Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lowes Bald Spot (Pinkham Notch) March 23, 2013

Lowes Bald Spot (2,875') via Old Jackson Road (AT) March 23, 2013

Mileage:  4.4 miles RT

Elevation gain:  825'

Trailhead:  Trailhead is directly behind the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, Route 16 just south of Gorham.

Lesson learned:  March winds can blow you over!

(Lowes Bald Spot is a bump about halfway up the side of Mt. Washington offering close-up views of the Presidentials.)

Hiked with Rich.   We were working as trail information volunteers at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center on a spring weekend when all of New Hampshire was bathed in sunshine. 

Except for the notch. 

It started snowing the night before, and by morning about 6" of new snow had fallen and was still coming.  When we awoke the clouds were dark and hung low, the wind was fierce (topped out at 109.1 mph on the summit by 9 a.m.) and any enthusiasm hikers and climbers had that morning was smacked out of them as soon as they parked and got out into the wind.

This is how Mt. Washington greets spring.  I figured our afternoon break would have us curled up by the fire in the library of Joe Dodge Lodge reading, listening to the wind outside.

After a morning of helping hikers and climbers map out a "Plan B" (no skiing Tucks or summiting today), Rich announced that Lowes Bald Spot would be our destination that afternoon.

I am so ready for spring and sooooo over hiking in snow.  Particularly deep snow on trails that hadn't been broken out.

But Lowes Bald Spot is a local favorite and one we recommend to Pinkham Notch visitors, which we did liberally that morning so I knew others went before me. I wouldn't have to break trail.

About a dozen hiked this trail before us but you'd never know it!
It was still snowing and blowing when we got on the Old Jackson Road trail at about 12:30.  There'd been others before us but it didn't matter; the wind wiped all tracks and drifted the snow into our path.  Since Old Jackson Road trail is part of the Appalachian Trail, the frequent AT blazes make the path easy to follow.

I'd just waterproofed my old windbreaker and it seemed to be keeping me dry.  About a mile in the trail turns right and steepens.  This is deceiving on the map; it looks like the path is a straight line. In fact the last time we hiked Lowes we went straight and came out too far down on the Mt. Washington Auto Road. This is easily corrected, just walk up the road until you see where it crosses (good signage).

The snow was still coming and as our elevation increased so did the ferocity of the wind.  We hit the auto road with just a hint of blue sky overhead.

Crossing the auto road in winter is such an experience. Notice the tracks of the snowcoach.

Lowes Bald Spot lies just beyond the auto road crossing.  A sign indicating "5 minutes" is posted before the very steep climb up to the knob.  I've never seen this wording on any sign in the Whites.  I guess they figured the faint of heart would see the final scramble and give up on the trip!

Lowes Bald Spot "5 minutes."
And up we went to the top.
Stubby spruce dots the top, buried in snow.  The magnificent views were covered in gray clouds.  We saw nothing and heard nothing except for the howling of the wind. It was hard to stand up straight and a few times we ducked down to keep our ground.

Just a BIT windy!
A few photos later we headed back down.  The wind lessened as we descended; our tracks going up had disappeared in the snow. 

There was one small spot just past the auto road that I had trouble negotiating in snowshoes (icy, steep, awkward) but other than that we blew down that trail toward Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. As we entered the more sheltered stretch we heard the loud roar of the wind directly above us but experienced just a gentle breeze. The wind was racing over us, pushing toward the Wildcats.  We were protected from it.

We got back to the visitor center about 3:00.  It was a windy, fierce, gray day; cold with no views.  Only in the Whites would you hear those words followed with "an awesome hike!"

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