I like to be outside for the New Year if possible. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but it starts the year out right and resets my constant intention to be outside more. The tradition started several years ago with just one friend. We hiked a few miles out an easy trail to a backcountry campsite in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. There we had a small campfire and some hot chocolate as we waited to pop open the cold champagne at midnight. It was a low key but fitting celebration to cap off a hectic year.
The following year, a couple more friends joined us on a winter thru-hike of New York’s Devil’s Path in the Catskills. The Devil’s Path is a 24.4-mile trail that is regularly called the most dangerous and toughest trail in the East or in the lower 48. Over that short distance, there is 14,000′ of elevation gain and loss, much of it in very steep sections that require hands as well as feet to climb up or down the near vertical rocks using roots and any other handholds to be found. So it was a bit of a different vibe from the first year of my hiking tradition.
On the night of New Year’s Eve, we arrived at a lean-to in the dark but still early in the evening. After everyone had cooked dinner and settled in, we all took turns reading from The Snow Queen as we curled up in our sleeping bags. Instead of staying up past midnight at a party in town, we were all asleep by 8:30 in a lean-to in the mountains. Half of us did wake up at midnight to hear the celebrations of nearby towns, but half of us, myself included, slept right through.
It can’t all be big adventures though. Last year’s planned excursion to Bolton Lodge was canceled due to a friend being sick, but also the projected low temperature of -20 with wind chill. The cabin has a woodstove but is uninsulated and I wasn’t sure if the gear everyone had would be enough. I was looking forward to the adventure but was aware it might be uncomfortable and was ultimately convinced to postpone.
I was especially disappointed because Bolton Lodge used to host a longtime GMC Burlington Section tradition. In the February 1941 Long Trail News, Larry Dean writes:
“Among the ten sections of the Green Mountain Club there exists no finer tradition than the annual New Year’s Party of the Burlington Section. While the rest of the country are tooting horns and swinging in a packed dance hall, the Burlingtonians quietly roll up blankets and set out for Bolton Lodge late on the last day of the year.”
“Normally a group of hikers who have tramped that distance are ready to have taps sounded at least by ten, but the New Year’s spirit triumphs even on the Trail. The last hours of 1940 were spent hilariously in salting down tall tales of hikes and hiking, an intimate reading by Professor Buchanan of one hiker’s experiences on the Trail, and in stowing away a sack of shell peanuts that someone had brought along. Every Yankee has to keep his hands or jaws busy on such an occasion, and in the absence of enough whittling to go around, the peanuts did the trick. Then as the minute hand of Professor Buchanan’s watch crept up on midnight, the 1940 calendar was ceremoniously brought out and its traditional burning took place as Indian yells and whoops reverberated through the rafters.”
Instead of going to Bolton Lodge last year, my friends and I had a small house party with a local snowshoe hike at midnight. When it was nearing the new year, we bundled up against the cold and crunched up the hill through a top layer of wind-frozen snow. The fog in the sky cleared and the almost-full moon lit the landscape through a few briefly passing clouds. The subzero wind eventually turned us back, just in time to reach a landing and see the faint glow of fireworks being set off in the neighborhood below right at midnight.
As we hiked down, I recalled that I spent a lot of my childhood New Year’s Eves running out the front door of the house just at midnight, banging pots and pans and whooping with all the neighbors. So it seems that my affinity for being outside at the turnover of the year is nothing new. I hope to continue it every year.