Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mount Washington, December 18, 2010

Mount Washington, December 18, 2010

You never really know what the trail to Mount Washington will be like until you’re on the trail. This time of year the snow-line is fickle and the weather capricious. All we knew for sure is that we’d be hiking in snow at some point before we turned around - we didn’t feel like toting snowshoes (a necessity if the summit is your destination).

There was about an inch of snow at the trailhead (Exit No. 38) and it was a chilly, albeit sunny day. Most hikers know how to find the trail by now (it’s not signed but hard to miss) a little west of where the spur trail from the parking lot connects to the Iron Horse Trail. If you get to the spur down to Twin Falls you’ve gone a little too far!

Surprisingly there were only a couple other vehicles at the trailhead – hard to believe on such a beautiful day. We were equipped with Stabilicers, Yak Trax and ice axes but nothing would have helped much on the first stretch of the trail once it left the Iron Horse Trail. A very thin layer of snow concealed loose rocks/pebbles on the trail and it was slow going – the trail providing a great opportunity to sprain an ankle. Not enough snow for traction devices but just enough to make it entertaining.

I’d hoped there’d be a good crop of icicles to photograph and though they were beginning to melt we found several “batches” to play with (photography, not climbing!). It didn’t occur to me until later but it might have been interesting to shoot a short video of the ice as it melted. We passed the overhang (cave) where hardware dangles from the ceiling tempting climbers to practice their skills (no one was practicing).

About 2/3 of the way to the Owl Spot we hit enough snow that hiking became a joyful experience rather than a balancing act. The snow was beautiful but in dappled light, hard to get decent photos. Instead, we just enjoyed walking through the Christmas-y scene.

There was about 4 inches or so of snow at the Owl Spot (the view from the Owl Spot shrinks a little more each year as the trees grow) – we usually stop for a bite to eat but we weren’t hungry so continued hiking, making the stream our next potential turnaround. Strangely enough the snow deepened significantly as we made our way to the “designated” junction with the Mount Washington/Great Wall trail though we weren’t gaining much elevation. Just beyond the junction is the stream; not a problem to cross whatsoever but we turned around – the snow was more than deep enough to warrant snowshoes (the snowshoes were in Seattle). We bare-booted the Great Wall trail a short way just out of curiosity then retraced our route back to the car. En route we checked out a few of the “unofficial” trails.

We met a few hikers coming up on our way out, including a friendly gal who asked us where the trail went – she’d forgotten her map and was pretty sure she was on the Mount Washington trail. She’d started from Twin Falls so had already hiked quite a way. We told her she’d need snowshoes if she went beyond the Owl Spot – like us, she’d left her snowshoes behind.

There was still an inch or so of snow on the loose pebbles/rocks so though it looked odd we used our ice axes to keep our balance until we were on the Iron Horse trail.

As for photographs – I am not an expert photographer nor do I have high-end photo-gear but I get annoyed at what I call the “blue factor”. Snow and icicles that look white to us appear blue in photographs unless we’re out in bright sunshine. It is undoubtedly the color of evergreens reflected back onto the surface of the snow but it’s disappointing to get home, download the photos and find that most of the snow/ice shots are “blue”. Gives me the blues, in fact!

I do utilize my digital camera program and can either turn the blue shots into black and whites or play with the color a bit, adding a bit of red and yellow to brighten the snow.

A great day – is there any other kind of day in the mountains?

Stats: About 6 miles round trip with 2,400 feet of gain including side-trips.