Hikes don’t always go as planned, especially when you up the ante by trying something unusual. Moss and I set out last Tuesday to try something big, an off-trail hike in the White Mountains to a mountain with possibly outstanding views. We had plenty of things going against us– rusty navigation skills, a late start, poor snow conditions, too much time this winter spent on my duff. Still, we figured we had a decent shot at success.
|Too much open water for this time of season!|
On our way north to Crawford Notch, the heavy rains from the night before made for bad driving conditions and even worse scenery. True, the mountains peeking out from the mists made for some interesting sights, but the patchy snow covering on Cannon Mountain’s ski trails and the totally bare ground from Franconia Notch to Twin Mountain didn’t raise my spirits any. By the time we arrived at the Highland Center it was warm and damp outside. Trail conditions would clearly be pretty weak.
Sure enough, even on a trail that was densely packed by hundreds of snowshoe-clad feet over the past few months, the snow was soft and wet, rotting from underneath. We tried snowshoes and Microspikes, but neither was a great help– the snow seemed like the kind of nasty slush you get in late April, not January. The going was slow and exhausting. I guessed right away that we wouldn’t make it to our destination.
There were some highlights to the day, of course. Right as Moss was getting to the most embarrassing part of the story she’d been telling most of the way up Mount Tom, one of her friends who also works for the Appalachian Mountain Club strode up behind us. “I couldn’t help but overhearing your story,” he said, almost as bashful as Moss. Whoops. But for the rest of the walk to the Mount Tom Spur we had fine company and good conversation about the life with the AMC (all three of us had been caretakers or crew members at some point in the recent past).
Moss’s friend broke off to summit Mount Tom while Moss and I headed down the A-Z Trail, then eventually turned off into the woods to wander toward Whitewall Mountain. We were in as few layers as possible by this point, but still sweating more than I ever do in winter, with the temperature somewhere in the forties and the snow barely consolidated. I broke trail, making for slow going, but it was nice to feel like we were in the true wilderness.
|More open water. It looks frozen enough, but I plunged in plenty.|
My form of off-trail navigating in winter is a very rough and inaccurate method, but it works well enough for my purposes on most occasions. I chose Whitewall from the north for two reasons– first, the topo lines from the north are incredibly flat, so we wouldn’t have to go steeply uphill along with breaking trail. Second, between Whitewall’s peak and the peak just east of it is a small pond– I figured if we walked mostly with the contours in a southerly direction we would be funneled right to the pond.
The rough estimation of navigating worked well enough except for one problem. We turned off the A-Z Trail a little too early and ended up plowing through dense spruce forest before making it very far into the woods. After about an hour and a half of this, I finally turned on my GPS to see if it would be worth continuing or if we should turn back to get to the car before dark. As it turned out, we were due north of the unnamed peak east of Whitewall, rather than due north of Whitewall as we had planned. Oops again. We continued on for another half hour to see just how far we could go, but decided to turn back still about three quarters of a mile from our goal.
|Dreary and drab, but Crawford Notch is still pretty cool looking.|
The return trip was mighty quick, comparatively, and we managed to relax at the Highland Center for a few minutes before heading back south. Maybe next time there will be better snow, better conditions, and I’ll be a little more patient with the trail. Regardless, though, I really don’t mind not getting to where I’m planning on going. I had an adventure in the wilderness with good company. What more can you ask for?