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Hiking, biking and more: Getting outdoors in a Southern Nevada winter

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Kristen DeSilva
/
KNPR
Hikers at Gass Peak in January 2023.

If you’ve been out, you know it’s been a pretty chilly winter. The operative word is "if,” as in, if you’ve been out.

Because in Southern Nevada, where we’re used to blistering summers and mild winters, this kind of cold can dissuade any of us from a morning walk, run, bike ride, hike or rock climb.

For some, no amount of weather could keep them from their routine. Tracy Annis may be one of them. She’s been a rock climber and scrambler for 25 years.

“You find your passion; you’re on the rocks,” she said. “There’s you and there’s nature and you’re going head-to-head and it just feels so satisfying.”

She said her group usually does Class 3 and 4 scrambles, which means they’re dressed in approach shoes and gloves. On Monday, they planned to go out to Calico Basin near Red Rock Canyon and “just play in the rocks and zone out, get rid of the stress of life for a few hours.”

To best protect yourself in this weather, check the weather and plan for the weather. Her group of 12 on Monday planned to be on the west side of the mountain to avoid wind coming from the north. And when they get higher up, they’ll add on more layers: a vest, puffer jacket, ear muffs, merino wool hats, layers of gloves.

“In the last few years, life has been really stressful. Everything has been a little bit different. But when you're out on the rocks, you have to focus on the rocks and it gives you a little breathing space. … And the danger is just that little extra zing,” Annis said.

This is the busy season in Red Rock, so plan ahead for crowds in popular areas. If you’re new to getting outdoors, she suggested looking on Meetup.com for local hiking groups like Vegas Hikers, which has thousands of members.

If you’re not into hiking, you may want to join road bikes zipping down the streets in town. You might find Keely Brooks in those groups, she’s the president of the Southern Nevada Bicycle Coalition.

How does she get motivated in the winter? She transitions to mountain biking.

“Because you're going slower. So the wind’s not biting you as much, you can get into a protected area of town on the trails where, like Tracy was saying, you can go on the west side, or on the south side of a mountain, if the cold north wind is coming,” she said. “I also meet up with groups, and if you have a meet up buddy, it kind of gives you accountability to get out there.”

She said bikers can also find out about group events from local bike shops or Facebook groups.

Wearing proper gear is a must no matter the outdoor sports or activity. Alan Gegax is a local hiking guide and suggests protecting against the wind: “Wind chill is very underrated.”

In cold weather, he suggests wearing a layer that can keep a “microclimate” around your body, like in a wetsuit. Then, keep the wind off of you: “I wear a windproof outer layer, some kind of windbreaker, so that the air next to my body stays next to my body.”

But make sure you don’t sweat: “You are going to freeze,” Gegax said. “You have to manage your temperature while you're out doing winter hiking, it is absolutely critical.“

He loves to go out in inclement weather. Why, you ask? Well …

“When it's actively raining at Red Rock, as long as you're not in flash flood danger, it is so unbelievable out there. You'll see, when you drive the scenic loop there, these black vertical streaks on the side of the red rocks, those are waterfalls. And when you go out during the rain, they become ephemeral waterfalls, and to see that happening, it's absolutely phenomenal. And then you look to your left and your right, and there's nobody else there to see it. And it's truly magical.”


Guests: Tracy Annis, rock climber; Keely Brooks, president, Southern Nevada Bicycle Coalition; Alan Gegax, hiking guide

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Dave Berns, now a producer for State of Nevada, recently returned to KNPR after having previously worked for the station from 2005 to 2009.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the online editor for Nevada Public Radio. She oversees and writes State of Nevada’s online and social media content.