Saturday I surveyed the NOAA snow cover maps. Much of the green mountains in VT was depicted as having snow cover. A portion of the white mountains in NH too. I haven't been doing much climbing on my bike lately, and I felt the need for some long, sustained grinds. I've been to Mt Sunapee a couple times. The 1500ft gain gravel service road to the summit offers superb punishment. NOAA maps showed zero snow cover in NH south of the Whites.
Pulling into the Sunapee ski area with heavy overcast, I thought wow, they started making snow already?! Then I realized the whole mountain was white. SOB! So much for NOAA accuracy. Maybe it was just a dusting. Heading up on my first repeat, a hiker was coming down. He chuckles and says "you're never gonna make it up on that!" There was 8" of heavy, wet snow at the summit. He was right. I could only make it up to 1900ft, well shy of the 2700ft summit.
|20% grade no-go at 1900ft|
If my plan was to do two 1500ft climbs, then I'll just have to make do with four 800ft climbs. It wasn't like the dreary day offered up views from the summit anyway.
After four repeats, I swung over to the MTB terrain park in the learners ski area. An ATV track takes you steeply to the top of three flow trails down. As I approached the top, the skies opened up with 30-something degree bone chilling rain. Well, only one run down was going to happen today. As I popped out at the bottom, I noticed the cloud deck lifted enough to reveal the summit, and the rain stopped. Hmmm, maybe I'll drive up to campground gate and hike the top 1000ft of service road to the summit in worn out running shoes. Bad idea!
I got up ok, but coming down was a bitch. Sliding most of the time. There were ski tracks down one of the alpine ski runs. Had I known, I would have thrown my crappy old alpine gear in the car and skied down the top 800ft or so of the mountain. The skies opened up again as I was coming down. Couldn't get the heat cranking fast enough when I got back to the car. Did manage to snap a few photos through the clouds.
|Coulda had first tracks!|
|Mt Kearsarge just poking out|
The Facebook 4000 Footers page was filling my feed with winter wonderland pictures on Saturday. I just had to get up there Sunday and take in more of the early winter conditions we're getting at higher elevations. I didn't even have a hike planned when I hit the road in the morning. Figure out when I get to the notch, I reasoned.
No surprise the cloud deck was low. What did surprise me is no visible snow to the cloud deck, at around 3000ft. Wow, many miles south, the snow line was down to about 1500ft. I assumed Franconia Notch would be winter wonderland. Oh well, that just meant the hiking would start out easier.
I decided to hike up to Mt Lafayette, the highest peak this side of the White Mountains at 5260ft, via the Skookumchuck Trail, one I've never hiked. An out and back would net only 9.4mi, which was fine, as I'm nursing a foot injury. Not sure what is going on, acts like extensor tendinitis, maybe caused by the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor trail runners I've been hiking in lately. The lacing comes down very hard over top of foot close to joint. I've noticed pain after some hikes, but now it seems cumulative. I tried double tying them today, lower loops tied snug in a knot, upper part where sensitivity is loosely. Hope it is not a stress fracture. Pain has some characteristics of that too. I see doc for full physical next month. If it persists, I'll ask for an xray.
|Starting out on Skookumchuck at 1900ft. Very deceptive of what's to come!|
|At 3900ft, started getting knee deep drifts not very well packed.|
I headed up Skookmchuck in my Ultra Raptors. It was pretty mild in the notch, but I also threw my winter hiking boots in the backpack. I started seeing snow around 3000ft. There was a lot of snow melt going on, Keeping feet dry was a challenge. Around 4000ft, I started getting knee deep post-holed snowdrifts. There had been only 4-6 people up this trail since it snowed, not a popular trail. It was still above freezing and the snow was slushy.
|Looking out onto the open tundra at tree line|
As I approached treeline, the weather changed dramatically. Where did that wind come from?! There was no way I was going above treeline in water logged trail runners. Dry socks and boots went on. Gortex shell, lobster mits, heavy hat all went on. Out on the rocks I headed. The wind nearly knocked me on my ass. Everything was conformally coated with ice! Back down to the shelter of scrub brush. The microspikes went on too.
Another thing I noticed is all but two sets of tracks continued. That meant the other 2-4 people had turned around at this point, probably yesterday. I hadn't seen a soul since leaving my car.
The open ridge was a tad scary. The wind was constantly knocking me off balance. Visibility was about 50ft. The minuscule cairns on this side of the Mt Lafayette were very hard to spot. With drifted snow filling any hint of a trail in spots, navigation was tricky. Just go up, right? You can always tell when you are going up because you breath harder than when you are going down. Every direction looked the same otherwise. Easy to see how many people have died on this ridge over the years. And no, I didn't have a GPS track to guide me either, since I left home not knowing where I was going to hike yet. My GPS does provides compass info though.
My whole body quickly became encrusted in rime ice. I had to remove my glasses because they would instantly ice over after wiping them. There was so much moisture in that air, almost drizzly, yet it would freeze on contact. I had ice hanging from my eye brows in no time. The absolute temperature wasn't that cold, probably in the mid-20's, but it was the combination of super-saturated air and wind that made it feel so raw.
I hadn't approach Lafayette from this side before. Not being able to see more than 50ft ahead meant I would be frustrated going over about five false summits. Every time I crested, thinking surely this is the top now, I started going down again. Finally I see the sign I recognize and knew there would be no more false summits. Two other guys crested at that same time. We were the only three up there, taking shelter in a nook on the east side of the summit.
|Mt Lafayette summit, wind inflating my pants and GTX shell|
I didn't particularly relish the thought of going back down the rutted post-holy way I came up, and loops are always more fun anyway, right? The two guys I met at the summit said a lot of traffic had been up Greenleaf Trail. I've hiked that several times, so I decided to take it back down, which also meant I'd have 3mi of paved bike path to walk back to my car.
|Looking up Greenleaf Trail just after passing two hikers heading up.|
It all looks the same up here, no landmarks to follow, just an occasional cairn if you're lucky.
|Looking into Franconia Notch from Eagle Pass right at cloud deck at 3000ft|
|Tree literally growing right out of slab of rock|
I left the microspikes on all the way to below 3000ft. That was a pretty slick, sloppy descent and the spikes helped control the sliding. The trail runners also went back on at Eagle Pass.
Overall a great hike. The mild temps over the previous 24hrs brought down all the snow in the trees, so it wasn't quite the winter wonderland experience I expected. 9700ft of climbing for the weekend, much of it on snow. I strive for 10,000ft per weekend. Sometimes that is tough to do on my working Friday weekends, but much easier to attain on my off-Friday weekends. It's not even November yet and it is starting to look a lot like winter.