A clear and frigid winter day hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire
|Mt Osceola Winter Hike|
I've been back in the Northeast for three whole days and just couldn't resist an MLK hike! Yesterday a good friend from school and I were able to hike the Osceola Mountains on a very cold winter day. This was my first Northeast winter climb and it just happened to be an uncommonly clear day. Mt Osceola is 4,340ft and makes both the New England 4,000-Footers list and the New England 50 finest list with a prominence of 2,040ft. The slightly shorter East Osceola, at 4,156, is prominent enough to be included on the 4,000 footer lists. Its a great hike during most times of the year and was a great way for me to get my feet wet (and cold!) with Northeast winter hiking.
|Mt Osceola viewed from near East Osceola|
Hike Description and Trip Report
Have I ever mentioned how amazing it is to live an hour away from one of the greatest mountain ranges in North America? I simply can't get over it! Even a cold winter morning couldn't keep me from getting excited about winter hiking. We drove up from Portland area and got to the trailhead just before 8AM. The temperature was -10F in the morning! That's cold, even for New Hampshire. The trailhead is located just below the Kangamangus Highway which happens to be the highest highway in the Northeast.
I was slightly worried that this might be too cold for my fingers and toes; I have poor circulation in my digits and this has caused me to turn back even when the rest of me is warm. Never the less, I was well layered and prepared for the cold. I was actually hot and sweating at times! No winter hike would be complete without the constant stops for layering up and down as the conditions change...
The first 1.3 miles are relatively flat until you get to the turnoff for the Greeley Ponds. The trail then heads south up a considerably steep sections to East Osceola. There are plenty of great lookouts as you get higher which will make the steepness worth the trouble. After an hour and a half of hiking and taking pictures, we came to the little saddle on the south side of East Osceola. This is another excellent point for pictures of the White Mountains and Mt Osceola. From here, the east peak is just another small climb. The summit is marked with an icy cairn but isn't much of a view.
From East Osceola, Mt Osceola is a 1.2 mile round trip with a steep descent to the col and a steeper ascent to the true summit. There is one section just beyond the saddle that is short but very steep. I would recommend crampons for this particular section- its icy and long enough that a slip could result in injury.
|The chimney on Mt Osceola |
We were able to shimmy up the chimney in snowshoes but we used crampons on the way back down. After this its just a short climb to the summit! There's a fire tower and clearing which provides a good view of Waterville Valley and a few other 4,000-footers. Just a couple hundred yards South of this is the true summit which has a great view of the Pemigewasset (the Pemi). Winds were much calmer that what was forecast so it was a nice place for lunch and some photos.
|East Osceola Mountain from Mt Osceola |
|Looking North towards the Hancocks and Presidentials|
Down climbing the steep trail was best done in crampons. There was enough ice on the trail that I wouldn't have wanted to do it in snowshoes. We quickly descended back to the Greeley Ponds trail turnoff and decided to go the extra 0.3 miles. The ponds were completely frozen over but it was a nice little detour. Cross country skiers can enjoy this moderate trail as well.
Overall it was a wonderful hike and I'd recommend it for a first time winter hike for anyone who wants to start exploring the Whites in the off-season. They are less crowded and still as gorgeous in the winter!
Trail conditions- As of MLK 2012, the trail was hard-packed, icy in some points and well marked. For the hike up snowshoes sufficed. I imagine you could get up the trail in micro-spikes alone but it would be sketchy in some sections. There are a few very steep sections which would warrant bringing crampons- we were glad we did! There were folks who didn't bring anything other than micro-spikes who managed to get up and down but I would not recommend it.
Read. Plan. Get Out There!