We just learned that 36-year-old New York resident Erik Schlimmer has bagged a first: climbing the 200 highest peaks in the Catskills, in winter. With spring approaching, a time of fresh starts, his accomplishment reminds us that the time is now to figure out your next adventure goal and get cracking.
Ranging from 2,490 feet to 4,190 feet, these peaks hold nothing to the behemoths of the Andes or Himalaya, but many are obscure, 60 are unnamed, and 80 are privately owned. "Traveling by myself, especially in the high country during winter, it's just me and the mountains," says Schlimmer, an instructor in Oneonta State University's Outdoors Education program. "If I make a poor decision out there, the consequences are serious." We couldn't agree more, so we asked Schlimmer to share some hard-won wisdom from his multi-year quest. See his top ten tips below.—Mary Anne Potts
Top 10 Tips to Bagging 200 Summits
Text and photograph by Erik Schlimmer
1. Learn to navigate, then practice.
Heavy cloud cover and snowstorms can obscure entire valleys and ranges. Since I knew how to navigate (and practiced often), I always reached my destinations.
2. Realize off-trail travel can be a snail's pace.
While hiking on packed trails I averaged three miles per hour. Off-trail, in unconsolidated snow, my pace was as slow as a quarter mile an hour.
3. Do not test new gear in remote areas.
Whenever I used a new pair of snowshoes or skis, or a new tent, stove, or sleeping bag, I tested them in not-so-remote areas first.
4. Go light.
My complete winter pack weight, not counting food and water, was less than 17 pounds. Embrace the lightweight backpacking mantra: farther, faster, fresher.
5. Get permission.
Nearly one-third of the peaks I climbed are privately owned. Trespassing gives hikers a bad name. And, you could end up with a fine, an arrest, or both.
6. Leave word with someone.
I hiked 180 of the 200 solo. If I was stranded in the woods for some reason, a person I left my plans with could initiate a search. Choose someone reliable.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
7. Embrace winter weather.
I traveled in all kinds of weather, from 40 degree rain to clear skies with sub-zero temperatures. If I see poor weather forecasted, I don't sit home. I simply prepare for poor weather.
8. If it's too easy, make it harder.
The mountains I climbed were not technically difficult and some were not remote. Therefore, I mostly hiked solo hikes–sometimes at night–and followed obscure routes.
9. Be self-sufficient.
I did not carry a personal locator beacon, GPS, or cell phone on any of my hikes. Instead, I carried the skills I needed to survive and thrive in the winter wilderness. [Editor's note: Safety in the priority, so we recommend you bring the tools that will ensure you have a fun adventure and not a survival situation.]
10. Bring a journal and a camera.
On each peak I recorded my personal thoughts. Photos supplement my memories. As a speaker and writer, I feel obligated to accurately share my experiences.