This past weekend I joined an AMC led trip for my first trip in the Presidentials to bag four peaks. Meeting at Crawford Notch at 9:15am Saturday, the leader decided to reverse the original route to take advantage of the weather as snow was predicted for Sunday. After car dropping at Rocky Branch Trailhead at Rt. 16, we returned to the Highland Center and began our six person trek on the Crawford Path at 11pm. The temperature quickly rose to near 40 degrees and the 3 or so inches of snow that had fallen the night before began to melt off the trees. We set a slow but steady pace up to Pierce and were greeted with blue bird skies and a great view of the path ahead of us.
After a snack and a quick side trip to bag Pierce (4310 ft.), we headed out for Eisenhower. This section of the Crawford Path is great as we got some downhill and flats after the uphill with views on both sides. A large amount of the trip was mixed ups and downs which made for more elevation gain than I realized. Also the climbs up Eisenhower (4780 ft.) and Monroe (5384 ft.) were largely through two foot drifts of snow. I found rock hopping to be the easiest way through drifts. Monroe started testing our legs but the summit views were incredible. I quickly barreled down the super steep trail to Lake of the Clouds and we headed off for Camel Trail to Boot Spur. This whole area in the “winter” is insanely desolate. I’ve heard it compared to walking on the moon and that thought stuck in my head the entire time.
Breaking over the top of the ridge were the Camel Trail meets the Davis Path, views of the Wildcats, Carters, and Tuckerman’s Ravine broke up the monotonous views of the past couple miles. Also getting close to the summit cone made me realize how steep the last 1,000 feet of vert is. I was sad to get this close to Washington without bagging it but the sun was dropping fast and we still had about 3 miles to go to break camp. Walking this high ridge with the sun setting was spectacular. Probably one of the more uniquely beautiful experiences I’ve had for a long time.
Dipping down the Davis Path, all the cairns were lit in fading pink sunlight. When we dipped below treeline as the sun faded away, the snow got much deeper and we threw our snowshoes and headlamps on. The hike to the Isolation Trail junction was long and exhausting but the moon was bright and there were some glancing views through the trees on the Davis Path. We finally found a water source and a campsite off Isolation Trail around 9:15 PM and set up a backwoods camp for the night.
After spending another cold restless night at 15 degrees, we woke at 6:30 AM and dressed quickly to bag Isolation. We were fortunate to have another day of blue skies as we ate our breakfast on the summit in the warm sunlight. A lone Grey Jay (Gray?) waited for us and swooped around looking for hand outs, eventually settling for dropped crumbs. I faked him out with an empty hand and he sat on my fingers looking perplexed and disappointed. Gotcha sucka!
After a half hour or so we headed back to break camp and head out on the Rocky Branch Trail. This trail was only tracked by one person and had a few inches of semi fresh snow on a slightly crumbling monorail. Fast and fun snowshoeing with some interesting half frozen water crossings. Unfortunately it took about 4 hours to make the 6ish mile hike out, where we then headed back to Highland Center to change and pick up our car drop.
All in all an amazing trip with some miserable moments of total exhaustion, hunger, cold, and annoyance. It was my first “Winter” backpacking trip and after not bagging any peaks since October or backpacking since September, it was a serious test for me. My conditioning was thankfully better than it’s ever been but winter hiking is not something I’m too familiar with let alone winter backpacking. (I’m referring to it as winter solely due to the 15 degrees at night.) It was also a major gear check for me as I don’t have the appropriate boots, tent, or sleeping bag for these conditions. I also went as lightweight as possible with my Flash 50L which saved me as the vert was more than I anticipated.
Things I Did Right:
– Hiked in an AMC group. This was my first time joining an organized group. I wouldn’t have done this route or trip at all had it not been for them. Thanks guys!
– Compass and thermometer on my pants zip. Minus the dork factor, it kept my trip data accessible. Easier to navigate if you look at direction frequently.
– Layers were on point, didn’t bring any excessive clothing. Was prepared for much lower temps.
– Technical hiking can save lots of energy if you have the balance and your pack is light enough. Once you go from rocks to snow you slow down considerably and it saps your leg strength.
– Kept water weight low. Packed in 2 liters and only carried 1 liter on the hike out.
– Kept food weight very low.
– I actually got in shape for this hike for a change!
– Left my phone and MP3 player in the car.
Things I Did Wrong:
– Wrong boots, they froze into ice cubes overnight, should have bagged them and put them in my sleeping bag.
– I should have vented the tent a bit. It got pretty frosted from condensation.
– I really needed a clean set of base layers for sleeping. Too much faith in SmartWool.
– Didn’t bring snowshoes! I could have done this hike with just spikes but it would have been much tougher. Luckily a leader brought a spare pair and a fellow CHAOS’er hooked me up with her rentals. Thanks guys!
– Snowboard mittens were a bad choice.
– I forgot my sunblock and got a little toasted in the face.
– I tried doing this hike with no Trail Mix. Big mistake.
– Forgot to leave a few beers in my trunk for the end of the hike.
– I need to start carpooling.
– Forgot to bring driving shoes… sigh.
– Esbit stoves on snow = brilliant idea…
Total Peaks Bagged: 4 this trip
Total Miles: 19.6 (11.6 on day one)
Total Elevation Gain: 5934 ft (5048 on day one)
Total 4ks: 13/48
Miles Driven: 450 @ 31 MPG @ $3.79 = $55.00 in gas
Soundtrack: Radiohead – King of Limbs, Slightly Stoopid, The XX, The Arusha Accord, Lots of NPR.