Catching Up, Monroe, #46 for Winter, 3.7.14

It has been a few weeks since my last post!  (Ok, more like almost a month.)  I have been out hiking, but not working on my list.  Due to family and other projects, I never got around to posting any reports about those trips.  Add to that, the weather hasn’t really cooperated for finishing my winter 48 list.  Until recently, that is.  When you’ve only got Monroe, Adams and Madison left, you have to be patient to wait for a good weather day.  With a major project behind me, and a Presi day forecast, plus a forecast for the next day that seemed reasonable, it seemed that I was going to get the break I needed to finish that list!

On Friday, the Presi day, I knew what I needed to do:  bag Monroe as a Carpool Challenge, up and down the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail.  Simple.  With that done, I had a good chance of finishing the list the next day.  Sounds easy, but having never been up the Ammo in winter, there was a question of how that was going to go, since in the upper section this trail is steep, ledgy and has several stream crossings, which in winter can translate to dangerously steep and icy conditions.  Waiting until later in the winter season was a good choice – the ice on the steeps would be covered and the snow would be compacted, making travel a bit quicker and safer.

I arrived at the hiker parking area at the Cog, chatted with Lefty E while he was waiting for his companions, and headed up to pick up the trail behind Marshfield Station. The starting temperature was 2 below, but there was a promise of a temperature inversion and a quick warm up in the weather overall.  The start temp didn’t bother me. As a side note, this was a sign of progress in my winter hiking skills and confidence – I wouldn’t have thought about hiking in such temps last year!  We’ve had quite a bit of very cold weather this year, with many starts below zero, and I’ve learned how to manage that.   Off I went, quickly getting warm on the way to Gem Pool.

Gem Pool, frozen and snow covered.  A very different look from the summer!

Gem Pool, frozen and snow covered. A very different look from the summer!

Totally frozen over, Gem Pool’s outlet was easily walked over and then started the real work for the day.  The steep section of the Ammo lay just ahead.  Thankfully ground conditions were good, and I was able to dig in with light traction and  hike upward.  It was steep, but the Ammo has a way of luring you on with ever expanding views with each effort to climb higher up.  With a bluebird sky background, the scenery was truly amazing and there wasn’t hardly a breath of wind to worry about.

Higher up the trail at the water crossing above some of the slabs, the cascades are frozen over.

Higher up the trail at the water crossing above some of the slabs, the cascades are frozen over.

Just around treeline, views like this one of Mt. Washington were starting to open up.  The towers are just visible at this point of the trail.

Just around treeline, views like this one of Mt. Washington were starting to open up. The towers are just visible at this point of the trail.

Trail sign, right at the corner of the hut, all glazed with ice.

Trail sign, right at the corner of the hut, all glazed with ice.

At the hut, I left my snowshoes, and made my way up to the top of Monroe, even standing on the rock with the pin, without a balaclava, neck gaiter or shell!  The views all around the Whites were just stunning!

View of Mt. Washington from the summit of Monroe.

View of Mt. Washington from the summit of Monroe.

On the summit, #46 for winter.

On the summit, #46 for winter.

Back down to the hut, I said a quick hello to a group, picked up my snowshoes and descended back to the car.  Beside the excellent views, the Ammo also rewards those who hike it in winter with a little fun on the way down.  The Ammo is steep enough for some nice butt sliding.  Controlled.  Of course.   I was quickly at Gem Pool, and then had to walk out – even so, the stroll by the frozen river didn’t disappoint for lack of beautiful winter scenery.  Back at the car, I was thrilled and thankful to have had such a beautiful morning, safety up and down, and one more winter peak.  I emailed my hiking friends to make final plans for the next day’s hike to finish the winter list!

When I got home, my husband asked me if I went into the hut.  From the tracks he receives from the tracking app on my phone, he can zoom in pretty close and see where I am.   If he switches to the satellite mode, he can see features like the huts.  I looked at him kind of funny and then realized what had happened and said, “I wasn’t IN the hut, I was ON the hut!”. He didn’t realize that there was such a large amount of snow that you walk right up like a ramp!  I showed him some photos to clear that up.

Lake of the Clouds Hut.  The front door is through that snow bank.  I was able to walk right up to the top of the roof and look around!

Lake of the Clouds Hut. The front door is through that snow bank. I was able to walk right up to the top of the roof and look around!

Here's what he saw from the tracking app and why he thought I was actually inside the hut.

Here’s what he saw from the tracking app and why he thought I was actually inside the hut.

A Presi day is a rare and great blessing – the stark beauty of the white snow against such a deep blue sky and rugged landscape is hard to put into words, yet at the same time, a Presi day almost feels like cheating, since you’re not fighting the sub-zero cold, the wind, poor visibility or the rocks and roots of summer.  I certainly enjoyed it, but it is a different than the satisfaction of a peak that comes with a few more challenges, which I would certainly get the next day!

The Twins for Two More, #44 and #45, 2.8.14

The forecast was cold, but the winds were going to be within our limits, so we decided to head out to the Twins to bag a few more peaks.

It was really cold in Twin Mountain, at 6:30a, it was -6 without the windchill.  Not sure what the temperature was an hour later when JohninNH and I arrived at the winter trailhead at the end of Little River Road to meet Greg YEAH!, but I’m sure temperatures didn’t rise to a balmy 0!  Suited up and on our way, we proceeded across the bridge and on to the snowmobile path.  Two of us had never done this route, and the one that had, it had been a while.  According to the GPS, we were just west of the preferred route, but since what we were on, was nicely packed by the snowmobiles, it didn’t matter too much. Besides, we knew we were headed toward Haystack Rd.  We arrived at Haystack Rd. a little lower than we wanted, so we shuffled up the road to the summer trail head.  At the summer trailhead, we started the usual trek up the North Twin Trail, passing the first river crossing and were soon on the herdpath, heading toward the third river crossing.  No worries about the crossings today, as they were fully snowbridged, but it was nice to take the most direct route.  We passed the junction for the abandoned Fire Warden’s Trail to Mt. Hale, and noted the route for a future hike.  I’d hiked it last summer, and it would be fun to go back and hike it again in the winter.  Continuing on, we were off the herdpath, back onto the trail and soon at the third crossing.  We walked right across on the snowbridge, the easiest I’ve ever done that crossing.

Third crossing of the Little River - easy today!

Third crossing of the Little River – easy today!

Once across the river, it was time to start the long trek up to the summit of North Twin.  This would be the slowest section of the day, but we knew that as we started up.  We had some nice sunshine and eventually through the trees, we could catch a few views.  Higher and higher we went, and then even though I was working pretty hard, I realized I wasn’t hot, in fact, I wasn’t even staying warm.  It was really getting cold, so we stopped for some extra layers.  This was the right thing to do, and more comfortable, we were able to push on to the summit.  This was the toughest section for some reason, it didn’t seem like that corridor through the trees was ever going to end!  Logically, I knew it would, I’d come this way more than once and remembered the trail quite well.  Sure enough, there was the sign and Greg YEAH! waiting for the rest of us to catch up.  Meanwhile, we’d hiked up into a cloud.  None the less, we headed right down the spur trail to the “view”.  We’d all seen the inside of a cloud before, so with the bagging of the peak, we headed back to the more protected junction for a bite to eat, and adding shells and balaclavas before heading over to South Twin.  With some food and one peak behind us, we started the trek over with renewed energy.  The trip over wasn’t too bad, starting with a nice descent and then an easier climb up to South Twin.  At one point, the summit was visible from the trail, which was encouraging to see, meaning that we were close and that the clouds might be lifting a bit.

At the North Twin Spur Junction.

At the North Twin Spur Junction.

Heading up to the summit of South Twin.

Heading up to the summit of South Twin.

Just a little bit further, the summit is just ahead!

Just a little bit further, the summit is just ahead!

One by one, we all arrived at the summit, noting that fact that while it was pretty cold, the winds were not nearly what had been predicted.  I was pretty thankful for that, because the temperatures weren’t exactly warm, probably still in the single digit range.  After admiring the few views we had, we started the way we had come.  Since we had bagged Galehead last winter, we agreed that it could wait for another day for those who wanted to bag it in February.  Along the way, the clouds started to lift.  As luck would have it, we all knew we’d be driving home with abundant sunshine and the summits in the clear!

At the summit area of South Twin.

At the summit area of South Twin.

Picture time!

Picture time!

Back at North Twin, we went right back down the spur trail and hung out at the ledges for a bit, enjoying the views we didn’t have there earlier.  With a little more fuel, it was time for the fast and furious descent.  Three hours after leaving South Twin, we were back at the cars.  I couldn’t believe it, but the official time keeper said so, and that’s good enough for me.  On the way back, we took a different path (actually the better one) back from the summer trailhead to the end of Little River Road.  Turns out we should have taken a sharp left directly after the bridge when we started out in the morning.  This path was straight and easy to follow, and was a pretty quick trip back to the start.  Next time we’ll know!

The clouds just starting to lift, giving us views out to the northeast.

The clouds just starting to lift, giving us views out to the northeast.

Heading back to North Twin, under clearing skies.

Heading back to North Twin, under clearing skies.

Although cold and in the clouds for a bit, we had a pretty good day!  We now know how to get to the North Twin trail head in the winter, bagged two more peaks and I got to catch up with a friend.

One last look back to South Twin from the ledges on North Twin.

One last look back to South Twin from the ledges on North Twin.

Special thanks to JohninNH and Greg YEAH! for another good trek in the cold and to JohninNH for his generous sharing of some of the photos in this post!

A Snowy Owl, Owl’s Head, #43 for Winter, 2.1.14

With Isolation done, the only other hike I was really dreading this winter was Owl’s Head.  I had good reasons.  It is a long hike out there and back, 16 miles in the winter with two bushwhacks, the bushwhacks themselves, plus finding someone who actually wants to go there.  I know my usual winter partners would probably have gone, but I really felt bad asking someone to hike 16 miles to a remote peak, especially a wooded summit, for no benefit other than they were helping a friend.

By good chance, I have some great friends who are working on their grids.  They also have great friends who are working on grids.  These are the sort of people who want to go to Owl’s Head in the middle of winter.  By chance a group was going on Saturday and Schorman casually mentioned it to me in an email.  Since my other winter partners were occupied for the weekend, and I was free, it was the perfect opportunity to go!  I got in contact with the group, and a little bit before 7:00a on Saturday, I pulled into Lincoln Woods, ready to hike to the Owl.

There were six of us, and I’d only hike with one of them once before, and met another one by chance on Jackson one day.  This was a new group of people, and since these guys were really experienced (all are grid finishers or are working on finishing), I did have my concerns about keeping up, and how I’d fit into the group dynamics.  I shouldn’t have worried – they were all welcoming, friendly and entertaining all along the way.  With the sun shining, we marched right over the suspension bridge and toward the Black Pond Trail.  I’d never been to Black Pond, so that was some bonus redlining for me.  Once there, we started the Black Pond bushwhack, which shortens the trip and avoids the widest water crossings.

Frozen Black Pond.

Frozen Black Pond.

At the end of the bushwhack, they all agreed it was the best Black Pond bushwhack they’d been on.  I agreed too.  Of course, it was the only BP bushwhack I’d been on!  Back on the trail, we continued to make good time, and soon came to the last crossing before the next bushwhack, the Brutus bushwhack.  We decided snowshoes would be a good idea due to the televators for the steepness and a little extra traction.  Up we went, first on an old logging/skidder road, and then took a left up the hill to gain some elevation and end up at the rock which signals the start/end of the bushwhack.  This was difficult, as there wasn’t quite enough snow cover for the snowshoes and there was a lot of exposed rocks, logs, and other stuff that made the ascent difficult.  We finally leveled out and we were there, passing the rock.  The ascent wasn’t over, but we were once again on a “trail”, the unofficial Owl’s Head herdpath.  More elevation, but not too bad now, and soon we passed the old summit and headed for the new one.  Then we were there, just a small clearing, in the winter just big enough for all six of us on snowshoes to get there and turn around, with a small cairn marking the summit.  After a few photos, it was time to head back for a nice lunch break.

On the summit of Owl's Head, #43!

On the summit of Owl’s Head, #43!

Lunch over, and starting to get a little cold, we started on the way back.  On the descent, we saw the only two people all day who were also headed for the summit, two guys I had met a couple of winters ago on a Bonds Traverse.  After exchanging greetings we were on our way – back past the rock, then down the hill.  This was the hardest part,  going up was difficult, but going down was worse!  The footing was not good, it was slippery, and when I fell (which I did several times), it wasn’t always snow that I landed on.  Four more inches of snow and it would have been a fun slide down the slope!  Finally, we made it back to the skidder road, where there was a bit more snow and easier grade to walk down.  Once everyone made it back to the official trail, we were ready for the march back to Lincoln Woods.  We kept up the pace, and the miles seemed to fly by.

Ice along the river, as seen from the Lincoln Brook Trail.

Ice along Lincoln Brook, as seen from the Lincoln Brook Trail.

Horseshoe on a tree at the junction of the Lincoln Brook Trail and the Black Pond Bushwhack.

Horseshoe on a tree at the junction of the Lincoln Brook Trail and the Black Pond Bushwhack. Presumably a remnant from when they used horses in the logging operations in the area.

Soon we were right back at the Black Pond bushwhack, then Black Pond and then the last 2.6 miles back to cars!  The clouds had started to thicken up along the way back and as soon as we stepped into the parking lot, we saw the first flakes of snow falling.  Talk about perfect timing!

East Branch of the Pemi as seen from the suspension bridge at Lincoln Woods.

East Branch of the Pemi as seen from the suspension bridge at Lincoln Woods.

It was a super day, and I’m still really happy about it.  Owl’s Head in winter really wasn’t as bad as I thought.  Maybe that was due to a lot of factors, everything from sunshine to being healthy enough to enjoy it to great company on the trail, but with all those blessings, there’s nothing to complain about!

Special thanks to Schorman and LadyDi for helping me out with the contacts for this one.  Special thanks to Gary T., Guy J., Steve M., Mike L., and Bill C., for letting me tag along, feel welcome and for all the fun along the way.

A Perfect Day for Franconia Ridge, Lafayette and Lincoln, #41 and #42 for Winter, 1.30.14

With this winter’s perfect weather windows being far and few between, Thursday looked to be a good day, by all the weather forecasters.  A few emails later, and I even had a partner for the day.  This was to be a carpool special, so keeping track of the time would be really important.

I arrived at Lafayette Place, happy that all the summits with the exception of Lafayette, which was still draped in a small cloud, were in the clear.  You know there is potential for a good day if the summits of the Franconia Ridge are in the clear!  After a quick discussion regarding traction (this is always a challenge – to make sure you have the right gear, but not carry too much gear that won’t get used), we decided to wear snowshoes and carry other traction.  Then it was time for the hike up.  I wasn’t really looking forward to this part – I do like hiking and yes, half of it is uphill, but since I’d come down Old Bridal Path several times, I knew that hiking up it would be the toughest part of the day, and possibly the longest.  The first sections weren’t too bad, and then the steeper stuff came, along with enough snow that I would have probably expended much more energy hiking it in than just wearing the snowshoes.  I have to thank my partner for the wisdom of wearing the snowshoes.  Up and up we went, past the viewpoints and then up the first Agony.  There is a reason the ridge is called Agony Ridge – it isn’t easy!  Soon though, we saw the quarter mile sign to the hut, and I was happy for that.  It took us two hours to reach the hut, and I was really pleased with that time – slow, but not too slow.  I was hoping for 3 to 3 1/2 hours to the summit, so we were pretty much right on track (remember, I’ve got kids to pick up in Concord).  After a nice break and refueling, it was time for the last section to the summit.  Meanwhile, the small cloud over the summit of Lafayette had lifted and the summit was in the clear.

From the steps of Greenleaf Hut, the summit of Lafayette still has a cloud draped over it.  Thankfully, the cloud moved during our break.

From the steps of Greenleaf Hut, the summit of Lafayette still has a cloud draped over it. Thankfully, the cloud moved during our break.

Leaving the hut and starting the last ascent, was where it really got tough for me, for some reason my quads decided to cramp.  Not sure what the problem was – I’d never had that happen before!  So, we stopped right before breaking out of treeline so that I could eat another snack, hopefully one that would help me out (which, thankfully, it did!).  I felt like progress was really slow, but I also knew that every step brought us closer to the summit.  Breaking out of the scrub, we were treated to fantastic views all around and very little to no wind!  That was the biggest blessing, as we were expecting some wind.  At least on all the breather breaks we were able to enjoy the scenery without having to try to stand upright.  Finally, on the last small bit to the summit, I saw the sign and knew we’d made it.  Three hours!  I was elated.  Right on track, and from here, I knew the rest would be easier and I might even be able to stop at home and get cleaned up before picking up the kids.

On the summit of Lafayette with the Presidentials in the background, #41 for winter.

On the summit of Lafayette with the Presidentials in the background, #41 for winter.

We took a nice break at the summit, changed out from snowshoes to some light traction and then continued along the ridge.  There really wasn’t enough snow on the ridge to merit all the clattering and awkward footing that the snowshoes would inevitably provide, so light traction was ideal.  We could have hiked it faster, but it would have been a shame to waste such a beautiful day above treeline by scurrying across the ridge like small prey being hunted by a large cat.

On the summit of Lincoln, looking back toward Lafayette, #42 for winter.

On the summit of Lincoln, looking back toward Lafayette, #42 for winter.

A view across the notch to Cannon and Cannon Cliffs from the summit of Lincoln.

A view across the notch to Cannon and Cannon Cliffs from the summit of Lincoln.

One by one, we made it over the summits of Lincoln, then Little Haystack, and then came to the exit from the ridge, down Falling Waters.  There was more snow down Falling Waters, but it was enjoyable and a nice cushion as we picked up the pace a bit.  The landmarks of Falling Waters came quickly and soon we were making the first stream crossing on an ice/snow bridge.  Continuing downward, we came to one crossing after another and the waterfalls.  At this point, there are gigantic curtains of icicles and frozen ice falls where Cloudland Falls is.  In Cloudland Falls, we could hear the water flowing behind the sheets of ice and in a few places, there was some thin clear ice, much like a window, where we could see the water flowing underneath.  While we had to watch our footing near the falls and the crossing, it was still a treat to see all the ice.

Giant sheets of ice and icicles right above Cloudland Falls on the Falling Waters Trail.

Giant sheets of ice and icicles right above Cloudland Falls on the Falling Waters Trail.

Frozen Cloudland Falls.  There was still water running beneath the ice, and we could see it through the clear window of ice in the center.  There is nothing for scale in this photo, but these falls are 80 feet high.

Frozen Cloudland Falls. There was still water running beneath the ice, and we could see it through the clear window of ice in the center. There is nothing for scale in this photo, but these falls are 80 feet high.

Down, down, down, we went on such a beautiful day.  The woods were quiet and blanketed with snow sparkling in the sunlight.  Soon the footbridge came into sight and the hike was almost over.  Back at the cars earlier than we thought, it was agreed that overall, we’d had a great day.  Gaining the ridge was definitely the hardest part of the day for me, but once there, it was like all of the trouble to get there melted away, enhanced the blessing of being surrounded by some dramatic winter scenery.

Special thanks to Greg YEAH! for another great hike.  I owe you a block of cheese.

Back to the Carters! #39 and #40 for Winter, 1.20.14

The weather continues to be a challenge this winter for the higher peaks, and I wasn’t even sure I’d get a chance to go hiking this weekend.  There was a trip planned for Saturday, but with the incoming snow, and two of us having drives 2 hours or more in good conditions, we decided to cancel.  That left Monday, with an iffy forecast of high winds and low temps, a tame prelude to the conditions that were coming.  A half dozen emails later, and Greg YEAH! and I decided to try the Carters.  I only needed Middle and South, so the loop would be shorter and with protection of the trees almost the whole way, it was one of our better choices of what was left on my list for a windy day.

Yes, somehow all the peaks that I have left for the winter list require pretty much a “good” winter day or better!  While that means I have a really nice choices for a finisher peak, that means that I’m hoping for a lot of Presi days.

So, after a two hour easy drive, I arrived at the 19 Mile Brook trailhead, expecting to see the lot relatively full and to have to figure out where to park.  It wasn’t full, and parking was easy.  With a few final preparations, we were on our way up 19 Mile Brook Trail.  This trail was nice and packed from all the traffic to and from the hut, and we made decent time up the trail before taking a break and heading up the Carter Dome Trail.  From here we would ascend to Zeta Pass.  This part of trail had not been traveled recently, but only had a dusting to 1″ of fresh snow, but still the walk was easy.  Sooner than I expected, we were past the last stream crossing and on the switch backs, continuing to gain altitude.  We were making pretty good time, but for some reason I felt slow. Not sure why, but the trail finally leveled out and Zeta Pass came into view.  The snow levels were much lower than the previous year’s trip to Carter Dome in February.  Both of the benches were visible!  With a nice break, and some extra layers due to the drop in temperature, it was time to tackle the last section leading to the first peak of the day.  The climb up to South Carter was short, but had some steeper sections, and it seemed a little longer than the .8 mile from Zeta Pass.  We arrived and I was happy to be there.  There is also a new little view point that it looks like someone has cleared on the opposite side of the trail from the actual summit that looks out toward Mt. Hight and Carter Dome and eastward to Maine.  This was also the point where we were going to evaluate our plans for the rest of the trip.  The winds had been advertised to be in the mid-30′s, which isn’t the worst, but combined with low temps can be really cold.  It wasn’t as windy as I thought, so off we went across the ridge, headed for Middle Carter.  At this point, I knew we’d just finish the loop and not back track; at Middle Carter, it is only .6 mile to the North Carter Trail, the start of the descent back to the cars, so there was no reason to go back across the ridge.  We continued on and soon we were in the area we thought looked like the summit area – sure enough, we were at the high point.

Near the summit of Middle Carter, a typical winter wonderland ridge scene.

Near the summit of Middle Carter, a typical winter wonderland ridge scene.

We added some shells on the short break at the summit, because right around the corner, was one of the few exposed sections along the ridge.  It was windy, but not nearly what was predicted, so it wasn’t bad at all.  Cold, yes, breezy, yes, but not terrifying.  The few open spots are really the best viewpoints along that section of ridge, but with the weather, we didn’t see too much.  We could barely see down into Pinkham Notch, and the Presidentials had a very dark grey cloud over them.  Actually, if you didn’t know a mountain range was over there, you wouldn’t have been the wiser.

One of the few patches of blue sky that we'd see all day.  Between the cold and the clouds, there wasn't much to take pictures of!

One of the few patches of blue sky that we’d see all day. Between the cold and the clouds, there wasn’t much to take pictures of!

A few more ledges and we were at the North Carter Trail.  This was our exit point from the ridge and the start of the descent.  The ridge was done and the walking wasn’t too bad – we were still wearing microspikes.  There was only 2-4″ maybe of new snow in the deepest places, not really enough to posthole or cause a problem.  Down we went, and this was probably the quickest trip I’ve have ever made using this descent.  All of the sudden I realized the sounds of traffic were on my left, and I could see some nice rock work peeking out from under the snow, both signs that we were nearing the Camp Dodge cut-off.  Sure enough, after crossing Cowboy Brook, there it was, the old logging road that would lead us to Camp Dodge and back to the cars.

A quick check of the time, and we had made pretty good time, and then headed home.  It turned out to be a great day, even though the forecast had me believing otherwise.  Another hike where I was just at the edge of my comfort zone according the forecast, but yet glad I did it, and that the weather was better than predicted!

Special thanks to Greg YEAH! for another great hike and helping me get two more for the list!

A Weather Window! Garfield, #38 for Winter, 1.13.14

It has been an interesting winter so far here in New England.  We’ve had snow, ice, rain, and plenty of subzero temperatures.  When I saw a window of weather opportunity on Monday and by a chance had a later carpool pick-up, I knew it was a good time to try to bag another peak for my winter list.

I chose Garfield because the approach is pretty straightforward and moderate.  With only three stream crossings (which actually can be avoided ) down low, it was ideal.  Trail conditions were the biggest question of the day – what would I encounter after a weekend of rain and possibly snow in the higher elevations?  I was mentally prepared for the worst:  ice including boilerplate, mush, frozen postholes and all other forms of ankle-busting footing.  I figured if it were any better, then I’d be pleasantly surprised.

I headed up I-93 very early, and arrived at the trailhead around 7:15a.  I still had a carpool pick-up, so I wanted an early start to make sure I was back in time.  As I got out of the car, another car pulled up with two women who were also going to hike Garfield.  After a quick chat, they agreed to join forces for the at least part of the way or for the whole day, depending on how things were going.  Suzanne and Joanie are two great hiking partners and no strangers to the White Mountains, having completed both their all-season and winter 4K lists, and are almost done with the New England 67 list.

We headed past the gate and up Gale River Road to the trailhead.  The road was a bit icy, but bareboots were fine, with a careful eye on the footing.  We started up the Garfield Trail and with just a dusting of snow, it surely did not look like January at all.

The start of the Garfield Trail.  There was no snow we when came back in the afternoon.

The start of the Garfield Trail. There was no snow we when came back in the afternoon.

First water crossing on the Garfield Trail, the snow bridges are completely gone.

First water crossing on the Garfield Trail, the snow bridges are completely gone.

We came to the first crossing and Joanie took the lead, having been on the quick bushwhack over to the snowmobile bridges before. I knew about this well used shortcut for high water situations, but had used it, so it was nice to have someone who really knew what they were doing in lead.  With the help of the GPS, we were able to do two small bushwhacks and came out right above the third crossing, back onto the trail (we could see the third crossing from where we stood).  That was perfect, the water wasn’t super high, but I think the crossings would have required careful study and possibly stepping on submerged rocks to cross.  Due to the recent rain and warm temps, the snow bridges were definitely gone, leaving only thin ice shelfs near the edges that most likely would not support a hiker and gear.

Back on the trail, we continued on until about 3 miles from the cars, where we decided traction would be useful.  We were facing a literal river of ice on the trail, and to have gone on without some sort of traction would have been foolish.  Traction securely on the feet, we continued to make progress to the summit.  Up we went, past the birches, then through the mixed forest and switchbacks and on to the junction with the Garfield Ridge Trail.  Along the way, we had been passed by Joe, who when we met up with him again at the junction, accompanied us to the summit.

Junction with the Garfield Ridge Trail.  Note the lack of snow and that the rocks at the base of the sign are showing.

Junction with the Garfield Ridge Trail. Note the lack of snow and that the rocks at the base of the sign are showing.

After a quick break to add some extra layers as protection against the now obvious wind, we head up to the summit.  Quickly, we were on the summit, enjoying the sunshine, wind (quite a bit of wind, actually) and 360 degree views.  As we turned to leave, large gust of wind took my hat and sent it down into the scrub.  Thankfully, we were able to locate it, and Joe broke through some thick spruce to retrieve for me.  It was only a cheap hat, and I did have a back-up hat, but I appreciate his kindness and effort to get back such an item for me.

The Franconia Ridge from the summit of Garfield.

The Franconia Ridge from the summit of Garfield.

Looking toward the Twins from the summit of Garfield, with the snow-covered Presidentials peeking out from behind them

Looking toward the Twins from the summit of Garfield, with the snow-covered Presidentials peeking out from behind them.

The trip back to the car was pretty quick.  I decided that my microspikes were not enough traction for going down all the ice flows, so I opted for the Hillsound Trail Pros.  Once I got them on and got all the buckles turned the correct way, they worked great and had much better bite for descending the ice.  I had one buckle turned around for some reason, and the strap just wouldn’t stay in.  After a few minutes of studying it, I figured it out and was on my way.  We negotiated all the ice, which was now softer and melting in the above freezing temperatures and made it back to where we put on traction earlier in the day.  With less ice and almost no snow to speak of, we put away the traction and barebooted right back to the cars!

I had a great day!  Besides bagging another peak and enjoying the views, I got to meet some new people, all of who are excellent hikers and will be out on the trails for a long time to come.

Special Thanks to Suzanne and Joanie for letting me tag along and Joe, who, even though we hiked with briefly, rescued my hat!

Working on the Winter List Again, #37, Isolation, 12.31.13

What better way than to finish out 2013 than with a hike to Isolation?  The summit of this mountain had eluded JohninNH, Greg YEAH! and I early this year in March, and I’ve thought about that experience many times since then.  A trip to Isolation was high on my list of winter hikes that I wanted to do, so with quite a bit of emailing and help from good hiking friends, a trip was arranged for New Year’s Eve.

While it reads like it might be a fun task, a winter hike to Isolation is not.  We knew going into this that many factors were against us making it to the summit.  First there was a short amount of daylight, meaning that we’d leave home in the dark and arrive back in the dark.  Second, we had a snowstorm two days before which dumped at least 12″ of new snow on that part of the White Mountains.  Third, the temperatures were forecast to be cold, very cold.  As in single digits below and above zero, without the windchill.  Add any amount of wind, and the conditions would definitely be Arctic.  Lastly, it is a 13 mile round trip trek in the winter even with a bushwhack, making it one of the longer hikes in winter for just a single summit.

Despite all this, Schorman and LadyDi picked me up in the regular spot really early, and we headed up to Pinkham Notch.  It was definitely a bit sobering knowing what we were heading into, enough to make us all second guess the whole trip and cause quite a bit of aprehension.   The first bright spot of the morning was an email from Greg YEAH!, which said,  “Good NEWS!!!! Isolation is broken!!!!”.  Boy, were we excited!  We did not have to face six miles of trailbreaking to get to the summit.  After reading the trail report, we were very relieved and thrilled to know that we wouldn’t have to face that task.  (It really is difficult, our party turned around last year after 5 miles of trail breaking in similar conditions.)

All we’d have to face now was the subzero temperatures.  We made a quick stop at McDonald’s in Gorham to finish getting ready so that we’d be able to get on the trail quickly after arriving at the trailhead and not stand in the cold too long.  We were still not looking forward to the weather conditions, but we took precautions to be properly layered and to protect our heads, hands and feet from the cold.  We arrived at the trailhead and everyone was already there, ready to hike.  We had a second bright spot in the morning with the nice surprise of an extra hiker, who we weren’t exactly sure was coming at all.  The more the merrier on these sorts of trips!

Strapping on the snowshoes, we quickly got on trail, making good steady progress on the first section up to the Wilderness Boundary and beyond to the start of the bushwhack.  This section has the most elevation gain of all the sections, so it was nice to get warmed up quickly as the temperatures were hovering just around zero.  We then continued on the bushwhack, slightly different that the route we took last year, and even more beautiful as we traveled through some lovely birch glades, once in a while getting a peek to the next ridge and our goal, Isolation.  We came back out onto the Isolation Trail and continued on to Davis Path, crossing the stream several times on solid snow bridges.

Bushwhack through birch glades.  Not the best photo of the glades, but it was cold and picture taking was a minimum.  You can see the broken trail in the upper left of the photo.

Bushwhack through birch glades. Not the best photo of the glades, but it was cold and picture taking was minimal. You can see the broken trail in the upper left of the photo.

Looking up the Rocky Branch from the trail, which parallels and crosses it several times.

Looking up the Rocky Branch from the trail, which parallels and crosses it several times.

The sun was out, and although it didn’t seem as cold as it really was, we had to keep our stops short so that we could stay warm.  Moving through a blowdown area, we made it to the Davis Path and knew we were just about a mile from the summit.  At this point, this was further than Greg and I had ever been on a winter hike of Isolation, and I was really thrilled.  The group moved along the ridge and soon the sign for the summit spur came into view.  One steep pitch and we were on the top enjoying the views out to Mt. Washington and the southern Presidentials.  The sky was overcast to the west, but the summits were in the clear, a nice reward for the hike to Isolation.

Mt. Washington and Monroe from the summit of Isolation.

Monroe, Mt. Washington, and Boott Spur from the summit of Isolation.

USGS marker at the summit of Isolation.

USGS marker at the summit of Isolation.

After a few photos and check of the weather conditions (with winds at amazingly only 1mph) we headed back down to the Davis Path for a quick lunch to refuel for the trip back.  We made great time on the way back and in less than 9 hours, we had completed the entire trek to Isolation.

We were blessed in so many unexpected ways, with so many details coming together to make a truly amazing day.  One of the biggest blessings was the group who did all the hard work the previous day of breaking out the trail.  Even though the weather was cold, we had sunshine and little wind, and with proper gear, we were comfortable and safe.  The company was great and I enjoyed meeting new hikers and catching up with an old friend.

An extra special thanks to Schorman and LadyDi for their willingness to go and all their help in getting this hike together, and along with BillC, Jeb Bradley and Greg YEAH! for such a great day.  Special congratulations to Greg YEAH! for finishing his Winter 48 on this hike.

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