Monday, January 25, 2016

Awkward Cannon

I've found a new reason to like three-day weekends. It makes it easier to squeeze in all the activities I enjoy. My company gives us every-other Friday off by working a modified work schedule. So what about the weekends where I do not get Friday off? There are only two days to pack in hiking, skiing and biking. That just means I have to double up some days!

I signed up for the Ski to the Clouds race in March. It is a 10k freestyle race that finishes at tree line on Mt Washington. I need to start working some intensity back into my routine. Bonus if it is on skis. Nordic skiing intensity trumps any other kind of intensity in my opinion, because a) it uses all the major muscle groups and b) it is weight bearing. So my weekend would be planned around skiing first, then other activities worked around skiing.

Local skiing has been marginal at best this winter. There's some pretty good skiing in Maine, but I spent way too much time in cars last weekend. I wanted to stay closer this weekend if possible. I settled on Waterville on Saturday. Reports said Tripoli Rd was in good shape. If I'm going for a workout, that is all that really matters. 20 minutes above threshold repeats up that 800ft beast quickly reduces all my muscles into quivering jelly. The grooming was flawless, but cover was very thin in most areas. After a couple repeats on kinder, gentler Livermore Rd (with one face plant from hitting a rock), I went over to the Tripoli Rd side. Three times up Tripoli finished me off nicely. Skied 50km with 4000ft of climbing.

There was still several hours of daylight left, and I was in the White mountains. There are several peaks I've yet to visit. I just so happened to have all my hiking gear in the car. Uh-huh.  I sort of hiked up Cannon Mtn before. It was during the Franconia Sufferfest race. The race started at the Franconia Inn, climbed via XC trails to the base of Cannon Mountain ski area, then straight up the alpine ski slope. Did the organizers really think we could ride up that? I thought it would be very difficult, bordering physically impossible. Turns out the winner, and myself finishing second, hike-a-biked 99.99% of the climb. Does that count as "officially" hiking Cannon? No, but I'll say lugging a 25lb bike up to the top is way harder than hiking with a pack. So I hopped in the car after skiing and headed north on I-93 instead of south to go home.

In the tram parking lot, I realized I forgot several items when I left in haste that morning. Such as dry street clothes when I was done for the day and my micro spikes. The clothes, meh. Spikes? SOB! I did bring my snowshoes just in case. I had never hiked in snowshoes before, despite buying a pair almost a year ago. Guess there has to be a first time at some point. I did not put them on right away. As I walked to the trail head, a small group had just finished hiking the Kinsman Ridge Trail from the summit. They said I'll want snowshoes the whole way up. 

Have you ever put swimming fins on and try to walk with them? That is how I felt when I first strapped the shoes to my boots. Awkward, to say the least. Took several stops to get them adjusted right too.  I knew this hike would be steep, but I really underestimated the impact of steepness hiking with snowshoes for the first time. There were tight rock squeezes, occasional root catches, big step-ups, icy sections, all manner of  hazards that wouldn't have even registered if I had brought my microspikes. To be sure, most people coming down had snowshoes on, but one couple did not. The guy (husband?) jokingly warned me, saying "watch out, she'll take you down like a bowling pin." Haha. 

Not only did I tangle myself up in tight spots, I found the snowshoes offered poor grip on ice compared to my microspikes. One thing I found very helpful though, was the heel lift option. Used it right from the bottom. That surely saved me from calf and Achilles grief. I thought this four mile hike should be easy to bang out in less than 2hrs, but now finishing with lights was looking probable. Perhaps the descent would be much less problematic.

Once I got part way up, the stream of people coming down stopped. I had amazing views all to myself from the ledge and the summit observation deck. I had to take the snowshoes off to negotiate the stairs. How do you think that worked out with the steps completely filled in with ice? Yep, yard sale on the way back down. Glad I was at least holding the railing. It was so slick I chose to slide down the rest of the steps on my ass. After gathering my scattered shoes and poles on the landing, I thought hard about maybe just hiking down a ski run. It was almost 4pm and the lifts would stop shortly. Where would the glory be in that though?

As I headed down, I learned the mountain get even steeper!  I found the snowshoes a bit terrifying in spots. It has stayed cold since last snowfall and the snow wasn't set up yet. The shoes acted like skis in spots.  The steepness combined with always loading feet at a downward angle meant huge tension in the knees too. My knees do not take kindly to that abuse. I'm pretty sure my time going down was just as long if not longer than my moving time hiking up. So much for making up time on the way back down.

I made it back to the car well past sunset, within minutes of needing the light, without any carnage. Not sure what to make of hiking in snowshoes. I felt vulnerable the whole time, like I could catch on something and blow a knee out.  Perhaps with more snow cover and experience, that uneasiness will go away. I did notice most folks had narrower, lighter duty snowshoes. That would be worth looking into for when trail is already broken out. Anyway, the hike was thoroughly satisfying, finishing the day with 6600ft climbing on snow.

White canopy heading up Kinsman Ridge Trail from the Tramway parking lot

Trees getting stubby approaching 4000ft on Kinsman Ridge Trail

Franconia Ridge from Cannon Cliffs

Looking down I-93 from Cannon Cliffs. Massive snowstorm was brewing
further down the east coast. Sunny north of the Notch

Calm, cold and sunny with Mt Layfayette from Cannon Cliffs

Approaching summit of Cannon Mtn

Looking south(ish) into the low sun at the Cannon Balls and the Kinsmans from
Cannon Mtn observation deck

Franconia Ridge from Cannon observation deck

Kinsman Ridge Trail above Cannon Cliffs heading back down

Sun setting with 700ft of vertical drop back to car

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