Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Penultimate Monroe 2/27/14

Working title: One is the loneliest number

Peak: Mt. Monroe

Trails: Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, Crawford Path, bushwhack, Monroe Loop

Mileage/time: ~5.6 miles, ~2577' of gain, book time of 4:05, actual time of 3:56

Started inadvertently, on December 31, 2010, the New Hampshire 4000-footers (in winter), have not come easily, nor quickly. More than three years later, two remained, both lying in the Presidential Range, that enticing, winter wasteland. With a wind chill advisory up for today, and a wind chill warning for tomorrow (and the final peak, Isolation, scheduled for next week), I figured it was now, or next Wednesday. Smart? Probably not. Did it anyway? Yup!

Planning on a late start, I slept in, got a proper sit-down breakfast, then headed north. The Presidentials were briefly in the clear as I drove through Conway, contrary to the forecast, and temperatures (at least according to my car) were solidly in the teens as I pulled into the hiker lot at the Cog Base... it was after noon! I got hot before I even got to the Cog Railroad buildings, and saw a skier coming down from his run next to the tracks. Following the well packed snowshoe track, I headed up.

Light snow fell the entire time I was hiking, and clouds were the rule. For a day where the summits were forecast to be in the clouds, it was only partially right, the summits were among the clouds. I made my way up to Gem Pool and a bit beyond, where I put on crampons for the climb. I huffed, I puffed, and made good progress overall. The temperature dropped, the wind picked up, and the sun waxed and waned.

Before long, I was at treeline, and the wind became more of a factor. On with the shell! Surprisingly, that was all I needed, as I made my way upwards. Deep blue skies, in stark contrast with the clouds, began to show up, and the climb carried on relentlessly.

I encountered some drifting as I approached Lakes, but was able to follow the packed track, for the most part. Once at the hut, I hung out in the doorway of the Dungeon, peeked inside, but did not enter. I didn't plan to stick around for long, and the wind-chill quickened my resolve.

With as much quickness as I could muster, I began the climb up the summit cone. I could see darker clouds moving in from the west, and picked up the pace to beat them to the top. While I climbed, Washington cleared, however briefly, and the winds grasped with icy, snow laced, fingers.

As quickly as I arrived, I left. The cold was intense, and the snow encroached. I zig-zagged my way back down, sometimes on my tracks, sometimes not. I bypassed the hut completely, and started the plunge. While there were sections that I could have slid down, I decided to just hike it, instead of taking more heat from my body. Late afternoon rays lit up the sky, and I cruised out on the solid track.

Glad to get back to the car, I set off for home. On the way, I got to thinking back. To three years ago, specifically. Much has changed, in mind and in body. I don't think that I would have gotten out of bed, with a forecast like there was today, three years ago. Guess a little bit of drive goes a long way.

Next week, if all goes according to plan, the finish will be upon both myself and Mike, as Isolation takes a dive. Stay tuned!

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