Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mt. Tom WINTER 4K (1/48) - December 29, 2012

Mt. Tom (4,052') via Avalon, A-Z and Mt. Tom Spur trails December 29, 2012

Mileage:  5.6 miles (RT)

Elevation gain:  2,150'

Trailhead:  Trail starts behind Crawford Depot on Route 302, about 8.5 miles east of the junction of Rt. 3 and Rt. 302 (Twin Mountain), 0.1 mile after the Highland Center. 

Lessons learned:  1. Hiking in deep snow is work, and 2. what a difference a dry shirt makes!

Hiked my first winter 
four thousand footer (4k) today with Rich. The region had been hit with about a foot of snow several days before so we picked Mt. Tom as our first peak as it's well traveled (most likely to be broken out).  It helped that the hike would be less than six miles, allowing us to learn how to manage our body temperature in winter conditions without committing to being outside for too long.

Our first winter  4k would test our hiking skills.  We had all the gear and had done 3ks in the winter (Mt. Monadnock, Mt. Crawford) but just didn't know what would work for us on a 4k in the Whites.

Extra stuff I put in/on my pack for winter hiking:* 
  • snowshoes and microspikes (microspikes are in my pack 9 months out of the year)
  • crampons 
  • winter baskets on hiking poles
  • thin long johns 
  • balaclava and face mask
  • winter mittens (I carry heater packets and light gloves year-round)
  • extra food and a bottle of water deep in my pack (in case my Camelbak tube freezes, which it did)
  • extra hat
  • (I carry extra socks, fleece vest, half zip warm shirt, rain pants, pad, bivy and the rest of the ten essentials year-round)
On the way to the trailhead we talked about what this hike might be like.  Rich thought it would be like hiking Mt. Willard twice.  I thought it would be like hiking Mt. Avalon one and a half times (both are close to Mt. Tom, and we'd done both in winter).  Thinking back on the conversation, none of our past hikes compared. This hike was longer, more strenuous, more beautiful than any winter hike we'd done.  

We arrived at Crawford Depot late (parking was tight).  Snow was predicted for the afternoon and I was hoping for summit views but we'd have to get there before the storm hit. 

It took extra time to get all the gear on (which is why I prefer summer hiking). We crossed the tracks at about 10:15, following footprints toward the A-Z trail junction.

We passed the trail to Mt. Willard

The trail had a narrow breakout(as indicated in a recent posting on, easy to follow, and the temps were downright pleasant (20ish°).  

The Avalon trail was in great shape!  
First water crossing, partially bridged.

Second water crossing still running but easy to negotiate.

We'd spent the fall leisurely hiking in Moultonborough (small peaks and long, gradual carriage roads) and it showed in our lack of stamina.  We were sucking wind shortly after we started on a gradual upslope.  Up and to our right we could see the summit of Mt. Tom, which seemed immense and way far away in our breathless state.  Like a whiny kid, I started asking Rich to check his GPS to see how far we'd gone; it was the longest mile!

We finally reached the junction where the A-Z met the Avalon trail.  The A-Z trail was also broken out and a steep gully presented an unexpected challenge for me. The path had one icy, steep area and negotiating down it brought back memories of a recent spill when skiing Attitash (I'd injured my knee).  It took a few tries before I could get past that area without feeling like I would slide and twist my ankle (snowshoes are awkward) but once past it I didn't have a problem descending.  

The trail got steeper causing us to sweat through our shirts and hats. We were breathing hard and going slower.  People were passing us - most wearing less clothing.  

A gray jay adopted us; apparently pegged us for the nut-eating suckers that we are. After a few gorp breaks (tossing more than a few nuts to that fat little bird) we made the last push up to the spur trail.  It started to snow; we would not get any views today.  We were chilled but figured we could make another .5 miles to the summit.  

Only .5 miles to the summit!

The woods were dark and romantic as we walked down the trail to the summit (which is pretty flat). 

One small steep section later, we were surrounded by sky and tall trees heavy with snow. It was magnificent.   Then just as quickly we reached short stubby trees, the mark of a New England 4k summit.

The overlook is more overgrown than I remember.

We were not on the summit alone (two other groups were there).

I'm still not convinced I want to add another list to my peakbagging spreadsheet but just in case, I looked around for the summit cairn  - which is easy to find in summer (see Mt. Tom trip in 2009).  

The landscape is so different in winter.  Where did I just come from, which direction am I headed?  I tramped around the top to find the true summit and couldn't see anything that resembled a pile of rocks under the snow.  Other peakbaggers were doing the same thing without luck.

On the summit, waiting for us to get lunch out.

We took a few photos and then ducked into trees to eat lunch.  I took off my coat and changed my shirt (a really good move).  It wasn't windy but it was cold, particularly when we removed our mittens to eat so we had what amounted to a few bites of lunch and then headed down (to keep warm and for the protection of the deep woods).  

Down was beautiful.  Our snowshoes shushed down the path where they could.  When we stopped and listened, we heard just the snow falling lightly through the trees.  Heaters in my mittens relieved cold fingers and I was grateful to have been spared cold legs and feet on the hike.  As we approached the Depot and parking lot, we discussed what worked and what didn't (see below).  

At Crawford Depot a winter storm was in full swing, emphasizing just how sheltered the trails are. Snow was heavy, blowing at a 45° angle and the wind was whipping!  We got to our car, removed all that was snowy and wet and headed to the Highland Center to warm up.

Our first winter 4k is behind us; it was harder than expected. Last year the snowshoes stayed home all winter and this was the first time we'd taken them out for a big adventure. We were pleased with their performance and look forward to hiking in them again soon.  

What worked well:
  • Warm fuzzy leggings under rain pants with gaitors
  • Garmont winter boots (though I will change to flat laces to keep them tied)
  • MSR snowshoes with the 4 straps and clips (climbing bars are cool)
  • Heavy duty ski mittens with heaters
  • Winter coat (it kept me warm and dry but there are drawbacks)
What didn't:
  • Hot Chillys crew neck long sleeve shirt (my neck was too cold - changed out of it on the summit)
  • Necky - it was fleece and too hot/constricting 
  • Winter coat (very warm but it encouraged me not to layer, a bad thing - though I liked the extra pockets)
  • Sports bra (although moisture wicking, it chilled me most of the way)

*Note: the items on my "Extra stuff" list take into account where, when and conditions and circumstances of this hike.  For a more complete list of items to bring on a winter hike, visit the AMC site.