I'm Just Not Ready to Give Up Yet - North and Middle Tripyramid
Submitted by Pat
Mountains: North (4,180) and Middle (4,140) Tripyramid
Date: January 10, 2009
Time: 10 hours
Weather: sunny, no wind, teens
Elevation Gain: 3,450
Trails: Pine Bend Brook Trail, Tripyramid Loop and back
Nancy at the trailhead
Nancy in deep snow
"The weather is perfect, there's no wind, and we should have climbed Washington." This is what I am thinking as we begin the steeper part of the ascent up the ravine on the Pine Bend Brook Trail. In my next breath, I think, "No, we are meant to be here today - slugging up the steep section of the Pine Bend Brook Trail in a bid for our 17th and 18th winter peaks. There is no "should have". This is what it is and it is incredible!"
We arrive at the trailhead at 8:30 a.m. A truck with MA plates precedes us and the solo hiker sets off before us on snowshoes. We follow him down the trail at 8:45 a.m. It is a beautiful day, sunny skies, not a breath of wind, temps around 6 degrees. Nancy has been dealing with the vagaries of a cold all week so I am impressed that she is willing (and able) to attempt a 9 mile hike in unknown snow conditions. She's a trooper, that one. Popping Dayquil every four hours keeps things under control for her.
The first part of the trail is gentle and relatively flat - we put on snowshoes so we can do our part in packing the trail into a perfect superhighway. We set a good pace and I am hatless and gloveless in no time. That's how I manage my temperature - hat off, gloves off, unzip the shirt. I start feeling my quads as we begin ascending the ravine. This is not a good omen, but I shrug it off and keep going.
We don't talk much - the crunching of our snowshoes precludes being able to hear each other so we stop whenever we have something to say, and keep that to a minimum. The trail starts to become less compacted as we enter the ravine and just before the sharp turn to the left and the beginning of the steepest section, we meet the hiker who had gone ahead of us. He says he hit three feet of unconsolidated snow and that was that. I am momentarily disappointed, but then I think, "Hey, wait a minute - I can't just walk away from this. I have to go see for myself," so we press on to where he stopped. I try and pull myself up the incline but it is like swimming in chest high snow - my snowshoes won't get any purchase so for every foot I advance, I lose 6 inches.
I am using my poles to push myself up and my brand new Leki pole pulls out of the connection and bends in half. Grrr - that makes me really mad - I am initially angry at the manufacturer - these poles shouldn't do that - but as the hike day goes on, I find I really miss the extra push the second poles gives me. I feel lopsided with one pole. Oh well - nothing to do about it except keep on.
I turn around and see the look on Nancy's face, which basically is saying, "This is crazy. Totally and completely crazy to try and continue." I can feel how angry I am - I will not be defeated by some deep snow. No way - we've already come this far and I don't want to have to climb this again. I tell Nancy that I am just not ready to give up yet, so we decide to put on crampons and attempt to climb up to where the trail turns into the woods and see how it goes. Maybe the snow depth will lessen and conditions improve higher up.
Putting on crampons (or any kind of gear in the winter) is always a production number - snowshoes off and tied to the pack and crampons on with fingers turning into frozen useless appendages. The cold touches Nancy in a very deep emotional place and besides getting very cold very quickly when she stops moving, the cold is a dark pit of hell for her, past history that comes back to challenger her on every winter hike. I am amazed by her fortitude and willingness to face the cold in pursuit of a goal.
Crampons on, we start back up the hill, and actually make headway. Whooo Hooo! It is slow headway - lots of work kickstepping into the ice under the two-three feet of snow - and we keep going - OK, let's just go a little farther. We get there and breathing heavily we decide to just try to get to that bend in the trail and see what it looks like.
We are working hard. I don't recall ever working this hard on a hike before. Ever. It is taking all my strength to get purchase and pull myself up on that leg, muscles trembling with effort, to kick another step and keep going. Step by step, lead change by lead change, we make progress. We don't talk anymore about turning around. We just keep going. It's amazing the power I feel when we stop talking about turning around and just move upward. Step by slow step.
Eventually the trail becomes less harsh and we change back into our snowshoes. Might as well bank some trail breaking karma points.
I am leading when we get to the headwall - the steepest part of the ascent except for the section in the ravine - and I turn around because I hear someone coming. A hiker has appeared below us, wearing crampons, and says hello. I am ahead so Nancy speaks with him. He says there are two other hikers spread out behind him, but we never see them. In fact, he doesn't pass us and we lose sight of him as we struggle up the headwall. My body is really starting to talk to me now. I find every balancing point to be excruciating and my quads start to tremble and threaten not to hold my balance. I pull myself up any way I can - by pole, by tree, by twig. Nancy is right behind me and she is smiling through her grimace.
When we get up to the top of the ridge the going is much easier and for the first time I think we might just make it. We struggle to stay on the trail - the blazes are farther apart and some are hard to see - we have to range away from the last blaze and eventually find the trail. Nancy has good trail intuition and good eyes for the faded yellow blazes. We keep finding our way and moving on - I expect the folks behind us to overtake us any moment, but they never show. We bag North Tripyramid at 1:45 p.m. Wow - that's late! I ask Nancy if she wants to continue and she says she feels a little nervous about going down the steep area in the dark. Then she turns and begins walking toward Middle Tripyramid.
I think about that and stop her after a minute and say, "If we go on, we won't be able to avoid going down some of the steep stuff with headlamps." She turns and looks at me with guileless eyes, then turns forward and hikes on through the powder. My memory of the ridge between North and Middle Tripyramid is that it was easy and fairly level, but it isn't. That is just a memory of a long ago summer hike on a beautiful sunny day. The ridge isn't too bad but as tired as we are it feels like a long down and an even steeper up. I recognize the summit of Middle Tripyramid as we arrive at 2:30 p.m. We are both smiling and hungry when we arrive, so we take a summit picture, take out our half frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and start the long walk back.
We arrive back at North Pyramid at 3:30 p.m. and pause to change into dry clothes and take a summit picture. I have to talk Nancy into stripping, knowing she will feel so much better getting out of her wet clothes into dry ones. She hesitates and gives in. Ten minutes later she is so happy she did.
About an hour or so ago I start experiencing pain on the outside of my left ankle near the Achilles tendon. I ignore it and it gets worse and worse. Every step is painful and when I let it get into my head I can hardly walk without limping and groaning when I twist the wrong way. I try butt sliding when possible to take the weight off my ankle, but that doesn't really help as every touch of the snowshoe sends a sharp pain up my leg. I finally tell Nancy what is going on - she can tell something is because every time I try to get up after a butt slide it takes more and more effort - my knees and quads are finished.
Nancy convinces me to take some ibuprofen and since I can't swallow pills whole I usually avoid taking them until I absolutely have to. I give in and take them - chewing the pill and swallowing the smaller pieces. Blech! Then start down talking to myself - "You're ok. You can do this. It's not that bad. One foot in front of the other." After twenty minutes the pain recedes far enough into the background that I can keep pace with Nancy again.
We are pretty amazed at our effort today. Definitely the hardest work I have done to get to a White Mountain summit. We don't give up - we decide to go just a little farther and see how the trail is further up and when we get there it is a little easier and we decide we can get to that tree and see how it is and step by step we climb the mountain. I love that we made it. I love that we didn't give up. I love it.
We return to the car at 6:45 p.m. and we are worried what Nancy's husband Don must be thinking. He knows some of our hikes are long ones but we haven't had a ten hour hike in a long time. Then we have to wait until we get to Lincoln before we have a cell signal and call him. He is relieved to hear from us and we are relieved to tell him we are ok. We talk about the hike for half the drive - the high points (step by step, making it to the top, changing into crampons) and low points (breaking my pole, the steep headwall, getting lost, my ankle).
I am home by 11 p.m. after driving in a snowstorm between Hillsborough and Jaffrey. What fun! Another foot of snow and all our work for naught on the Pine Bend Brook Trail. Well, not for nothing - someone will benefit, however slightly.
We did it! We did it! We did it! We did it! 18 winter peaks! Yes!
17 and 18 out of the Winter 48