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Winter on Zealand... When it All Comes Together.

                This morning, the winter season almost came to a screeching holt as I debated going back to bed. Time changes are rough on a hiker and today, I lost an hour somewhere in the mix.  After an intense argument in my head, I came to the conclusion that it was better than staying at home with the ghosts so, off to the mountains I went again. Isis and I packed up and hit the road a little later than we had planned but we were on our way. Zealand and West Bond were hopeful for the day, the deciding factor, an additional 3.5 mile road walk. Parking the car in the winter lot, Isis and I prepared to walk 302 to the Zealand Campground at about 7:30am. The road walk was really not that bad and I always seem to enjoy them as they usually are mostly flat and I can warm up my legs. After yesterday’s tight calf, I’d almost say it was welcome and Isis gets to roam a little too. The road which is not plowed, it very well packed out so, there is no need to pack in the snow shoes I left in the car (I wanted to save the weight for this long day).  I enjoy the almost instantaneous silence as we get deeper into the camp ground on our way to the trail head. There is nothing but the birds singing and I can feel the peace of the day. The trees are glittering in the return of the cold temps and it catches my eye as well as some flakes that are falling and reminding me of someone throwing a fist full of glitter in the wind. I have forgotten all about yesterday.

                Isis and I make it to the trail head in an hour and a half. We take a break and Isis gets her coat put on. I remember to eat something and feed her as well. We are ready for the 2.8 miles to the hut. To my surprise, the trail is a lot easier than the last time I was here. Snow pack will change a trail for the better and today, the conditions are near perfect. The trail is packed out and able to be booted with light traction. I am pleased that it was the right choice to leave the snow shoes behind. The trail is enjoyable today and we begin catching up with people around the bridge. The first group had an empty half keg strapped to their pack and I made the comment that it must have been a great night. The second group was 3 skiers heading to the hut and they were astounded at the amount that Isis and I had hiked. Smiling, we arrived at the .2 miles of vertical gain to the hut. Again, the snow pack made this very easy and even though we stopped a few times, I felt good once I got to the hut (10:30am arrival) and I was feeling strong today regardless of the amount of sleep I got.

                Isis and I sat on the porch and took in the view and chatted with the people that were staying there as well as Cameron the care taker. We again had something to eat and snapped a few pictures. I could have stayed on that porch all afternoon. Isis and I took off for the summit at 11am. The Zealand trail continues to be well packed and the monorail stable. All water crossings are solid and Isis and I slowly make our way up to Zeacliff. I remind myself that I don’t need to race today and that if we can’t get West Bond, it will be OK. So, I am OK with stopping to catch my breath, except I’m not stopping as much and just taking it slow and steady on the ascend. There is no sense of rush. I am just out for a walk in the woods. The winds are blowing through the trees and while I am bundled up along with Isis, it feels like a great day. We have little issue making it to Zeacliff  at 11:45am. The view is breath taking and Isis and I take it in and try and capture it in pictures. The winds seem light at this point and yet I hear them howling above us. We are on our way to the summit shortly before noon.

                The Twin Way is a favorite of mine and this area is great for views of peaks all around as you walk. The blue of the sky is made bluer by the snow on the trail which is beyond white. The sun is out and it’s just a great day on the trails. There is some drifting as Isis and I make our way to the summit. Again, there is no need for snowshoes as the drifting is minor on the solidly packed trail. I am able to stay above the snow and only sink by stepping accidently to the side of the trail to fall into the softer sections. Isis handles the ladder again like it was not even there and we continue to walk and enjoy the surroundings. It does seem to take a lot longer to get to the summit and at one point, I did think that I missed the spur. However, we soon came to it and it too was packed out nicely. We arrived at the summit sign at 1230pm. I propped my camera on a tree branch and set the timer because the other great thing about today is that we seem to be the only ones up here. The trail and the summit are ours to enjoy in solitude (which maybe I needed). It had been a long journey to get to this very point and I was proud of not only myself, I was once again proud of Isis. Where she goes, I go and that has brought her to some amazing places. I am in awe of this little dog constantly.

                We begin our descend and it’s moving quickly as it always does. It’s just easier for me to manage and I am quicker.  An amazing thing happened somewhere in the Twin Way, I took all my lists and pressures and tossed them like papers into the air and just kept walking. I was happy to just be there in the moment where yesterday, I was agonizing over how I was going to get my winter list of 48 completed. I just want to hike, was what I said. I want to hike and ‘accidentally’ realize that I am half way to a grid. I just want to hike and take the pressure off of myself. I put it there so, somewhere on the Twin Way, I removed it and declared my winter bid over… I would still hike the planned peaks. I was just no longer expecting to finish. I needed something to stand up for at the 2015 annual meeting any way. Next weekend, Isis and I would celebrate where ever we ended and then we would keep hiking, for enjoyment and not for list. I let out a deep sigh and smiled. I was at peace again. I let myself off the hook and all the drama and all the pressure, just faded away and I was just hiking with out a care if peak count or who was or was not hiking with me. Isis and I passed Zeacliff and made our way back to the hut and I remembered a conversation from yesterday. I didn’t want this to become a job and that is what it was feeling like. It happens when I get close to completion of a goal and then suddenly, it’s no fun. Today, I stopped it and today, was the most enjoyable hike I had had in a long time.

                 We arrived back at the hut and sat back on the porch. I again, admired the view as Isis paced around and ate her food. I had my entire thermos of Chicken and Rice soup sitting there on that porch and it was the best soup I had. I smiled as I ate and just looked off into the distant view, completely at peace with everything and everybody. The sun was shining and it was warm and I was calm. A perfect combination. Isis and I began our final descent from the hut at 2:10pm. The trails were solid even in the sun as temps were chilled. We continued to run into people heading to the hut as we made our way back to the road. Everyone was happy to be out on this fine winter day. The road walk passed by a lot slower this afternoon and we had snowmobilers to contend with which ruined our sense of peace in terms of noise. There were a few hikers heading out from different trails as we all made our way to the winter lot on 302. Isis and I sat in the car at 4:15pm and I smiled as I put a greenie down next to her as she was falling asleep already. I changed and we got ready to head for home.

                Given the time change, I probably could have made it to West Bond. The trails are just in phenomenal shape right now all over the White Mountains. The question I had was could I make it back on the energy I had. After all, I was on my last reserve as I sat myself down in the car. I could have put myself in serious trouble had I continued to West Bond so, I played it safe and will return to the summits another day. I will close out winter where ever I stand next weekend and until then, I will hold onto that sense of peace that I felt on the Twin Way as life moves around me below 4000 feet this week.  


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