Saturday, January 9, 2010

Pinkham's Grant

For the past week and the next week to come, I've been staying at the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center in Pinkham's Grant, NH taking a Wilderness First Responder Course. At the completion of the course I will indeed have (hopefully) received my WFR Certification necessary for my work in the Outdoors. I'm very excited about this prospect and I've been not only learning much about Wilderness Medicine but have been enjoying the savage landscapes as well.

For those unaware, PInkham Notch is the trailhead for the famed Tuckerman's Ravine at the base of Mount Washington. Home of the world's worst weather not to be outdone during the winter months. This time of year, hikers from all around the globe descend on Mount Washington to try and hike many of the mountains storied routes; some as preparation for summer attempts on Everest. Though I have yet to make it to the summit while on my stay, I have continued to extend my streak of daily exercise.

Monday I ran 3 miles on Route 16 heading North just past the Wildcat Mountain Ski area, turning around and heading back.
Tuesday I ran 3 miles on Route 16 the same route as the night before and followed the run up with a 1 mile hike of the mountain which concluded with a suicide sledding trip down the groomed slopes.
Thursday an easy mile in the notch and Friday saw an easy mile here in Epping upon my weekends return.
Running on Route 16 is tough. Not only am I at 2000+ feet elevation, but I fight constant snow in single digit temps with winds blowing over 40 mph not only causing the snow to sting but dropping the windchill to well below zero. It's been tough to get out there and run everyday.. but even if for one mile.. just 8-10 minutes.. I'm making it happen.

But Wednesday is where the real story was. There was no run.. but I did enjoy a wonderful trip to the summit of Wildcat Ski Area known better to the peak-baggers about as Wildcat "D" Peak. Marion, from UNH, drove the 2+ hours to join myself and 6 others from the WFR course on a night hike of Wildcat. We met at 7:30pm at the PNVC, drove the half mile to the ski slopes parking lot, suited up in a stiff 40+ mph wind, dawned our headlamps and began our climb of the mountain.

As soon as we hit the ski slopes the wind whipped the snow in circles, shook the trees hard enough to hear the clatter of branches collide against each other with a faint whistle and moan. It was a damn cold night yet the higher we climbed and as the ski slopes wound their way over ridges and into sheltered area's, we enjoyed many moments of calm to no wind with just an ever dropping temperature. About 1/3 of the way up the mountain, the snow guns were blasting a mix of water and chemical into the frigid air causing a constant snow storm for the next few miles. These guns are loud as the high pressure hose shoots water out. There was no way of hearing each other and out group had begun to truly spread out. I am not that great a hiker in the mountain, slow and steady I get there.. not without a slow slog and some infinite complaining.

As I marched higher and higher, I continued to move on without my shell on. Thankful for the thought of layers, only my outer most short was caked in ice to the point that not only was it soaked but frozen. I couldn't straighten out my arms as ice covered me from head to toe. My pants were stiff and the snow-guns covered me with icy spray.. my headlamp had a solid half inch of ice on it making it very difficult to change the modes on the light or turn it off... yet we continued on as I started to pick up those fast few who took off out of the gates.. just like in a race, I caught those who were a bit over confident at the beginning.

Emily was struggling. Only wearing one shirt she was soaking wet, slowing down quickly yet in high spirits. Feeling "out of shape" she continued to push on to the summit regardless. Her hair was encased in a layer of white armor, ice from the snow-guns had clumped her hair together. She stopped at about the 3800' mark and asked if her ear was white. Upon looking, I was indeed surprised to see the early signs of frostbite occurring on the top of her ears. Her only hat was a knit hat attached to her pants, filled with snow and wet, she took out her neck warmer and placed it on her head instead. Trying to encourage her to put her shell on, she refused with the top in sight. We continued on..

We finally made it through the snow gun's after struggling through knee deep heavy wet snow close to the guns turned into mounds of new powder on top of frozen groomed trails. Now that the guns were behind us, the trees grew smaller in height and the winds returned. Wet, tired and slowing down, the winds chilled us to our core. As we reached the top of the ski slope, the temperature read 4 and the winds howled out of the WNW at 40+ mph making the windchill around -20F. We all huddled inside the ski lift station, still warm from the days ski operations. We all took off our soaked layers, and put on our down jackets, goggles and face protection. We marched out of the lift house and made our way to the Appalachian Trail, walking the last 50 yards to the summit tower.


We all huddled on the tower as the wind whipped and howled through the summit communications tower, a small metal structure barely hanging on and once blow over by hurricane force winds during a nor-easter. Below us is 2 to 3 feet of unbroken snow. Original hopes of hiking the ridge a few miles to Wildcat "A" were dashed upon our inability to locate the Wildcat Ridge trail. Since the last big winter storm.. no one had been across making that trek a few hours longer then normal.. if one could even locate the trail during the day never mind at night. So.. we all turned around and returned the way we had ascended the peak. Headfirst into ferocious winds.. I had to stop and put on my goggles as my eyelashes began to freeze shut. I was so cold yet smiling brightly.. embracing the harsh environment and the extreme's of being at over 4000' once again.. at night. I took out my sled, sat it on the groomed slope and zipped down the ski mountain at speeds approaching 25-30mph at times. With nothing but a headlamp to light the way and having to constantly wipe my goggles clean it was a suicide run in not having much of the ability to see... the world rushed by as even the darkness seemed to move. What an amazing rush as plumes of powder filled the air behind me..

As I return to the great north again next week.. I look forward to sharing tales of more great adventures with you.. and I also look to continue my streak of running and hiking.. day 10 awaits!

GO PATS!
SJ