A peakbagger is a person who summits mountains which are part of a list. Some examples are the White Mountain/New Hampshire 48, the New England 67, the New England Hundred Highest, 52 With a View, etc. In order to claim completing any list in winter and to properly earn bragging rights (and a patch if that's what you're after) one must complete said list during the calendar winter. This year winter officially began on Saturday December 21st at 12:11 p.m. What?!?! Winter starting on a Saturday?! That is a winter peakbaggers dream come true!!! Those dreams were quickly dashed by the threat of a weekend ice storm in the forecast [insert sad face].
While the threatened ice storm never really materialized into anything too significant in the Whites, it did bring a fair amount of rain and then some warmer temps on the backside. Three days of rain and warmer temperatures turned the beautiful base of snow we had going into a slushy, muddy mess; very reminiscent of spring hiking.
While the chance of precipitation rose significantly by early Monday morning, the forecasted winds and temps stayed the same. Denise, a fellow hiker friend, would be joining me on this trek. Our original plan was to hit the three 4,000 footers in the Willey range; Mount Field, Mount Willey and Mount Tom (we later decided to skip Tom). Though Denise is not actively pursuing the Winter 48 she is working on her second round of the NH 48 and needed all three of these peaks. I also needed all three for my second round but only Willey for my winter list.
We both made the slow and steady drive up to Crawford Notch that morning. The top of the Notch looked like an enchanted winter wonderland as everything had a thin and sparkly layer of ice on it. We suited up and slapped on our spikes (which we even needed to get across the Highland Center's parking lot!) and got on trail shortly after 8:30 a.m. The temperatures were really mild and there was just a hint of drizzle coming down. The trail conditions were a mixed bag of packed crusty snow, bare rock, solid ice, solid ice with water running over it, post holes, slush, and mud. Very reminiscent of spring hiking and at one point I even post-holed up to my knee in a pool of slushy mud! We had made the decision to leave our snow shoes behind as we thought we would be contending mostly with ice. There were a few sections where we certainly could have used them, especially to help consolidate the trail, but these sections were so short and always had sections of mud or bare rock before or after them that it would have been a huge hassle to constantly stop to change our traction.
We made good time to the Avalon and A-Z Trail junction but we were then slowed by the water covered ice flows on the steeps of the Avalon Trail. After what seemed like a long time we made it to the summit of Mount Field. Even though Field is a treed-in summit, we could still feel the effects of the wind which had started to pick up quite a bit. We quickly ate a snack and were even visited by some gray jays who don't usually make an appearance in crappy weather. They too were dripping wet and hungry.
The Willey Range Trail from Mount Field to Mount Willey was more of the same mixed bag of conditions but we were able to make really good time. We had been getting rained on on-and-off but the wind had died down by the time we reached the summit of Willey. Temps were still mild so we were still quite comfortable despite being wet. More gray jays came out to see us on Willey while we snapped some summit pics and ate another quick snack. On our way back to Field, Denise and I started discussing the possibility of skipping Tom. Her feet were bothering her and my toes on my left foot were bothering me. We stopped at the junction where we would need to make a decision. The temperature was dropping and for the first time all day we both felt chilled. We both had clothes to change into if need be but after calculating the mileage and acknowledging that the trail conditions were getting tougher to contend with we both agreed that heading back to our cars was the best decision. Hot coffee and the fireplace at the Highland Center were calling our names. Mount Tom is easy enough to come back on another day to bag. About 10 minutes after we started our decent the freezing rain and sleet really started to come down hard which just reaffirmed our decision to skip Tom. So instead of our total mileage for the day being 9.8 we did 8.2. Not too shabby considering the less than favorable forecast and trail conditions.
Despite the weather and trail conditions it was still a wonderful day out in the woods. Visits from gray jays are always fun, ice makes everything pretty and Denise is a great hiking companion whose company I enjoy very much! Congratulations Denise for bagging your 1st and 2nd 4,000 footers in winter! Thank you for another excellent hike!