By the time I wrote about the Steepest Climbs on the PCT and AT last week, I already had plans to hike across the Wildcat Ridge in the White Mountains. It just so happened that part of that trek is the steepest climb on the Appalachian Trail. Though I figured we would take the normal winter route of climbing the ski trails at Wildcat Resort, my partner for the day and I egged each other on to try the Lost Pond Trail, ascending over 2000 feet in less than a mile and a half of trail.
Though we got a late start (entirely my fault due to a few senior moments), Mike and I were soon trudging up the seemingly vertical climbs on the Lost Pond Trail, with ice axes at the ready and televators up on our MSR snowshoes. From several ledges on the way up, we could see the car down below at Pinkham Notch.
There was one set of footprints on the Lost Pond Trail, but it was clear that this was not the common route for hikers heading up Wildcat. While the ski trails are certainly not easy, they are a much safer alternative to the usually summer-only route. This being a snowy Monday, we saw no one on the trail until we popped out of the trees to the top of the ski resort’s chair lifts. Skiers and snowboarders skidded by, giving us baffled sidelong glances, as if wondering how we planned on getting down the slopes with such strange footwear and fairly large packs.
After Wildcat D, just beyond the ski patrol shack, the trail became a fairly straightforward ridge walk, with some short, steep descents and ascents. It was funny to notice that the first two miles of hiking took over two hours to finish, while the remaining six miles took just over three hours. Of course, the Ridge Trail wasn’t easy by normal standards, but after sweating up the climb from Pinkham Notch, almost any trail would seem easy in comparison.
With the mountaintops shrouded in clouds all day, and a light dusting of snow sprinkling around, there were few views to be had. I’ve always thought that the solid greys and whites of the cloudy, snowed-in peaks of New England in winter are about as beautiful as you could desire. Even though the snow was pretty sparse compared to usual for this time of year, the scenery was exactly what I had hoped for, and the physical exertion of a long hike burned off all the tension and stress from the previous weeks of work.
I haven’t been in the mountains nearly as much as I’d like this winter. The snow conditions haven’t been great, and there’s been plenty of work to keep me occupied in the meantime, but there’s no substitute for a good self-inflicted beating on a rugged mountain. Here’s hoping the conditions improve as does my scheduling.