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DC UL has a trip ranking system, as well as a membership structure, that serve as a system to allow advanced backpackers to get out on the trips they want to do and to provide a path for new people to build up skills and progress to doing longer and bigger trips. We have trip ranks for general three season (spring, summer, and fall) conditions and for winter conditions. These ranks are intended to give you a sense of the skills required to successfully complete–and enjoy–an outing with DC UL.
- Low Mileage (LM): These are not necessarily easy trips, but they are something like an introduction to the group. We’ll cover about 20-ish miles in a weekend, and we’ll just stay out one or two nights. You might still walk a pretty full day (16-18 miles), but you won’t hit 20. Applicants, as well as all members in the group, are welcome to join these trips.
- Members Only (MO): This rating corresponds to a normal trip for us, where we’re hiking ambitiously all weekend. Typically, this equates to a trip about 30 to 40 miles in length involving two nights out. On a full day we try to get a 20-mile day in. This should be a good challenging trip for even strong UL backpackers. To participate in these trips you must be approved for Member status.
- Veteran Members Only (VMO): This rating corresponds to a trip that has multiple 20-mile days and will usually require a long weekend or time off work. Good examples of this sort of trip are the Massanutten 72-miler or the STS 84-miler. Hike leaders attach this rating to a tough trip when they want to make sure people are ready to tackle this type of challenge. To participate in these trips, you must be approved for Veteran Member status.
- Invite Only (IO) or Veteran Plus Members Only (VMO+): These are our highest ranked trips. It might feature international travel, an average pace above 20 miles, or a trip that spans several weeks out on the trail. To participate in this sort of trip, you should expect that you will need to do a number of trips with the organizer beforehand and/or have achieved the Veteran Plus status.
In addition to our normal ranking system, we use use a winter system that captures the demands of the fourth and most challenging season. Obviously, in winter, the conditions are more demanding and the consequences for problems are much more serious. These rankings are intended to keep everyone safe.
First and foremost, anyone signing up for a winter trip needs to be able to provide the trip leader with a gear list indicating that you have the appropriately rated gear for the conditions anticipated. This applies to everyone. If you do not provide a gear list (and if you’re not responsive to the organizer), you’ll won’t be doing the trip.
Here are the ratings you’ll see on winter trips:
- W1: This rating corresponds to the winter conditions we usually see in Virginia, Maryland, and nearby portions of Pennsylvania. It will be cold, with temperatures below freezing at times, perhaps down to the teens. You will need a bag, pad, and appropriate thermal layers to handle these conditions. For example, you may need to bring an extra foam pad and/or a sleeping pad rated for winter conditions, extra insulating clothing layers, and a sleeping bag rated to 10 degrees or below. You also may need a liner to supplement your sleeping bag. Usually, there won’t be so much snow accumulation that snowshoes or skis would be necessary, but a traction device (microspikes) might be required. You *could* still wear runners, but you *might* switch to winter boots. In either case, you should have down booties and mittens to warm your extremities in camp. You should be prepared manage water in freezing conditions, but you shouldn’t expect to melt snow to get water. Most of these trips are for confident and well-equipped applicants and members new to winter backpacking, but you will need to supply a detailed gear list to the organizer in order to participate.
- W2: For this rating, we are anticipating conditions that resemble W1 conditions (not so much snow to justify snowshoes or skis), and where we expect the trail to be icy or the temps to be in the teens or lower. W2 trips also differ from W1 trips in that while you could get away with your usual gear (plus some supplementing items to boost warmth) for a W1 trip, a W2 trip requires an investment in serious gear to safely handle the conditions and a good understanding of how to use that gear. For example: Sleeping bags and pads designed for cold weather conditions, traction devices, insulating bottle covers, and stoves capable of handling cold temperatures. You also will need a firm understanding of appropriate cold weather clothing layers, including base and insulating layers. These trips are for members who have made significant investments in gear and display good knowledge of how to manage their gear in winter conditions. Such trips are for people with prior winter experience, and will be rated MO / VMO.
- W3: This rating corresponds to the winter conditions we might expect to find in some parts of West Virginia, farther north in Pennsylvania, or New York, or even New England. To do these trips, you will need to have made a considerable investment in gear (especially bag and pad) capable of keeping you warm at very cold temperatures. You may very well want to carry a second, foam pad in additional to any inflatable pad. Expect to be sleeping on significant snow accumulation. Trail runners are out: you’ll need appropriate footwear for snow shoes and skis, which may very well be required. Some variety of insulated boot is in order. Down booties are a must. Your stove should be capable of melting snow to get water. You should have done a number of trips at the W1 level before you do a W3 trip.
- W4: Indicates a winter trip where we require some additional training. This might include avalanche training, basic mountaineering, or ice climbing.