This was to be our most extreme winter hike. We started early in the day under lowering clouds, carrying huge packs with everything we might need, including extra clothing, food, water, maps, compass, and more. A small party on one of the lower slope trails joked with us, asking if we were going up Everest.
From our standpoint, this was about to be as difficult. There would be very few photos as a consequence.
There was snow on the ground and ice amidst the rocks, thickening as we rose. Snow began to filter through the canopy.
At the edge below the treeline, we stopped for hot soup over the tiny Coleman stove. A ranger descended from above and paused. We asked about conditions and he said the winds were high, visibility low, and it was very cold. We were quite excited.
As we cleared the complex edge of treeline, wind began to blast us, and fog, snow and hail enveloped us in bursts. We worked our way upward, the ice gradually thickened and soon we were glad we were wearing crampons. One of my crampons detached shortly before the second photo, and it was difficult to reattach it in gloves and bulky clothing.
Gradually, the visibility dropped. Close to the summit, it was down to about fifty feet. We could see the ice forming on the leeward side of cairns and rocks as tiny rounded icicles.
Finally, we reached what was probably the summit. We used a segment of rope to stay hooked together. The wind smashed at us so strongly that we thought we might fall.
We started the descent. Now the wind was at our backs, but no less compelling. The trail marks were difficult to see under the ice, and the light was dimming, though we couldn't tell if it was oncoming darkness or thickening cloud.
But there was something uncomfortable. The trail did not seem familiar, and after an eighth or quarter mile, we consulted the map and the compass, only to find we were headed the wrong way. It was awful, with the cold, and the wet from the melting snow - and now we had to head uphill to find the intersection where we had gone wrong.
Now it was definitely getting darker - somewhere above the raging storm, the sun had slipped below the horizon. We finally reached the correct intersection and made the turn.
The descent was in near darkness. Boulders and rocks stuck up out of ice and the footing was treacherous. Dan slipped. I watched without any ability to help as his inertia and the balance of his pack seemed inexorably to lead to a serious fall. But he clung to the top of the rock and stablized.
The smell of a corridor of conifers was lovely. The trail had leveled and we were almost down. Gratefully, we stripped off our packs and climbed into the car. It was cold, but soon we were warm from the heat. And back at Sue's parents' we barely managed to stay awake through dinner.
Monadnock - White Dot In Winter Warning
This hike in the winter is a serious undertaking. Lack of preparation and appropriate clothing and tools (compass, map, perhaps GPS) can result in being lost, injured, or even death from exposure. Bring balaclava, warm hat, extra clothes, crampons, goggles, Gore-Tex (or similar fabric) coat and pants, waterproof gloves and boots, and food. A small stove is also recommended. Do not wear cotton.
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