AMC Outdoors, January/February 2003
Eric Jackel, 30, is an account executive for a design and marketing firm. He lives in Medford, Mass., and, even at his tender age, has been hiking for more than 20 years.
Q. What was your first winter hiking experience?
A. I was very young — I’m the last of six kids, who all have the outdoors bug. My sister Nancy took me to Zealand Hut in winter and then we went over to Ethan Pond and then out to the road. We were skiing, but it was similar in preparation to winter hiking. Then eight or nine years ago another sister took me up Mount Pierce on a crisp, cold, 160-mile-view day. Everything was so different up there in the dead of winter, with snow and rime ice. It was spectacularly beautiful and I thought, “Wow, this is incredible.” Winter became my favorite season.
Q. What has been your best experience?
A. One of the greatest days I’ve had was six years ago. We started up the Crawford Path on an overcast day. It was snowing lightly. We pressed on to Pierce and on the ridge it was getting brighter. We ended up climbing out of the undercast: We were above the clouds and could see in every direction: Franconia, the Twins, the summit cone of Washington looking like a shark fin. It doesn’t happen often in the Whites. It was so cool.
Q. What piece of gear do you never leave home without?
A. A gigantic parka. Mine’s huge on me so I can pull it over everything I’m wearing. It’s my safety measure — I keep it right on the top of my pack. When we stop, I put it on and don’t get cold. My friends are all jumping around and I’m ready to sit for a while. And my bivy kit. It’s a used soup can, candle, and waterproof matches. You can use it in lieu of a stove if you end up out overnight. Then I always carry a shovel — to dig a snow cave if I need to.
Q. What is your favorite backcountry winter destination in the Northeast?
A. Really, you don’t want to start with anything too, too easy. A little challenge is good. Mount Jackson is a well-used trail and it’s good to go with the crowds around if you’re a beginner. It’s not too high — 4,050 feet — so you’re not above treeline and it’s safe in bad weather. The woods are just a few yards away. If the view from here doesn’t hook someone, then they should just stick to summer.
Q. What are your goals for this winter?
A. I would like to do a four- or five-day trip into the Pemi. I’ll backcountry ski and pull a sled. I built my own wooden sled, by the way, for about $15 compared to the $300 that you can spend. I’ll set up a base camp at a central location and then break it up into a Bonds trip and Galehead trip. I’ll get a bunch of winter peaks I don’t have yet [for the 4,000-footer list]. I have eight left for winter.
Q. Advice for the first-time winter hiker?
A. Things take much longer in winter. In summer, you can cut half the book time off, but in winter, you can double it. Also, backcountry skiing is a great way to get to trailheads. There’s nothing as bad as hiking in on access roads in mountaineering boots.
The main thing is it takes a long time to experience every type of condition. After 20 years of hiking, I haven’t seen it all. And the people who are rescued aren’t brand-new to hiking. Don’t get overconfident. There’s a first step in a series of steps that can get you into trouble. That can happen before you get in the car — it’s about overconfidence.