I have no idea what I'm going to accomplish this winter season in terms of White Mountain exploration. The last few years, I've set the bar pretty high only to come up short time and time again. I have a list of things I know I'd like to do and yet it all had to start somewhere. So, on the first official day of Winter, I put the call out for all comers of the UNH OE program to join me of a hike of Mount Tecumseh, better known as the 4003 Foot Peak of Waterville Valley Ski Area. I managed to wrangle one sucker in... and Marion, a Grad Student, was excited to join me on the adventure.
We left the parking lot of the ski area just before 7:30pm and headed out onto the Mt. Tecumseh Trail. The trail was a well packed highway of about a foot of snow down low. Water still flowed freely at the first river crossing but the higher we ascended up the slope, the deeper the snow got and the more frozen the mountain became as snow/ice bridges were forming well on the other two crossings. It was a rather chilly night, with temps hovering around 10 degrees on the mountain with a stiff westerly wind. Being on the eastern slope of the mountain we were well protected.
We enjoyed great conversation as we steadily climbed the mountain. The only thing we could hear besides our heavy breathing and words, was the pumping of the snowmaking fluid lines. The trail climbs ever so steadily before really increasing in grade making for a somewhat steep climb. We bare booted the entire way without the need of snowshoe or traction devices. The spruce trees above 3000 feet looked like a colony of snow people silently watching us as we moved on by. Our headlamps pierced the darkness and lit up the small tunnel of earth we walked through. I warned Marion that as we made the ridge the wind would whip up for sure and to be ready for it.. it didn't disappoint. As we topped out at the Sosman Trail, the wind cranked in out of the West and chilled me to the bone. We kept moving steadily and made our final approach up the summit cone. As we reached the top, We touched the cairn, stepped to the edge of a tiny outlook and shut our headlamps off and enjoyed the millions of lights above.. and the lights of the valley below. Such a surreal experience.. and if anything else, a wonderful moment of silence for busy lives.
We turned the headlamps back on and made our way over to the ski area. We knew we had arrived with the sound of the wind moaning as it slide through the open areas of the cell tower. We quietly walked on by and then we stepped out into a frigid open expanse. The ski area's main slopes are wide open allowing us an amazing view of Plymouth, NH and Waterville down below. I led us over to the main slope, I sat down on my sled.. and away I went. With my feet out in front of me and using my hiking pole as a rudder, I steered myself down the mountain side at times excellerating to speeds I was not too fond of yet I laughed out loud like a child. Marion hiked down on the side of caution, negotiating the steep slops by walking at the edge of the forest and the groomed trails, often time slipping into a deep spruce trap. I tried my best to control my speed and to ensure that I didn't injure myself and putting her in a bad situation. At times, I just sat down and slide down the icy groomed slope on my butt. It was great fun.. and we made it to the base of the mountain in about an hour.. a 2 mile sledding run I'll never forget.
I'm not a huge fan of winter, but I'd like to think that I started the winter hiking season on a good note. Now, as soon as the new running tights come in, I can get my feet back on the roads and continue to prepare for the year 2010.. running and mountains.. tons of work to do.