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.
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.