Monday, January 10, 2011

Mt Osceola & Osceola East Peak - January 9 2011

Summit of Mt. Osceola
What an incredible undertaking this was to start my quest for NH's 48.  Now, just the second week into the year, Bill and I have two peaks under our belt. We started up the Greeley Pond Trail from the Kancamagus Highway exactly at 9am. We had the snowshoes on from the get-go, and we quickly got used to them. We did the first 1.3 miles in about an hour. When we got to the junction, we changed from the shoes to our Microspikes to switch it up and make headway as it got a bit steeper. After the junction, the trail is basically never flat again. Don't ever wish it will get flat, it won't.

Dan on Osceola, East Peak
Bill on Osceola, East Peak
The higher we got on the trail, the heavier it was snowing and the heavier the winds. Microspikes worked well for a little while, then we put back on the snowshoes. It was no problem switching them out. the straps on the MSR Lightning Ascents are quick and easy to secure. 

As we approached the East Peak, it was snowing really good. After walking up a few steep spirals, it seemed, the trail flattens out slightly. The trees are pretty small, and we came across the small path that leads to a very small outlook, where all we saw was white. We continued on a short distance and found the true summit of Osceola East Peak. With visibility probably less than 100ft or so, there were no views to take in, except the howling winds blowing through the trees and the snow blowing about, or falling from the trees, which make a variety of different grinding noises from the wind. We still remembered to take a moment and reflect on the fact that this mission is now started.
Reached the top of the Bypass, safely

The Mt. Osceola Trail descends the East Peak, and then ascends Mt. Osceola. In between there is vertical section called the Chimney and the Bypass. We decided to take the Bypass for obvious reasons. It appeared much safer, although that did not make it easy. I can imagine it is much easier in the summer. The Bypass was covered with about 2 inches of powder as we ascended it. After this section the trail continues for at least another half mile before reaching the summit of Mt. Osceola.

The summit was fantastic, but extremely cold. We knew that there was a wind chill advisory for the afternoon at the higher summits, which forecasted winds at 40-60mph and wind chills to -40 degrees. From the time we hiked between the peaks along the ridges, our waters, which were inside of our packs, were becoming completely frozen. Our cameras were saying battery low, and just minutes after removing a glove, fingers started to get numb. This was a great test for us to see what these conditions are like. With our new hiking boots, our feet were toasty warm the entire time. Our clothing and layering choices had worked out perfectly all day long.  Although prepared for anything, we certainly did not expect it to snow all day long. It never stopped.

Me & Bill on the Summit of Osceola
After reaching our goal of Mt. Osceola, we headed back down, over, and out. Going down the mountain all the way from the summit of Osceola to below East Osceola, the trail was pretty difficult. There was one other hiker on trail, who headed back prior to us. His footprints had been covered by drifts up to approximately 8 inches or more. The trail seems so steep going down, it was so hard to believe we freakin' hiked up it. We had our Microspikes on because we needed some maneuverability going down. Even with the spikes, there were a couple of decent 10 feet slides down some ice, which made it interesting. What really got interesting was when Bill started sliding on one of the iciest sections and did not stop. In fact he slid about 10 feet before somehow ending up on his feet but still sliding another 5 feet or so before catching himself on a tree with his chest and arms. Had there been no tree, he'd be in some pine trees about 20 feet down.

I think it was a bit steeper than we expected overall.  Before we made it back to the junction with the Greeley Pond Trail, it was pretty dark, and we used our headlamps. Once we passed the junction, we moved pretty quickly through the 1.3 miles, which is much much flatter and easier than any other part of the trail on this trip. It's a pretty amazing thing to experience hiking in these conditions. To top the experience off, not many get to experience hiking during a blustery and chilly snowfall under a slither of bright moonlight.

Hike Stats
Trails: Greely Pond Trail, Mt. Osceola Trail
Distance: 7.6 mi
Elevation Gain: 3100 feet

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