With another free day this week due to the children’s winter break from school, I was able to arrange a hike for Friday with one of my friends from Tuesday’s hike to Carrigain. The original plan was to hike Whiteface and Passaconaway, but with the amount of snow we received, we revised the plan to hike the Osceolas instead. Although the length of trail breaking was significantly reduced, compared to the Whiteface/Passaconaway trip, it was still not going to be easy.
We arrived early at the Greeley Ponds trailhead and noted only one other car in the parking lot. We were on the trail at 7:30a, and seeing someone else’s trail leading in was nice because the trail had already started to be broken out. The questions then became how far and in which direction did the person go once they reached the Greeley Ponds and Mt. Osceola Trail junction. The first portion of trail was quick, with the crossings being snow bridged and barely noticeable in some cases, and in a half an hour we were at the trail junction.
At the junction, the other hiker had taken a left to go to the ponds, which meant that for us the real work would begin: breaking trail all the way to Osceola. The first section wasn’t too bad, a steady uphill grade and about 4-6″ of powder.
It was hard enough to have to put in some effort, but not as hard as what would come. I watched as the landscape seem to melt away with every turn and short ascent. Then the ascents got steeper. This section was tough and involved a lot of kicking steps, pushing up on poles and sometimes the discouraging slip backwards only to have start the whole process of ascending a section all over again. There were certainly sections where I struggled and sometimes it took me a bit to figure out how to ascend, but I wasn’t going to give up. No doubt this was the slowest section of the day, with progress being marked by making it up one section at a time, looking back, taking a breath, looking forward and continuing up.
We eventually reached the open slide and at that point I knew it wasn’t too much further to the eroded gully and ridge line. The open slide was a reasonably easy traverse on this day, with a mix of packed and icy snow which the snowshoes crampons bit into nicely on the first half and a deep layer of powder snow on the second half. With more perseverance, we reached the gully, and while packed and a bit icy, it was easier to ascend that some of the sections with deeper powder. Once on the ridge, we got a break from the steepness, but then encountered the drifts, some of which we measured in feet, not inches. Pushing on, we arrived at the summit of East Osceola.
Happy to have made it that far, we knew we still had at least one challenge ahead before arriving Osceola, namely, the chimney. We arrived at the chimney and after assessing the snow and ice, decided the bypass would be our best bet. It had a layer of ice with a few inches of snow on it. With careful foot placement, we made it up the bypass and were on our way to Osceola.
After a series of alternating flat and steep sections, we could see the opening in the trees and then we were standing on the summit ledges. The visibility was about zero, as we were socked in, but nonetheless it was satisfying to be there after the hard work to get there. After a quick summit tour, we headed back to the trees to eat lunch, as it was getting to be around noon or so at that point. While eating lunch we thought we heard some barking, but thought maybe it was a large bird. In a few minutes we knew what the sound was: a dog came up the trail, followed later by two hikers. After a quick chat with the owners and finishing our lunch, it was time to descend.
We quickly made it back to the chimney and due to the steepness, decided for the last section that it might be better to try to descend backward, facing into the slope. This worked well for my partner, and he was down and waiting for me at the bottom. I was partway down the last, steep section and the dog appeared again, right in front of and above me. Of course, I was blocking the dog’s way down. The dog went back up, while I continued my slow and steady way down, making sure each foot and pole was firmly planted before making the next move. I wasn’t terrified or scared but calm and relaxed, taking my time and making sure of my footing before moving. I really didn’t want an accident and my partner didn’t want to have to haul me out of the woods! Then the dog appeared again with the owners close behind. The dog didn’t go back this time but barreled down past me, knocking me off balance and causing me to slip. Then I was scared. I knew there was powder below, but since I was facing uphill, I didn’t exactly know how far I would slide before hitting it. I did come to a quick stop and with a few steps was done with the bypass. That was the fast way down! I wasn’t upset at the dog – it didn’t want to be on the slick bypass, either! I was more upset that I didn’t complete the bypass the way I wanted to, in a controlled manner. Such is life though, things don’t always go the way you’ve planned.
With the drama over, we continued the hike back to East Osceola, letting the dog and other two hikers pass us while we took a quick break. Once at East Osceola we knew the fun was just about to begin – the descent of all the steep stuff that we worked so hard to ascend. Back at the eroded gulley, we started down on foot, but ending up glissading. This pattern would continue down each pitch, making getting down much easier and not to mention faster than going up and at this point, we had felt we had earned it! (My apologies to those who will hike the Osceolas after us!) The snow was deep enough to control the sliding and I ended up with snow all over me and in places snow should not be, but I was having fun! Eventually we had to actually walk again and before we knew it we were back at the Greeley Ponds junctions and chatting with an older couple before they headed to the ponds and we headed to the cars. The last portion out was about as quick as going in. A check of the time back at the cars, and we had done the trip in 6 hours, 45 minutes. We knew we weren’t going to be posting a Fastest Known Time, but at the same time considering terrain and the trail breaking, it wasn’t so bad.
It was a good day – tough, but good. I certainly had a sense of accomplishment and thankfulness that we were able to get to the peaks and back safely and had a good time doing so. Thanks to my partner for the day, for being patient and keeping us on track and moving forward.
All photos courtesy of my partner Greg, as I forgot my camera and the back up camera wasn’t cooperating.