Saturday, February 25, 2012

Solo Winter Presidential Traverse - President's Day 2012

I am not sure it has quite sunk yet in that I completed a winter Presidential Traverse last weekend. This traverse is probably the most risky of any hike that can be done in the White Mountains, especially in winter, and certainly the most chancy solo hike I've ever done, but thankfully, nearly everything went right this President's Day, and I was able to add this incredible experience to my list of many so far.

Thanks to my father for waking up at 3am to help me spot my car at Crawford Notch. There were a few cars in the lot at Appalachia, but none that were there starting a hike. It was 5:50am when I set my foot on the trail. I started up the trail with my headlamp, but didn't need it long, as the sun was coming up just minutes later. The hike up the Valley Way Trail was pretty quiet and pleasant. It allowed me to think about what lies ahead.
Treeline on the Valley Way Trail
I reached the hut, it was so beautiful. The sun was shining so brightly and everything seemed to be just so crisp and clear. I dropped my pack and with my ice axe in hand, I followed the cairns up to the summit of Mt. Madison. Madison is my 3rd favorite Presidential behind Washington and Monroe. To me, its dramatic, and has one of the best all-around views of the Presidentials.
Madison Hut
Mt. Washington, Clay, and Adams from Madison
I quickly scooted down to retrieve my pack. I saw some remnants of a track heading towards the Star Lake Trail, so I though it wouldn't be too much more difficult to make the approach from that side. I knew I wouldn't have to follow the trail strictly, so I wasn't worried about the extra distance. As I started around the base of the cone, the wind picked up, and it was ripping around the side of the mountain. It would have been tough either side. I was getting battered by the pellet-like snow, and immediately I was into my first challenge on this trek. As I approached, the snow pack started to increase in angle, requiring me to use crampon technique with my foot placement, by kicking in my toe and checking it. The snow was pretty soft near the top. Even though I approached from the south side, the wind was still coming around and getting me, but with slow and steady in mind on this important stretch, I climbed onto and over the summit of Adams.
Blowing snow from near Mt. Adams 
Jefferson Ravine coming from Adams
Already on great pace past Adams, I set off in a straight shot towards Mt. Jefferson. Along the way, I caught a great shot of the wind blown snow over the peaks (above). As you can see it was so beautifully clear, but to see the snow whipped up like a blizzard all around you was something out of this world. On the approach to Mt. Jefferson until after Mt. Clay was the most spectacular part of this hike. The wind died down just slightly, but not completely, and the sun over Mt. Clay was incredible. Before I got there though, I stood on Mt. Jefferson, which was the last presidential I needed for my second round of the 48, and it was my 40th Trailwright peak. I am still drooling over the view of Mt. Washington I had from Mt. Jefferson.
View from Mt. Jefferson
The most beautiful view of Mt. Washington ever (maybe)
As I moved towards Clay, it felt like I was on a different planet. It felt as if I was walking towards the sky on this beautiful sheet of glazed white ice. I look ahead and see the sun shining brightly among a light blue sky, and behind me was a deeper blue with incredible lenticular clouds. As I neared the summit, I stopped for a moment and stared at the sky. I noticed how quickly the clouds were moving across the sky, and over the mountains. I stood and captured it with on video with my camera. All of this excitement had me thrilled to reach Mt. Clay.
Ascending Mt. Clay
Me on Mt. Clay with Mt. Washington in the background
As I walked towards Washington over the Great Gulf, the wind was treacherous coming up over it from the valley. The gusts were knocking me 3-4 steps off stride every time, but without any problems, I neared the summit of Washington. Everything was so perfectly white. Here I was again, approaching that summit sign for the 8th time and 5th month in a row. There's nothing quite like standing on the top all by your self, except it wasn't easy to stand without holding the sign.
From here to there were heavy gusts over the gulf
Mt. Washington summit in February
I took about break for less than 10 minutes out of the wind by the building doors. I added a layer, ate some of my nutter butters, and had some of my orange juice I decided to throw in my pack. Next I set off into the wind down the Crawford Path. The wind was feisty now, and it would be just about all of the way past Eisenhower. I reached Lake of the Clouds Hut, and a fellow hiker was there who came up the Ammo Trail. After a quick chat, we headed up Monroe, at times walking at a severe angle for about 2 minutes straight. That was insane. Monroe is always fun for me. The wind was brutal, but it was the only time someone was able to help with a summit photo. It was funny when I told him I had to get going. He said, "You're going that way?!" Yup, off I went down Monroe, it was 2:15pm.
Leaning into the wind on Mt. Monroe
Nothing from Mt. Washington to the end of this hike was easy. It was a constant battle with the wind and wind chill. I made my way towards Mt. Eisenhower, and a break was calling, so I went for the trees just below Eisenhower. I made a quick call to check in, and had another snack. It is amazing how much you notice the food give you energy while hiking, which is why I wanted a break now because Eisenhower's not a walk in the park. However, this all took me past the north junction of the loop, I really didn't see it on my way over to the scrub, but I just went towards the south end of the loop, made a quick shortcut, dropped the pack, and bagged it. I was moving quickly through this because I wanted so bad to just be on the Crawford Path below Pierce.
Looking back from near the south end of Eisenhower loop
Finally, I was on my way to Pierce. Thankfully, the snow in this section wasn't as bad as it could have been. However, there was one drift up to my eyeballs, that I suspected formed only today. The path was directly behind it like someone built a wall. I dropped my pack at the sign and darted to Pierce reaching the last President on this traverse. The sun was still shining, but slowly fading. I didn't waste much time, and at steady pace, I walked down the Crawford Path. I reached my car in exactly 12 hours, just as night turned to day in an instant.
Beautiful look back from the summit of Mt. Pierce
It's hard to describe what it was like. You're body is constantly exposed to the wind, the battering pellets of snow, yet at every moment you stand amazed at whats under your feet and how far you can see. It is almost like the wind isn't there and everything is in slow motion. The wind chill was -31 degrees, but it never bothered me, even though my balaclava and goggle setup was giving me hell. I carried snowshoes and crampons, but only needed my spikes, which I feel added to my success. Confidence was the key going in. I had called my time at 10-12 hours, so I made it perfectly. I didn't have to use my headlamp on the way out. Everything was exactly how I wanted it. This was the best winter hike yet!
Solo Winter Presi Traverse In the books!
Hike Stats
Trails: Valley Way Trail, Osgood Trail, Star Lake Trail, Gulfside Trail, Jefferson Loop, Clay Loop, Trinity Heights Connector, Crawford Path, Eisenhower Loop.
Distance: 19.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 8,550 ft
Book Time: 12hrs exactly

I've put together a video of my traverse. It features footage from my ascents to Madison, Adams, Jefferson, and Washington, along with a few pictures in between. This video was shot with my GoPro using a chest harness.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mt. Tom, Mt. Field, Mt. Willey, and Mt. Avalon

The temperatures remained mild as I started my second hike on Saturday at 9:30am after driving to Crawford Notch after sledding down Tecumseh real quick. My goal was to bag Tom, Field, and Willey, and return to Lake Winnisquam to spend time with family through Sunday. The trails were once again in great shape. I saw hikers heading up the trail in show shoes so I put them on, but quickly took them off and wore Microspikes the rest of the day, and snowshoes were just training weight. There were a few other groups and pairs hiking in the Willey Range on Saturday. The weather was overcast and perfect for this hike, although I was lucky enough to catch a view on Avalon on my way out (above), since it was socked in on my first trip there in May.
Snow bridge on Avalon Trail
View from the summit of Mt. Tom
The depth of the snow on Mt. Tom was not as high as it was last January on my first ascent. The view was not as great, but its still a great peak and pleasant peak and tough hike up. I didn't linger too long, and I quickly made it down to the junction of the Willey Range Trail. The walk to Mt. Field on the Willey Range was quiet and peaceful. I only heard light breezes and the crunching and thumping of the trees grinding together.
One mile to Mt. Field on the Willey Range Trail
Me on Mt. Field for round two and winter list
The trail conditions were the same as I pushed towards Willey, broken out nicely with a fresh powdery coating. There was a slight clearing as I approached, and I was able to get a decent view down into the notch from Mt. Willey, which was my 39th peak completed on the Trailwright's 72 list.
View from Mt. Willey outlook
The jays were out in full force and looking nice and plump from the mass of food they are fed all year long.

As I said, on the way out, I stopped at Avalon to peep the view I didn't get before (It's a 52 With a View peak), and after that, I continued down and completed the hike in 4hrs 45min. I was back at the lake before dinner. I was feeling great having thought this was the perfect warm-up hike for what was to come on Monday.

Hike Stats
Trails: Avalon Trail, A-Z Trail, Mt. Tom Spur, Willey Range Trail, 
Distance: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,400 ft
Book Time: 4hrs 45 minutes

Hiking and Sledding Mt. Tecumseh

With work to do on my second round, I planned two hikes for Saturday. I came up with the idea that I would finally try out my new sled on a mountain and sled down Tecumseh. I planned to hike Tom, Field, and Willey as soon as could get this one out of the way. I started at 6am and reached the summit in a little over an hour. The trail was well packed out but had a nice coating of fresh powder and snow flakes were still flying gently from the sky. It was nice having the entire trail and mountain to myself.
Mt. Tecumseh Trail
Overcast view from outlook
I took a look at the ski trail on the way up. I noticed it appeared closed because I saw some orange tape above, so then I decided I would sled back to this point before trying to sled the closed trail from the summit. I reached the summit, and took a couple of pictures and prepared for my ride down.
Summit cairn of Mt. Tecumseh
Me, my sled, and Mt. Tecumseh
I had to go about .2-.3 probably before it was sloped enough to even consider trying to sit down on the sled. After that, it was non-stop, and non-stop fun. I slid off the sled a few times and hit a couple of trees, but everything was fun and not hurtful. I used my hands and legs to steer as there is are no other controls or handles on this sled, which is a Snowboogie that I bought at EMS. When I got to the ski trail, I tried to move over to the middle so I would not go left too quickly. On my first try on the ski trail, I fell off and saw my sled going down the mountain. I started to run after it, but I realized a post-hole in the crust would be bad news, either for my ankle or my could have gone all of the way down, but thankfully it flipped over and I retrieved it. The rest of the way was awesome, including a sweet head first run. When I got to the bottom where the T-Bar lift is, I saw people working, so I walked along the side from the point. As I got to the T-Bar lift house, they were ringing the bells, which meant the lifts were opening. I had just made it, and the worker I walked past agreed with me when I said with a huge smile and sled in hand that it was a beautiful morning for hike!

The video below starts with footage on the approach to the summit, and then once I'm seen picking up my sled around the 2:50 mark, its continuous descent until the video is over. By the way, the view was awesome on the way down with the morning sun and passing flakes. I would definitely do this again!

Hike Stats
Trails: Mt. Tecumseh Trail
Distance: 5miles (sledded down)
Elevation Gain: 2,200
Book Time: 2hrs

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Skiing - Cannon Mountain - 2/12/12

Wow, what a frigid day for skiing! My brother and I were looking for a little bit more of a challenge compared to Gunstock a couple of weeks ago, so we went straight for the highest vertical drop in NH, Cannon Mountain. It was awesome skiing down from 4000' in blowing snow and frigid wind chills.

If you have not been to Cannon before, the best bet is to go directly to the main resort area first (Exit 34C/Peabody Slopes). I needed to rent skis, so when we went into the Tramway area buildings first, we were told that we had to drive up to the next exit for rentals, and that my brother and I could pay for everything up there. The good thing was that there was hardly anyone there yet. Once we go to the main parking area, we walked up to the ticket booth. Once there, I said I wanted a full price ticket with rental, but I was then directed to not pay there, and to go upstairs to the rental shop, where I could purchase everything together there.

At that point, I thought it was becoming rather difficult, however I continued into the rental shop where they have 4 separate stations for retrieving your rental gear. The staff issuing the equipment cared that my boots, skis, and poles were right, and it didn't take that long to get everything.

The last thing I needed to do was put my boots in a locker or something. I know it was really cold, but there were probably 10 or more Cannon employees visible from the bench I sat (all wearing the same jackets, which is very helpful) , and I happened to ask one of them where I could store my boots or get a locker. I know it was very cold, but while the answer was semi-correct (as I would later find out), it led me to just go put my boots in the car which was about a 4 minute walk away to the parking lot. The directions I got included, "I think, and "check down there, you might find them down there" or something like that. I just wanted to get out there and didn't want to walk around any more speculating where the lockers might be.

Whew, now that we were through that, there were no hassles once we were on the mountain! The snow conditions were great, packed powder and loose granular with detectable ice (gray in color). It was frigid, so the attendance at the resort was minimal providing for sweet runs. Snow was being made on some trails, and it was a blast riding through!

To bring you all better videos from my adventures, I picked up a GoPro Hero2 video camera this weekend and put it to test on some of the runs down Cannon. I picked up the extra Battery BacPac, a chest mount, the tripod adapter, and some of the accessories to get me started. This thing should be fun!

Adult Lift Ticket (All-day):  $68
Ski Package Rental: $47
Chicken Quesadilla, Sweet Potato Fries, and an Angry Orchid Hard Cider at Cannonball Pub: $25 (half of our bill)
Total Cost for 1P: $140