A little over five years ago, I flew to Springfield Massachusetts to install stained glass windows that I/we had just made for a new chapel in a large convent. Large convents are getting rare these days. Unlike my Catholic grade school days, I now get along well with nuns. They can be a hoot. What I used to think was harsh, when their job was discipline, can actually be a breath of honesty, a break from selling an image. If all went reasonably well, we figured that this would be a two day installation. When buying the airline tickets, I scheduled several days in order to make modifications, as the coordination with the local construction company was dicey at best. One thing I like to do when going on such trips is to see what nice wilderness might be in the area. Excellent news! The White Mountains of New Hampshire were not too far away and the Appalachian Trail passed through them. Some of the most extreme weather on the planet has been recorded here, why, I have no idea. This was good, a reason for some excitement.
Arriving Monday morning, I worked feverishly till past 10 at night. The screws and aluminum chips were flying. I finished my installation in one day! Off to the Appalachian trail and the White Mountains, I was. I arrived at Highland Center lodge Tuesday afternoon and bought a trail map.
For an afternoon hike in snowing conditions, the people at the lodge suggest a lame 1.6 mile out and back. Heck with that, I’m off to climb 4,000 ft Mt. Webster.
The trail tuned out to be much slower and more difficult than I had expected. I was assuming I could do 2 miles per hour which would get me back before dark, and dinner at the loge. Besides being very steep, much of one’s time was spent climbing over snow covered boulders. I should have turned around sooner but I got summit fever (it’s going to be around the next turn, I know it). Trying to run/hurry down was turning out to be a bad idea as the boulders, snow and some ice was starting to beat me up. I settled into a safer pace and coming down the last half by headlamp did not seem to present a problem. I got my dinner.
For the next day, I made a last minute reservation for a spot at Zealand mountain hut. It was going to be almost empty with a winter caretaker. My plan was to hike to that hut, leave my sleeping bag and continue on to reach Mount Bond and back.
The point of concern was the next days forecast. The nearby city was forecasting record cold for that date. The summit forecast for nearby Mt. Washington was: High: 5 deg., Wind: W 50-70 mph increasing to 60-80 mph w/ higher gusts, Wind chills 25-35 below°F
The morning hike in the new snow was beautiful. It started out easy and the sky was clearing. The snow was only a few inches deep at lower altitude. I was presented with the first of several challenges for the day. This being that the snow was just deep enough to hide certain rocks and narrow board walks but too soft to actually fill in the holes. Sometimes I felt like I was more out for a stumble than out for a hike.
After passing streams and beaver ponds, the trail turned up. It got so steep that at one point, the trail was a wooden ladder. I normally don’t take a camera, but I realized that I forgot to take my flip phone out of my pocket. I also thought of someone I might want to share this beauty with. I started taking pictures.
I brought enough warm clothes but my gloves were a bit week. I had to leave my hands balled up in the middle of the gloves. Thank goodness for hand warmers.
Then I was presented with my second problem. Even though it was extremely cold, it had been wet and not so cold before. That meant that underneath the snow, there were places with small streams, puddles and mud. I tried to be careful, but before long, both feet were soaked. Surprisingly, they were staying reasonably warm, which is more than I can say for my hands.
The snow got deeper as I went and was very beautiful. Above the hut, there were no tracks and it seemed like I was the only one to have ever been here. In two days of hiking, I never once saw another person on the trail.
When I got near the peak, the trees stopped. When the trees stopped, the wind started. I dumbly walked out in the open for a minute, wearing just fleeces, not realizing just how fast the howling wind was sucking the heat out of me. I realized that in the time that it would take me to get in my pack and rearrange my clothing (if it didn’t blow away) my hands would quit working. RUN AWAY! I ran back to the tree line and put on everything I had before venturing back out in the open.
I’m not sure how accurately I can judge wind speed but I was pretty certain that I could, or a better pilot, could land a Cessna like a helicopter in exactly one spot. The rock cairns were bare on the downwind side and had horizontal snowcicles growing towards the wind. The hut caretaker told me that there was a name for this, that I can’t remember.
At one point I was trying to buckle my sternum strap by pushing with one gloved balled up hand against my face. Then snap, OUCH, I got my lip pinched by the buckle. Even though my lip was bleeding, I found the patheticness of the situation rather hysterical. Perhaps spending so much time alone isn’t a good thing.
The hike back as it got dark was the most enjoyable and I only needed my headlamp for the last little bit.
I shared the hut with two Aussies, a Kiwi and the caretaker who was a delightful kid just out of college in wildlife conservation. I was afraid that I would not sleep well as the sleeping quarters of the hut was not heated. Do you have any idea how annoying it is to get up in the middle of the night to pee and have to shove your feet into soaking wet shoes, that are now frozen solid, for the trek to the outhouse? As it turns out, I woke up at 8:30 when I had planned a drop dead time of 9:00 to be on the trail to safely catch my plane. With some downhill running, everything turned out fine. It’s important to snag a little adventure when you can. Don’t always be thinking about how you can make yet a little more money.