A publication of Appalachian Voices


A publication of Appalachian Voices

Hiking the Highlands

The Mystical Season: A Love Poem to Winter

Jamie Goodman and Jeff Deal

The writer on a snowy winter hike with her partner, Appalachian Voices’ IT Consultant Jeff Deal. Photo courtesy of Jamie Goodman

There is a joyful vitality to winter hiking in the mountains — the bracing, crisp air, the rush of wind through bare treetops, solitary trails where the only sounds are the pleasing crunch of snow underfoot and the raucous cawing of crows across the mountainside.

Autumn colors have given way to monochromatic landscapes, subtly tinted by dusky green pine and hemlock and bluer green rhododendron and spruce — dramatically lit one moment by a brilliant blue sky, a mere two hours later by moody and magical storm clouds.

The Swedes have a saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” Residents of Scandinavian countries are raised with the precept that it’s better to embrace winter than to curse the dark and the cold, and they pursue outdoor activities in winter with as much zeal as in summer.

Central and Southern Appalachian winters are not as long nor snowy as Sweden’s, but our higher elevation often results in wintry weather comparable to more northern climes. Ever since my birth on a snowy December morning, I have maintained a passionate, evolving love affair with this most enchanted of seasons.

Growing up in the mountains, I spent snow days sledding the winterland hillsides with friends; during my teens and 20s, I pursued fast-paced runs down local ski slopes. In my early 30s, the relationship matured into solitary wooded treks, on sunny days soaking in the frosty freshness of the dormant forest, on stormy days delighting in the sensation of my feet floating through newly fallen snow.

Snowy hike on Moses Cone

A chilly bluebird day on the Moses Cone trails near Blowing Rock, N.C. Photo courtesy of Jamie Goodman

Today, as I near the half-century mark, the forecast of a storm (and a snowy hike!) at the end of the week is still as gleeful — and, if the weatherman is wrong, the disappointment equally as real — as when I was a kid.

Luckily, there are others who share this exuberant adulation for winter. Here is what a few Facebook friends had to say about the many perks of getting out on the trail in this magical and oft-misunderstood season:

❄ I like hiking while the snow is falling. I am amazed that you can actually hear it land. — Tamberlyn Blinsink

❄ It makes the familiar seem new and magical. — Amy Yount Adams

❄ I dig the different version of quiet, the hibernation tones, muted colors and the dark, smooth waters of winter streams. — Noel Sumrall

❄ The mountains glow purple with the leaves gone, the strong winds provide a cleansing only available during the winter — a time to see way off into the distance. — Christian Lannie

❄ Being in the mountains in winter is healing. … It’s as though you were surrounded by a million glistening rainbows when the sunshine hits it and there is something magical about sleeping under the stars and seeing your breath hang in the air before you. — Megan Naylor

❄ The adventure of driving in the snow or ice to get there, surfing the pre-hike adrenaline rush, and then the post-hike shedding of layers and the gifted bliss of a hot bath. — Sharon Parton

❄ I actually love looking at plants in decay, or in whatever state they need for winter. — Sara Woodmansee

❄ I like seeing Nature at rest. — David Harman

So if the snowy weather forecast is true, later this week I will pull on some long johns, mittens, a toboggan and warm winter boots, grab my backpack and hiking poles, and pick a trail to commune with my shimmering, introverted paramour. We don’t have much time, after all, because spring isn’t that far away.