.
- Dress in layers. This is also common knowledge, but it’s especially important for photographers. While hiking, it’s easy to stay warm, but while composing pictures and waiting for the light to cooperate, you cool down quickly.
- Drink the water you bring. When it’s cold, you tend to not get as thirsty, but it’s just as important to drink water to keep from getting dehydrated.
- Bring a map and follow it closely. Trails are hard to follow in the snow so check to make sure you are going the right direction at every fork or questionable passage. Though it’s easy to retrace your steps, it’s always more convenient not to have to.
- Hike with a companion! On an adventure such as this, it’s not hard to find volunteers, but the old saying that “two are better than one” is especially true when normal hazards are magnified by cold weather, snow, and ice.
- It gets dark sooner in the winter. It was a rare opportunity to shoot a winter sunset at Coopers Rock, so we stayed at the overlook until sunset. This meant hiking in the dark even though it was only 5:30 in the afternoon when we started heading back.
Having learned these pointers in combination with the photography and hiking, our trip was a very positive experience! I can’t wait to do something like it again.
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