Isis and I hit the road later than I wanted. Lucky for us, the roads were good and no real new snow was falling to accumulate. It was definitely in the air. We were destine to 19 Mile Brook Trail head and driving past Appalachia, I saw that it was not so busy either. Once we got to Pinkham and the trail head, I realized we may be in luck... There were a lot of people there and surely some must be going to the Cat's. I had a feeling that there would be a lot of trail breaking to do still. Right away, we were approached by Matt who remembered us from Cabot last January. It's always nice to chat with people who remember us and I feel bad for not remembering him (I'm bad with names sometimes). With snowshoes on my feet, we walk past the row of cars and begin... To navigate the maze of post holes.
I grin and begin my journey and it's painful and uneven. It's difficult because the snow is heavy and has already formed those dreaded holes that make using my shoes all the more difficult. Not to mention poor Isis who keeps falling and crashing into the snow. Neither one of us is happy but we are making the best of it. The scenery is beautiful with the trees heavily coated in snow and I am enjoying the water that is rushing by sometimes under ice and rushing by rocks covered in snow. Intermittently, I am rocked back to reality by the uneven footing of the post holes. The bridge is in better shape and mostly frozen so, we keep pushing. I just kept wondering who really enjoyed walking like this because the snow is deep and that has to be a lot of work to sink into the snow like that. Who does this and why? Isis and I make it to the next crossing with the boards. Those boards were great in the other seasons (and yes, technically this is a fall hike) but in winter conditions, they are too narrow for snowshoes. We balance across them and use the wider sections of rock so I can balance. Isis has no issue of course. We stop on the other side for a snack and a rest. My stomach is rumbling and I am sure Isis needs a break. Lucky for us, it's not too cold out.
We are quickly joined by a group of three heading to the Carter's. I was hoping they would say Cat's but then I quickly realized that two of the three did not have snowshoes with them at all. Ugh! I mentioned that it was pretty slow going because of all the post holes from people without snowshoes and that I was rethinking my plans. A look was exchanged between them as if to say "sorry". The reality of it is, when you are a solo hiker, winter is tougher. You can't break trail by yourself and that was my real concern. I can muddle through post holes but if I need to break trail for a long time, there better be a meet up group coming up behind me that I can let pass so they are breaking trail. Isis is no good at it and I hate putting her though it. So, the group of three move ahead of me (mistake number 1) and the boots are tearing up the trail even more. I make he best of the ankle twists and the knee twists too (trust me it does not feel good). Isis and I keep moving and I am focusing on the scenery to pass the trail. All I want to do is get to the first junction to check the time again (I am already behind at the hour mark when I am usually at the junction). I am taking more breaks than I should and I am quickly caught by another hiker. I express my frustration and my desire to turn back. Thankfully, he understood and sympathized. I pushed to the junction.
While resting at the junction, The Randomites catch up to us. It's an all male group today (testosterone hike) and always nice to see Michael Blair. We are all joking around at the expense of the bare booters and it's really funny. Another group departs the way that I am heading and I am hopeful that maybe I can make a good go of it today. After all, in this group they all had snowshoes on. I quickly realize though that they are going to Carter Dome and not The Cat's. I vow to judge at the next junction. Everyone departs and quickly I realize that the post holes are continuing with a cross country ski track also tossed in for good measure. This may not be my day after all. Quickly, I pass the first bridge and catch the group on the first rise. It was a quick break for them and I questioned their choice to head to Carter Dome this way... The hard way by the hut with the greater elevation gain and no switchbacks. More than half of the group was unaware of this and more than half of the group was now concerned. Isis and I passed them and continued for a little while. Unbroken trail for the most part and my wheels started turning.
Absolutely beautiful out there on the mostly unbroken trail but it's very hard work for one and one with a dog too. I check the time and it's getting later and later. Time to make a hard choice. Keep going and chance it and chance exhaustion or turn back and salvage with a possible return tomorrow. I look forward and back and stand there for a few minutes. I look at Isis and want her to decide for me. I look back and forward again. I begin to descend the trail... I am caught by the group again and I explain to them the likelihood of someone else taking the Cat's from this end is very slim and I really don't want to chance myself becoming exhausted and not being able to get out. It's too much for a solo hiker with no reassurance of back up coming. Since they were going to the hut, I could potentially get that far except in my mind, I can conserve energy for Owl's Head next weekend and of course The Winter Six which starts the following weekend. I keep descending as they keep ascending. My choice is sealed and every group I run into is going only as far as the hut. I am reaffirmed that it was the right choice. Even with knowledge of others up on the ridge, to get there, the .8 to Wildcat A, if unbroken would be a complete nightmare for one person.
Isis and I breeze past the junction and who is coming towards us but the older couple from Moriah two weeks ago. Same deal with them, no snow shoes and not really listening. Talking over me and not letting me get a word out. I'm done. I'm moving forward except the older lady is also moving towards me and not pulling over. Down I go getting tripped up in my shoes. I just keep going and I don't stick around. Later down the trail, I run into two groups of nice ladies who are out for a snowshoe to the hut. One group is new to snowshoeing and the other seem to be a little more experienced. I give the first group a quick run down to the trails and they are thankful for the information. Always nice to talk to people that are friendly and open to trail advise. I also encounter an AMC group that are all in snowshoes and also going to the hut. The trail behind them is beautiful and I thank them for their diligence. I can fly on a smooth trail. The last group I come in contact with is two gentlemen who are heading to The Cat's. The only problem was that each had either left their snowshoes at home or in the car. Really?? I know it's still Fall technically but it's also Winter here. I look that he trail behind them as we are talking and it's all tore up again. the smooth AMC trail is no more. They were reconsidering a Cat's attempt since they had no shoes.
The rest of the trail was another maze of post holes out to the parking lot which was littered with cars. There was the back line cars either backed in or parked head in. Then there was one car completely blocking in another car by parking directly behind it. It was also two away from my car. The icing on the parking lot was all the other cars parked along he road blocking the rest of us in... Save for the the two small openings that were caked with mashed potato snow just waiting to get a car stuck. I changed and got Isis settled then I began my trip home. Briefly getting stuck in the mashed potatoes before hitting the pavement. I officially declared myself to stay away from 19 Mile Brook Trail for a while... Until it calls me. Knowing that this would leave rounds hanging and being OK with that. It's time for a break from this one until I can mentally be ready. It's time to re-evaluate my Grid system. I am once again humbled from my on top of the world feeling to the feeling of I have no clue what I am doing and I must be a newbie hiker again. I hate this feeling. I will figure it out. I always figure it out...
So, here's the thing I love about the mountains, they give you perspective that you never wanted. In my roller coaster week, I had come to realize today that all the new winter gear that I accumulated over the last two weeks will keep me super warm this winter, I need to play around with the bindings on my snowshoes to get them right and secure, what ever I am sure of will become undone on this trail and as a solo hiker, this is really humbling. And let's not forget that no matter what, I will figure it out and I will always, always find my way to the mountains. This is where I find my calm and my center. This is the life I would love... Simple. Uncomplicated. I am still super happy that my doctor has declared me well and I am vowing to move forward with plans for the Winter Six and my Grid... Plus, I am throwing my hat in the ring for a go at the Long Trail this summer... Today was a training hike as will all my hikes be from here on out. But, I am resting The Cat's and The Carter's for a little while. I'm taking break from this trail while I "Figure it all out".