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CHESTER — Elizabeth Massa and the Western Mass. Hilltown Hikers don’t wait for a sunny warm day to go hiking. They’re out year-round in all sorts of weather, and partner with other hiking organizations for monthly group hikes, such as the upcoming Snow Day in Chester.

On Feb. 24, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the hikers will partner with the Chester Hill Association for their family-friendly Snow Day on Chester Hill. The mountaintop destination at 14 Ingell Rd. will offer something for everyone, organizers say.

“The Chester Hill Association has sponsored a Snow Day for the past several years at the Holzman property on Ingell Road in Chester. The day offers sledding, snowshoeing and cross country skiing. This year we are happy the Hilltown Hikers are co-sponsoring the event,” said Andy Myers of the Chester Hill Association, which will provide the hot chocolate and cookies. Myers said there is no charge for the event, but donations are welcome.

Myers also said if there is limited or no snow, there will be trails for hiking and hills to climb.

Massa said the trail through the field has fantastic views of the top of the mountain, and also passes by a pond near the tree line. There is also a great hill for sledding. She said people need to bring their own equipment, but the hikers will have some extra innertubes on hand.

People can also come just to enjoy the beautiful views, hot chocolate and cookies, and a giant bonfire monitored by Myron Marcoulier and Ray Reed from the Chester Fire Department.
Massa said this will be the first time the hikers will be partnering with the Chester Hill Association for the event.

“The goal is to get everyone outside in the winter,” Massa said.

Hiking in winter

Massa also shared a few tips for hiking in the winter, what to wear and what to bring.

To start, layering clothes is a must.

“If it’s 30 degrees or below, I’m usually with three layers,” she said, including one layer to protect from wind. “The key is, once you start moving, the minute you feel warm, take off a layer — don’t wait until you sweat,” and that layer gets wet.

Among the clothing she recommends are wool socks, which are waterproof and will stay warm if they get wet. She said alpaca socks are also excellent. Ski socks, which are knee-high or over the knee, are recommended. She also brings leg warmers that cover from the knee to the top of the shoe, made out of lightweight, waterproof material, to keep legs warm.

Wear high-top, waterproof hiking boots, Massa said, and always bring crampons or spikes — the ones with the metal prongs on the bottom, which she considers a necessary item.

“Your day outside in the winter can change several times.” She gave the example of a 6.5-mile hike in Chesterfield Gorge that her group took in January. They started out on crunchy ice, requiring the spikes and crampons, and as the day progressed it became slushy and wet.

“By the time we got back, the temperature was dropping, and it was back to morning conditions,” she said.

Also necessary are wool or fleece gloves or mittens — mittens are warmer, she said — and optionally glove straps to keep from losing them. A woolen cap is a necessity.

“Definitely cover your head with a knitted hat.”

Massa said a lot of people don’t wear scarves when they’re hiking, which can get entangled, and instead wear neck buffs — “the fleece ones are super soft, cozy and comfortable.” She also cautions to always wear something bright or neon in the woods
Another item Massa is never without are disposable hand warmers, such as Hot Hands. “They are light weight — you can throw a couple in your pack. If your gloves are not keeping your hands warm, you can put them inside your gloves, or stick them in your pants or shirt to help keep you warm.”

Massa also recommends bringing poles. Either telescopic hiking poles or ski poles will do.

“Any kind. They will keep you steady especially on anything slippery and on declines,” she said, adding that she interchanges ski poles and hiking poles all the time. “One thing I can’t do is snowshoe without poles. A lot of times, people forget that,” she said.

Another thing people forget to do in the winter is to drink water. “If you have a headache and your mouth is dry, you’re already dehydrated,” she said.

She brings a 22-ounce container for a two-hour hike, two of them for a four-hour hike. Alternatively, she recommends drinks that are sugar-free with electrolytes in them, such as Prime, based on coconut water, which is her current favorite.

Also in her pack are electrolyte hydration packets that can be added to water or electrolyte hydration tablets, which she said are a chewable tablet that looks like a Sweet Tart and is chewable.

“The brand that I have in my pack all the time, Salt Stick, has 10 in a packet and weighs nothing. I had to use it a few times. One time I was hiking in Montgomery and I forgot my drink — I forgot to put it in my pack. It was cold and I was already in a mile. I chewed on a couple of those. If I didn’t have those, I would have had to go back,” she said.

“Ever since then, I swear by them, I always have them and I offer them to everybody,” Massa said. The tablets have sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and instantly hydrate. They also get rid of muscle cramps.

“They are really good to have — they get absorbed in the lining of your mouth,” Massa said.

For snacks, she brings trail mix made out of granola, chocolate M&Ms, nuts and dry cranberries.

“My go-to are almonds and pistachios — high protein, easy to eat — and easy to open.”

Other items in her winter pack are a map of the trail, which she has studied before she goes out.

“Don’t rely on your phone to show you where you’re going,” she said. She also carries a battery pack for the phone, and a head lamp.

“In winter time, it gets dark early. Always have a headlamp or a flashlight — a headlamp is better because your hands are free for your poles,” said Massa. “You might go somewhere and think you’re going to be back before dark. You might be coming back where it’s getting dark. You don’t want to go without seeing what you’re walking on.”

Other suggested items include an animal tracks guide, a compass, fire starter, a small mirror to flash if lost or hurt, a lightweight thermal blanket and a copy of your identification. She said she keeps one in her hiking bag at all times.

With all of these supplies, her bag weighs 8 pounds on a winter hike, 11 pounds on a longer summer hike. She said she favors a hip pack or waist pack with lumbar support instead of a backpack.

“I’m prepared so that if anything happens, and I’m out there all day and a little bit into the night, I have everything I need — and not have a heavy, heavy pack.”

Most importantly, Massa says, “Always hike with a buddy.

Anything can happen. I’ve heard so many stories — people going for a short walk on a sunny day, who trip over a rock and pass out. You can’t rely on your phone — you won’t always have service. Even when you do — you still tell somebody, send them a text, tell them where you’re going, so there’s always a third person who will know where you’re going to be.”

“I never go hiking by myself,” Massa said.

More information on the Feb. 24 Snow Day and all upcoming group hikes are posted on westernmasshilltownhikers.com, along with downloadable maps of area trails.

amyporter@thewestfieldnews.com | + posts