Winter Overnight on Whiteface - 10-11/Feb/01

By David Metsky

My friend Jen, who is very active in the AMC Boston Chapter, called me up about two days before this trip and reminded me that I hadn't told her if I was interested in joining along. It had pretty much slipped my mind, and the 30" of snow earlier in the week promised to make it an interesting trip. Just the previous day I had said that I needed to get out in the woods more often this winter so on a whim I said yes. It's been a while since I did a winter overnight, and the forecast was for very low temps on Saturday night, so I packed up everything and met Jen and her co-leader at the Burlington Mall at 6:00 AM under rainy skies. We all piled into my car and off we went, arriving at the trailhead at the appointed hour. It was, um, icy to say the least. It was here that I noticed that I didn't have my crampons. This didn't seem like a major issue since we had so much fresh snow and my showshoes have claws. At this point in time, while putting on my snowshoes, one of the D-rings pulled out, making me question my fate. I managed to use an alternative lacing and we all were off.

There were 7 of us on the trip which was good, since the trail was complete unbroken after the recent storm and we were heavily laden. We took turns breaking trail, but a few stalwart souls quickly established themselves as the steam engines of the trip. Fortunately, some dayhikers caught up to us and took over the major trailbreaking duties. But we were happy and the weather was nice, so up and up we went. There are some nice open areas on the Blueberry Ledges trail that give you nice views of the Lakes region while marching through the sunny slopes. Is everybody happy?!

I was feeling pretty beat, just having a difficult day. One of my ski poles broke so I had two broken halves hanging off my pack, and my legs felt like lead. This is what you get for not being in shape. Eventually, to keep pace with the group I had to give the tent poles I was carrying back to Jen, which is quite a hit to the ego, but winter camping isn't really a place to wear your ego on your sleeve. Finally we made it up to the ledges near the top, where you get some killer views of Chocorua and Passaconaway. Just a little more climbing and we came out at the ledges on East Whiteface. I even posed for a photo, tired as I was. We ate a quick lunch because it had gotten considerably colder during the hike. It was almost spring conditions while hiking up the open ledges down below, up here the temps had dropped below freezing and we had a ways to go before we could camp. Our original goal had been the site of the former Camp Rich, but we were going to settle for getting as far as we could along the ridge.

On our way up to the main summit of Whiteface we ran into the dayhikers coming down, having broken trail for us all day. After the summit we were back in deep, unconsolidated snow and breaking trail was again an issue. We took turns in front, except for me who was still crampy and tired, so I pulled many shifts as second in line. Just after 4:00 with everyone tired and ready, we found a spot off the trail and quickly began setting up tents. There were four tents, 3 two person and 1 single. Everyone stomped out our tent footprints, unloaded our gear and set up. After that we changed clothes, started the stoves and settled in for the night. Pretty much after that, we didn't see much of each other for the evening. Jen is a very experienced winter camper and she had our meals and stove situation all sussed out. With hot drinks in hand, we climbed into our serious winter sleeping bags and kept water boiling on the stove in the vestibule. It turned out to be about the coldest night I've ever spent out, about -25 degrees, with howling winds all night. On Mt Washington that night they recorded gusts of 135 MPH, the highest winds in several years.

Morning broke cold and clear, and we set about cooking breakfast and breaking camp. Everyone had cold feet as we put our boots on, and as soon as we were ready people started out of camp, just to get warm. It took a while, but by the time we hit the Dicey Mill trail everyone had decided just to head down instead of breaking trail up to Passaconaway. Due to the extreme cold during the night, a crust had formed on top of all the snow, adding yet another level of interest to trail breaking. As we got lower the crust got more solid, making it possible for some of the smaller members of our troup to walk on top of it. It was still cold but we were headed out so nothing much bothered us on that account. About a mile from the road the trail was broken out again, but it had been done yesterday and was now frozen up like concrete. It was actually more difficult going because of it.

Finally, we hit the house and barn that signal the end of the trail and start of the short roadwalk. We had gotten strung out a bit along the trail so we regrouped and headed out the field in front of the house. With one final look back to Whiteface we made it to the icy road and back to our cars. It was a great trip, one of pretty extreme snow and cold conditions but great fun for all involved. Check the weather forecast before heading out, getting surprised by -25 temps and 70 MPH winds is not a good idea. Thanks Jen and everyone else on the trip for a great time.


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