Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Mt. Pierce / South Moat Mountain - February 18-19, 2016

I planned a winter getaway for Amanda and myself in the White Mountains.  Originally this trip was supposed to be a snowshoeing adventure but with the lack of snow in New England we ended up not even needing them.  While Amanda was initially nervous about winter hiking in the Whites, I convinced her that we had the appropriate gear (a clearance sale at L.L. Bean certainly helped) and after talking with an experienced hiker at the hostel we ultimately decided to ascend Mt. Pierce on Day 1.

We drove up to the AMC Highland Center and prepared in the warm lounge area. We should have put on the microspikes immediately but foolishly I made us wait until we crossed the highway.  I say foolishly because it was very difficult to put these on our boots from a standing position.  Amanda may have questioned my leadership skills.  Eventually we got them on and began our hike.

The trail was well packed but there was plenty of icy spots  Indeed, much of the trail was just a light layer of snow over ice ice ice.  The microspikes served us very well.  There was no slippage and we walked confidently up all terrain.  The trees near the base were bare but within a mile snow/frost began to cover all the branches.  The temperature was dropping and I was constantly shedding/adding layers as was my preference.  Amanda pretty much stuck with her jacket throughout.

The beginning of the historic Crawford Path

Great icy waterfalls near the start

The trail was very moderate throughout.  I understood why people recommended the Crawford Path to Pierce for people's first winter 4000k.  It wasn't until we neared the summit that the trees retreated and we began to feel winter's bite.  At a frosty intersection it was difficult to locate the trail to the summit and I took us the wrong way briefly.  The snow drifts made it difficult to determine the path as previous hikers' footprints were nearly erased.  I could see how easily it would be to wander in the wrong direction and get yourself in trouble.

Now we're talking

The ridgeline of the Presidentials was covered in clouds so we were denied a few of the higher peaks.  The summit of Mt. Pierce had some protection from the wind and we rested briefly while we ate sandwiches (this proved foolish as the gloves and my frosted beard made eating difficult - next time: better food choices).  The initial descent descent was straight into the wind and we were quickly chilled.  Soon we were below treeline but my hands were frigid and it took a while to warm them up.

Grumpy Seth did not approve of Amanda taking off her
gloves to snap pictures
This is one of the few times I'll allow for a selfie

Once our extremities warmed up the descent was fairly enjoyable though we were both getting tired and ready to be finished. At the Highland Center we rested inside for a while before driving south for shopping and a movie.

The next day we wanted to get in another hike before heading home.  I looked for something close to our hostel in Conway and decided on South Moat Mountain.  It was about 2800 feet and had great views from the summit.  The first mile was on a meandering trail with crusty snow.  Easy going.  Then there were a couple icy sections that didn't seem like an issue  At one of these early ice sheets Amanda was up ahead.  I stepped onto the ice and immediately realized it was too steep for the microspikes.  I tried to backtrack but it was too late.  I slipped and fell onto my knee and arm, then cracked my head on the ice for good measure.  Amanda was too far for me to get her attention so I lay there for a minute, assessing.  It seemed like there was no major damage so I detoured around the ice and hobbled to catch up to her.  The knee pain quickly subsided but I had a big welt growing above my eye.  I got lucky as it could have been much worse.

Beautiful trail - it's going to be like this the whole way right?

Could've been worse

Not soon after the ice became the rule not the exception.  As the trail became steeper, it became an ice luge.  The woods still had some snow and we were staying to the sides to avoid the slickest parts.  The going was very slow.  Amanda took a bad fall herself, giving her knee a good bruise.  We made a wide berth of the ice, following several sets of footprints through a nearby bushwack.  There was some scrambling to get back up to the trail and we actually crossed over it and ended up on some beautiful ledges overlooking North Conway.  Lovely but we clearly weren't on the trail.  We could hear voices over by the trail so we ventured back.  We never saw the source of the voices but I did spy the blazes on a tree and we continued on.

We took our time to find the safest routes.  Amanda had become grumpy.  This was hard going, much tougher than yesterday.  We were going to be on this mountain much longer than we had anticipated and she was already dreading the descent.  A solo hiker who had passed us earlier now passed us again coming down.  He said that we had another 15-20 minutes to the top and the ice while bad, didn't get any worse.  We soldiered on and as we approached treeline the ice eased off.

As the trail grew steep, so did the ice sheets

Amanda assesses another ice sheet with disgust

The summit was perfect - clear skies and beautiful temps in the sun.  We ate snacks and enjoyed the views.  Soon an older couple came along and we chatted for a bit.  They were heading on to Middle Moat but took a picture of us before they departed.  Then it was time to make our way down.

Big rocks at the South Moat summit

We made it!
With Mount Washington in the background

The going was slow but not too bad.  My knees didn't care for the descending at first but after a while the discomfort let up.  We had no major issues getting down, it just took a while.  Afterwards we rewarded ourselves with lunch at Cafe Noche before making the long drive home.  It's always great driving up here, not so great heading back.  Overall a very successful two days of hiking.  We learned some lessons and enjoyed ourselves.  Until next time New Hampshire!

1 comment:

  1. Great trip! I was at North Moat for that race in September, that place is legit...in ice? Holy crap...looks like fun!