I awoke on Saturday morning to find a dusting of snow on my car. I hadn’t been expecting this, especially with an early morning drive up to the White Mountains on the docket. The forecast hadn’t looked great for a hike, but that didn’t bother me. I had the time, and I wanted to get out and stretch my legs, feel some mountain terrain under my feet. There probably wouldn’t be any views, but that wasn’t what was on my mind.
|Only slightly snowy down low at the beginning of the hike.|
The drive was slower than usual, with dry snow billowing around on the road and fog sitting heavily above, but I arrived at the Garfield Ridge trail head only a few minutes late. Nancy was already there, the only car in the snow-coated parking lot. Gary was half an hour behind, but we left anyway, figuring he would catch up with us in no time, since both Nancy and I have been somewhat lethargic for most of the past month. We weren’t looking to hurry.
|And much more so near the top.|
As seems to happen every year, the warmer weather and lack of snow further south had fooled me into thinking that it wouldn’t be quite so wintery up north. Apparently, the snow had only arrived recently (I had even done my homework and checked recent trail conditions), so as Nancy and I set out through about four inches of super-powdery snow, I found myself giddy with excitement. It’s winter! We’re off to a good start! I’m going to go snowshoeing so much this season!
|This is the same view I’ve had four of five times on Garfield.|
Last year was dreadful for anyone who likes playing in the snow. After what seemed like a promising start, a 1-3 foot dumping of snow on Halloween, there was nothing for months. Even in the high elevations of the White Mountains, it was pretty dismal. Yvonne and I only made it up to the Whites for two weekend trips, which were very nice, but still didn’t seem like enough. That will hopefully change this year.
|Getting to the top with wind blasting in the face!|
Shuffling through the powder this time around, I felt very optimistic. In part, it was just the good feeling of hiking with friends whom I hadn’t seen enough of recently (it had been over a year since I’d seen Gary, my backpacking companion from the AT, NET, and much of my time in Vermont). But there was also the beauty of a freshly whitened forest, with thick clumps of snow still sticking to trees, and ice just beginning to form in the streams. Hiking in winter is a different beast from any other season, and I’d challenge even those who hate cold weather the most to say they don’t find the wintery woods magically gorgeous and peaceful.
|It’s hard to pose for a picture when you’re getting snow crystals whipped into your eyes.|
As expected, Gary caught up with us in about an hour, and we continued on to the summit of Mount Garfield– socked in with clouds, blasting wind, and generally inhospitable as expected. We stuck around only long enough to get some summit pictures, then headed back down, moseying casually down the trail, which was a much easier walk than I’d anticipated. We arrived back at the cars just as head lamps became necessary, and just in time to avoid the heavier snow that started falling later.
|A good way to have a birthday party.|
Usually, the first snowy hike of the season for me is fraught with miscalculations and poor judgment on which gear to bring, which sets me straight for the rest of the winter hiking season. Strangely, I didn’t have that so much this time. I could have worn heavier base layers, but otherwise I was toasty as could be in some mighty chilly weather. My GooseFeet down parka performed even better than I’d remembered as a warm layer for breaks, and my light layers for hiking kept me plenty warm while not letting me sweat quite as much as usual. My mittens, while accidentally mismatched, kept my often chilly fingers nice and toasty.
|Not much reason to stay up top for very long.|
The one part of my snow hiking clothing set up that constantly amazed me was my footwear. There was too little snow on the ground for me to break out my 40 Below neoprene overboots, so instead I went with just sneakers with sock liners, a vapor barrier bag, and heavier socks over that. The thought of trudging through snow all day in just sneakers augmented by a plastic bag may seem insane, but my feet were toasty warm through the whole day. I even dunked one foot in a half-frozen stream toward the end of the day, and though I could feel the cold water hit my toes, they were back to perfectly warm within a few minutes. I’d be curious to see how others fare with this setup, because before I tried it, I had frozen toes on practically every winter hike, so it seems almost miraculous to me.
|The view is just fine, as far as I’m concerned.|
If Saturday was any kind of omen, I’m looking forward to some epic snowshoeing this winter. I hope to see the rest of you out there, too!