Roads Rivers and Trails

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Tag Archives: Winter


Mt. Washington

by: Brandon Behymer

Bryan and myself recently returned from a winter ascent of Mt. Washington (wiki link).  Known for having some of the worst weather in North America and the fastest recorded wind speed ever, the highest peak in New Hampshire’s reputation stands much higher than its actual elevation of 6,288 feet. Having done some winter mountaineering out west prior to this trip, I never thought much of it. How demanding could a mountain under half the elevation of Colorado’s highest peak be?  Fairly demanding it turns out.

We departed Cincinnati at 5:30am on Tuesday, February 6.  Groggy, and excited to be on the road, we started off with a few podcasts in a futile attempt to keep our minds occupied during the ‘too early for conversation’ hours of the morning.  Bryan drove for the first six hours through light snow and fog.  We started calling his wife’s Honda Accord the Magic Carpet since every time one of us looked at the gas gauge, it appeared that it hadn’t moved. And yes, we borrowed his wife’s car because neither of ours will make it confidently out of the tri-state area. I’m curious to find out when the stench of four of the most outrageously smelly feet attached to ankles will finally dissipate to a tolerable level in that Magic Carpet. Sorry Laura…

After paying our tolls through Pennsylvania we passed through a small portion of New York, through Hartford, around Boston, and up into New Hampshire.  Tuesday night was spent in great company at the friend of a friend’s cabin on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. Going over maps and forecasts at the dinner table while exchanging stories reminded me that the feeling of home has a lot to do with the company kept there, and the cabin quickly felt comfortable and warm. The view the following morning was incredible, and I can only imagine the good times had on the lake both winter and summer.  In fact, Wednesday morning a brave soul driving a Chevy Silverado went barreling across the frozen surface of the lake, presumably to an ice fishing shack, at a speed indicative of their lack of confidence in the thickness of the ice.

Bryan and myself were eager to get closer to Mt. Washington and decided that with the impending snow storm, reaching Harvard cabin (Harvard cabin website) early Wednesday afternoon would be the best course of action.  Snow began to fall just as we lost cell phone reception on the drive into the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.  It didn’t stop for the next twelve hours.  Our hosts from the night before accompanied us on the snowshoe hike up to Harvard cabin and then turned back to the vehicles, leaving Bryan and me to enjoy the 14-degree cabin, soaking wet from the steep hike up Huntington Ravine Trail.  We began building the fire promptly at 3:55 joking about how rebellious both of us were being for ‘ignoring’ the sign hung discreetly and directly over the wood burning stove saying that no fire shalt be built prior to 4pm.  The fire gods would punish us immediately for our haste.  The cabin filled rapidly with wood smoke, to the point of me opening the doors, fearing smoke inhalation issues.  Later that evening, a caretaker from the Hermit Lake cabin stopped by to check on the cabin. Upon walking in her only greeting was “Holyshit, you guys have clearly never seen a wood burning stove before”, and then demonstrated how not to kill everyone from asphyxiation overnight.

Five other men joined us in the cabin Wednesday night, two from Atlanta, their guide, and two hardcore skiers from Canada.  Like camp in forty below zero with a smile kind of hardcore.  We had a couple beers and entertained each other with stories of past travels to the hills and some goals we had for future adventures.  I could tell Bryan was getting tired, sitting quietly with a beer in hand is a sure sign of his exhaustion. As for myself, I wasn’t far behind.  Being lulled to sleep by the wind in a 65-degree cabin is not a difficult thing to do.  The guide and his two clients rose at 6am and were out the door by 7.  Bryan and I opted for a later start time to avoid the high winds in the morning forecast. At 10 below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50mph wind, any exposed skin would be frostbitten in 10 minutes.  It feels as if Mother Nature is trying to cut capicola ham from the flesh of your cheeks, under the bottom edge of the sunglass lens, and above the top of the buff protecting your nose and lips.

While the normal winter route isn’t very difficult, little more than a walk up past the Lion’s Head feature and on to the summit cone, the cold and wind are relentless. We left the cabin at 10:30am and snowshoed as far as we could before we put on our crampons. I stopped above Bryan on the slope and repeatedly pushed fresh powdery snow that had accumulated the night before down onto him and his pack.  Only one of us found this lightly entertaining.  Shortly after the crampon comedy we ascended a steep section of trail where both piolet and crampons are required. This section was quite fun and reminded me of how much I enjoyed climbing ice a few years ago in Colorado.  The next bit of trail extends up through the tree line, where the wind really picked up and leads to an outcrop of large rocks supposedly resembling the head of a lion. Neither of us saw the resemblance but the outcrop was impressive in its own right.

From here you can see the summit and exhaust pipes of the weather observatory, the current one taking weather readings every day since 1932.  Mt Washington is the first mountain I’ve summited that the summit looked as far away as it actually was.  No deception here.  2 miles give or take and 2 hours of biting winds and bitter cold.  Honestly it wouldn’t have taken quite as long had it not been for a cleverly placed cairn, on the far corner of a steep snow field that we both failed to see.  Instead we opted to follow two skiers and their skins tracks across the Alpine Gardens, post holing the ENTIRE way, and then up a very steep snow field about 200 meters from the proper route.  Several times along this poor choice of a route we stopped to laugh and take in the discomfort that our lack of observation skills had brought us.  Discomfort would have found us either way. Blaming ourselves only took the attention off the wind cutting our faces and the steepness of the snow field.

We reached the summit at 2:30 Thursday afternoon, and a goal that’s been on my mind for three years had been accomplished.  Both of us were pretty spent by the time we summited.  I had to cajole Bryan the last 400 feet to the top and that was about all that kept me going.  There is a familiar and exotic feeling about being above the clouds, on the highest point in sight in any direction.  Explaining it is difficult.  I tend to get a bit emotional and existential when standing atop a summit.  Why did I come here?  Why would anyone come here?  Is this what an outsiders’ perspective of Earth would look like? It’s so cold. I’m so tired.  My face hurts.

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Starting down is an exercise of patience for me. I want to stay at the top to admire the beauty.  The cold convinces me otherwise.  Knees protest the increased force of gravity.  Crampons pierce the fabric of my softshell pants and I stumble several paces forward, cursing loudly at my own coordination. Attention to detail must be at an elevated level.  My attention descended faster than my feet.

There are two other options to ascend to the summit and both require more technical skills than Bryan or myself currently have; however, after this trip I hope to become confident in those skills to climb the Ravines next winter.

We make it back down to the cabin at 4:30, after two hours of walking and glissading and laughing hysterically from the joy of sledding down the hill on our butts, trying to stop before colliding with an unfortunately placed rock or tree.  Once back inside the safety of the cabin we got the fire roaring and the interior heated up to 70 degrees by the time the second of our three dinners had been devoured (about an hour). I will absolutely have a wood burning stove in the house I build someday.

 

Want another perspective? Check out Louie’s Mt. Washington blog here.

Wonderful World of Winter

by: Ice Man

I know there are a lot of haters out there so I want to set the record straight. The best time to go for a hike is when it’s cold. In most cases, the colder and the more snow the better. Sure there are exceptions; I’ve struggled to sleep at negative 20 degrees, or labored through five feet of fresh snow before. But my most active months for local trips are always January and February.

Let’s compare the draw backs of the seasons. Summer hiking you are constantly sweating, constantly wet, getting swarmed by mosquitoes, nervous to step on a snake, your tent feels like an oven in the morning, and the trails get too crowded to find a campsite. Winter, you need a heavier coat. Boom! See, no contest. In all seriousness, let’s talk about the positive attributes of a winter hike. For me, I love the solitude! The trails are way more secluded in the winter and the harsher the conditions, the less likely you are to see someone else. The views are spectacular in winter and completely different than what you see in the summer. The leaves have fallen and ridges have more open views, the landscape has a sparkle as the sun hits the snow, and giant icicles rest over cliff lines and waterfalls. Fresh animal tracks are easy to spot and as the ground cover thins out even spotting wildlife is a bit easier. You know what else changes in the winter? Your diet. It’s like a freezer out there, bring ice cream if you want, carry out more meats or cheeses, what ever your hearts desire.

Worried about staying warm? That’s the easy part. It is way easier to regulate your temperature when it is cold outside and ideally you barely break a sweat. With a little layering 101 there are plenty of tips to maintaining a balanced temperature. A popular quote when backpacking is “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.” This quote is typically applied to a nasty rainstorm but applies to winter weather as well. There is not a challenge that you cannot be prepared for.

New adventures await when you build confidence in cold environments. Perhaps you can set your sights on some light mountaineering, snow shoeing, skiing, or ice climbing next. If the avoidance of itching a sunburned mosquito bite on the back of your neck while sweating on top of your sleeping bag isn’t convincing enough, I’m not sure what will be. I’ll be tucked into my puffy down sleeping bag, a warm belly of hot chocolate, catching some z’s.

So what is there to fear? Come by our next cold weather presentation for tips or stop by and see any of us winter walkers at RRT. Get geared up with the right equipment and hit the trails. Oh, and all this winter gear I’ve accumulated also means I’m the warmest person scraping my car in the morning.

Gear Review: Vibram Fivefingers Lontra

A True 4-Season Minimalist
Gear Review: Vibram Fivefingers Lontra
Written by: Bryan Wolf

Just this past fall Vibram Five Fingers released a new model of toe shoes called the Lontra. The Lontra was the answer I was looking for, finally an insulated Vibram so that I could enjoy my barefoot lifestyle all year long. I ordered my first pair and was not disappointed in the least. This “shoe” was hot! The concept was flying off the shelf and my feet were super toasty. I would wear them around town, everyday use, and chilly early morning runs. The Lontra was built for more though; the Lontra was built with the 4mm midsole and TC-1 rubber the same as the Treksport. I needed to take this on the trail and give this a test so it is worthy of the RRT wall.

The test subject: Ice Man. Familiar with winter trekking, I earned my trail name over my winter thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I have been wearing minimalist footwear for about 6 years. My first pair was the Vibram Classics and my Vibram collection is now at a very disturbing 9 pairs. I have enjoyed half marathons and week-long backpacking trips with them. I feel ready for the test at hand.

The test would be conducted on Mt. LeConte. LeConte stands at 6,593 feet in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The mountain has the most elevation gain in all the Smokies and is a mere 55 feet shorter than the tallest mountain in the eastern United States. LeConte will typically see 100+ inches of snow fall a year and its icy conditions are typically met with chain or diamond studded boots. How long, how cold, and how winterized is the Lontra really? We would go up Rainbow Falls trail, stay the night at the top, and go down Bulls Head trail the following morning.

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You Are The Technology
THE MAKE UP OF A 4-SEASON SHOE

With minimalist footwear “you are the technology”. That is the slogan used in Vibram advertising. No strike absorbing heel pad, no rounded arch or shifting sole, just you. So what is the Lontra? A Lontra is a North American Otter apparently, fair enough; it is also a minimalist five fingered toe shoe. The Lontra is the only insulated model with a micro fleece lined interior for both wicking perspiration and also added warmth value. It is labeled as water resistant with fully tapped seams. It has an extended neoprene cuff that comes around the ankle as well to keep out debris like snow. As earlier mention they also gave it a thicker sole than other non-trekking models at 4mm and with some more aggressive mini lugs for traction. The 4mm sole will also provide added insulation from the frozen ground you may be traversing. Like many models and activities the Lontra feels best with a wool micro weight toe sock. This will also add warmth and was used in this test.

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The Results
RESPONSIBLY WEARING YOUR VIBRAMS

The following review is based off of a prolonged trip with continued exposure to the elements.

On many levels these fury fleece finger shoes excelled. On the other hand, I would not choose them for this trip if I were to do it again. While they were plenty warm to start the journey they could not maintain it. The trip started at near 50 degrees, that temperature would drop sharply with elevation gain and we would be in temperatures just below 20 degrees up top. It was a 7 mile journey up the mountain and the top 4 miles of hiking were covered in snow and ice. My feet could not sustain their warmth despite my body burning off heat from a strenuous uphill climb. Once on the way up and once more at the top I would switch to some warm down booties while taking a break. The booties stopped the numb feeling momentarily so that I could put the Lontras back on and the hike could safely continue. On the way down we faced deeper snow and slightly heavier winds to chill the feet. Since we were moving faster down Bulls Head trail I was able to get to warmer temperatures fast enough to avoid a break. My toes I guess were comfortably numb.

Outside of the insulation value of the shoes they performed great! The neoprene cuff fit tight and kept out all debris and snow keeping my ankle and foot warm and dry. The sole of the shoe, although not modified for snow or ice versus other trek models still did well in those conditions. I did not have any issues with slipping and considering I was constantly on ice they did a fair job of blocking off winters chill as well. Given that it was snow and not rain, the shoes seemed waterproof during my test. Walking over streams of ice cold water I would have been in serious trouble if they were not. I would not trust them to be as waterproof as my boots but for these conditions they did great. Any sweat that had built up in the shoe definitely contributed to the struggle to keep warm.

Overall they were fun to backpack in and lived up to their advertised uses. I wanted to push the envelope and find their limits and I think I did that. I would recommend them for temperatures below freezing if the use is less remote and exposure is under 3 hours. I would recommend them for prolonged use at temperatures above freezing with or without winter’s ice and snow. This is a significant improvement from other Vibrams, I previously was not comfortable with prolonged exposure under 60 degrees.

Please remember that I am an experienced outdoorsman and that you need to take use of any gear, especially Vibrams, at your own pace. Vibram has a great guide to wearing your new minimalist shoes on their website. Know your limitations and please be responsible. You can find men’s and women’s Lontra proudly on the Roads Rivers and Trails shoe wall.

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