Sunday, April 6, 2014

New England 4000-Footers: Solo in a Single Winter Season (2013-2014)

This winter has come to an end, but the memories from this adventure will never be forgotten.  This winter, I looked forward to venturing right into the Maine & Vermont 4000-footers to complete the 67 New England 4000-footer winter list.  Last winter, I finished my winter 48 on West Bond, also finishing a single-season winter 48 (SSW48).  This winter, I'd start by seeing what the other 19 of New England's 4000-footers could throw at me in winter.  Anything else I climbed would be just for fun.  My version of fun would be a plan to come back to the White Mountains, and see if I could do all 48 again to climb all 67 in a single winter season (SSW67).  The plan was never to do it all solo.

I thought my adventure last winter was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life.  It was a beautiful winter, and it still holds the best winter day I've ever hiked in, but this winter was much different.  It was a relentless beating at every corner.  It was the coldest winter, with the deepest snow of my last three years of winter hiking.  When I returned to the Whites in February, it wasn't any easier or less frigid.  This was by far the most difficult physical challenge ever.  I could write a trip report for every individual hike, but that wouldn't give anyone the sense of what it is like to take on this challenge. This is my adventure....

CLICK HERE to see my detailed statistics from every hike, including my total hiking distance of 370 miles, 126,165 feet of elevation gain, and 263 hours on the trail.  Also included are the GPS links for every hike - my winter in a snapshot, my hike planning bible for the last half a year of my life.

For each journal, is the date, GPS link, photo album, and full trip report, if I've written one already.  Everything should open in a new window, and may I suggest reading through, and then explore the albums and links at your leisure. If you look at the albums, you'll see more than I even mention.

The New England 4000-Footers: Solo in a Single Winter Season

December 21, 2013 (1:00pm) / Mt. Jackson / GPS / Photo Album / Full Trip Report
I made a quick last minute decision to climb just Jackson at the winter solstice as a rain and ice event was coming in to ruin the weekend for everyone.  Originally, I had planned to kick off my winter by hiking the VT 5 in a day.  As a result of this storm, the plan for the VT peaks was one of only a couple of major changes in my whole plan for the winter. The conditions were deteriorating fast on the trail, and I just squeezed it out as it started sleeting on the summit.
Nasty on Jackson, but this winter is underway
December 26, 2013 / Old Speck & Saddlebacks / Old Speck GPSOld Speck Album / Old Speck Trip ReportSaddlebacks GPSSaddlebacks Album / Saddlebacks Trip Report
After Christmas Eve and Day, I climbed Old Speck and the Saddlebacks on December 26th.  Old Speck was easy and pretty, except I fell and banged my knee so hard, I felt occasional pain all winter long in the knee from it.  Not to mention, I fell forward on the fall, and nearly hit my head.  For the Saddleback hike, I was delayed because of ski patrol making me descend a quarter mile to obtain a pass (after a person at the desk told me nothing, have a nice hike when I asked), and then had a rougher time than expected finding the trail back to the ski area in the pitch dark and blowing snow. An exciting ordeal to start for sure! I was a little nervous, but I pushed it out quickly.
Old Speck's always pretty
 A nice view on the way up Saddlebacks 
All hell breakin' loose on the Horn
December 28, 2013 / The Bigelows (West & Avery) / GPS / Photo Album / Full Trip Report
After the two hikes on the 26th, I drove straight to Millinocket in some really tough driving conditions to meet my brother for our planned and reserved weekend to climbed North Brother (on the 27th).  I car camped at the rest area just before the Millinocket exit, and met him in the morning just off the exit.  We had to bail on the hike about a mile in.  My brother was feeling ill and the snow was completely untouched and deep on Williams Pond Road.  After standing in the middle of Williams Pond Road trying to talk it out with my brother, I decided I would bail with him on this one.  This was a very difficult decision.  I then drove back across Maine in the dark to Rangeley, car camped, and then broke trail to the Bigelows on the morning of the 28th, which was the hardest hike yet of the winter.
Nobody singed in since early December
This is going to be brutal, should I just turn around now? 
Avery summit
January 2, 2014 / Killington / GPS / Photo Album (all four VT hikes) / Full Trip Report (all four)
After a few days at home for the New Years holiday, I drove to VT hoping to hike the 5 peaks in two days. Because my snowshoes (original pair) broke on the Bigelows, I was late getting to VT on that Thursday because I had to find a store that had MSR's in stock.  Talk about stress.  By the time I started Killington in was about 3pm, after dealing with a work related emergency over the phone. It had already been snowing hard for a couple of hours, as blizzard Hercules was moving into New England.  It was an awesome hike - it was raging snow the whole time, and even on the summit in the pitch black.  On this hike, I wiped the blazes off in the opposite direction, so that the snow, which was sticking to the tree, didn't cover them completely. Wow does Killington get some deep snow! I just made it before I could not see my tracks any more.
Raging snow on Killington summit
January 3, 2014 / Mansfield / GPS
After Killington, I drove north to Stowe through the treacherous winter driving conditions to attempt Mansfield the next morning.  I car camped at the parking area.  That was a darn cold night, and it was -11 in the morning, brutally cold, and very tough to get going.  Sticking to the Long Trail on the ascent and descent, the steep sections were pretty interesting, and one point I was preparing myself for the fall, but like a climber, I kept as much of body against the slope as possible, and I made it.  On the way down, I basically slid myself off this icy vertical section, landing feet-first into the powder below.  Out of control exciting! Although numbing and probably the quickest summit stay of the winter, the views were incredible from Mansfield, being able to see the Whites and Adirondacks.  It was so friggin' cold, I decided to head home after this and took the rest of the weekend off.  I returned to work from vacation that Monday.
Adirondacks seen from Mansfield's summit
January 12, 2014 / Mt. Ellen & Abraham and Camel's Hump / Ellen-Abe GPS / Camel's Hump GPS
The following weekend, I hiked only Sunday and did Ellen and Abe, & Camel's Hump.  There had been a big thaw during the week, so the trail was almost bare on the ridge, and at the bottoms of both hikes.  All of my VT hikes were done in quick times.  The views from Mansfield, VT's highest peak, and hiking Killington solo in a raging snowstorm were the most amazing and memorable moments in VT this winter.
The coolest picture of the entire hike
January 18, 2014 / Mt. Katahdin, Hamlin & Baxter Peak / GPS / Photo Album / Full Trip Report
After finishing VT, the very next weekend was my planned 4 day/3 night trip to Baxter State Park.  Although I originally planned to go with the same crew of 4 that I went with last year (when we failed to make it past Roaring Brook), I ended up taking it on solo.  I had been preparing for that possibility for the prior thirty days after not getting into North Brother.  Long-story short, I was lucky to have excellent weather, a flawlessly executed hike plan, and a successful summit of Hamlin & Baxter Peak.  Arriving at the summit of Katahdin was the most exhilarating winter summit of all time for me.  Having lucked out, I thoroughly enjoyed the next two days in Baxter State Park, Maine's largest Wilderness.  On Sunday, before my Monday morning departure, I strolled the Sandy Stream Pond Loop.  I returned, loaded up the stove, and enjoyed a solo night in Roaring Brook Bunkhouse.  It snowed all day long until Monday morning when I departed in the dark.  I couldn't have dreamed this adventure any better.

January 25, 2014 / Sugarloaf, Spaulding, & Abraham / GPS / Photo Album 
After a successful Katahdin climb, this next weekend would be a big challenge, taking on the "Carrabasset Valley 6" with bushwhacking on both hikes.  After all of this mileage, I was starting to develop some sort of soreness and swelling in the tendon on the top of my left ankle.  It came on sometime after VT, then I felt it after finishing Katahdin, but after a week, it would fade away.  I battled fierce gusts on the summit of Sugarloaf that nearly blew me off it, but easy going on the AT over to Spaulding and out to Abraham.  I even saw some Moose right on the AT - amazing being the only one in this whole area, and coming up to moose.  On the way out, I faced a tougher than expected bushwhack from the Abraham Trail and AT junction to the Caribou Valley Road.  After the long road walk and bushwhacking back to the Sugarloaf Golf Club, I made it back to my car.  This was the longest duration hike of the season yet.  I literally limped the entire road walk out, and my ankle was swollen like a balloon.  I went to the store to get some pizza, more snacks, and an ace bandage for my ankle.

January 26, 2014 / Crockers & Redington / GPS / Photo Album
That night, I car camped in the Sugarloaf Hotel parking lot, after a cop shooed me out the Golf Club parking lot in the evening.  The next morning, tough to get going as usual.  I wrapped my ankle in the ace bandage, and limped off.  After a while, the pain goes away.  I re-did the golf club bushwhack from last night, and took on the Crockers and Redington on an absolutely frigid day.  It was dicey going up the steeps on South Crocker, coldest on North Crocker, and somewhere in between there and going back to South Crocker, I split my head open on a low blow down.  I knew I hit my head very hard, so I stopped for a few minutes to collect myself.  It didn't really hurt after the initial blow, I wasn't seeing stars, and I didn't fell anything going on beneath my hat...yet, but little did I know, I did the rest of the hike with a split-open head.  Next, I totally took a hard Redington bushwhack route off South Crocker for a while, but finally made it to familiar territory.  After getting the canister open on the Redington summit, there was no pencil.  It was so cold, I couldn't have my hands out of the glove any longer, so I put the cap on, took a picture and was out of there. This was another epic hike, very difficult, especially since every step with my left leg was in severe shooting ankle pain.  When I got back to the car several hours later, that is when I could feel the frozen blood on my head.  It thawed, and I realized when I got home how good I spit it open.  Despite my open wound, I was feeling excellent, and that was because I had only one more Maine peak to go to finish my winter 67.

February 1, 2014 / Tom, Field, & Willey and Mt. Carrigain / TFW GPS / Carrigain GPS / Photo Album
The following weekend, I was looking forward to starting the second phase of my winter's goal, a Single Season Winter 67 (SSW67) attempt, giving it my best shot back in the White Mountains.  At this moment, my thoughts were as if, let's see what I can do, and if I'll have a shot at this.  Either way, as long as I got North Brother, I'd accomplish my first goal of finishing my W67.  I had an absolute blast on Tom, Field, and Willey on packed out conditions.  I sled down nearly 100% of the way from the summit of Field.  Everyone I passed that day was sharing smiles.  This hike was like an extreme shock to me after breaking trail and seeing almost no one on the trails so far this winter.  I needed to get down quick though, because I had Carrigain on the schedule for the afternoon.  Without much hesitation, I was there, and off up the Sawyer River Road.  Now that there are people around, I got some crazy looks as I head up Carrigain after 2pm.  It got dark as approached Signal Ridge, it was very cold.  I arrived at the summit in darkness, but it was a triumphant night-time summit. I was feeling good.  After the hike, I stopped at a store, and then drove to the Fish Hatchery in Berlin to car camp.  It snowed most of the night.
February 2, 2014 / Mt. Cabot & Waumbek / Cabot GPS / Waumbek GPS / Photo Album
The next morning, I had to force myself to get going, as I was planning to meet my brother for Waumbek.  I had attempted North Brother with my brother earlier on in December, and even here, at this point, I had no intentions of completing anything solo.  My morning Cabot hike was nice.  I broke a light trail all the way to the summit.  It was an enjoyable snowshoe hike to complete my first solo winter round of the White Mountain 48.  Now that I am done with winter (and other WM solos done after Cabot), all I have to do is hike Cabot next winter to complete my 2nd solo winter round of the White Mountain 48.  I have climbed solo to a New England 4000-footer in winter over 120 times, something that I never imagined myself capable of.  From Cabot, I made it one hour behind schedule to meet my brother for Waumbek.  It was night by the time we were descending via sled, but he and I had a blast, as it was my brother's first 4000-foot sled descent.  In terms of my single-season, this sort-of counted, but I would consider re-hiking Waumbek later in the winter to make it all solo.

February 8-9, 2014 / Super Extended Pemi Loop Overnight / Flume, Liberty Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, Galehead, South Twin, North Twin, Hale, Zealand, West Bond, Bond, & Bondcliff / GPS / Photo Album / Full Trip Report
This epic hike was the plan for my winter all along.  From day one, I was attempting this hike.  Some sort of successful winter Pemi Loop was on my list to do.  By planning a light-weight overnight, and getting mostly good trail conditions, I could do it.  I had good beta on the abandoned Firewarden's Trail to Hale, so I knew I was set-up as long as everything else worked out.  The early morning Franconia Ridge Traverse, starting with unbroken snow from the top of the Osseo Trail was the coldest and most difficult of many times across that ridge in the early morning.  It was cold, and I was getting battered by gusts that made me desperate to want to reach treeline, but then there is that mile or so beyond Lafayette was rough.  I found the Garfield Ridge Trail easily, but I then broke trail all of the way to Garfield, as expected.  Besides losing the trail once, I busted through it since it was manageable powdery snow.  It was broken out the rest of the way to Galehead, and all the way out over the Twins.  To make this the super extended version, I descended the steep North Twin Trail to link with the abandoned Firewarden's Trail to Hale. It was now dark as I continued to the start of the Firewarden's Trail, at the "tree".  This was my first time on this popular route, and it just happened to be a bright full moon on a clear and freezing night.  I exhaustively climbed the easy trail under the moon and stars, as I could see all around and out to the town of Twin Mountain without my headlamp.  I arrived at the completely lit-up, open summit of Hale.  These moments are the things that keep me going after 20 miles and hours of hiking in the dark.  Next, I peered beyond the sign of the Lend-A-Hand trail and saw that I'd be breaking trail for almost the next 3 miles in the middle of the night.  That was expected, therefore I had no problem with, its just that it would have been nice to not break any more trail that night. It was unbelievable though cruising through there in the deep snow without a headlamp.  When I got to the end, it was a given that I wouldn't make Guyot Shelter, so I crashed the Zealand Falls Hut, and was up and out before breakfast was served or bothered anyone.

The next day, I broke the trail all of the way from above the Hut to the summit of Zealand in an exhausting, but beautiful morning in the White Mountains.  Fueled on the fact that I would be successful on this epic hike, I had increasing energy as I traversed Guyot, West Bond, Bond, and Bondcliff under bluebird conditions, and incredible views.  It was great to be back here in winter after my first SSW48 last year.  All in all, this was an insanely fun hike with lots of trail breaking.

February 15, 2014 / The Hancock's & Osceola's / Hancocks GPS / Osceola's GPS / Photo Album
The following weekend, it wouldn't get any easier for me when I looked at the plan and the remaining hiking days left for me.  Before setting off this weekend, I had 23 peaks left, and only 10 more hiking days, including this weekend's two hiking days.  I needed to get this weekend done as planned.  With intel that the Osceola's would be hiked that day, I opted to start with the Hancocks.  I broke trail ALL of the way from the start of this hike to halfway down North Hancock after going up South Hancock first.  The descent in the deep, deep powder was the most fun ever.  If you have ever wanted to leap off a mountainside, that is what I was doing, leaping as if taking a giant's steps down the mountain in the deep snow.  Lots of fun.  After that, it was a nice cruise out on the packed trail.  After that, the parking lot for Greeley Ponds Trail was jammed, so I had to park on the road, at the ski trail start.  Because of that, I had to break out about a mile of unbroken ski trail until I made it to the hiking trail.  After that it was broken out as expected, and smooth sailing.  Even running into the dark hours, I did the Osceola's in a swift 4:45.

February 17, 2014 / Cannon & the Kinsman's and Moosilauke / Cannon-Kinsmans GPS / Moose GPS / Photo Album
This President's Day holiday weekend was a family weekend at our camp in NH, so Sunday was spent with family.  On President's Day (Monday), I had another two hikes planned.  The first was one, on Saturday, I've done a couple of times, but is always tough, the Cannon, Kinsmans loop.  The Hi-Cannon is a nice trail, and the morning was beautiful.  I almost went astray following ski tracks off the back of Cannon, but caught myself, and from that point on, broke trail all the way over the Cannonballs.  This is an easy area to get lost. I thought maybe I wouldn't get Moosilauke in later when I started facing face-high drifts in front of me.  Finally, I made it to broken trail, but I was pretty drained.  It was a beautiful day, and I busted this one out as early as I could.  After the hike, I was a bit undecided about going for the Moose, as it was getting late. As I drove south on 93, I made the decision, I was going to get it done.  I could sense my parents were a little nervous about that, I think I was a little too, but I'm glad I did it.  That's because I enjoyed a beautiful sunset to about 3,500 feet, and then after that, I summited Moosiluake under a beautiful, clear starlit night, something on my bucket-list sort of.  As the wind tried to blow me over (its Moosilauke, that's what it always tries to do!), I happily descended with my eyes to the stars, wondering how the hell I climbed all these peaks this weekend.

February 22, 2014 / Sandwich Range Traverse / Tripyramid's, Whiteface, & Passaconaway / GPS / Photo Album
The following weekend, it was the dreaded Sandwich Range Traverse.  This hike is always rough and tough. The snow was waterlogged, and between South Tripyramid and Whiteface, my socks had become totally drenched.  It was a cold day, and as afternoon came, the temperature dropped drastically.  I broke trail from South Tripyramid all the way to the Drakes Brook Trail, which did my socks in.  Just before Passaconaway, it was so cold, but I had to change my socks.  I kept myself moving by firing up the Esbit stove to make some hot chocolate while I changed socks.  It was a relief, but my feet did not really warm up again. I just hoped they weren't going to be purple at the end of this one.  I hit the summit of Passaconaway, taking in a beautiful orange sunset glow from the viewpoint.  The summit of Passaconway was my 48th peak on my 4th Round of the WM48, and the 48th of 48 in the month of February.  Crazy that February is the first month I've gridded.  It was another dark and windy hike out on the Dicey's Mill Trail, but it was clear, and quite possibly the most stars I've seen in one spot, as I crossed the fields back to my car.  After getting back to my car, I stopped for some food, and I drove straight to Lincoln Woods to car camp before getting an early as possible start to Owl's Head.
View from Middle Tripyramid

Blow downs and unbroken trail on Rollins Trail

Mt. Passaconaway from the Rollins Trail

Sunset from Passaconaaway

February 23, 2014 / Owl's Head & Tecumseh / Owl's Head GPS / Tecumseh GPS / Photo Album
Every time I car camped, I ended up starting an hour or two later than planned because it was so hard to get myself going.  The Black Pond and Brutus bushwhacks were nicely broken out (I was aware they would be), so I enjoyed a nice winter hike to Owl's Head.  It was extremely cold that day, and I ran into some others on the trail.
A view from the Brutus Bushwhack to Owl's Head 
After Owl's Head, I drove to Mt. Tecumseh, and fitted my smaller pack with my trusty sled.  I hit the summit of Tecumseh right at sunset, and I have to say it was my favorite summit of Tecumseh ever to date.  Next, I sled down from the summit in an epic night time sled ride, my 3rd time descending Tecumseh on sled. I hit a top speed of 20mph! It was a great way to end another six peak weekend.
The Tripyramids from Tecumseh Trail 
Sunset on Mt. Tecumseh summit
March 1, 2014 / Presidential Traverse / Pierce, Eisenhower, Monroe, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, & Madison / GPS / Photo Album
Originally, I didn't plan for this crazy back-to-back of the Presidential and Wildcat-Carter-Moriah Range, but it fell into place, and either way, once again, I needed to try and get as many of these peaks as I could.  It was extremely cold, but I had excellent trail conditions on both hikes.  I battled single digit temperatures with minus 30 wind chills on the Presidential Traverse. I had a spectacular morning view from Pierce and Eisenhower, reached the summit of Mt. Washington for the 16th time and 6th time in winter, and raced ahead of impending weather on the Northern Presidentials.  I met my Dad in perfectly planned time for the car spot ride back to my car.  That night, me and my Dad enjoyed a great dinner at Horsefeather's in Conway.  Right after dinner, I drove to the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, where I once again car camped.


March 2, 2014 / Moriah-Carters-Wildcats Traverse / Moriah, Middle Carter, South Carter, Carter Dome, Wildcat A, Wildcat D / GPS / Photo Album
The next morning, I awoke to large snowflakes falling, and battled myself as I tried to get myself prepared and going.  I changed my gear, switched to my smaller pack, and drove up to Bangor Road in Gorham. How I would get back to Gorham from Pinkahm was a mystery to me all day, but important matters first, I had to hike 20 miles over another battering mountain range to get this done.  By setting myself in this direction, at least I'd have the PNVC to stay warm after the hike if I couldn't grab a ride quickly.  As I went to leave my car, I noticed that I had left my trekking poles in my Dad's car from the car spot.  What to do? Well, I guess hike the Moriah-Carters-Wildcats Traverse without poles and just get it done.  I don't always use poles, especially in the summer, but either way, this was going to suck probably!  A couple of miles in, I found a good stick, and that was my long hiking pole until I lost it sliding down Wildcat Ridge Trail.  Anyone who saw me that day probably thought I was whacked hiking with a little stick in my hand.  The first half of the hike the heavy wet snow started to chill me out as my gear got damp fast, and I was breaking the trail out over some minor post holes and a few inches of fresh snow.  It was like this almost all of the way to Zeta Pass, and from there, the trail conditions were perfect.  It was a nice day, and eventually as I approached Carter Dome the weather broke, and it was a beautiful afternoon with sun and clouds.  However, after taking a break in Carter Notch, the temperature dropped almost instantly, and it left me shivering as I put on my jacket after the break, and as I started up the Wildcats.  The view of Carter Dome and the ridge behind me from Wildcat A was fantastic.  I enjoyed some short butt-slides the rest of the way out, and a safe descent of the steep Wildcat Ridge Trail (except for the uncontrolled slide that made me lose the hiking stick I carried for 15+ miles).  There were awesome views of sun and cloud play on the mighty Presidentials across the street.  As I looked up at the striking view, and made my way to the hikers room, there were more thoughts of how the heck did I just do this?  With this hike done, I now had only one left to complete the W67, and just two left to finish a SSW67....well maybe 3 peaks????

March 8-9, 2014 / North Brother / GPS / Photo Album
With my goal of finishing the W67 this season, and any possible single-season attempt now on the ropes, my hopes were set on getting North Brother this time...whatever it took.  The last week of February, I put in a reservation for one night to bag North Brother.  Most hikers take up to 3 days to attempt it, since its often not broken out, but either way, I'd take my chances and being solo, I could cover ground quickly broken out or not.  I had no idea what I would get for trail conditions, but when I arrived, I was pleased to find a nice snowmobile track leading into Baxter on Williams Pond Road.  How relieved I was! I ran into two familiar hikers on the way in so just a few minutes in, I already knew that the entire route was broken out.  This gave me instant confidence.  I cruised into my reserved tent site, the Slide Dam picnic area, and set up my tent.  It was about 1:00pm when I had my tent up.  It was getting colder, and I didn't really have any way to see what the afternoon weather had in store, so I decided that I would go for the summit in the morning, instead of the late afternoon.  I ate very well, napped a couple of hours, woke again, did a little gear packing, and then tried to get some more sleep before another long day.  There was no wind, but it was very cold overnight.  While I was nice and toasty inside my sleeping bag, it was so cold in the morning, that I had to do runs up and down the tote road and jumping jacks in place to get my body warmed up and to be able to pack the rest of my bag.

Once I was finally ready to go, I approached the hiking register at the start of the Martson Trail.  All winter long, only six people attempted and likely reached North Brother all winter to this point.  This is a mind-blowing realization of the difficulty to complete the New England 4000-footers in winter, never mind solo in a single winter.  Would I be the 7th to summit this winter?  As I made my way up the trail, my feet ever so slowly warmed up.  The sun was coming out, and eventually the chill in my bones wore off, and I was finally regulated.  I didn't need much on this hike, so it was nice having a light pack.  The hike up the Marston Trail (as opposed to down) was pleasant.  It was great having the trail broken out, but their tracks were frozen, which required me to watch every step to avoid ankle-busters.  With the snow so deep, the trail corridor was almost a bushwhack.  I made it to the intersection with the Coe Trail, and the trail sign was buried.  The sun was shining brightly now, and it was nice blue sky above, some clouds, but it was interesting.  I peered through the trees and could see Katahdin, and then I looked ahead and could see the summit of North Brother in white against the blue sky.  I was halfway up the trees compared to when I stood here for my all-season 67 finish last June.  In fact, in the hike register, our June entry was only on the backside of my winter entry today, which tells you how hard it is to get North Brother.  My regular Winter 67 was not a quick journey.  It went back to my first ever snow shoe in 2011, and my first winter 4000-footer, Osceola's. My first solo winter 4000-footer was Mt. Lafayette.  Here I was over a 100 solo winter 4Ks later about to finish the NE 4000 Footers in winter, and all solo at least once.  Many of my first winter 48 were hiked with my brother and a few others, and every one of those hikes were awesome for important reasons, and although solo, I thought back to those moments as I was about to summit.
After some really closed in trail, I broke tree line to amazing views.  It was freezing, but not frigid like Mansfield or the Crockers, but either way it wasn't really phasing me at this moment.  I approached slowly taking my time thinking about the journey it took to get here.  How is that I've been able to experience so much, and cover so much ground on snow over these last few years?  With Katahdin on my right, and views to match a 14ker, the North Brother sign was so appealing, about 100 feet away.  At about 11:30am, I reached the summit and sat up on the highest spot in the steady wind.  The view, indescribable.  North Brother is arguably the most challenging of the New England 4000-footers in winter to climb.  It felt really good to accomplish this summit, although I know I was lucky.  I'm sure next time it will be a different story, and I will be ready, like I was this time.

The hike down was not as happy as the first part of this hike.  It was so cold in the morning, that I used foot warmers in my boots for the hike.  It was on the way down that I noticed it struck something awkwardly and my calf started to zing and my ankle then started to flare up from the extra effort and/or different movement.  I signed out, and started to break down the tent.  I cooked a noodle soup lunch on my stove while I did so, it was still cold.  The area by the stream and tote road is like a wind tunnel.  It was 3:15pm when I walked away from Slide Dam.  Every step with my left leg was pain, and my pack was probably 40lbs.  I had 9 miles to go.  I had to stop frequently, and a couple of times did for about 20 minutes.  Sometimes just 30 seconds to ease the pain, but it was rough.  In the end, and despite the pain, I walked off into the sunset on this one.  I made the car at twilight.  All was good, and I thought to myself, that the hardest part of my winter was over.  Only Isolation to go...and maybe Waumbek if I decided I wanted to hike them all solo.

March 15, 2014 / Waumbek (to re-hike it solo) / GPS / Photo Album
This was it, my final weekend of the winter, whether I had one or two peaks to do.  The weather was looking alright, and it was expected to get cold on Sunday, but there wasn't any specific threat of expected snow beyond "showers".  I had time to think about my winter and whether doing them all solo by re-hiking Waumbek was important to me.  There were a few things that went into this, but the main one was because I could.  Maybe this time to Waumbek would present something different because I was solo.  And it was different, because a snow storm left one of the most beautiful dumpings of fresh white snow, which covered everything in the woods so nicely.  The trail was mostly broken out by a party or two of hikers from the day prior.  I passed many others on the trail, as I jogged almost all of the way down from Starr King.  I arrived back to my car, and then stopped at Moe's.  I called home to say that I'd go to Rocky Branch to check out the trail, and that I'd likely make a decision there and if it was broken out at the start, I'd go for it.  Whether I started at 2pm today or tomorrow morning, I had planned to carry the same overnight gear (tarp, sleeping bag, an emergency tarp for ground sheet, and an emergency bivy).  I really didn't care about being out there at night.  If it was to be clear, perhaps I would finish my single season winter with a full moon on Isolation.  A final check of the weather brought me no new information other than snow showers possible tonight, and a temperature drop for Sunday.  I was ready to start the end of my winter. Where I was all winter...Isolation.

March 15-16, 2014 / Mt. Isolation / GPS / Photo Album
It was 2:00pm when I started up the Rocky Branch Trail.  The idea was still to try to finish this hike on the same day if possible without camping.  The sun was shining, and I was jacket-less for the time being.  Little did I know what I was in for.  I was definitely tired, its always tough to get going on the second hike, but I kept moving hoping I could continue to take advantage of good conditions.  I passed a group who told me they "only broke out to engine hill".  At that point, I knew what I might face ahead.  Then, questionably early, I noticed snowshoe tracks of at least two people leaving the trail to right.  I knew it was too early, but figured they probably didn't hit the start of the bushwhack at the exact spot.  Well, that was the path I chose, and little did I know that would change this whole hike.  About twenty minutes later at the top of the elevation, the tracks stopped.  I looked right, and saw only ski tracks, going right back down the slope a little ways away.  All around was 2 feet of deep snow.  I looked at the map, my GPS, and said the hell with this, I can do this from here.  I had done a partial, non actual, Engine Hill Bushwhack before.  I was basically bushwhacking straight from the trail head to the Rocky Branch itself.  I had gone off the trail almost a mile before the normal bushwhack route does.  From this spot forward, there was nothing else between me and the summit of Mt. Isolation except for miles of untouched deep snow.  As I crested the height of land, after doing more elevation gain than typically necessary, I faced a stiff wind from the west in the open woods.  The skies were graying fast, the snow was starting to fall.  The downward slope helped a bit, but there were times I had to push through some dense trees on steep slopes.  I noticed when I got closer to the normal bushwhack area because it was more open and flat.  Based on the GPS I was getting closer to the trail and river.  It was now 4:00pm or after as I stood in the middle of an open area of woods.  I could make out the dark outline of Isolation, which is a dead-ahead landmark on the Engine Hill Bushwhack.  The sky was ominously dark itself, and the wind blew heavy wet snow all around me, and the intensity of which seemed to increase every minute.  My jacket was becoming completely soaked.  I finally came upon the Rocky Branch as the sky faded towards twilight.  I was somewhat protected by the steep slope to my left.  I wanted to find the trail, so I tried going back right, but after doing some circles, I thought it would be best for me to stay to the left of the river, in a more direct approach toward the summit.  I couldn't find the trail.  When there is 2-4 feet of snow and no one else around, and its driving heavy wet snow, there is no trail, so forget about it. That's what I did.  I took a hard left off the Rocky Branch and continued to break trail heading straight towards the summit.  After 40 minutes, only 150 feet, and only a half mile, I found the best rock I could.  I dug a 2 foot trench in front of it, laid my ground tarp, set my tarp over it, and got into my sleeping bag.  I used the emergency bivy as a top blanket.  This was not what I anticipated, but this was real.  It was about 8:00pm and it was still snowing and windy.  Once I was under there, I was under there and in there for the night.  I was able to stay warm in my sleeping bag, but for any amount of time outside it, it was brutal. It got increasingly cold from here on out.  I didn't really ever sleep, and it snowed all night.  By the middle of the night, snow had collected on my tarp, making it sag around the formation of my corpse, but I wasn't frozen yet...I poked the snow off a bunch of times and went back into my bag during the night.  I'm not very good at tying tarps.  I wondered if I would have to end this and take time off to try again this week.  This was not turning out to be planned fun (I say it like that, because looking back it was a fun experience overall).  It was so cold I couldn't muster it up to cook or even eat.  My only drinkable liquid was my slushy Gatorade.  My other 4 liters of water I was carrying was frozen by night time.

If I was to think back to my original plan, a sunrise Isolation finish was also in the realm of my possibilities, but instead, this was a battle, I didn't want to leave my sleeping bag until the sun had come up.  There was no way I'd be able to break this camp in the dark.  I thought maybe it would warm up a bit if the sun came out, but that was wishful thinking.  I would learn later it was -6 degrees or lower that morning, but after all night in a sleeping bag, under just a tarp, it felt twice as cold as starting to Mansfield.  One of my boots was also frozen solid.  I could barely put my gear into my sacks, and subsequently into my pack without my fingers becoming numb in seconds.  I had no where to run like the tote road, and with the deep snow, I'd be going no where fast any way, since still there was nothing between me and the summit except 2-4+ feet of deep snow.  After a really long time, and struggling to stay warm, I miraculously got everything in my pack and started up the steep slope.  Taking this path was extremely difficult.  There were times I sunk down to my waist and times I sank to my chest.  As I got closer to a severe blow down patch, it got even more difficult. In my mind, all I was thinking about was that I still have to break trail out of here.  It's taken me almost 24 hours to get here, and what is it going to take me to get out?  I pushed on nearing the crest of the Montalban Ridge at hopefully the Davis Path.  It was much more noticeable than the Isolation Trail.  Still it was unbroken, and it seemed to take forever to reach the spot just below the summit.  It took me two and a half hours to go 1.3 miles and 780 feet.

Despite everything it took to get here, my mind remained in focus on what I was actually about to do.  I pushed through the deep snow on the steep pitch to the summit outcropping.  I pulled myself up using the tree tops that poked out from the snow.  On the top, the wind blew constantly, and it was frigid.  There was a very faint view in all directions, but in a way it was beautiful as flakes of snow blew by in the wind, and I could hardly keep my face exposed.  Just like Mansfield, I stood with the summit for about five minutes. After a brutal effort to reach this spot, those five minutes were all I needed to complete my goal of reaching every New England 4000-foot summit solo in this year's single winter season.  It was such an amazing moment, albeit very brief.  Adding to that, I really have done nothing, unless I make it out in one piece.  My celebration lasted those fives minutes only, and I could barely take a summit picture.

When I got back to the Davis Path from the summit, I had to warm my numb hands.  I decided that following the same path out would be torture all over again, and attempted to follow the Davis and Isolation Trails proper back to civilization.  The Davis Path was easy to follow until the area where the Isolation Trail East Junction is supposed to be.  I never found the junction even though my GPS said I was at it, so I started east, checking my location in relation to the trail on the GPS.  Except for a few thick spots, I was increasing my pace through the open woods, doing better, but not too much better.  After a while, I finally came onto a noticeable Isolation Trail, and was STILL breaking trail.  About a 1/4 mile later, I came upon a group of four breaking trail in my direction!  From this point on, the trail for the rest of the hike was broken out.  On the way out, I got to enjoy the actual and true Engine Hill Bushwhack.  It was still really cold, but it was now nice and sunny.  It seemed to take forever as I was so exhausted, spent, hungry, and thirsty, yet in awe.  Finally, at about 3:00pm, I reached the Rocky Branch Trail head to officially complete my goal of hiking the 67 New England 4000-Footers solo in a single winter season.
Just after I left the Rocky Branch Trail
The next time I took a picture on this hike...
Mt. Isolation Summit
The final summit photo on Isolation
Thank you for taking the time to read about my adventure.  Although I reached every peak solo, I couldn't have done it without the support of my family.  A big thank you goes to Mom, who let me borrow her Jeep all winter long.  It suffered two separate flat tires, a broken windshield, and ate many hundreds of dollars in of mine in gas consumed during the 5,000+ miles this winter, and for nervously watching the SPOT Tracker all winter.  A big thanks to my Dad for a couple of important car spots, and for taking my many calls from the trail heads and trails to let them both know I was OK.  It didn't make it any easier for him on those calls when I described what I was up against in the moment (moments like the Crockers, Cannonballs before Moosilauke, and finally getting in touch after Isolation).  Another big thank you goes to my brother Bill.  All winter long, Bill offered me outside advice on my thoughts, hike plans, and pack lists.  He was there every weekend to send me off, sometimes at midnight.  I can't imagine what is was like to be in their shoes and see me do this.

This experience goes beyond that of which I've just shared, and sometimes it was so cold and battering, I couldn't find the motivation to take pictures, and most hikes it was so cold my GoPro wouldn't stay on very long.  If anyone has any questions or comments about my experience this winter, please feel free to share it below, and I'd be happy to add anything I can.  I hope you enjoyed  it, and if you did, feel free to share it!

Congratulations to the many others completing winter hiking goals this season!  This winter was not easy.  I wish everyone a wonderful spring and summer hiking season! Make every hike one to remember!