Building Good Karma on Waumbek

Submitted by Nancy

The name Waumbek comes from the Native American term "waumbekket-methna" meaning "white or snowy mountains." Fitting...

Mountain: Mt. Waumbek
Date: February 16, 2007
Time: 4 hours and 30 minutes
Weather: Partly cloudy, snow showers, windy and cold
Miles: Maybe 3
Steps: It felt like a million!
Trails: Starr King Trail
Holy Shit Factor: 30 inches of snow pushed the holy shit meter up to the top

Short Video Clip
Nancy Slogging

Buried in this snowy hike report are the following juicy tidbits:
  • What to do when your mitten is stolen BEFORE you begin your winter hike
  • The real reason trees are so important along the trail
  • How high Pat and Nancy can lift their legs - maybe only dogs will care about this...
  • How to keep your hiking partner motivated when they're pooped
  • When to turn back on your snowshoeing hike
  • How to earn good hiking karma, according to Pat

We leave Keene at 5 a.m. and arrive in Jefferson a bit before 9 a.m. On the drive up, Pat predicts 13 degrees, 20-40 mph winds, minus 21 degrees chill factor. Great - wish I didn't hear THAT! We park in a roadside pull off and walk up the road towards the trailhead. Okay - the walk from the car to the Starr King Road is my first moment of truth. It is 8 degrees and the wind is assaulting us head on. My jaw is frozen in place and my eyes are watering, but I can't put my face down out of the wind because I need to see the cars speeding by us spraying slush. In my mind I am asking, "we're hiking today because...?"

We walk up the Starr King Road and meet Sancho Panza, a Springer Spaniel who clearly wants to play. His owner comes out and tries to lure him away, with no success. We are trying to tighten a ski pole when Pancho serendipitously steals Pat's mitten and trots down the road, ready for the excitement he is sure will follow. He evades both of us for a good ten frustrating minutes. The owner brings out treats and a toy, but nothing deters him from his mission of keeping himself in the center of attention. The dog dodges by me and I make a flying leap, landing in a snow bank. Pat finally tries a more sensible approach and commands STAY, holding her hand up. He stays! She continues to repeat the command as she approaches him and finally grabs her mitten.

Pat and I try in vain to secure one of our hiking poles but no matter what we do, it does not tighten. So with three poles, snowshoes on and Sancho finally on a leash being led away by his owner, we are ready! It is 9:21 a.m.

I step over the snow bank and onto the trail. Okay - this is my second moment questioning what the hell we're doing. I sink into the snow up to my knees. My first few steps tell me this is not going to be a walk in the park - or anything close to it - it will be nothing short of grueling. We soon develop a system that keeps us trudging. We identify a tree up along the trail somewhere as our goal and then the trailbreaker huffs and puffs her way to her tree goal while the other person follows slowly behind, cheering her on.

The cheering helps. Pat is great at it. She asks me, "Okay, where's your tree?"

"I'm going to that birch tree with the yellow blaze," I answer and off I go.

The first steps are high, big and full of energy. In my mind I'm saying -- yeah, I can do this! I have pep at the beginning of my turns, but that fizzles and my strength fades as I move up the mountain. About half way to my goal, things get tough. I'm breathing really heavily and my legs feel weighted. Pat hears me grunting and groaning, sees me slowing and she starts to cheer - "You're amazing. You're doing awesome. You're almost there. Five feet, three feet, two feet. Whoooo Hooooo! You are incredible, Nancy!" I have barely enough strength to move off the trail so Pat can take the lead. I hand over the 2 poles to Pat and she chooses her tree and leads away while I try desperately to catch my breath. And so we slug up the mountain.

For the person breaking trail, it is incredibly hard work. The snow feels like wet sand and our legs like Jell-O. When I finish my turn trail-breaking, I am incredibly thankful that I made it to my goal and now I can begin to rest and recover as I follow Pat. Watching Pat snowshoes pounding up that mountain, I am grateful for her strength, long legs and vitality and her refusal to let the mountain win. What a fighter she is! As I follow slowly behind, it is hard to stay warm because I'm soaked with sweat but now no longer working hard, so I'm not generating body heat, I'm just losing it. By the time I am cold, it's my turn to break trail again.

About two hours into it, I am quietly discouraged and thinking I can't go on and I reach my third and final moment of truth on the trail. What the hell am I doing? I start talking to myself, knowing that this is 90% attitude and I don't want to quit. I tell myself I can do this and, miraculously, I get a second wind. I'm still moving pretty slowly, and I fall a few times - and let me tell you, it is not easy to get up in all that snow.

As we hike up the mountain, the snow gets deeper. How could it get any deeper? Now really, this is not an excuse, but I am SHORT! The snow started at about knee level and gradually moved up until it was now at crotch level. Have you ever tried to lift your snow-shoed foot to crotch level through drifted snow? I couldn't lift my leg high enough to get my snowshoe over the snow. I start lifting my legs with my hands, thinking that with that extra lift I can get over the snow - not even close. Nope - no way - my legs just don't go that high. So both Pat and I resort to lifting our snowshoe a bit and kicking down the snow, then lifting it a bit higher and then a bit higher so that each step now takes three steps to move inches. Our progress slows to a snail's pace. We take shorter and shorter turns breaking the trail and the trailbreaker is moving slower and slower each turn. But we are two determined, strong girls.

We started at 9:21 a.m. and it is 12:44 and we decide we've had enough after 3.5 hours of slogging up the mountain through 30 inches of snow. Our legs are toast, it's really windy and bitterly cold, and we are moving so agonizingly slowly that we would not make it to the summit before 4 p.m. It is time to turn around.

As we walk back down, we are amazed at each step we took up. "I can't believe we got this far," Pat says. I add a smart "Holy Shit" and we continue on, amazed at ourselves. I don't spend much time being amazed at myself, or anything close to that, so it is freeing and even joyful to be pleased with our efforts.

We aren't the only ones who will be pleased with our efforts. There is no doubt in our minds that Saturday morning a few peak baggers will walk up the Starr King Road to the trailhead and jump for joy when they see the broken trail. Now if we were there - we might say to them - ah, not so fast - since they won't know that the broken trail only goes half way. But we figure we earned 1.5 miles of good karma points.

The walk back to the car from the trailhead is freezing, and I am soaking wet with sweat and the wind seems to go right through me. It takes me half an hour to warm up in the car, heat blazing. But we did amazing work - we are two 50+ woman who don't give up.

Pat and I have had some pretty major adventures together. This one ranks right up there. We've hiked through rain and mud and ice and wind - now through snow. Major snow. I'll never think of snowshoeing again in the same way. But I pray that the next time I have those damn things on my feet again, Pat is right behind me singing my praises!

Waumbek - you have not beaten us - we will be back next Saturday.

PS - Could someone PLEASE break the rest of the trail to the summit! It's good karma...