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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! 

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