Thursday, November 20, 2008

A cold night and cold hike

This unseasonably cold stretch gave me the opportunity to test out a new pair of winter hiking boots. Al and I headed up to the northern reaches of New Hampshire for a little peakbagging adventure. The drive up was pretty much uneventful; we had a quick dinner in Tilton NH in the “Tilt’n Diner” which had some decent inexpensive food. The setting was 50’s diner and I got a paper hat as a parting gift. We grooved to some Spin Doctors and Elvis Costello as we made decent time on the highway. Anyway, the drive went well although the last 14 miles on a logging road were a bit slick as there had been some snow. We stopped at one point to check out a big pick-up truck which had gone off the road. Al had scouted out the area last summer and knew where he was going; I tried to follow along on the Atlas.

We set up the tent at the end of the logging road after 10 PM. The temps were hovering around 10 degrees and the ground was covered by a couple of inches of snow. The last time I’d camped out at below freezing temperatures was at least 30 years ago when I was a Boy Scout. My sleeping bag is rated to 32 degrees so I brought along a second bag and a blanket. Camping with aid of the car makes it a lot easier to bring everything you might possibly need. I was reasonably comfortable, although my nose kept getting cold because I wasn’t able to sleep with my face inside the sleeping bag.

There were snow showers all night long and by the time we got up at sunrise there was about 4” of snow on the ground. We tried to quickly get ready for the hike. The transition from warm sleeping bag to cold gear is not easy, especially without a cup of Dunkin Donut coffee (America runs on Dunkin’s) to help me along. Just before we started out a hunter showed up. Al chatted him up a bit and he headed out ahead of us saying “I won’t shoot behind me”.

We were hiking by 7:30 AM with the sun brightening the skies. Within a short time we caught and passed the hunter on a snowmobile trail and soon after we headed off into the woods. Al quickly and confidently navigated our way to the 3,102’ summit of North Blue Ridge Mountain. The woods were great for bushwhacking, we only had a couple of thicker spots and those didn’t last very long. We were standing on the summit 1:02 after we had started. The canister on the top contained a log that went all the way back to 1977! It had been two months since the last hiker had written in the log. After a couple of pictures were headed off. It is amazing how quickly I’d cool once we stopped. My hands got cold and the sweat I’d accumulated began to freeze in the 10 minutes we’d spent on top. I kept noting that SURVIVOR MAN says “You sweat, you die”.

One of the good things about having snow on the ground is that you can easily retrace your steps. You also get to see what critters have been in the area. We saw all kinds of animal tracks. We retraced our steps down to the snowmobile trail then headed to the south-east for the summit of Crystal Mountain (3,230’). We came across a big clearing with wind monitoring equipment; it looked out of place in this remote location. While climbing up we came across the same hunter, he was in stealth mode and looked a bit unhappy with the amount of noise I was making. We hit the top 56 minutes after leaving North Blue Ridge. The jar on Crystal just did not want to open. Al worked on it and after nearly 15 minutes was able to gain access. The 20 minutes on top left me very cold, but as we descended it only took about 5 minutes to get that warm feeling back. We were back at the car in just over 20 minutes for a total time of 2:50:10. We’d bushwhacked two peaks and it wasn’t even 10:30 AM.

Next up was the drive down to Stark where we’d pick up another dirt road up the valley. Our drive took us within a couple of miles of Milan Hill state park, I had never been to Milan Hill and it has a fire tower. It didn’t take much cajoling to get Al to head over. The climb to the tower is only about 400m, so it didn’t take long to hike up. We checked out the tower and then quickly headed back to the car. Although the roads in Milan hadn’t seen any snow, the snow showers which had seemingly followed us all morning continued to do so as some flakes flew while we were on the tower. With this tower I have visited 15 of the 16 active standing fire towers in New Hampshire (and 31 in Mass.). I keep a list of all of my climbs on Peakbagger.

We drove through Stark and headed north into Stratford, parking the car at the gated dirt road which headed up into Odell, which had a population of 5 in 2002! I decided that I was pretty much done hiking for the day. My posterior tibial tendon has been bothering me since I started biking, and even without biking it has continued to bother me. Al was heading for a couple of miles up the road/jeep trail then would be doing a 3 mile bushwhack to get the Whitcomb summit. I decided to hike with him up the jeep trail then I’d run down and add on a little to get my run for the day while he continued on the hike. We parted company a little after 1 PM, figuring to meet again at the car around 4:30.

I ran easily down the trail, being extra cautious as there was snow but not enough to even out the footing. Later Al would mention that his walking stride was longer than my running stride and he figured I had just walked back down. I ended up doing 4 miles of easy running which had the added bonus of giving me two NH towns that I hadn’t yet run in. With Stratford and Odell I’ve now run in 123 NH towns (46%). Unlike Massachusetts where I’m really trying to get all of the towns (I’m at 90.6%), NH is just something I’m keeping track of but not going out of my way to complete.

I hung out in the car until Al returned just as it was getting dark. He was definitely “on” today as his time predictions were excellent. We drove the 150+ miles back in short order, getting home by 8 PM. It was definitely a successful hike. Al bagged 4 more 3,000’ as he closes in on finishing the list and I got a couple of 3k’s and a fire tower. I also got to test out my new winter boots which were great! My feet were warm and dry the entire time.


s p running said...

sounds like a vey successful hike... thanks for reminding me about hunters... Sunday I was out about 6.5 miles from home (got into Loudon) heard hunters gunshots & realized I was wearing white and a bouncy ponytail... wish Brooks pants were orange ; )

s p running said...

p.s. good tunes... got them on my iPod. Did you see the cool iPod headphones I wore?
(*disclaimer, I do not admit to wearing these when prohibited during races)