Pierce and Eisenhower in "Where am I? The Moon?"
Submitted by Pat
Mountains: Mts. Pierce (4,312) and Eisenhower (4,760)
Date: December 28, 2007
Time: 8 hours
Weather: Cloudy, light wind, 30's-20's
Elevation Gain: 3,052
Trail: Crawford Path out and back
Holy Shit Factor: Moments off the scale
Check out my new crampons!
Nancy and I aren't usually repeaters. We don't like to watch reruns or watch movies for a second time or climb mountains we have climbed before. It just goes against the grain - not quite fingernails on a blackboard but something in that vein. So when we decided to add the 48 NH 4,000 footers in winter to our hiking lists we knew we were going to repeat climbs of at least 44 of those mountains. We also knew it was going to take us a long time to accomplish this goal and that we might run out of gas or time or health before we meet it. That's ok - we like having goals. It works for us. We press on, regardless.
So I am thinking about climbing Moosilauke as our first honest to goodness 2007 winter climb, but at the last minute change my mind and choose Pierce and Eisenhower. I thought the weather was going to somewhat clear and at least give us occasional views, but that was not to be. We arrive at the plowed out Crawford Path trailhead where we found a few other cars around 8:10 a.m. and are on the trail barebooting it by 8:30 a.m. Dejah, our trail dog who will soon be moving to Texas with her owner, is with us too. She is beyond excitement and runs around the parking lot sniffing everything and greeting everyone, leaping in anticipation and frustration at how slowly we are putting on boots, gaiters and packs.
The Crawford Path is the oldest continuously maintained hiking path in the United States and runs from Rte. 302 across from the Highland Center to Mount Washington. Temperatures at the trailhead are in the upper 20's and warm for this time of year. Despite the clouds, we set out in good spirits, ready for whatever adventure presents itself. The lower portion of the Crawford Path is gentle and our boots find enough traction so that the snowshoes stay lashed to our packs. This is also our first trip with new crampons (Grivel 10 classic) and we are excited and apprehensive at the same time. How will they feel? When should we put them on? How will we know when is the right time? Wildly amateur questions but honest.
South of the Mizpah Hut cut-off we met a hiker who is not having a good day. He is exhausted, done, and decides to call it a day. He had climbed Field and Willey the day before and that took it out of him. It's great to recognize when it's time to turn around. He doesn't seem disappointed, just tired. We put on our snowshoes and continue on.
Hiking, being in the mountains, pushing our bodies and minds, always loosens the issues that lie so well hidden during the normal work week. The joys, depressions, concerns, victories, and pains that we feel and maintain at a dull roar suddenly feel free to come out, sometimes explosively, sometimes oozing, but something always comes out. For Nancy, the confusion and self-doubt and frustration caused by deciding to resign her current position is at the forefront of what comes out for her. She walks and cries and talks and works through the anger and recriminations. It is wonderful to witness the purging. By the time we reach the tree line, she looks and feels lighter, well settled in her heart and confident that her decision to leave is the right one.
The wind is stronger as we come out into the open - no views except for an eerie grey monochrome world, dead grey trees, ice covered branches, occasional grey rock sticking up between drifts, dark green conifers that look black, and white snow everywhere. I feel like I am on another planet. The only color is Nancy's teal jacket and Dejah's cream colored coat. Where are we? The moon?
Once we hit the wind, we have to stop so Nancy can change into dry clothes. We know that she shouldn't allow herself to get so hot that she sweats until her layers lose their wicking abilities, but in order to keep her from sweating she'd have to climb naked and that presents another set of problems. So she sweats and gets wet and stays relatively warm as long as she keeps moving. Once she stops, though, she gets cold really quickly, in seconds, and we are talking a deep, dark, emotionally punishing cold. After preparing her dry clothes, she grits her teeth and strips off all the wet upper layers, gasping once she gets down to exposed flesh. I hold out dry shirts and she grabs them and puts them on as fast as an actress backstage doing a quick change. Chemical hand warmers stuffed in gloves, hat on and hood up, she stands and waits for the pain of the cold to recede. Eventually the possibility of warmth centers her and we move on to the Pierce summit spur trail.
As we turn right for the .1 to the summit, the wind hits us full on and the first cairn is nowhere to be seen. Does the trail go right or left? I choose right and luckily it is the correct choice. We make it to the summit at 11:17 a.m. and decide to get out of the wind and put on wind pants. We also enjoy some hot chocolate before heading back to the Crawford Path and starting the trek to Eisenhower. It is clear after we started trudging through the first drift that it is going to be nearly impossible to follow the trail with the poor visibility, snow depth and drifting. BUT, we are in luck, an intrepid climber has gone before us and I can just make out his tracks through the drifts well enough to follow the trail. How he was able to follow the trail amazed me, but I didn't look that gift horse in the mouth for too long before hiking onward.
At the base of the spur to Eisenhower we put on our new crampons - can't lug them all the way up and not try them out. They are easier to put on than Stabilicers and once we start out we look at each other and smile. They feel great!!! I don't feel like I am going to roll an ankle and have great traction. They don't feel heavy either. Wow! Can't wait to use them again. We make it to the summit at 1:10 p.m. and see nothing except the summit cairn and lots of grey. Take a summit picture and head back down.
Our legs are tired - hip flexors screaming, quads fatigued, and many miles to descend. We don't talk much on the way down. Occasional, short bursts of conversation checking in with each other, making sure the fun quotient is being met. We hit the trailhead around 4:30 p.m., just in time to avoid taking out headlamps. It feels great to take off snowshoes and boots and just sit for a while.
Climbing in winter is different. We tread more closely to the risk line and making the summit holds a little more meaning - besides actually making it, we make it despite the risk. We make it because we are strong and sensible and know when to turn around. I have nothing to prove to anyone, except that I will live to climb another day.
6 out of the Winter 48