I usually go in groups; if it's not kids, and I'm not a leader, I don't let the rest of the group bother me too much. If I'm hiking too slow (or they're too fast - depends on your perspective), I let them go. After all, I'm set up for solo travel, so I'll either catch up by evening or I won't.
I often don't hike in a big knot of folks (I like to hear the birds, too.) In fact, a few weeks ago, 7 or 8 of us went to a local park for a winter campout; we backpacked in about 3 miles. We started out in single file, bunched up on each other's heels. That lasted about a quarter mile; two of us stopped to "adjust our packs" while everyone went on without us. The rest of the hike was much more pleasant.
I enjoy the socializing over dinner, but I don't feel compelled to stay up or (if anyone brought "beverages") to partake in refreshments. I just tell them I'm turning in; they can like it or not. I tend to get into rhythm with the sunlight - get up and start when it's light, go to bed when it's dark. (I realize that might not work so well for you!)
Of course, some of my attitude is built-in. My wife and I were discussing whether or not to do something the other day, and I said, "What might everyone else think about that?" to which she replied, "Since when did that start bothering YOU?"
Loc: Marina del Rey,CA
When I did the Milford Track in NZ way back when, at any one time, there were probably a couple of hundred people on the track, but because of the way the huts were spread out, you could hike and rarely see anyone except in the evening when everyone in your group was at the hut and of course in the morning when people would take off in small groups. I was alone, but hooked up with another hiker and he and I went much of the way together. We would come across other hikers here and there, but not that many. It was a good way to maximize the number of hikers without turning it into a constant gaggle of people around you.
Don't get me started, you know how I get.
Well, now that we are on the topic of solo vs group, I will add my two cents. In serious winter conditions, solo is simply not safe. Particularly on longer trips, say a week or more. Summer conditions are forgiving, winter not. I have had my hands get cold enough that I could not manipulate a zipper. You also need someone who can observe you and see if you are getting hypothermic or frost bite. There are all sorts of little things that can go wrong in the winter that will kill you. Every year someone at a ski area drops into a tree well and smothers, unable to get themselves out. What if you post-hole into a stream and cannot get your foot free? And what if partially burried by an avalanche? A lot of people think they can extract themselves from precarious winter situations but have never really done so. I have been totally humbled by winter conditions. None of us is perfect- we all make mistakes. There really is safety in numbers in the winter. And with a group of four you can well afford the extra weight of bringing one good shovel. And a bonus is company on those long winter nights! Just pick competent partners that you like to be with.
Loc: Fairbanks, AK
I will admit that the reason I do less winter camping than I would like is because I will not do it solo.
However, I am thinking about doing my April trip solo (which is still winter here.) I took a look at the risks, and while still higher than summer - they are low. (No bears, no avalanche possible, no moving water on the route in question, should be no -20F temperatures.) I would not do this same trip solo in Dec., Jan., or Feb. I won't do the trip or postpone based on weather predictions (knowing they only get it right about 50% of the time )
So I think it comes down to risk assessment, even for summer trips... Heck solo or group trips too!
Loc: Meadow Valley, CA
With the long nights in winter, at least a few other souls along helps pass the time for a bit before hitting the sack. I've been out in negative temps solo, but have my old snowmobile to get me out and I am only a short ways from other snowmobile traffic. Like WD, my biggest worry is cold hands then not being able to function from that.
Loc: Washington State, King County
"So I think it comes down to risk assessment, even for summer trips... Heck solo or group trips too!"
I completely agree with this. Certainly a good group is safer than being solo in winter conditions. I don't think that equates to "therefore it's unsafe to go solo". Safety is relative, and risks can be mitigated with good judgment & experience.
I'd point out as well that being with some groups is less safe than hiking solo. Bad group dynamics, poorly prepared or inexperienced (and not willing to listen) group members --- I'd be a lot safer on my own than hiking in many groups that I've encountered on various trails.
I don't say these things in a spirit of rebuttal, but more just to add to the (generally) correct comment about safety in numbers.
Loc: Marina del Rey,CA
Except for my first winter trip with Jim Shaw and Steve (BMISF who used to post here),my winter trips have been by myself. However, I was not in avalanche country and not really out in the boonies (Yosemite and Mt. San Jacinto). Not to say I couldn't have gotten in trouble, like falling off the rim of Yosemite Valley or something like that, but generally speaking, not that dangerous.
I was probably in more danger driving up there and around the park in bad weather than when I was camping. I'm not necessarily advocating solo winter camping, but with a bit of common sense, it can be done relatively safely.
Edited by TomD (03/05/1103:56 PM)
Don't get me started, you know how I get.
Been a bit busy with new family, baby, etc. - not out camping as much as I'd like but we did get baby out for snowshoeing several times already this winter (Lassen, Yosemite, Aspen CO area).
Here we are at Winterfest, visiting with Duane and all the others (for the record, though I like solo travel, I'm part of the group that builds these snow kitchens and it's something I look forward to on every group trip):
A little late on the main topic here, but I have tried all of the different kinds of snow shelters mentioned (and one or two not), and completely agree re snow caves. For serious mountaineering, I suppose knowing how to make snow caves is good skill to have at your disposal, but for general snow camping, I'd say of little real use.
Same with quinzees and igloos - I was on a trip with some folks in Yellowstone in the dead of winter several years back, and the others were using Igloo Ed's grand shelters tool to make igloos. They took hours to build - exhausting, even with the tool and its form/arm for consistently placing blocks in a spiral (I helped build the first one). I happily slept in my tent, even at -14°, and disliked the muffled, stuffy, wet inside of the igloo. I suppose where they might stand out as more practical is if you're creating a base camp for several nights' use, or for use over a season.
Trenches are another story - fast enough to build quickly and comfortable in some situations. I've used them with bivy sacks and found it workable. Tree wells or spruce shelters like Jim posted certainly make sense as emergency shelters in forested areas.
My favorite remains a good four-season tent, or, in spring snow conditions where I know we won't have a blizzard, a nice ultralight three-season tent, tarptent or hammock. Fast to set up, and at least for a true four-season tent, safe and comfy. Plus, unlike the snow caves and quinzees and igloos, they let you hear the sounds of animals, wind, birds, soft snow falling on the fabric...to me, part of the joy of being out there.