Friday, January 31, 2014

The Bigelows (West Peak & Avery) - 12/28/2013

Back on December 28th, the plan was originally supposed to be hanging out in cozy cabin after a summit of North Brother in winter.  Things were pretty hectic around the holidays, and the plan was sort of coming along too fast.  After starting up the Williams Pond Road on the 27th, we were faced with deep snow getting in from the Telos Road side.  In addition to that, my brother was having some upper leg issues.  After what seemed like an eternity, we made the decision to turn around, both of us, even after we talked about me heading in solo.  As a result of that, there was an opportunity for me to continue to take advantage of my vacation time, and get a tough hike out of the way.  My brother and I parted ways in Millinocket, and I was off to Rangely, where I would take on the Bigelows in the morning.
Some drifted tracks on the AT between Route 27 and Stratton Brook Pond Road
I arrived late in the evening to Stratton Brook Pond Road (SBPR).  Upon arrival, I was confronted with a large pile of snow plowed right at the last house, which meant that I couldn't park anywhere on the Stratton Brook Road, or away from the houses enough.  This meant that I would have to use the Appalachian Trail to access the road, and get to the trail head for the Fire Warden's Trail.  My next problem was that the Appalachian Trail lot was not plowed (and is apparently never plowed).  With it being late, there were not many other options.  I took a chance and parked in an opening where there was fenced in equipment servicing the nearby high-tension wires.  I got in there with the Jeep, but as I would learn two days later (thankfully) after I got home that it likely was the cause of a flat tire.  No one bothered me, and I got some sleep, I even waited until after sunrise to start, to get some extra rest.  I've car camped several times this winter so I can make the most of my days and deal with the long drives.  
A couple of snowmobile passes on Stratton Brook Pond Road
I crossed the street from my car, and went right into the woods at the high tension wires, and after about 5 minutes, came onto the AT and followed it to SBPR.  The road was not really that packed yet, so knowing I'd be putting on my snow shoes soon anyways, I stopped and put them on.  It seemed like it was taking a while on both the AT and road, but eventually I came to the start of the Firewarden's Trail.  Looking past the sign and seeing no tracks beyond it, right then I sort of had a realization that this hike was going to be pretty brutal.
Start of the Fire Warden's Trail on SBPR 
Stratton Brook Pond in winter
I could hear the water running as the pond came into view.  The stream was flowing similar to my time here two falls ago, so I was relieved with that while also getting a nice view of the pond.  Other than the outlet, it was silent, and I could see well all around.  I crossed the outlet without issue or any wetness.  Once I got to the edge on the other side, I looked up and saw these fresh coyote tracks beckoning me up the trail.  Here, I had another realization that I was heading solo into some territory known for a good mix of awesome wild animals (according to the State of Maine): coyote, red fox, black bear, marten, fisher, bobcat, white-tailed 
deer, moose, and the rare Canada Lynx.  I was just getting started, and it was all focus from here.  

Coyote tracks
Rabbit tracks 
Lower part of the Fire Warden's Trail 
The woods along the lower part of the trail were beautiful.  All I could see were animal tracks, and I heard nothing.  I kept looking side to side and all around, and the noise of my snowshoes on the rather annoying hard crust gave sufficient warning to any animals in the area.  It was a hard crust with unconsolidated snow underneath.  All of the way to col my snowshoe would either go through or I wouldn't and it was like 50/50 so it was tough going sometimes.  Everywhere along the way this winter there has been signs of how difficult New England's 4000-footers in winter are.  I got another one when I passed the sign-in box and found that no one had signed in in the last 22 days. Perhaps I'd be the first to reach these peaks this winter.  Feeling pumped about that, I continued on breaking trail, like I had been on every since winter started.
Please register 
Moose post holes 
The trail eventually gets real steep.  I had some difficulty in a few spots because of the breaking crust and angle of the trail.  You may recall me mentioning my snow shoes were dull (but I still did not realize that yet at this point in time).  I took a break at the Moose Falls Campsite.  I noticed a little field mouse nearby who probably lived in the outhouse.  I remember putting on an additional layer here, and getting ready for the push up to the col.  The sky on the day was simply gray, and the weather really wasn't doing anything so the hike in the woods was great.  When I got to the col, I noticed it was much colder.

Ascending West Peak 
I decided to hit West Peak first this time, and headed up from the col.  At first the trail was easy, but then there was just a dumping of deep powder for a short distance the rest of the way.  Underneath the deep powder snow, there was treacherous ice, so I was hanging on to every step until I reached the summit sign.  There was a consistent freezing wind, and I couldn't see very far around me, but for a few moments on the West summit, everything was good.
Mt. Bigelow, West Peak summit sign 
Mt. Bigelow, West Peak - #52 of 67 in winter
After heading back and passing over the same spots with care, I arrived back at the col for a quick breather before heading up above treeline again for Avery Peak.  The trail heading out to the exposed ridge was drifted in very deeply with powder snow, moreso than West Peak.  There was some really tough-angled ice making the trail very side-sloped.  There were a few spots that a slip would make it fairly difficult to get back onto the trail.  It was beautiful, though, as I hiked into a much more fierce wind than on West Peak.  It was exciting to hit West, and it was more exciting making my way to Avery because of the untouched and challenging trail section.
AT sign at Bigelow Col
Completely drifted in trail to Avery Peak 
I made it to the summit sign for Avery Peak, which I absolutely needed in order to stand still.  It was here where I really felt good about the hike.  Breaking trail for 8 miles to summits that may not yet have been visited this winter was an incredible experience, and I was taking it all in a few quick moments on the Avery summit, where I stood unable to have any skin exposed.

It seemed so quick though.  As I stood there hanging onto the sign, I never kept my eye off the last cairn and where I needed to go to get back to the col.  Maybe I was seeing things, but it seemed like it started to get darker or the wind picked up, but I thought I better go while I can still see it, and after just probably 5 minutes, I had left the comfort of the sign and quickly descended back to the col.  I took a longer break at the col, checked in with family after the successful summits, and prepared to descend.  The only thing that eventually went wrong on the hike, was the crampon on my first pair of MSR Ligtnings snapped in half as I extended my legs to a tree trunk, bracing myself on a butt-slide.  Amazingly, the binding stayed on by a thread, and I managed to make it back without much annoyance, where I just ripped it off.  I had the luxury of following my tracks the entire way back to my car.  I had lost the light of day just after passing the outlet of the pond.  This had been my longest hike outing this winter at about 8 hours.  It was a tough tough hike, especially solo, but the woods, the Bigelow Range and Preserve did not disappoint in winter.
Crossing the SBP outlet at twilight
After this hike, I went home for a couple of days, and enjoyed New Year's Eve at home before I was planned to set out for another a full week of vacation and hiking.  2012 was an unforgettable year in the mountains. 190 named summits, including 142 4000-footers, much more than any of the last 3 years.

Hike Stats
Trails: Appalachian Trail, Stratton Brook Pond Road, Firewarden's Trail
Distance: 13 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,097 ft.
Actual Book Time: 7:52
GPS Track: Garmin Adventures

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Inside The Moments - Winter Hiking: Solo Hiking In Winter

My foray into the world of winter hiking, and specifically solo hiking in winter, started at the end of 2011. In early 2012, I did some tough solo winter hikes, and then in 2012-2013, 44 of the 48 White Mountain 4000-footers solo during my single winter season quest.  I have done 70% of my winter hikes solo, and about 40% of all hikes solo. My lists tell me I'm 8 peaks shy of two solo rounds all-season, and at the same time not much further beyond that to two solo rounds in winter.  To me, that's a fairly good chunk of solo hiking experience in the White Mountains.  Through that, I like to think I've learned a thing or two, and those who know me, know how much time and effort goes into my planning for each and every hike.  I enjoy the personal challenge, and the real-life test that solo hiking is.  I only make myself better with each new challenge. (Cover photo: Mt. Bigelow, Avery Peak, 12/28/13)

One of the biggest things about solo hiking is knowing your personal limits, and most importantly when it comes to the weather.  Knowing what you have for equipment and packing the right gear for the weather, for YOU, is important.  I know what its like to do a Presidential Traverse in 10 degree temperature, with a minus -20 wind chill, clear skies, and some blowing snow for twelve hours - not that those are ideal hiking conditions, but I've done it, and it was an awesome day, but most certainly not easy.  I hiked about 30 miles in 0 degree temperature for almost 14 hours on a hike last January - again no problems as long as I was moving, my gear worked as it should have, and I had more layers to use, if needed.  Winter is cold to begin with, so wind makes it brutally cold.  When the wind lingers and is constant, it is ever more taxing on the body, even on a clear day.  I've hiked through really blustery winds and snow in the woods, such as on Carrigain, where the snow whips easily on Signal Ridge, or in the middle of the night on the lower part of the Dicey's Mill Trail on Passaconaway, and also above tree-line on Lafayette, Washington, and Adams in some mild blowing snow.  So with respect to the temperatures, wind, and precipitation, the more you hike, you'll learn what your physical limits are by slowly experiencing all of the challenges of winter hiking.  There are so many different weather scenarios that can play out in winter.
Solo Presidential Traverse (10 degrees, -20 wind chill, blowing snow)
A 30 mile day over 5 summits in 0 degree weather
I can somewhat attribute my comfort with solo winter hiking to the fact that in 2011, when I set out to do the 4000-footers in a year, my first 9 4000 footers were done in winter, having never done any winter hiking or snowshoeing before.  I think back, my first solo winter hike was one of the most intense ever, and its one of the reasons Mt. Lafayette is my favorite.  The snow was so deep, walking around the top of Walker Ravine as I neared tree line was pretty sketchy.  The wind howled and swirled the snow around.  After passing the hut, barely visible, the rest of the way above treeline to the summit was a battle with the strong winds at my back with blowing snow.  At the summit I could see better, and after hitting Lincoln, things got better rapidly, and it was sunny by the time I got down.  A month earlier to that, me and my brother had started our one year quests for the 48 by going to the Osceola's for our first time ever using snow shoes.  It took 12 hours, and the wind chill for the day near the summits was around -20 degrees.  Surely, experiencing some of these winter challenges early on has helped give me the confidence to head out there and enjoy the peaks in winter on my own when I want.
My first summit of Mt. Lafayette, solo in winter to boot
Now, for each of the bold titles below, I'm going to share some thoughts as they relate to my solo hiking, and this will include some of the things I think about and do to make myself as comfortable and prepared as I can be.  Of course, if you hit the trails in winter too, I'm sure you'll find some common habits, and things that groups do too.  The idea behind this post is to write about what works for me when I'm out there by myself in winter, and why I like it.  Whether you hike solo or with a group in winter, I'm sure you can learn something new here.

Eating, Food, & Drinking Water
During the winter, I like to make some food items easily accessible in my pack.  I carry a food bag, but I like to stash a few things in my outer pockets so that I don't have to go into my main compartment every time I need a snack.  Pants pockets or front jacket pockets seem to work the best.  Be careful with hand warmers on chocolate, of course.  This obviously does not pertain strictly to solo hiking, but you have to think your food out, and make it accessible and ready, because in the midst of an intense solo winter hike, you have to continually eat otherwise its easy to push it off if you have to take 5 minutes to go digging in your pack.  This is a big deal because in winter its easy to notice that you need to eat, so at the onset of that feeling, a candy bar in the pocket keeps me in motion on a 20+ mile solo winter day.  If I can, I'll eat it as I go too.

Winter hiking can be strenuous, and when you go for long hikes in the winter, one thing that I pay close to attention to is how I feel physically and relate it to what I've ate and drank. Is your ankle or knee starting to get sore? Tummy rumbling? Headache? These are signs that you need to either eat or drink water or both.  Its important to recognize these signs and to think through what you might need to do to resolve whatever discomfort it is.  It is very easy to forget to drink enough water when winter hiking, so these symptoms come up fairly often, which is why sometimes a handful of calories and a bit of water will make it seem like you have a major rejuvenation of energy, and maybe that ache or pain will subside after its been re-fed some nutrients.

Some of my favorite trail foods that work well in winter (do not freeze) are Nutter Butters, Vienna fingers, other cookie types, and Slim Jim and cheese combos.  I still carry chocolate like Reese's fast break bars because they are very filling, but they need to be kept warmer compared to cookies and stuff.  When planning to head out solo, you can't count on others having back-up water supplies, so its important to never forget to make sure that your water supply won't freeze, or that a back-up plan is in place if it does.  During an early December Pemi Loop attempt, I found myself between Garfield and Lafayette in the middle of the night, solo, without having means to melt my water, which was frozen (I had made a wrong turn).  This meant I had no water for a good chunk of hours, and I was able to finally use my body to warm some drinkable water in the wee hours, when I made it down to Route 3.  Don't let your water freeze, and don't forget to always make it part of your gear planning in winter.  Again, another thing learned from experience...

Clothing, Layers, & Hypothermia
Hypothermia is pretty scary.  I hate being cold in general, so the thought of having a serious situation with that in the mountains is not pleasant.  When solo, I tend to always hike faster than I do in any group, and that keeps me pretty warm with the right clothing on for the conditions in winter.  There have been some times I've noticed myself mumble, have trouble buckling a strap, or even trying to jump a log while winter hiking. Winter hiking requires more exertion than all-season hiking, and in much colder temperatures.  These two things together create a risk factor for hypothermia, and the mumbles and fumbles are the first signs of it.  Those of us who are aggressive winter hikers, I'm sure experience this every now and then.  I've learned enough now to know that means I need to stop, drink some water, and check my layer situation to make sure my body is warm enough, or do what is necessary to shake that temporary weakness.

Figuring out a good layering system is important.  I don't have many different sets of hiking clothing when it comes to clothing for winter hiking, but I know how it all works, what conditions they work well in, and I tend to never short myself on a layer.  More often than not, if its a brutally frigid day, I'll carry an extra top and bottom fleece layer, even when it might be considered overkill.

Solo Hiking Above Treeline in Winter
Solo Bonds hike to finish the 48 in winter; March 10, 2013
I've done a fair share of above treeline hikes solo in the winter, but I've also been quite lucky when it comes to the weather for those experiences.  I certainly can identify more above treeline hikes where the weather was good as opposed to bad, but that doesn't mean anything for the next hike.  Despite my crazy hike plans and ideas, I can't really pinpoint any times that I ventured above treeline when I shouldn't have, other than that early December Pemi Loop attempt, getting turned around off Lafayette in the middle of the night.

Being above treeline is, by far, the riskiest part of solo hiking in the winter.  My thought is familiarity is the best asset to have.  When you have hiked the same peaks, same exposed sections in the other months and seasons, its makes it much more comfortable to be there in winter.  In my first round the 48 4000-footers, only 9 were done in winter and 4 of those were solo. Besides Lafayette and Lincoln in February 2011, I hiked all of the above treeline hikes at least once before in another season and/or with someone else before doing them solo, and in some cases, before doing them solo in winter.

Route Finding When Hiking Solo in Winter 
Route finding also goes right back to being familiar with the trails.  Although I've gotten into some solo bushwhacks this winter, I generally stay on the marked trails.  In winter, though, sometimes the blazes are buried completely.  Sometimes the rime or wet snow builds up on the tree trunks from wind blowing in a certain direction, masking any sign of trail blazes.  Above treeline, the rock blazes are always covered.  One thing I've done many times, including on Killington this January, was I'd clear the snow from blazes that were hidden.  I would very often look backwards to see where the blazes were, and I'd uncover them with by wiping them off with my glove so I would see them on my way down.

On out-and-back hikes, I sometimes make a little bit of extra foot steps in the snow on the trail, which may help me recognize an important spot or junction on the return leg of the trips.  This works when there is blowing, drifting, or accumulating snow that may cover your tracks.

Solo Hike Planning
Whenever I go out solo, I always leave my hike plans with my brother and parents.  At minimum, this includes my starting and ending trail head, my estimated hike duration, and what my peak plans are.  Often, I will even identify things that I may be thinking about that could cause some sort of challenge for me.  For most of my solo hikes over the last couple of years, I've used a SPOT GPS Messenger.  I enjoy using the tracking feature for my blog, but mostly importantly, its a great thing to keep the family posted on my whereabouts in addition to leaving them the information separately.  The SPOT allows a check-in message, a general help message, and a custom message (all 3 of which can be custom, really), and then of course, there is the S.O.S. button which goes directly to SPOT and local authorities.  For the general help message, I usually make it state the following: "I have experienced a delay or injury, but no need to call authorities. I will call you ASAP." I've never needed to use this one, but in the event of a real problem that would cause significant worry to my family, I would hit this button, and it would let them know I'm having some trouble, and that its not enough to warrant calling authorities for a search.  I really hope that I never have to use anything but check-ins and custom messages.

While hiking all of VT and Maine's peaks solo this winter, I've been fortunate to have pretty good cell phone reception that allowed me to keep in regular contact with family (and Facebook too!).  I know some may view this differently, but being able to give my immediate family the piece of mind that my solo winter hike is going well or just having them there to let them know a winter hike is giving me a tough battle, has made me feel more comfortable in seeking out my winter goals, and taking them on solo.

Cannon Mt., my 48th solo 4000-footer on January 5, 2013
In the end, solo hiking in winter all comes down to you, your preparedness, your mentality, your focus, and your determination.  I find that when I start my hike, I'm locked into the goal, focused on every inch of the way, and on high alert to anything in my surroundings.  Hiking in groups makes this much harder to do. When I'm hiking solo, I find the time to think out scenarios in my head that could happen.  For example in Maine, once I saw moose evidence I was on high alert, making noise as I move quickly through the woods.  In areas where I've screwed up before, I slow down and focus strongly on that particular section to make sure it doesn't happen again.  Even when groups get together for hikes, we are all responsible for our own being and safety when out in the woods.  Aside from all of the caution and the many who may think solo hiking is a bad decision, I wouldn't trade any of my solo winter hiking experiences for anything.  In the coming weeks, I hope to get a solo winter hike of Mt. Cabot in to complete a round of the 48 solo in winter.  Before winter is out, I hope to reach the summit of North Brother in Maine to finish the New England 4000-footers in winter, and at the same time it would be a completion of all the New England 4000-footers solo in winter.
Solo winter ascent of Katahdin, Baxter Peak, January 18, 2014
I know this is a ton of blabbing, and I'm sure I've left out some important safety points, but I hope that you enjoyed reading this and can take away some helpful tips for yourself solo or not from my experiences.  If anyone has any questions or comments about solo hiking, my solo hikes, or anything I've written, feel free to leave a comment below or message me directly.

I label all of my solo hikes on the blog, so if you want to read about any or all of my solo adventures, you can find the label on the right side of my page or click HERE.  Make sure you to check out my other Inside The Moments Stories, and stay tuned for more Winter Inside The Moments, with upcoming posts about sledding the 4000-footers and planning the 4000-footers in a single winter season.  Stay safe, everyone! and Happy Trails!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Saddleback & Saddleback, the Horn - 12/26/2013

I arrived at the Saddleback Ski area in the afternoon on 12/26 after hiking Old Speck just a few hours earlier.  It was snowing pretty hard, and it was very cold.  I walked into the lower part of the lodge, and asked the first person at a desk I saw which trail would be the best to ascend, and that I had been on the Grey Ghost on a prior hike during operating season.  I was told that the Green Weaver was appropriate, and was on my way after being told to "have a fun hike" was already late in the afternoon, so I was raging up the ski slope.  After about 1/4 mile up the Green Weaver, I was stopped and asked for my pass.  My pass? I informed them that I had checked in and asked someone about using the trails, but I was never informed by that person about their new policy and complimentary pass required.  I was asked to descend to the lodge to obtain the pass, which I kindly obliged, always wanting to play by the rules. I literally ran alongside the ski patrol guy as we descended.  About 20-30 minutes later, now closer to 4pm, I was on my way up again moving as fast as I could.  I was stopped again near the top (near the photo taken below) by two ski patrollers and was looked at like I was completely out of my mind.  I pointed to my chest pocket and through my balaclava asked if they too wanted to see my pass.  They didn't, but the female patroller was highly skeptical of the time, but I informed them I was experienced, and had even left my cell phone number on the liability form if anyone wanted to or needed to check in with me, they were more than welcome to.  Anyways, for future reference, check in with the booth where you buy lift tickets since their employees are not fully informed on hiker policies.
Nearing the top of the Green Weaver Ski Trail
Looking back down the Green Weaver
A blurry photo of the summit plateau of Saddleback
Another blurry, but cool looking photo from Saddleback summit
Saddleback Summit
After getting blasted by some heavy duty snow making operations, I was headed to the summit.  After a quick stop at the Saddleback summit, I continued on toward the Horn without any delay.  Daylight seemed to rapidly disappear, and at the same time, conditions deteriorated rapidly becoming colder and windier, with blowing snow, and of course no more distance visibility at all.  I was slipping and falling all over the place in my microspikes.  Somewhere in between, I put on my snowshoes which basically didn't help, because they were so dull, still not really aware due to not doing a "gear check".  Drifts were deep, and I was losing the trail often (as you can see by checking out my GPS track below).  To be honest, I was getting a bit concerned that this would be the one that screws me over big time.  Finally, with a pure black background, I could see the perfectly white summit marker for Saddleback, The Horn!

That was only half the ordeal.  My tracks were getting covered quickly, and I lost the trail a couple of times on the return trip too, pushing myself through thick scrub.  The one steep section in between was very difficult to get back over - it took several tries and leaps of faith with respect to reaching and grabbing holds onto vegetation so I could pull myself up the icy ledges.  I was literally crawling and climbing the icy ledges on this one.  When I passed back over the Saddleback summit, I couldn't find the trail leading to the ski trails.  All I could see was black, swirling snow, and for a brief moment, I was sort of worried that I'd have to hunker down in some scrub before possibly descending the wrong side.  I resorted to my GPS, which lead me in the right direction.  Eventually I found a Saddleback pipe-line which I followed through the top of the ski area until I reached the ski trails.  Once back on the ski trails, things calmed down significantly, and I was sure as hell tested on this one.  My two experiences on the Saddlebacks (only this one was a real winter hike) have been dangerously icy, slippery and windy.  After I got down, I drove to Millinocket to sleep, and where I would be meeting my brother at 6AM to head into Baxter to attempt North Brother.

Hike Stats
Trails: Green Weaver Ski Trail, Appalachian Trail, other ski trails
Distance: 7.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,279 ft.
Actual Book Time: 5:26
GPS Track: Garmin Adventures

Old Speck - 12/26/2013

With the crazy weather on the winter solstice, and the passing of Christmas, I was ready to get into the madness of my winter hiking goals and plans.  I was all packed in advance for my departure on the day after Christmas for a week-long adventure in Maine, my year-end vacation time.  The first hikes on my radar were Old Speck and both Saddlebacks on 12/26, before meeting my brother the next day in Millinocket for a planned North Brother trip.  I arrived in Grafton Notch shortly after sunrise on the 26th to a wintry scene.

Old Speck Trail in winter
Old Speck as seen from the Old Speck Trail
As has been the case in my two summer hikes of Old Speck, it was just as beautiful in the winter.  The familiar waterfall now frozen solid and the tall green pines in snow all looked amazing.  There were signs of some previous travel, but there was around an inch over everything.  Beneath, there was an icy surface.

On the ascent, and in the area where the col is, my snowshoe got caught on a root that was protruding from the snow and I took a pretty nasty fall, falling head first on a down slope, almost hitting the back of my neck on a tree pretty hard, but I did whack my knee so hard on some ice, that I'm still feeling it every hike after I do several miles.  Come to find out several days later, I should have checked the dullness of my snowshoes before setting off on my winter plans.  There were no longer any teeth on my snowshoes, and they eventually broke two weeks later on the Bigelows. 

Old Speck fire tower
Old Speck summit

Despite the pain that left me wondering what the color of my knee would be after the hike, I reached the summit of Old Speck for my first New England 4000 footer in winter outside of the White Mountains, #49.  There was no view, and therefore no need to endanger myself by climbing the tower with snowshoes on.  I quickly descended, got in my car, and drove through horrible driving conditions to the Saddleback Mountain Ski area to take on my 2nd hike of the day.  So here we go with the rest of the New England 4000's in winter.

Hike Stats
Trails: Old Speck Trail, Mahoosuc Trail
Distance: 6.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,189 ft.
Actual Book Time: 3:55
GPS Track: Garmin Adventures

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Mt. Jackson - 12/21/2013

As the winter solstice (Dec. 21st) neared, I could hardly contain my excitement for the start of winter hiking, but the spirits were severely damped by an incoming ice storm that was set to arrive, literally within hours of the 12:11pm solstice.  I had my sights on trying for the 5 VT 4000-footers in a day from the solstice, but instead the incoming storm sort of got me down.  Something got me going though, and I figured "one is better than none."  At the last minute on Saturday morning, I was driving along with the caravan of light trucks heading north in preparation of the storm.  It was time to get this WINTER STARTED. 

It was a little slow getting up to Crawford Notch, where my plan was to hit Mt. Jackson and get the heck out of there before this storm came in.  There were a few cars at the trail head and a saw a familiar face headed down as I went up the trail.  The snow was a soggy mess.  I put on my snowshoes right away, and the conditions were just good enough to have them on, but the conditions were going down hill very fast.  It wasn't easy getting across the two small crossings which were quickly widening. The very last part at the top always has a little trick to it, and this time it was just getting some footing on the mix of rock, snow, ice, and dripping water.  I reached the summit of Mt. Jackson for the 6th time.  No one else was there, and I had a surprisingly super limited view for just a few minutes.  Then it was gone, and it started to sleet and I could sense the storm coming by the minute, so that was it, and I blitzed down and was home in decent time having got my winter hiking season started. 
Mt. Jackson Summit
Right off the bat, my hike plans for the winter were affected by the weather.  Another thing I realized on this first winter hike was the lack of photos and videos I took.  Same thing on the previous Belknap hike, where we battled deep snow and cold.  As I write this one now four weeks into winter, be prepared for short posts and fewer photos this winter.  The weather and conditions on the peaks of New England have been challenging, cold, and I have not had any views (except a couple of slithers on Jackson and Camel's Hump). In Maine & VT, I've already been tripped, battered, bruised, had gear broken, had to turn back, and more, so its going to be a tough winter.  Now that my plan is changing on a weekly basis, all I can say is that I'm sure as hell going to have a blast seeing what happens come mid-March.

Hike Stats
Trails: Webster-Jackson Trail and Jackson Branch
Distance: 4.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,353 ft.
Actual Book Time: 2:51
GPS Track: Garmin Adventures

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mt. Rowe, Gunstock, & Belknap - 12/15/13

About a week before Christmas, a few hiker friends of mine were drumming up the idea of Belknap Range Traverse, and maybe in a day.  Mother Nature had other plans though, and decided to unload with a dumping of 6 inches + of fresh powdery snow.  Who knows how the day would go.  Immediately on the access road to the summit of Mt. Rowe, we trudged through shin deep snow, and higher drifts.  Once we passed the summit, we were faced with completely unbroken snow on the Ridge Trail.  I have to say I was pretty impressed at the size of the drifts on the ridge that day.  It wasn't easy, and we had only just started!

John makes his way through the fresh snow
Gunstock Summit
We reached the summit of Gunstock where there was a frigid wind and not much of a view.  After a few pictures, we got back into the woods on the Yellow Trail, and then the White Trail, which would take us to Belknap Mountain.  Still, untouched trail for us to enjoy in the Belknaps. It was my first time hiking in the Belknaps in "winter", so it was pretty cool.
Ridge Trail / White Trail junction (we went straight) 
Xena loved the fresh snow!  
Baha is ready for Mt. Belknap! 
Chilled out for a minute on the summit of Mt. Belknap 
Not sure on this one...there were only other prints around...
My first thought was a Marten, but I don't think it is. Anyone? 
After Belknap, we continued on towards Piper, but this was a tough hike and it was clear we would not be making it too much further on this one.  On the way, near the ledge pictured below, we had some difficulty finding where there trail continued.  We backtracked a couple of times, but at that point the decision was easier to revert to plan B.  Plan B ended up being that we'd loop around back to Gunstock where we started, by skirting Belknap Mountain, almost in a figure eight fashion, which was an even 8 miles, a solid 8 miles of effort.

A ledge on the way to Piper Mountain 
Our tracks from earlier, as seen on our way back on the Ridge Trail 
Baha and Xena had a ton of fun in the snow...we all did! 
Scott gave his knee a good pre-winter work-out!
When all said and done, this tough little hike packed a punch equal to a mean 4000-footer in winter at 3,376 feet of elevation gain through fresh unbroken snow.  This was the perfect first warm-up with the snowshoes in advance of winter, and I'm thankful for it, because I've been breaking trail ever since this hike! It was awesome to meet Baha and Scott and hike with John again, it was a fun day, and the company was great, as we chatted up the start of winter!

Hike Stats
Trails: Mt. Rowe access road, Ridge Trail, White Trail, Blue Trail,
Distance: 8 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,376 ft.
Actual Book Time: 6:33
GPS Track: Garmin Adventures