I am in the process of catching people up with some early hikes and other encounters with nature that I thought people might find interesting as part of a "How It Began" (HIB) series. Mostly this will describe specific hikes and perhaps some lessons learned along the way...if there are any. They are meant to be short and, perhaps helpful in some way to other hikers or fellow-travelers. I will post the dates of when I hiked a specific mountain since the ones in this series are NOT posted at or near the date I actually hiked them.
To add further confusion, I am not doing them in order! Here is a post about a winter hike. We did so many and have posted so few...
Hiked On: January 16, 2022
In the back of my mind during this whole hike was the idea that I might have done something very stupid. It was 15 degrees below zero at the trailhead when we started up Mount Liberty. The socials that we follow were filled with dire warnings about climbing on that day. Mount Liberty is 4,459 feet tall. The out-and-back we had selected was a little over 7 miles, which means it was steep. Other than the temperature (and the abundant snow and ice) this wasn't our hardest climb. The snow and ice do make a difference, though. The freezing temps make a difference too. Our packs were heavy with snow shoes, spikes, emergency equipment and layers. Still, there we were at 7am ready to go. So, again, I couldn't help but think I made a mistake and should have done something else with my day.
As a hike, it is fairly straightforward. It starts on a multi-use trail that we had been on before as there are a number of other climbs--for us winter climbs--that can be reached from that path as well. Then, we got a long period of relative flat before climbing...and climbing steeply all the way to the top.
While on that flattish part, I started to have temperature regulation problems. As anyone who has spent time outdoors in the cold can tell you, there are moments when one's internal thermostat goes crazy. If you don't figure it out then hypothermia will set in. It took me a while to figure out what to do and we gave serious thought to turning back. Finally--after experimentation--I realized that I was running too hot for the amount of clothing I was wearing. This was the first lesson.
I recalled going down Mount Willard a couple weeks before and witnessing a number of children on their way up desperately trying the shed layers while their parents just as desperately tried to make them keep the layers on. The kids were crying loudly, steam rising up out of their jackets. I remember thinking to myself that the kids needed to cool down to warm up--you don't have to wear all your layers all the time--and I realized I was doing the same thing. My concern over the temps had caused me to overdress for climbing. I was being just like those parents re-zipping jackets and cramming hats back on to sweaty heads. Since my parents were nowhere nearby I shed some layers and after a while things leveled out.
I kept the hat, though, a hunter-orange number, and my gloves. Extremities are the first to go, my friends.
Still, despair--my constant companion--was a problem. I have this issue below the tree line, particularly in winter. The trail, you see, just goes on and on and...I hate snow. The walk was slow and the struggle was real. We took many rests but the rests weren't that satisfying either. After all, I was cold.
Finally we broke out onto a ridge and while there was still plenty of up to go, at least I could see out and around me to the winter landscape. Also I could see where I was going. Liberty is famous for its gigantic rock near the peak. We knew to point ourselves toward it and keep on keeping on. Also, the sun was out and that exposure warmed us up a bit after the shady trails below. As I have experienced in all seasons, a good ridge lifts the spirits immensely.
We finally broke out on the top and could see for miles all the way around. A small group had gathered there. Some were people we had been walking adjacent to for hours. Others had come over from Mount Flume, which we had done before the snow. About a third of them were carrying small sleds. I had done a bit of butt-sliding by this point but I had never imagined bringing a sled and treating a 4,000 footer as a personal sledding hill. It looked like fun.
Butt-sliding is somewhat controversial in the Whites. Some love it. Some hate to hike down the shear track that they leave. I am a moderate on the issue. It is pretty convenient, though, and sometimes necessary of there have been a lot of sledders before you. We slid down a good chunk of this mountain ourselves using our snow pants, but I have to say...we never caught up to the actual sledders.
In the end this was an important hike for me. It started rough and got dark (emotionally not meteorologically) a few times. In the end, though, I made it. I learned I could do something like this. I also learned that when people start saying "stay home unless you know what you are doing" sometimes at least...I do know what I am doing. Of course I have modified a number of hikes since because I knew what I was doing and didn't want to do a thing. After this hike, though, I learned to trust my judgement a bit more. I remembered that I had the authority to adapt to what my body was telling me.
I also learned that even though I do not like snow...there are reasons to be outdoors in January.
I am a full-time pastor in a small, progressive church in Massachusetts. This blog is about the non-church things I do to find spiritual sustenance.