Mt. Stratton

Submitted by Pat

Mountain: Mt. Stratton (3,940)
Date: December 8, 2007
Time: 4 hours and 30 minutes
Weather: Cloudy, snow, windy, 20's
Miles: 7.6
Elevation Gain: 1,701
Steps: 15,788
Trails: Appalachian/Long Trail out and back
Holy Shit Factor: Sweet winter wonderland

Picture Gallery

Short Video
Nancy has fallen and she can't get up...

What luxury to wake up at 5:45 a.m. instead of 3:45 a.m. and drive to the south side of Stratton Mountain instead of anywhere in the White Mountains. Not that I'm complaining, because I love hiking in the Whites, but the extra snooze time felt great. Nancy, Dejah and I hopped in the car and headed to Stratton via Routes 9 and 100. The idea was to tag Stratton with the possibility of expanding the 7.6 miles out and back into an 11 mile loop over to Stratton Pond and back. Everything depended on snow depths, whether the trail was packed out, and our own stamina. When we arrived, Stratton was engulfed in clouds and ice crystal snow showers. It was beautiful. My kind of winter hiking day. Dejah was raring to go but it took us humans a while to get boots and gaiters and gloves and packs ready.

We set off up the Appalachian Trail-Long Trail at 8:45 a.m. in bare boots. Well, that didn't last long. After maybe 50 feet Nancy turned around and said, "We gotta put on the snowshoes, don't we?" I nodded, knowing this was going to be a full on snowshoe day, our first of the season. So it was with a lot of grunting and groaning that we bent over to strap on our MSR snowshoes. That routine of putting on snowshoes was conveniently forgotten this summer and the suddenness of this season's snow caught us a little off guard. How do we work this? But it all came back to us, we strapped them on and started up a gradual but steady uphill climb. After maybe 15 minutes I could feel my hip flexors start to talk to me. They were saying, "Hey, you! What do you think you're doing, wearing those oversized plastic clown shoes, huh?" They were not happy with me. I was amazed - just the extra weight and the width that caused me to change how I walk was enough to get those flexor's panties in a twist. Sweet!

Nancy and I took turns breaking trail. One other snowshoer had come through before the most recent snow, but basically we were breaking trail in about 16" of snow. Not as bad as the 34" we were breaking through when we tried to climb Waumbek last February (after our first real snow), but enough to break a sweat and happily share the lead every so often. The trail was beautiful - all the trees coated in rime ice and snow, everything frosted to perfection. For all the stress, hiking in the winter (or in conditions like these) is incredibly beautiful. I don't take a moment for granted. We reached a trail junction and found that another hiker had recently passed through, making the last mile or so much easier. We actually met up with him as he was coming down from the summit. He said climbing the lookout tower was pretty sketchy, but we were almost there.

We arrived on the summit at 11:45 a.m. The wind was howling a symphony in and around the lookout tower. An eerie kind of whistling. The entire tower was coated in rime ice and we decided we couldn't see anything anyway and Dejah (the dog) would insist on coming up too and it just wasn't safe. We took a summit shot, congratulated each other on #68 of the NE 100 Highest, and started down so Nancy could get out of the wind and change into dry clothes. That's always an unpleasant ordeal - stripping down to skin to put on dry layers. Brrr - but she's a brave one, that Nancy, and I helped a little by dealing with the wet stuff and prepping the dry stuff. After a few minutes of discomfort she was sighing with relief as her down sweater started doing its job. Ahhhh, there is hope!

The hike back down was a lesson in relearning how to walk downhill in snowshoes that have crampons on them. If you step in the snow, the snowshoes glide down gently. If you step on a rock or something immobile, you stop and if you are unfortunate like Nancy was a couple of times, you do a face plant. I was using my poles or I would have been planted right beside her. She doesn't use poles unless she absolutely has to - they hurt her right shoulder that was dislocated as the result of a car accident years ago and didn't really heal properly. The best part was watching her try to get up - my efforts at helping only seemed to make things worse, so instead I stood back and took a movie of her efforts.

We hit the parking lot at 2:15 p.m., plenty of time to get home at a decent, safe and sanitary hour. Great hike - although I expected to see skiers and snowboarders and hear the sounds of lifts and snow guns, but all we heard on the summit was the wind screaming through the tower struts. No warming hut, no hot chocolate, not even an Italian restaurant. After the water crossing adventures we encountered in November, this hike was a nice warm up for our bid to start hiking the 48 4,000 Footers in NH.

68 out of 100 Highest in NE