Saturday, February 28, 2015

Stronger on Mount Jefferson

       I'm not known for making the best decisions... I'm kind of impulsive and live by the seat of my pants. Life is messy and I really don't mind it, most of the time and I usually end up on top. New England weather this week was playing with my already frayed emotions and I think I scrapped this trip 5 times before I actually said, "F it, I'm going up!" And I'm going up trying to shake a cold. So, off to the Cog Railway Base Station Isis and I went. We must have left around 4:30am (ish) to arrive and get on the trail by 7:30am. First car in the lot I recognized was Chris' Rhode Island Jeep, even under all that road salt! It's going to be a good day full of good people. More importantly, it was going to be a Presi day! 

       After getting everything settled and on my back, I carried my shoes to the start of the Jewel Trail just after the train tracks by the Rail Station. Isis knows that it's cold out and we shake it off knowing that as we move, we'll warm up. I was layered up to start but that soon became a case of layering down. The black balaclava came off making my hike a little more comfortable. The Jewel trail is in great shape and with my snowshoes on, I'm moving pretty quick. I don't want to move too quick though least I soak myself in sweat that will only make me cold above tree line. It's a delicate process to walk in winter. I take note that it's very quiet. I don't hear any wind (forecast was for 20/30 with gust to 50 mph) and temps as low as -40 with windchill. Yes, I was still taking a risk. But the sun was warm and as we climbed, I enjoyed the peace. 

        I seemed to be counting the steps to tree line and that was broken up by the first familiar hiker of the morning. Larry who I have run into a number of times was coming up behind. Always great to see him and joke around about how much we seem to run into one another. He had similar plans to mine with a few other peaks added on. I spoke about wanting Adams and he offered to pick me up at Appalachia if I chose. I told him I'd decide and let him know. We separated knowing that we'd run into one another again for the decision. Isis and I began ducking in and out of tree line and I began to get excited. There was still no wind and the sun felt deceptively good (it's still cold). We took a break at a sunny spot for some food.. Well, Isis got some food. I sucked down some gatorade. Hydration is key today and I don't seem to be hungry. Any time now, we'd be breaking tree line and I wondered what the trail would be like. 

          The views nearly knock me on my butt they are so vast today... I stand in awe of the world around me taking all in and smiling. In this environment, everything else melts away and you are only left with what is around you. The snow on the upper Jewel Trail is still good. It's very crusty and in places, you are just following very light tracks from the person in front of you (Larry?). I found myself laughing at Isis who was chasing the sparkles in the snow fields, looking for Cairns to follow, and trying to decipher the tracks in front of me. It takes such concentration some times. Isis was hilarious as the sun danced on the snow but it makes it tricky for me being leashed together. Lots of breaks to keep the trail in front of us. The snow sounds hollow too as I walk over it. I'm aware that one wrong move can send me into a spruce trap or worse. And we press on but as we do, Isis is distracted by a group coming up behind us. She loves to wait for people to catch up but I want her to keep moving. There are some tricky turns on the Jewel in this area because of the snow pack so, I really don't want to stop until the junction. Once there, I give her more snacks for the good job she's doing (it's not easy for a little dog today). As we are eating and drinking, the group behind us catch up. It's Mike L, Michelene, Jeb B, and Bill C. So nice to be in this company today with such seasoned hikers on the Northern Presi's. Great to finally meet some of these names I've only seen on line. Everyone is heading to Jefferson and before Isis can get too comfortable curling up, we are off down the Gulfside Trail. 

          It's just a beautiful day on so many levels and Gulfside is kind today since it's well packed with snow (less rocks). The winds are picking up but Isis and I are making good time. There is still a long trail ahead of us but I'm not worried. I never really worry up here it seems. As we re coming down  the trail, on our way to the Sphinx Col, I see another soul approaching. I knew I had plenty of people up here and I immediately recognized this guy... Chris D was coming our way with a  big smile. The same smile we all wore today because it's a Presi Day! We are all kids in the candy store today and he's so happy to see Isis. Sorry he was not accompanied by his girlfriend Tip Toe. It would have been great to meet her and I'm sure Isis would have loved it too. He gave us word that around the Sphinx Col, the wind picks up and with that, he's off since we both need to keep moving to stay warm. He was not kidding, the buff came up and over the nose even before the Col. It was windy but not unbearable and the trail, while bare in spots, and icy in others, was easy to travel. I paced myself with Isis and we just took our time. Using rocks for cover and wind breaks. The views of the Northern Presi's were equally breathtaking and I again stood in awe of the power around me. Sometimes you just have to stop and catch your breath. Not from the wind but from the views!

        Final approach to the summit proves difficult with Isis and the wind. She's not a fan of winds that howl and seems to stop on the way up the summit cone. We running Larry on the approach and I let him know that it's just Jefferson today. I coax Isis up and also try and maintain my balance as it's rocky and I'm in snowshoes. This can be an awkward walk to take but I was not interested in interchanging my foot wear today. As we get to the large cairn and the junction where the true summit is, the wind just dies and I breath out... Finally. The usual rock hop approach to the summit is not needed due to snow pack. We trade the calm winds though for gusts on top. I try to set up my tripod but I can't get it right. Thankfully Jeb's group is coming up and we get our summit shot. It's a small summit so we head back to the calm and have something to eat while others take in the view. I actually eat something this time and feel a lot better. Great to talk briefly with everyone up there but we are heading back to avoid getting too cold. It's a long walk back to the junction of the Jewel trail. a long windy walk as the wind is in our face. This is not so fun but it does not dampen my spirit. It energizes me.

          The high winds have carved many designs in the snow pack and as we slowly make our way back to the junction, I layer up and tuck my frozen hair away in my black balaclava, happy to have it out of my face. Knowing that once we are truly heading down it will go quick, I take in the views. Isis and I climb back the the junction and I briefly think I missed it as I kept my head down in the wind. But, I forgot that we climb a good distance over the Jewel trail before we turn on it. As we head down, the Jewel is choppy with boot prints and melt. It's softer than in the morning and I am careful because spruce traps are evident on the sides. I glissade a little but I manage to stay upright for most of the upper Jewel Trail. It seems so different from the climb up this morning. We are the only ones coming down and carefully, I step back into the shelter of the trees and the trail firms up again. Surrounded by snow covered branches, Isis and I walk quickly down the trail. There is little hampering our descent so, it goes by very quickly and we find ourselves hitting the lower bridges ease. Even quicker than that, we are back at Base Station in no time and I release my feet from the snow shoes. Walking back to the car in the hiker lot, we see exactly what the call of a Presi Day does.... The lot is over flowing!

        Today, I like to think that I made a good decision to get myself moving again. It's been a less than stellar February as I dealt with snow, cold, and because of that, only two counted peaks. In a world that moves too fast and doesn't really fit my ideal situation, I struggled to keep my head about me and let a lot get the better of me. I'd like to say some changes are in the future, but I am unsure at this point and the one thing that keeps me going, is the mountains. Without them, I may not leave my house so, that is why I push myself to reach these insane goals. Today, the weather was finally on my side and I think prayers were answered because even though I was fighting a cold, I was fighting more with myself and the trails brought a sense of calm to me. I could think straight and really appreciate the place that I am in. Every winter hike makes me stronger and as a solo female four season hiker, this is a powerful feeling. You walk taller and even as the world spins madly on, you do not let it bring you down. You rise above the clouds to walk in some pretty amazing places (some people only dream to go here). Two winter peaks to go and then it's time to focus on my Long Trail Thru hike!

      You can help me get my Thru Hike sponsored! Follow this link to read my story: Rachel and Isis Hike the Long Trail 2015! Give me a vote at the bottom of the page. 

Thank you! 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Tecumseh For the WIN!

     Tecumseh may be tiny. It may be the smallest of the 4K peaks but it is still worthy of Presidential respect. It is still just a fierce and mighty peak in my mind. I have to say that these past two weeks above and below 4K have not been kind to me. Things move too fast and I get anxious as well as maybe a little depressed. I have not made a summit for a while either and that really kind of frustrates me. So, I set myself up for a win... Tecumseh is a quick hike and since I am expecting yet another front to move some snow through, I figured this would be good for today. I could make it home before the snow flies since it's not the hike in the snow I dislike but the drive home in the snow that gets me worried. So, Isis and I get on the road around 5am. Early for this peak but I also wanted to beat the crowds at Waterville Valley ski resort where the trail head is. We were underway on the Mt. Tecumseh trail after viewing the beautiful sunrise at 7am. It's cold... in the negatives cold. 

      The first water crossing is a little open but not really flowing. We rock step it just fine. After this, I put my snowshoes on even though the trail is packed out nicely down here. We begin our climb to the summit and wind our way over a decent trail. I'm reminded of the rocks that lay under the snow with each step. I don't really miss them. I'm anticipating the steep trail by the ski slope to see how smooth it is from sledding. As Isis and I walk, I can hear myself think because it is still early. It's quiet and we are so  far the only souls out here. Today feels like a good day to reach a summit and as we walk, my thoughts drift in and out from past to present to future. I'm smiling and happy here. 

           Isis and I reach the last water crossing which is bridged and push to the first outlook to the ski slopes. Another beautiful view of the Tripyramids and I am reminded that I need to get back there too. Time enough for everything now... I'm no longer trying to rush this journey but rather enjoy each step. After a quick food break, we begin our climb to the summit ridge. This is a straight shot that follows the ski slopes on the Mt. Tecumseh trail and as I thought, it's pretty smooth. With the traction on my Tubbs VRT 24's, I am all set though. It's better than any crampon/microspike I own. Isis has fun dipping into he soft snow on the sides of the trail looking for mice and other small rodents. To my surprise, the grade of the trail is not that bad. No televators needed (yet) and I'm not breaking too much. I am however, taking it slow. No need to kill myself here by running up the trail. Slow deliberate steps are good. I can hear the sounds of the ski resort just through the trees. Things are cranking up for the days skiing.

      Isis and I actually run into the boot prints we have been following. A young redheaded and bearded hiker is on his way down and had excited Isis. She loves her people. We are informed that it's drifted a bit up top so, I am happy I have my shoes on. It's still very cold so, the interchange is quick but not before we are passed by a guy skinning up to the turn for the ski slopes. We are on our way following him up and keeping a safe distance. I seem to be looking for the last push to the ridge and notice that with each rise, I am given a false sense of reality. I can't seem to recall the landmarks for the final push. So, we keep walking and I'm softly singing to the trees. It's such an enjoyable mellow day out there. Isis is having fun and the trail is manageable. I'm going to make it! The sky is blue right now too which means we will have a view once we arrive at the summit.

      Finally reaching the final push and I put my televators up on my shoes. This just takes the pressure off my legs as I climb the vertical trail. Again, careful deliberate steps and we crest to the ridge. I'm so happy for this and put my televators back down to relax my legs. Isis is ready to move as I am ready to catch my breath. The next landmark I am looking for is the summit directions sign. I always go left. First though, as we cross the ridge, I encounter the drifting. It's deep in some places and in others, it's wind swept making the trail firm. Isis powers through the powder and we reach the sign... Like I said, I always go left. Usually a rocky section, it's all filled in right now. The trail is thin in places with barely room for a snowshoe step. I hold on to trees and we climb just a little. The wind is picking up and the temps are dropping because of this. The trail alternates between packed and unpacked powder. Hopefully more snowshoes will pack it down today. A few more feet and we reach the summit to blue skies and views for miles. 

        Even though it's getting cold, Isis and I enjoy the quiet of the summit to ourselves and have something to eat. We take our photo op and then try as I might, she will not look at me for hers. She never looks at me when I have the camera out. Ever. I think it's her game with me and secretly she is laughing. Today on the summit, I sampled some of the best Gluten Free home made beef jerky (Chinese 5 spice teriyaki) that I made myself. Having recently purchased a food dehydrator, this was the first attempt... WIN! It tastes so good but I know that we need to get moving... It's cold up here today and I can feel the chill setting in to my smiling face. We begin our descent and quickly start running into others that are coming up. Very nice people on the trails today and great to meet everyone. Some were out with the same idea I had of getting a hike in and beating the storm and others were on their first hike... Ever. Welcome to the sport. It's a wonderful place to be and a fabulous journey. Isis and I again stop to watch the skier's coming downtime slopes by the outlook. We made very quick time heading down which is always the case. With the trail in such good shape, it's easy to just cruise down. And I managed to stay on my feet as I relied on my shoe tails to help me remain anchored. On the lower trails, we pass along information of the drifting to hikers coming up. Some are very receptive and others are not so interested. It's always funny the reactions I get but really, the information might do someone some good. I can hear the music from the ski resort and I know my day is coming to an end. It's a little off putting but then again, I had a full day of next to no sounds that were not natural so I am still really happy. Back at the trail head, we speak with another hiker about our adventures. He's impressed with them and also that we are coordinated in purple. I'm sure that we will run into him again as the seasons progress. Today took a total of 4 hours for 5 miles (2.5 hours up and 1.5 hours down) which for me is not bad at all. Always good to keep my feet under me and I was so thankful for the trip today. It felt good to summit!

      I'm still hopeful for a Winter finish this year. A few weeks left of this season and 3 peaks to go. I am hoping that a more favorable weather pattern emerges from the constant snow we have been having soon. I plan hikes as I move through my week which pretty much has me glued to checking the weather for temp, snow, and wind speed right now. This gives me something to look forward to as I am working in a crazy fast paced and often times confusing environment. I hold mixed emotions about my days but I always look forward to my nightly planning sessions. And there is something else I am planning for... It's official that I will attempt the Long Trail this summer (I'm hopeful for the time off). Three weeks on the trails with Isis and I am very excited for this. A new challenge is just what I have been craving as I continue to move through my Grid. I think the break will also give me new perspective on the Grid as well. In an effort to help me plan, I have also entered a contest to have my trip sponsored. Due me a favor, and click on the link below. Read my story and then give me a thumbs up to tell them to sponsor me. There will be another round of voting if I make it to the finals so... Stay tuned. Life is about to get exciting. Thanks!

First phase of voting to get into the top 10 ends April 15 so keep giving me the thumbs up. Thank you for your help!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

So Many Twists and Turns and Coming out Strong on an Attempt of Mount Hale

      New England seems to be in the middle of the most active weather pattern I have ever experienced since I started winter hiking in 2012. My week started by seeing a window of opportunity to maybe get another Presi in... I was thinking Adams for a big boost to my mood. By Thursday, I was planning on Zealand/West Bond which would rearrange my winter finish but at the same time would keep me on track. I really wanted another from my list to try and I was holding on to big plans since I really needed the time out in the woods. Summit or not, I was going and I was trying to beat another blizzard to boot. On a side note, my yard and my psyche cannot really handle any more snow... I need a less active weather pattern soon. 

        OK, so when I woke up, it was -2* at my house in Southern New Hampshire. Maybe just Hale but I'll take Zealand Rd incase I am feeling good and want to walk to full way to get Zealand and West Bond. Isis and I are off and the skies are clear at this early point in the morning. I pull into the winter lot for Zealand Rd and begin to get Isis and myself ready. I step outside and the temps feel bearable so, maybe there is hope? There is always hope... I carry my shoes to put on at the start of the road. We walk the snowmobile trail instead of 302 to keep us off the cold tar. It's well groomed so, it's easy to walk. I put on my shoes and we are off up the hill. My hair is frozen within the first 10 minutes. But I am reluctant to layer up because I know I'll over heat. The good thing is that Zealand road is well packed by cross country ski traffic. It's the preferred way to get to the Zealand Hut and sleds pack a path very well. I'm very happy out here today and the sun even makes an appearance... Briefly as the snow has been flying since I got out of the car. 

           The road walk is always peaceful and quiet. I can hear the howl of the wind and as I walk, I am aware that my hands are cold but my core is very warm. Isis and I press on except now we are going to Hale Brook. That's a 2.5 mile walk from the start of the road and as I pass my landmarks, I see the trailhead approaching. Isis and I have walked the 2.5 in an hour and that to me is worth everything. Usually, I am slower in winter. I feel strong. Isis gets a quick refuel and we head off down the Hale Brook Trail. It's 2.2 to the summit from here and I'm thinking that this might be a possible day after all. The Hale Brook Trail is well packed still and the snow falling is very fine. It stings my face in the cold but it's not accumulating fast. Again... Hopeful. There is always hope.

       I'm aware now that I am slowing down which is typical on any ascent that I make. I'm not OK with this today as it is cold and I am up against a blizzard. As Isis and I press on up the Hale Brook trail, I am aware that my toes are tingling now and my hands are a little cold but again, my core is fine. I think that movement will help so, we keep going and the inclines are apparent. I'm working my toes really well so my shoes will grip the trail. The good thing is that my Tubbs Flex VTR 24's are fantastic at this and almost too aggressive for today. We cross the water crossings and I really don't even notice them because there is so much snow. What I am aware of is that the snow is becoming less consolidated and more work is being put into going up. I have to make the road trip out in the end. Can I do this? Can I summit? I keep pressing and I hear the winds and feel the lack of temps. Isis and I make it to about 3000Ft and I stop in a sheltered area of trail. It's so cold and while I am unaware of how the upper trail is in reality, I also know that I'm the only one out here and if I were to get in trouble, there is no cell service. It really doesn't kill me to turn back. I can look at a hike in a number of different ways now. I know that it's starting to not be worth it for me to keep going and why fight it out? I could be saving myself a lot of grief by not having to drive home in the storm. Isis and I turn back. It's time to go home and wait out the next rounds of snow.

       At this point, the way down is much quicker and I manage to stay upright for a lot of the loss in elevation. It is to cold to butt sled today. Back at the trail head in no time, and we begin the 2.5 out to the road. It's quiet to begin with and since it's still morning, I'm thinking that the hut crowd will be making the trek out soon. Although who would be heading out to be there in a blizzard and good luck getting out again... The first group we run into is three guys who absolutely ohhh and ahhh over Isis and each one gives her a good amount of attention. Maybe the dog things works in reverse too? Oh yeah, it's Valentines day and 3 guys are solo out to an AMC hut... This surprised me for some reason. They were great to talk to briefly as we all seemed to want to keep moving in this cold. I wished them a safe and warm night. As Isis and I continued on the road is getting closer and I'm making the same great time out as I did coming in. At the bottom of the first hill (right by the entrance), I am stopped by a group of three. "Is this the easy way to the hut?"I think they are joking but I answer with; "You've got about 4 miles to the trail head and another 3 or so to the hut. It's not easy but it is well packed down." They just looked blankly and one said "I just want to make sure we are on the right track."I worry about this for some reason but I don't lecture. I'm almost home and it's been a good day. One of the guys in the group asks about Isis and then it happens... "I hope you named her..." I cut him off with "And now, I'm leaving." Seriously people, let it go. Who in their right mind would name a dog after THAT??? Isis and I happily land back at the snowmobile track and I take my shoes off to carry out. There are plenty of people heading to the hut tonight... Most don't talk because they are bundled up to the hilt. One gentleman made the comment... "Those are some serious snowshoes." As I walk by I tell  him, "Yes they are." He could not see it because I covered my face but I was smiling.

        I'm a strong hiker even if I don't feel it sometimes. I carry these feeling with me at sea level too even if I'm feeling drained and low, I know that the weekend is coming when I can feel strong again. It's funny but the last winter trek to Hale, it was just after New Years and I was avoiding someone. Today, on Valentines Day, I was again avoiding something in a sense. But what I found was a new found love of myself. I'm a strong woman who can get through just about anything. I am blessed with a handful of close friend and a great family. Let's not forget that I have had my heart stolen by the best trail dog for me. I am endlessly lucky. A summit is great but sometimes the lessons learned are way more powerful. I can take this hike and know that this summer on the Long Trail, I should be just fine. My pace is strong because I am strong. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

From Mount Tom to Mount Willard

         Observation, Evaluations, re-evaluation, and ultimately flexibility all come into play when I hike. I intended on hiking Tom, Field, and Willey today for a nice loop and a good start to February. Weather first dictated that this be the choice over my remaining three winter peaks. I'm just not that crazy about high winds and bitter cold above tree line. So, after a whirlwind day in Maine on Thursday and two recovery days, I decided that Sunday I'd shoot up and hit this loop prior to the Super Bowl (making sure I had nacho's to make for after the hike). The alarm goes off and it's so tempting to roll over. With both Isis and Roxie cat on the bed and my flannel sheets, I am in a toasty cocoon BUT, I get up and get ready. After a fruitless search for my buff (to protect my face), Isis and I hit the road. Southern parts of the state are clear sailing to the mountains and then I hit Franconia Notch... Grey, spitting little ice pellets and snow, WINDY, and cold. I'm thinking that I might turn back and grab one of those expensive Dunkin' coffee's in Lincoln NH, that I sometimes drive all the way up North for. I press through and much like life on Franconia Ridge, as I pull into the Highland Center, blue skies are breaking out. I take a bathroom break at the main lodge and feel the bitter winds. I think, maybe just Tom and Field again for the day. I vow to evaluate as I go. I get myself and Isis ready for the cold temps and we head out to the trail behind the Crawford Depot. 

        It's shaping up to be a really pretty day as we make our way across the field through some pretty deep drifts. I am wondering about the trail and once we get to the start of the Avalon Trail, I am surprised by how well it is broken out. This seems to be a positive thing for us as I continue to evaluate. I've been tired lately so, I am feeling sluggish and as if I am constantly going up hill (the most difficult part of the hike for me). Isis is doing great and seems very happy to be back on the trails again. I can feel the cold on my face and as we climb, I think about the day. Maybe just Tom and Field? Maybe just Tom? Let's see how the junction is? The first water crossing is bridged nicely and you'd never know that you were walking on open water. My snowshoes are doing a great job of grabbing into the well packed Avalon Trail. Isis and I make it to my favorite water crossing in The Whites in about a half hour from the time we started. I again think that this might pan out. We stop for a quick bite and some water... My line is frozen so in the coat it goes. My pack feels full but not uncomfortable on my back. I think that we may at least make it to Tom. I'm looking forward to taking my pack off at the spur like I always do. I'm also looking forward to the Grey Jay's considering I have granola today. 

         As Isis and I continue, I first notice that she is lifting her right front paw up and not putting it down. This is not good. I stop and look for any signs of a cut. She's just cold so I keep her moving. She then starts kicking out her back left leg. It's quite a dance she is doing down the trail and I'm contemplating booties that I have in my pack. As we keep walking, she settles a little and I get lost in my thoughts (which is exactly why I wanted to be out here today to begin with). Isis and I hit the last incline to the junction and then stop to have another snack and to catch my breath. The trail up to this point has been good. I look up the Avalon trail and it's blown in. This could be an interesting descend, is all I am thinking. I suddenly realize that I am cold. If I am cold then Isis is cold too. We try and get moving. my mind freezes and I think about the Willey Range Trail. What if it's not broken out? I seem to be the only out today. I can't do this on my own. Isis is not a trail breaking dog. I start down the A to Z trail but I stop. I stand there and I think. Isis is lifting her paws and I start to head back. Wait, let's try and get to Tom. We begin heading back down the A to Z trail. No, I don't want to get stuck in a turn back situation up high. The wind is howling and it's cold. Isis and I head back the way we came. Out the 1.3 miles that we just walked in. 

           Back close to my favorite water crossing, Isis and I run into a group of 5 gentlemen on their way up. I gave them my observations as Isis got some love. I believe I may have persuaded them to go by way of Mt. Tom rather than up the Avalon Trail due to it's lack of being broken out. We wished each other well and safe travels. Once across my favorite water crossing, I decided that I was not ready to go home yet. I made the choice to head up Mt. Willard. It was also at this point that I discovered that I can run in my snowshoes. Isis is thrilled at the chance to open up and run down the trail with me and I laugh. Suddenly, I don't care about lists or redlines anymore. What I did care about was just having a good day on the trails. Given the heavy feeling I have had lately, I just want to be outside where I feel better. I had never been up Mount Willard and since I was not ready to go home yet, this was perfect for us. Provided both Isis and myself can remain warm enough, we were on our way. The Mt. Willard trail is also well broken out. Having never taken this trail before, I do not know what to expect. Knowing that it's a shorter peak, I was expecting an easier climb. It was to start with and then the incline did kick in again and I slowed down a bit as I usually do. I rested when I needed to and Isis seemed to want to keep moving. It's always a balance with me and her. I'm a fast hiker that takes a lot of little breaks to get to the top and she just wants to go. I'm enjoying this new trail for myself and once again getting lost in thoughts. 

               Isis and I quickly begin running into others that seem to have the same idea. One old timer who we stopped to chat with seemed to be trying to piece together where he's heard Isis' name before. I did my best to steer him from the popular choice by saying "Like the goddess... The EGYPTIAN Goddess Isis". He asked the spelling "I S I S like the goddess. Exactly like the GODESS". Thankfully, he didn't get to make that other connection I am not fond of hearing. My dog is not a terrorist. He gave up and let us pass and we caught up to the next group shortly after that. A big black dog came bounding down and then his owner called him back. It's Notch who is owned by Olivia. Another hiker that we've known about but never met until today. They hike ahead of us for a while and then let us pass as they break. Notch and Isis get to say hello and we continue up the trial. We then meet up with Cecilia from Vermont as we get closer to the summit. She lets us pass as well. The trail reminds me of the trail to Old Speck in Maine towards the top of the summit. I'm really enjoying my choice of substitutions. I see the opening to the summit ahead of me. 

      This trail opens up to a great view of the Notch with mountains all around us and the road below us. We are quickly joined by the other hikers who let us pass and Notch. I am determined to let Isis be herself and to in a sense fend for herself. She's got to learn to get along with other dogs if she's ever going to come to work with me and also become a therapy dog. So, she meets Notch and after some initial squabble, they... PLAY. I stand there and watch my little dog full on play with this big black lab and she has a great time. I'm blown away by how happy she is. Olivia, Notch's owner is nice enough to let it happen and I can only stand there and smile as well as almost cry. I have wanted this for her for so long. This was so worth the change in plans. The views go on for miles and the sun feels warm and cold at the same time. Everyone is laughing and having a great time on the summit. We are even joined by another black dog... Junior who has a great time with Notch. He's older and pays no mind to Isis. It does start to get very cold though and soon it's time to head back down. 

       Again, as we head down, it goes very quickly considering how short the peak is. On the flatter trails, I am able to run with Isis and my snowshoes which could mean a whole new twist for flat trails and myself. Isis and I are back to the car in no time at all it seems and I again postpone heading down south by taking the long way through North Conway. I change and we are on our way again. Another week of hiking is done and already thinking of the next weekend. Without a doubt, I am hoping to be back to the Presidents and back to my winter peaks. I'll be watching the weather too as another winter storm moves in for the over night and into Monday. My fingers are crossed that we settle into a calmer pattern and the trails get broken out by the time Saturday rolls around. Remaining flexible as I observe, evaluate, and re-evaluate my options will define my choices as I also wait and see what life has to throw in as well. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Surreal Beauty and Perfection on Monroe

"Load the car and write the note
Grab your bag and grab your coat
Tell the ones who need to know
We are heading North."
Avett Brother's
I and Love and You

        Sometimes, things are just perfect... The music on the way up to Base Station Road really set the mood... Dead, Dave Mathews, Avett Brothers were all much appreciated. It brought a certain calmness to my mind. Isis and I arrived at Base Station Road in good time. The sun was just coming up after negotiating the snow and ice covered road. At the base of the cog railway, we parked in the hiker lot and got ready. First I got Isis "dressed" and then I got myself suited up with my boots and my coat. I attached my snowshoes to my new Deuter ACT Trail 32 pack that I picked up at EMS recently. I had my spikes on the pack as well but I didn't use them. We got underway at 7:50am. The trailhead was up a little ways but not a bad walk past the Cog station and over behind the cabins. Isis and I got underway with about an inch of new snow on the trail but not enough to cause me to change my foot wear. At least not initially. Isis and I were stopped by another hiker for a quick chat and I also decided then to put on my shoes. I was going to wait until the Jem pool however, I figured I'd save myself the pack weight. The trail up to the Gem pool is decent with a mild elevation gain to it. Nothing like we'd experience once we got to the base of the pool at 8:55am. 

        Isis and I took a break at the Gem Pool for some food and a chance to catch my breathe. The next section would prove to be a work out considering this is where the bulk of the elevation gain is. I immediately put up the televators on my snowshoes to lessen the strain my calfs would suffer and we got underway at 9:06am. I anticipated some issues with Isis as she likes to play with snowballs and given the steepness of the trail, I tried to limit breaks to flat areas that would not kick up snow. My mind was on the return trip and how we would get back down. But my thoughts were not so clouded that I did not enjoy the views or remember certain areas from the last time I was on this trail in winter. I like the Ammo trail. I just knew that it would be a challenge today. Maybe it was the perfect challenge I needed to push me on? Determined to just take my time and hike today. It didn't matter if I caught up to anyone on the trail. And if anyone caught up to us, they could pass. 

       As Isis and I broke tree line just below the hut, things began getting interesting. The post holes took over the trail and it became very difficult to get even footing. Remembering my experiences the last time I was on this trail, I knew stepping too far off would send me up to my waist in spruce traps. So, I had to deal with the post holes. Isis was not too crazy about it either. But I was very proud of her for getting up the steep sections. I needed to take a few more breaks and catch my breath as well as rest my legs. My shoes were even having a hard time getting a purchase on the snow due to depth. None the less, the landscape was no less than beautiful and I was reminded of how I liked this range so much better in winter. Even for the harsh conditions, it's just beautiful when snow covered. I was humbled and in awe of my surroundings as George poked into view and then I saw the hut. 

    Once we crossed the ice field behind the hut, we came around the side and climbed up on the roof at 10:34am. The view was impressive for a grey day. The landscape was surreal. We looked to our destination and began our ascent first on the Crawford Path which we basically forged our own way towards a sign post for the summit spur. The snow was hard packed and crusty so it was easy to travel. Once we arrived at the summit spur, I began my ascent with Isis in tow. Another steep section and I just hoped that it would be smooth. I follow the rock path for a bit and then followed the snow field. Arriving close to the top of the first false summit, I needed to use my hands and let momentum for Isis help me up with a little boost from my capable hands too. Once standing again, we navigated some sparsely covered rocks and my snowshoes made an awful racket. Isis spied two others that were down at the hut and I reassured her that they would catch up. Again, making our way over to the official summit, I claimed my #45 Winter peak at 11:08am and Isis claimed one for her list as well. The wind was low and while it was cold, I was not in a rush to get down. I leaned my pole with my camera on a rock since it would not stand on it's own (not enough snow to grab) and we got our summit photo. 

      As we made our descent, the two gentlemen caught up to us and as it turns out they recognized both myself and Isis from my postings. Great to talk to Brewster on the false summit and always nice to hear that people are following the adventure. They were on their way to Franklin for the Trail Wrights list. As Isis and I made our way back down, I could not see the tracks and ended up bushwhacking across the summit taking an easier grade down so I could stay upright. We rejoined the lower trail at the rocks and I stumbled a bit but remained on my feet. Once we were on flatter ground, we again made our own trail on the Crawford path back to the hut. The snow was crusty and appeared to ripple from the winds that have blown up that high. We took another break at the hut for food and some fun on the roof. I could not get over how peaceful it was up there today considering the lack of wind. It was hard for me to believe that the snow was flying down home. At 11:35am, we began our descent back into the trees. 

         I knew that this would be a quick descent with the majority of it being spent on my butt. Not on purpose but because the momentum just carried me that way. No sooner than we cleared the ice field then it happened. Safe to say that some of those postholes got flattened out a little more too. It was not too hard to control my speed but I knew that steeper sections where coming. Once heading down, it was nice to run into Kim who we had run into on Pierce a few weeks back. We didn't chat long due to conditions and time but nice to chat none the less. It was pretty much an up and down descent in terms of if I found myself on my butt, I was going to slide until I stopped and could stand again. Another group was coming up and I waited as I knew I would just end up sliding down the section they were on so, to avoid hitting them, I had to wait. Isis and I were back to the trees in no time and with one final push, we were back at the Gem Pool. Another break to readjust things that had shifted in the sliding. Isis got some food and we got ready for our exit. It was not long at all that I found myself poking out at the start of the trail and wishing that maybe my descent didn't go so quickly. How can it be that I was already back at the car? It's only 1pm and I have a lot of hike in me still. Hard to believe that a hike like this would take such a short amount of time now considering, it would be a day long event if I was still at the beginning of this journey...

     It was great to meet and talk with so many people today and I feel again that peace in my life after making such a trip above tree line. Putting aside lists, goals, and other stats, today's hike proved that I can face challenges and over come them. The Ammo trail is nothing to take lightly given the steepness and today was no walk in the woods. It was work and work that I gladly took on. It's in my blood now. This is my way of life and I am thrilled to see where it takes me. I cannot wait for my remaining three peaks for Winter. The big boys are lining up: Jefferson, Adam's, and West Bond. Now is the time for feeling proud of my journey and how far I have come as I look forward to the new challenges that lay ahead for me. If you are looking for me, I'm probably up high looking out on the world and smiling. I'll see you out there!