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Backpacking in January

Posted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 8:29 am
by kpeter
I have never even considered backpacking in January, but my schedule as a professor always gives me a couple of weeks in mid January and always limits my summer season. I'd love to figure out a way of continuing my passion and getting in better shape by utilizing January.

Does anyone have ideas? I'd even consider South America or Australia so as to hit something in the southern summer--but for something that expensive it would have to be truly spectacular and doable in a 14 day time period.

More practically I wonder if anything in the American southwest is viable that early. I'd feel more confident about a spring trip.

There is always the chance that we might have a dry spell here in the Bay Area, and so it might be possible to do something in Henry Coe. Point Reyes, etc., but I have never considered winter backpacking around here and don't have a good idea of the premier destinations for January. And of course any such plans could easily be wiped out if January is wet.

Finally, if all of this is just too unreasonable, are there some good places to go to dayhike from a base? I presume hiking out of the Yosemite valley in January would be very limited. Would there be somewhere analogous (but drier) in the southwest? How is Grand Canyon hiking in January?

Re: Backpacking in January

Posted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 9:19 am
by freestone
Channel Islands National Park

Re: Backpacking in January

Posted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 11:26 am
by Wandering Daisy
I did the Grand Canyon in mid-November one year. There was snow on the rim but once down a little bit, it ended. The trail was icy at top (maybe micro-spikes a good idea). You can also go along the Tonto trail that parallels the river about half way up. It was easy to get a walk-in permit because reserved permit hikers had bailed out due to the snow.

In January there also can be a week or two period of warm weather. In fact, I once did a backpack at Point Reyes and did not bring a cool shirt and actually roasted! If your time period happens to coinside with this weather, you could do the entire (60+mile) Lost Coast. Due to muddy roads you would probably have to walk out the road from Ouzel Campground to Hwy 1.

Henry Coe would be a better choice than Point Reyes, in my opinion. You can actually do a nice 5 day trip and get in some miles. Point Reyes is limited. It takes some creative planning to do a 5-day trip without going in circles.

Only thing I can say about other countries, is that we went to Peru in December a few years ago. This was the start of the rainy season, so I am not sure Janurary is a good time for South America. My daughter has been to New Zealand in January and it was good. But that is a LONG flight!

Re: Backpacking in January

Posted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 2:35 pm
by SSSdave
Well some might suggest Death Valley or some of our Sonora Desert parks. However generally I won't recommend any backpacking there during December or January simply because mid February through March are far better after at least above average precipitation winters because that is when vegetation and wildflowers start blooming, greening up what is otherwise rather drab dormant landscapes. Additionally being stuck in a tent over the long night hours of mid winter is unpleasant.

Instead if one insists getting outdoors mid winter, I would highly suggest venturing into one of the winter snow activities where one will play during the day and stay inside lodging during nights. Even if one is an athletic klutz, there are winter snow activities one can enjoy. Since you are already a backpacker, a person that has learned to enjoy mountain environments and scenery, a natural extension would be either snowshoeing or track cross country skiing. As an introduction, would strongly advise doing so some time shortly after a fresh snow fall when landscapes take on a magically quality that in comparison makes hiking through summer snow fields relatively pathetic. Although many never-evers may balk at winter snow sports because of expectations of being unpleasantly cold, that can be resolved by simply learning how to dress warmly while outside in winter weather.

Now by mid February, Death Valley National Park has some incredible places to do short backpacking trips into. 95% of visitors who backpack mid winter in the park do, so to Cottonwood Canyon, one of the only locations with permanent springs. The majority of visitors that get out into the back country do so using 4WD vehicles because that allows bringing in water.

But there are vast numbers of other places just a day's hiking in from road ends away from any roads or trails where one can carry in water, stay overnight, and then hike out the next day. The best places to do so are up the many washes with many spotless clean bedrock and sand areas that can make wonderful camp spots much like those of our Utah canyon parks. None of those places is advertised in guidebooks, print media, or social networking sites because as one ranger once related to me, most people are absolutely terrified of the notion of getting out into really empty wilderness at night even just a mile from roads if there is no water or any other people around for miles. For the most part even into March there are few insects or mosquitoes to bother one and no wild animals large enough to worry about much less other people. Take a look at some of these DV places I day hiked into during March of 2016 from this page contents. The only reason I haven't personally backpacked there a lot is because it is a really long drive and I am already a hard core snow skier. ... les-0.html


Re: Backpacking in January

Posted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 2:59 pm
by Tom_H
Many very good suggestions have been given. I will mention one more possibility, not because it is better than any of the others, but only because it has not been given. NOLS offers winter nordic ski and snowshoe packing trips. They provide the gear, while you provide specified winter clothing. These kinds of trips are very rigorous and physically demanding, but the solitude, tranquility, overwhelming silence, and stark beauty make them tremendously rewarding. Participants do need to be experienced summer backpackers and in good physical condition. It isn't cheap, but you are with extraordinarily competent and qualified instructors who will insure your safety and teach you valuable skills.

For most people, the other suggestions above are probably better options, but for true backpacking afficionados, this kind of trip is something magical to be experienced at least once in life.

Re: Backpacking in January

Posted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 3:25 pm
by dave54
The redwoods will be wet, but below the snow line.

How about the SW desert? Mojave National Preserve? Or any of the desert wilderness areas. Water may be a problem, the springs and creeks may still be dry from the summer and not yet recharged in Jan. So one could disperse camp in a car and day hike the desert ranges.

Avoid Quartzite area, AZ the third week in January if you want solitude.

Re: Backpacking in January

Posted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 8:23 pm
by balzaccom
We've done trips in Peru and Patagonia. Wonderful experiences...

Re: Backpacking in January

Posted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 9:57 pm
by sambieni
Ecuador also has great spots

Re: Backpacking in January

Posted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 11:38 pm
by Tom_H
Remember those mountains in Lord of the Rings? New Zealand: ... land-hikes

Milford Track is one I've read about numerous times.

Re: Backpacking in January

Posted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 5:46 am
by Arun
I'd go to the other hemisphere, if just for the longer photoperiod.