Last week, I made it to Wildcat A before the weather got the better of me. No big deal to me really and any day out in the woods is better than sitting at home. I had been contemplating a break and a zero weekend for this weekend as my new job was just a little out of control and exhausting. Then I realized that I'd be worse off if I stayed home so, I chose to head back to The Cat's for a walk in the first measurable snowfall of the season. I was excited and I also knew the conditions I was walking into. I knew that it was shoulder season and that the trails would be a challenge. I knew there was a chance I would not make even to Wildcat A (let alone B,C, D and back again). I didn't really care. I was not at home and it was going to snow.
Isis and I actually got up early (thanks to some funky dreams) and were at the 19 Mile Brook Trail Head at around 8am. There were not a whole lot of cars there and I suspected that the cars that were there were for the Carter Notch Hut. I got my boots on and we were on our way shortly after 8am. 19 Mile Brook Trail is still wet and full of rocks and leaves. We step with care and make good time. About 10 minutes into the hike, the snow starts falling and you can hear it hit the leaves on the ground. Isis and I keep walking up the trail and our first destination is the junction of the Carter Dome Trail. I'll be the first to admit that I zoned out and enjoyed the water flowing in the stream by the trail as well as the snow. The water level is lower than last week although the trail is still extremely wet. No ice is forming yet although, I would bet it's not too far behind. There is not another soul on the trail today (so far).
Isis and I have a snack at the junction of the Cater Dome Trail and the snow is getting heavier. I am thrilled with this and enjoying the surroundings. I was remembering breaking out trail last year as well as all my other winter hikes that I had here. I have big plans for winter and I am really looking forward to the season getting under way. We walk the next section of trail and it's getting more snow covered. The bridges are of course covered and the rocks are starting to get slick. I was prepared for this and we just took it slow. That of course means that more energy is getting expelled and I need to eat as well as drink more water. Isis is excited and playing around and I'm laughing at her. She gets a snowflake on her nose and of course shakes it off before I can snap a picture. It takes us a little more time than last week to get to the junction of the Wildcat Ridge Trail and I'm a little discouraged. I feed Isis but neglect to feed myself as it's also getting colder. I zip up the layers and keep the gloves on. We begin the .7 to the summit of Wildcat A and I'm extra cautious. It's very steep and rocky which of course has me concerned for slick spots. The trail is also thin in places.
We get pretty far which makes this a little harder for me. We came to the section that is really exposed and thin. Plus it appears that a slide has formed and you need to get by two large boulders. The problem is that you can't go in front of them because of the unstable branches and other trail junk that has accumulated (branches mostly and some rotten) plus, there's a huge drop off that if you slip, that's it for you. So I look to go high except it's really steep and slick. I have to go over the two rocks and there is no place to put my feet or my hands. Sliding on my butt is the only way and it's really slick. Isis is patient but I am unsure of the return trip after hiking out to D peak. It's a tough bunch of ups and downs between the other peaks and I'd be tired. Knowing myself and how tired I get, I opted to turn back. But not before I stood there and stared at the section to make sure I had no easy route for myself. I could not wrap my head around it and decided that it was finally time to head back down.
Carefully, we make our way back down the Ridge Trail knowing that it was going to be an early day, I figured I could at least take my time and maybe see if we could go some place else after. We retrace our steps and while I am not so happy about turning back, I know it's the right thing for me to do. I have stopped beating myself up over decisions like this. When I am solo, I am cautious because if something were to happen (this time of year), it might take a little too long for someone to find me. I'm really interested in living these days and living this crazy life to the fullest. Isis and I run into an older gentleman just after we passed the junction for the Wildcat Ridge trail again and tell him about the experience we had. He reaffirms my decision and says that he's just going to the hut for the night. We part and wish each other well. I'm reminded of how encouraging the crowd can be as the weather gets colder. It's a different crowd. A more seasoned crowd.
As Isis and I retrace our steps, she's still happy. Wet but really happy. I'm feeling a little better but still a little down. Then I reminded myself that I get to do this next weekend if I want and any weekend after that. The journey is far from over and I can make it go as slow or as fast as I want. Isis and I go back over the bridges and I notice that her paw prints look like dog prints instead of her puppy feet. We cross back over the small water crossing to the junction of the Carter Dome Trail and there is a group of two women and two young girls. They are loaded with gear and I know they are going to the hut. I tell them about the summits and how slick they are getting. It's not enough snow for spikes and there isn't even any ice for them to grab into yet. They assured me that they were probably just hanging out at the hut for the day. They wanted to beat a group of boy scouts to the hut so they were off in a flash. Isis and I did not stop for a break and kept going ourselves.
The group of Boy Scouts coming up the 19 Mile Brook Trail was big. Most did not stop which was fine. Hellos were passed between us. The snow is stronger now on this lower section than this morning and I suddenly remember that my car brush and scraper are not in my car yet. Another group is approaching and Isis and I pull over. Many pass without a word. All have backpacks covered by trash bags. This worries me but I bite my tongue. I'm becoming selective wit who I mention things too. They are going to the hut is what I over hear. I just smile and let them pass. There is a group of 4 older adults bringing up the rear and they stop to chat. I tell them to watch their footing on the high peaks as there is not enough ice and snow to use winter spikes. They were appreciative of the tips and I wished them luck with the full hut for the weekend. I walked away thinking about the weeks to come when there will be less and less on the trails and soon just he experienced hikers like myself.
Isis and I walk back out to the car with a smile and a laugh and the thought of how good the day was in spite of everything. I was happy to be out of the house and away from work for the most part. It's been a rougher transition than I thought with mixed feelings but the light at the end of the tunnel is the support I am getting from co-workers. It's something I am still not use to in all my years. Only this job and my previous job were supportive and I am thankful but still a little confused by it. Also happy that I am still making my way to the mountains and still pushing forward with my goals. I need to keep going on this no matter how tough. Even though there was no summit today, I think the lessons were well worth it. I'll pick it up again next weekend and probably wait for these last two of my third round until the trails fill in and the water crossings freeze. That will make both the Wildcat's and Isolation really easy for my solo hiking.
There are two reoccurring themes from my week... Being solo and being hard core. My new co-workers especially are enthralled by my lifestyle and call me hard core. It seems so strange to me as I have been doing this for so long. It's second nature for me to try and push myself in any season or weather. My friends do this as well and we all just enjoy ourselves. Hard core I guess to someone who doesn't go to these places or hike out in winter when the temps are way in the negatives. So, I can accept that I am hard core. Even though my definition of hard core is one who keeps going regardless of the conditions. I wish I could calm my nerves when solo hiking. I enjoy my solo journey but I have made the comment that I do get a little lonely for as much as I enjoy Isis' company. I have some harder hikes coming up... Owl's Head and the Presidents in Winter. If anyone is experienced in bushwhacks or hiking above tree line in winter, and wants to help me out, let me know. I'd actually love the company on some hikes coming up in the future.