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Bob finishes his winter 4’s—again March 15, 2009

Posted by Jenny in hiking, White Mountains.
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Victorious Bob on Mt. Eisenhower

Victorious Bob on Mt. Eisenhower

On January 5, 2008, Bob and I reached the summit of Mt. Monroe.  Hurray!—or so we said to ourselves at the time.  That was the 48th and final 4000 footer that we had climbed in winter, which is strictly defined by the AMC Four Thousand Footer Committee as the period between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  It wasn’t until last fall that we got around to sending in the paperwork in which you list each climb with the date and a few comments.

But we got back a regretful response saying that Bob’s climb of Eisenhower, which had occurred on December 21, 1997, did not qualify, since the solstice did not occur until 3:07 p.m. that day, and we had completed our hike by then.  Well, at least it’s nice to know that these things are taken seriously!  (I had already climbed Eisenhower in winter back in the pre-Bob era of my life.)

So all through this winter, I kept saying to Bob, “Hey, maybe we ought to go climb Eisenhower,” and then either the weather would be bad, or he would want to going XC skiing instead, or something…we planned it for President’s Day weekend, but he was recovering from a bad cold and I was getting the first twinges and sneezes that showed that the cold was soon to be mine.

So it all came down to this weekend.  The weather had to be decent…and it was!  We went up the Crawford Path past Mt. Pierce, and on to Eisenhower.  A beautiful sunny day, temps probably in the upper teens up on the ridge, winds in the 40 mph range.  We used face protection when heading into the wind, but much of the time we enjoyed the reflected warmth off the bright sunny snow.  Above treeline the conditions were a combination of thin snow and ice, and crampons were the weapon of choice.  Back into the realm of the mountain gods!

Looking toward Mt. Washington from Eisenhower

Looking toward Mt. Washington from Eisenhower

Work trip on Mt. Moriah December 20, 2008

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The mighty grub hoe

The mighty grub hoe

Bob and I maintain the 2.4-mile section of the Carter-Moriah trail running from Mt. Surprise to the summit of Moriah.  From notes jotted down the day after I went up:

September 22, 2008.  Third and final trip of the year.  Doing it solo on a weekday.

Bob and I did a lot of clipping on the first two trips.  This one will be all drainage work.  Stop at Camp Dodge, visit tool shed to pick up a grub hoe.  Spend a few minutes picking up different hoes and trying the find the one that feels the lightest that is also in good condition.  Pair of hand clippers—no loppers this time.

Arrive at trailhead in Gorham at 9:00.  Do the 2 miles to Mt. Surprise in 50 minutes.  Grub hoe always feels heavy.  Alternate between resting it on shoulder and carrying it in my hand.  Take my customary break at the ledges overlooking Pine Mountain, Madison, and the Presies.  Good visibility under a high cloud deck.  A wonderful place.  The ingredients: lowbush blueberry, sheep laurel, reindeer moss, black spruce mixed in with the red spruce.  Same stuff you see in the Mahoosucs.

Now the work begins.  See traces of dried-up clippings from earlier trips.  Reach first waterbar.  Scrape out a lot of vegetation.  Keep digging well down into the outflow ditch.

A few more waterbars before the serious ledges begin.  This is the challenge: getting up the steep ledges holding a grub hoe.  The stretch between 2500 and 3000 feet never seems easy.  More waterbars.  25 of them in all.  Take off daypack at the ones that require a lot of work.  It’s all simple physical forces.  Wearing daypack when doing heavy digging equals lower back distress.

One couple passes by, thank me for the work I’m doing.  People usually do.

Bog bridge at 3100 feet is a hopeless mess.  Have to balance on a loose log literally floating in a puddle.  Always mention this in my work report, but nothing ever happens.  AMC is shorthanded, I think.

Every time I go up this trail, it is visibly more eroded.  High precipitation this year has accelerated the process.  There is only so much you can do with waterbars when you have a lot of exposed ledge. Rainfall also meant a huge explosion of growth in young beeches, spruces, balsam firs.  That’s why we did so much clipping.

Reach summit at 12:30.  No one else there.  Slurp down my sandwich from the Irving at Wakefield on Rt. 16.  Fairly decent.  Standard worktrip fare is: Irving sandwich, bag of almonds or cashews, large calorific package of Pepperidge Farm chunky-style cookies.

The clouds are breaking up, taking interesting shapes.  In my day-after notes I see that I have written some writerly words:  “Threadlike drifting linear script of clouds, as if writing a message.  Shapes silently coalesce, break apart.  Some sort of illustration of the passage of time.”

Back down in 2.5 hours.  Always hard carrying grub hoe down the ledges.  I know the ledges by heart.  This is the “jumbled ledge,” this is the “ledge with one convenient foothold,” this is the “ledge where we got lost when we climbed Moriah in winter.”  And below Mt. Surprise is “broken tooth ledge,” where Bob fell in a light drizzle and knocked some teeth out with his grub hoe.

We are very lucky to have this trail section.

For information about volunteering to do trail work in the AMC  Adopt-a-Trail program: http://www.outdoors.org/conservation/trails/volunteer/adopt/index.cfm


The 26-hour winter hike (Part 3) November 28, 2008

Posted by Jenny in hiking, White Mountains.
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franconia-notch2The band of eight set off from the summit of West Bond, not retracing their steps along the spur trail but continuing west along the ridge, bushwhacking into deep, unconsolidated snow with no crust.  As Mohamed described it, “Progress was slow along the ridge, and remained slow after we dropped off its end, even though we were following a bearing which had led to an easy descent on a previous winter attempt.  After about five hours we had only lost about 500 vertical feet, were still in dense spruce, and appeared surrounded by spruce traps.”  And of those five hours, they had been bushwhacking in the dark with headlamps for about four.

For those who have never had the experience, a spruce trap is a good-sized pocket of air in deep snow formed by the wind patterns and drifting of snow around branches of scrub spruce or fir.  It looks solid on top, but as soon as the hapless snowshoer steps onto it, the thin snow layer on top collapses and the snowshoer falls into a deep pit, sometimes over head height.  It can be extremely hard to get out of, especially since the snowshoes themselves tend to get stuck against the edges of the pit.  The upper slopes of West Bond, being girdled with gnarly scrub, are perfect spruce trap territory.

So they decided to follow their deep tracks back to the top of West Bond and then take the trail back out.  It took them two and a half hours to get back to the summit, which they reached around 11:00.  They stopped for a rest at the Bond/West Bond col, and there decided to hike slowly out through the night rather than bivouac.  They were able to make cell phone contact with their spouses and friends.   And so they continued on through the night, stopping frequently to rest.  The last two members of the group made it out at 8:00 the next morning.

Mohamed’s account gives a full analysis of the decisions that were made and the lessons to be drawn.  To me, the most interesting question is whether it’s possibly to recognize quickly in winter conditions when it just doesn’t make sense to bushwhack.  I have done a  bit of winter bushwhacking myself.  One time in March 1995 Bob and I climbed Garfield by a bushwhack approach just for the fun of it, following a tributary of the North Branch of the Gale River.  That was certainly a nutty thing to do, since we could easily have followed trails the whole way, but we experienced a beautiful sparkling white stream valley that led us past frozen waterfalls and canyon walls cushioned with snow, a place where not many people have ever set foot.

Winter hikers, like Eskimos, know there are about a hundred kinds of snow.  And ice.  And combinations of the two.  I think the key lies in whether the snow is at all consolidated.  Was any of it heavy, wet snow that turned fairly solid, or is it all loose powdery stuff?  Is there a crust, and is it strong enough to support everyone on the hike? (It’s no good if one person can stay on top and the other breaks through with each step.)   Personally, I’m not sure I would ever choose to bushwhack in winter through the krummholz zone.  Too many spruce traps.  Bob and I had a taste of that one winter between North and South Twin when it became impossible to stay exactly on the trail through areas of windblown scrub.  But there’s a simple way to avoid the scrub on a winter bushwhack: either stay above treeline, or stay below about 3700 feet—just don’t try to connect the two zones!  (On the Garfield bushwhack, we hit the Garfield Ridge trail at 3900 feet on a sheltered slope that had no scrub at that elevation, and followed the trail the last half mile or so to the summit.)

Bob and I did go back and get the Bonds on March 11, 2006.  It took us about 15 hours.  We skied in as far as the Bondcliff trail junction.  The weather was good, but the wind did knock me off my feet twice as I cramponed across smooth ice between Bondcliff and Bond.  For me, the skiing back out was very difficult.  I was very tired by that point, and it was past sunset, and with my heavy pack my balance was poor and I fell down a lot.  But we made it.