|Winter on Mt Kinsman|
I knew it was going to be a cold weekend. Towards the middle of February, an arctic mass plunged most of the Eastern United States into frigid temperatures over the weekend. Even the Florida Panhandle was seeing temperatures well below zero. Up here in northern New England, it actually felt like winter! A little too much like winter...
I had a weekend off from work and wanted to get out of the house and away from the books, despite the cold weather. In the White Mountains of New Hampshire, NOAA was predicting surface temperatures between -10F and 0F (-23C to -17C) with strong winds. Up in the higher peaks, the Mount Washington Weather Observatory was reporting a windchill of between -30F and -40F (-34C to -40C). This was probably going to be the coldest day of an otherwise mild winter! Great day for some winter climbing and... Denali training?
Here was the Weather Report
|Crossing Lonely Lake was excruciatingly cold with the wind gusts |
Well that's probably about as cold as it gets in the Whites! When I pulled into the parking lot in Franconia Notch State Park, my car's temp read 0F (-32C). I bundled up in 12 different articles of clothing which has served me well on winter ascents in the Sierras and Rockies. This day proved to be colder than anything I've experienced out West. In addition, I had crampons, an ice axe and snowshoes. I took an extra jacket for good measure and food for an extra day should the worst happen. One learns to prepare for the worst in the Whites... even in the summer.
I saw a curious sight at the trailhead. I was passed by no less than 100 young Boy Scouts on their a winter camp out. I couldn't believe it... there were 9-year-olds running down the trail with sleds and backpacks! One of their leaders told me that they had stayed up in the Appalachian Trail Cabin and it was their first trip! It reminded me of my first winter campout with the Boy Scouts when I was in 6th grade. Who would have known that I would actually be enjoying this type of thing 10 years later...
|No skin exposed!!|
It was a two mile hike from the trailhead to the Appalachian Trail Cabin at Lonely Lake. Its a wonderful little place that's fully stocked and open 365 days a year. The caretakers work every other week and keep it open for people who like to hike up in the winter and stay in the cabin. Over the years these cabins have created a small community of hikers and backpackers who visit several times a year.
The other nice thing about the cabins is that they keep up to date weather reports. The thermometer at the cabin was hovering between -5F and 0F with winds around 10-15mph. However the gusts across the bare lonely lake were much higher- 40mph with some gusts.
The ranger also gave me the weather report from Mt Washington which also gives a report for the high peaks. "Careful up there- there's an advisory for windchill of 60 below zero". I couldn't believe that. Somehow, the temperature was so cold and the wind so fierce that the temperature feels like 60 below zero. (how do they come up with this stuff?)I have no mental picture of what -60F "feels like". However I was well-dressed for what I'd encountered so far and I could always turn back.
|Kinsman Pond in the Winter|
After leaving the cabin, I climbed up the steep "Fishin' Jimmy Trail" which brings you to Kinsman Pond below the two summits. After about an hour, I popped out near the wilderness shelter by Kinsman Pond. Normally a serene little refuge for AT hikers, this was where the cold became almost intolerable. At one point, while skirting around the lake, I took off my mask for a second and breathing in hurt!
Still, back in the cover of trees, it was not so dangerous. Most of Kinsman Ridge is covered in trees save for a few exposed sections. Walking up was difficult because my goggles were fogging up and then subsequently freezing. It was an interminable process of stopping, taking off the goggles, de-frosting them and walking again. Eventually the summit of North Kinsman was below me and I started the march to South Kinsman. Interestingly enough, I met 3 other hikers charging the ridge. They also had the classic, frozen beards and eyelashes.
|South Kinsman in the Winter|
Everything had a bizarre, ethereal look to it. While my other winter hikes have been nothing but delightful, the mountains on this trip looked fierce and uninviting.I thought that this must be what Alaska looks like in the winter. But of course.... nothing... not even frigid temperatures will keep me from taking pictures!
The summit of South Kinsman was the most exposed and coldest part of the trip. I wish I had a thermometer to actually measure the surface temperature. There was just such a huge difference between hiking below and above treeline. Even with all the clothing, I could only stay long enough to get a summit picture or two.
|The summit of South Kinsman|
|Winter on Cannon Mountain|
Hiking down was colder as the day wore on but having that Appalachian Cabin made it more bearable. There I was greeted by a couple of other fellow hikers who were staying the weekend up in the cabin. So I wasn't the only crazy one...
Well, I think that takes the cake for my coldest hike ever. Earlier last year I was able to bag one of the Tetons and Mt Elbert in Colorado in the late spring but this was much colder. Who would have thought that it could get so cold on a mere 4,100ft mountain? Be prepared for anything when you're hiking in the Whites!
Read. Plan. Get Out There!