I won't mince words: I hate New York winters. "You're in the wrong state then," is the snarky reply I usually get. Perhaps they're right.

But, look: I don't ski, I don't snowboard, and I don't own or operate a snowmobile. Instead, I opt for the "semi-hibernation" approach to winter: I hunker down with Netflix and video games, I eat bad, and I put on weight.

But I've continually heard from others the importance of forcing yourself out in nature during the winter, even if you're not exactly enthusiastic about it. So this past weekend, the girlfriend and I decided to head up north and tackle a high peak.

I'm not the biggest outdoorsman even during more favorable months, but I'm really trying. I camp once a year and try to do a few hikes annually. Before this most recent excursion, I only summited one high peak previously: Mt. Phelps in October 2022.

For my first winter high peak, I decided to "play it safe" with Cascade, which most people consider the "easiest" of the high peaks. Here are 5 takeaways from my experience:

1.) THIS "EASY" PEAK WASN'T SO EASY

This might come straight from the Big Book of "Duh," but hiking in the winter is MUCH different than the summer. I've never taken anything more than a leisurely stroll in snowshoes, and now I was hiking 4,000 feet in them. It proved a little challenging, maybe more than it needed to be. Which brings me to Observation #2...

2.) YOU MIGHT WANT TO IGNORE THE SNOWSHOE "MANDATE"

The New York DEC requires snowshoes for hiking in snow over 8 inches, so that's what we wore. But the snow was packed down pretty tightly, and almost everyone else on the trail was wearing crampons or micro spikes. Needless to say, they seemed to be having an easier go at it.

Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash
Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash
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3.) DON'T BRING A BACKPACK BLADDER

A bladder in you pack is a great way to stay hydrated, but it was so cold up there that the packs froze and we wound up lugging a big rectangle of ice around. Thankfully we also had bottles of Powerade that did not freeze (although it came close).

4.) DOGS ARE IN BETTER SHAPE THAN I AM

We saw several dogs on the mountain, and they seemed to have no problem with what they were doing. We even saw a poodle in dog booties to keep his feet warm. Which brings me to Observation #5, which has nothing to do with hiking whatsoever:

5.) FRENCH PEOPLE ALSO SAY "CHEESE" WHEN TAKING A PICTURE

The poodle with the booties belonged to this French Canadian couple who we encountered at the summit. The woman was trying to get the dog to turn around for a picture, and the way she tried to get his attention was by saying "Fromage! Fromage!" which is the French word for cheese. This was interesting to me, because I thought the whole point of saying "cheese" was that saying the word makes you smile with teeth. "Fromage" doesn't do that. That just struck me as odd.

All in all, as a newbie winter peaker, I'd rank Cascade a 7 out of 10 in difficulty. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going back to video games.

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