Thursday, February 13, 2014

Winter Hiking

My training buddy Sara broke her foot several months ago.  On Monday, she got the 'all clear' to start running and training again.  Sara's an avid mountaineer, so to celebrate, we decided to head up to the White Mountains and do a winter hike.  She knew how inexperienced I am at it, but luckily she was happy enough to have a buddy that she didn't care that she would have to loan me a ton of gear, show me how to use it, and wait patiently as I stumbled around trying to figure out how to walk on snow-covered rocks with crampons on my feet. 

(Sara, pacing me at VT50 this year)

Since Sara really wants to find a buddy to do these adventures with her, I told her the goal should be to be sure I summit something, and that I stayed warm...a tall order on a cold windy day in the Whites.  That ruled out an attempt on Mt. Washington, where we likely would have been turned around before reaching the summit. 

(Sara, covered in frost)

We decided to do the Lincoln and Lafayette loop over Franconia Ridge.  Brian decided last minute to join us, which was great.  Luckily he's experienced enough to own his own gear and all.  Actually, in our time together, Brian has once ever gotten me out for a winter hike - when we hiked Cascade and Porter in the Adirondacks on Valentines Day...and he proposed.  I was secretly hoping that if I finished another winter hike, he might again reward me with jewelry, but no such luck. 

(Brian and I on our only other winter hike - we got engaged just before this photo)
(Brian and I on the Franconia Ridge)

So after an early morning start and a long drive north (and after Sara lent me tons of gear and helped me put it on) we were heading up the trail.  I found it hard to hike in the stiff boots (which felt like they had no tread on the bottom), but the views were amazing as we looked at frozen waterfalls beside the trail and snow covered trees.  About halfway up, it was time to put on the crampons - which gave me better traction but certainly made my calves sore as I tip toed up the trail.  Towards the top of the trail, the trees suddenly got shorter, and before I knew it we were above tree line and on the first peak.  If I had realized that, I might have thrown my storm shell on earlier to block the wind - but luckily I warmed up quickly once it was on. 

(Brian and Sara, enjoying the early miles)
For the first 10 minutes of the hike across the ridge, the wind was howling.  My face was fully covered but still was freezing.  I was grateful we didn't decide to do Washington in this wind, but also wondering how I would make it about an hour across this ridge.  Luckily, after about 10 brutal minutes, we either got to the non-windy side of the mountain, or the gusts let up - either way, the rest of the hike across the ridge was fairly comfortable.  There were occasional gusts of wind but in general it was fairly calm.  The clouds rolled in halfway across the ridge, so our views went away before I got any photos of the Pemis...which was unfortunate.

(Sara and I, proudly standing on my first peak of the day!)
After the last peak, the initial hike down the mountain was rough.  There was minimal snow covering the loose rocks, and with the inflexible boots and crampon on, I found myself stumbling around a lot.  I felt like a drunk person trying to walk.  I am surprised I didn't nose-dive into a rock pile in that section.  Luckily, Brian hiked ahead here - he gets nervous for me when he sees me stumbling around, so it's best that he just doesn't watch (it's why we don't often trail run together!).  Sara hiked behind me to ensure that I didn't get injured...and was very gracious about not making me feel stupid for my inability to move gracefully.

(Sara and I, showing just how awkward it is to walk on rocks with crampons)
I was pleased when we reached tree line and were below the rocks and the wind.  We enjoyed sliding down some of the steeper sections of the trail on our butts, and I especially loved the amazing views from the trail of the ridge we just hiked as well as across to Cannon Mountain.  As we reached the cars, I happily commented that we were finishing the day with all 30 fingers and 30 toes...that's success in my book!  While I'll be sore in some random places after the hike - it was fun to try something new and enjoy the beautiful sights seen only in the winter. 

(The beauty of the winter)

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