Willard and Pemigewasset
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...
Today is the second day of my sabbatical and I am getting restless. Yesterday was all indoor work to prepare for various events to come. I arranged hiking companions and started on a schedule. Today it is raining off and on and I wish I was somewhere other than my living room. Oh well...I do have a pile of used books for the sabbatical and I can start breaking in to them.
To keep the content flowing I have a couple of relatively easy hikes that we did in the winter. Winter hiking is its own thing, with special equipment and special rules to follow. It is not like downhill skiing. Winter climbing requires a trudge uphill, after all--causing wide fluctuations in body temperature if one is not careful--and there isn't a lodge nearby most of the time. Some people--including my wife Allison--claim it is easier to hike in the winter. The dips between roots and rocks are often filled in and there is the ease of butt-sliding down the larger peaks. I am not sure that matters in the total summation, though. The packs are heavier. We are heavier. Also, with the cold and ice we have a whole new way to mess ourselves up.
Still, the views are something else. There is a whole winter-wonderland vibe that is different on the trail. Also, the trails are quieter. Many hikers hunker down for the winter. Others ski or sled. There are still people on the weekend but--as always--if you get out on the trail early or during the week, you can have plenty of space.
Anyway, the two hikes. They are relatively close to each other and both sport some of the best views-for-effort in New Hampshire. In the regular hiking season there are generally thought of as the easiest of the 52 With-A-View list. Whether you will find them easy is subjective, obviously, so be advised!
Mount Willard: Hiked on December 30, 2021
After our first hike up North Kinsman--which was less than ideal--we decided to get some more winter experience on smaller mountains. Willard shares a trailhead with Mount Avalon, one of my favorite mountains. We had hiked that after a long day of peak bagging in the fall. We knew that whatever Willard had to offer would be equally stunning...and include snow. It was misting a bit ("spitting" is the term I grew up with) and we moved on up with some trepidation concerning the weather. That said, the fog hanging over the snow was pretty special.
The trail was mostly straight. It just went up, and then up more steeply. However, true to the conventional wisdom, it wasn't so bad! The snow had indeed rounded out many of the edges. We shed layers as our bodies warmed up and then added them back on for breaks. Layering is a key element of the whole winter hiking experience. We need to pay even more attention to our bodies with this new weather development. Snacking is pretty key as well. It is a good idea to eat something (a protein bar or a handful of GORP) right before starting. It will give your body something to do at the beginning and the energy is helpful as well. I also found myself sucking on hard candies most of the time. That may have been for morale reasons.
After a while we hit the top and the clouds began to part. The only others up there that day were fellow peak-baggers testing out their Christmas gifts. In the clear winter air we were treated to highly technical conversations about hats, gloves, backpacks, and snowshoes. No doubt they were treated to ours. We actually packed snowshoes for this trip but did not put them on. That said, we wore micro spikes the whole way. For some other hikes snowshoes were essential. We want them when the trail isn't quite as broken out or if the wind has caused drifts. However, the spikes were always on otherwise. They are essential kit. Don't do serious winter hiking without them in your pack or on your feet.
One great feature of this climb was that the clouds had begun to part and the sun warmed the top. It was rather relaxing to plop down on the snow in our winter gear and take a break to soak in the view. Finally, though, we turned to head down. Honestly with was a lovely half-day hike for us, which helped me, at least, feel like winter hiking was something I would be able to do. The trail is 3.2 miles round trip with only 900 feet of elevation gain. The reward is a fantastic look straight down Crawford Notch.
Mount Pemigewasset Hiked on January 8, 2022
This was very similar to the hike of Willard in most respects. The view in this case was of Franconia Notch. The folks at the peak were more 52 WAV peak baggers and the whole vibe was very relaxed. It was a touch longer (3.8 miles) and quite a bit steeper (1,250 feet of elevation gain). Also, it was a cold, clear day which brought with it different challenges but, of course, a view untroubled by clouds.
This hike was not without its challenges. The steepness got to us and our post-holiday bodies so we needed to stop a couple times to catch our breath. Some of our water froze as well and we needed to re-pack a bit. The trail was icy in places which gave our micro spikes a work out on the way up and the way back. I do not love winter gear...but it is necessary.
There was one incident that reminded me of the importance of layering and of modifying your layers. The temptation is just to keep on hauling but, really, that can be a bad idea. On our way down we passed numerous groups heading up. Like I said, it is considered an easy mountain and--unlike our Willard walk--it was a beautiful day.
It was also a big vacation time in the Whites and a number of people who probably had spent part of the week skiing decided to take a hike, instead. Most of them were fine. However, there were a number of groups with children who were way too bundled up. Steam was rising from the open spaces in their heavy jackets and they were screaming bloody murder trying to tear them off while their adults were forcing all that gear back on. A few adults were in the same situation as the kids. They all looked like old fashioned cars with burst radiators still trying to move forward.
It is important not to be afraid of removing layers as well as adding them. We all know from sitting in our driveways during the pandemic that if you are staying still outside, the goal is to be as warm as you can be. However, with something a physically trying as climbing a mountain, it is more important to maintain a safe and comfortable average temperature. This requires using that big pack to take off and don clothing throughout the day. It is annoying and slows you down, but it is really for the best. I always start a little cold, knowing that I will warm right up when I move. Al always puts on a warm (but packable and lightweight) jacket for the first ten minutes then stops to take it off. Either way we are often bundled at the top where the wind chill requires it and we always wear hats and wool socks...and carry spares.
Anyway, the drama of the descent aside, this was another fantastic hike that is probably doable for a lot of people who want to try winter hiking. I would suggest starting with Willard or Watatic as a shakedown. Then Pemigewassett and bigger peaks await. Actually we finished early enough from our Pemigewassett hike that we did another and explored Flume Gorge...
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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.