Such a pretty little gumdrop!
Since we have only been hiking since May of 08, we hadn't yet experienced winter hiking. We were all outfitted (microspikes, warm cloths, snowshoes, etc...Eastern Mountain Sports LOVES us). Now, it was time to actually put these new items to use. After much discussion, we decided to tackle Mt. Blue. At approximately 3000 feet and only 1.6 miles of trail, we figured it couldn't be that difficult. We had hiked much longer and taller. This would be a good place to start.
As we have had problems in the past with wasting time finding the trailhead and we knew that we would have to snowshoe 2.0 mi up the Mt. Blue Rd (not maintained in the winter) to get there, we decided to take a Saturday "quick" trip to cross-country ski the Mt. Blue Rd and find the trailhead. This way, we would know exactly where we were going in the dark for our hike. What a great trip this was. We skied for about 4 hours...up this road, down that side trail, up this trail. Several times, we had a peek of our quest through the trees. Yes, it does look like a gumdrop as stated in our guidebook...how pretty. However...we never did find that trailhead...we just didn't go far enough...it's difficult to judge 2 miles...especially without a map. Once back to the car (and our map), we figured we had just hadn't gone far enough but that it would be easy to find next Friday.
unaware of what awaits! Such and innocent looking gumdrop
As usual, we got up early (3:00 am) and drove the 2 hours it takes us to get to most of the mountains we want to climb. We spent most of the drive anticipating whether or not there would be snow for this trip. We had received over 18 inches of snow the Sunday before Christmas...then it got to 40 degrees and rained Christmas Eve and Christmas day! Fear not, however. There was plenty of snow and we were very excited. We parked the car, got out our gear and were off. I had "practiced" with my new snowshoes on a nature trail around our home during the snow storm the past Sunday so I knew what I was getting into (ok...for those of you who have done this before, don't laugh for TOO long). Mt. Blue Road isn't plowed but it had been groomed so the going was pretty easy. A few places were uphill, but most of it is a straight shot. Again, we caught a glimpse here and there of our "pretty little gumdrop" as we traveled in. The excitement builds. It took us about 1 1/2 hour to snoeshoe the 2 miles to the trail head. After a quick visit to the potty (had to shovel around to open the door) we were off up the mountain.
Beautiful Virgin Snow...how lovely
There is nothing that I love more than "virgin" snow...untouched by humans or animals for that matter. Add in a nice blue sky and it is heaven. When we got to the trailhead, this is what we saw...no one had been here. We were going to blaze this trail ourselves. My hubby took the lead and we started the ascent. Now, we knew that Mt. Blue was considered a fairly strenuous climb due to it's being a straight shot with no switch backs and continuous "up". But, hey, we were at a point where we relished strenuous...we loved the challenge and the feeling of hitting the summit after a tough climb. Besides, how strenuous could it be at 1.6 miles and only 3000 feet? We hiked about a tenth of a mile and my hubby was really struggling. I could not figure out why he was having such a difficult time. Ok...so, I guess it's my turn to blaze the trail. I took the lead and let hubby walk in my steps. Oh my GAWD!! Walking in someone else's steps is a lot easier than blazing that trail yourself...in 18 - 24 inches of snow! I could not believe how difficult it was and how tired I became after such a short distance.
We went on this way, switching back and forth between who would blaze the trail, for about two hours. For a while, we really didn't notice much...it was simply put one foot in front of the other and keep going; 15 minutes and a break, 30 minutes and a break, sometimes 10 minutes and a break. It was brutal. I guess I'm not in the shape I thought I was in. Oh BOY!
Eventually, we came upon an abandoned warden's cabin.
We took advantage of this to stop and have a Cliff bar (I love these...they don't freeze solid in cold weather) and to drop the packs for about a 15 minute break. We have discovered several issues with this winter hiking thing: eating and drinking take on another fascet when you have to remove those toasty gloves; you really can get down right CHILLY when you stop; going potty in the winter is NOT fun! We consulted our trail guide only to discover that this cabin is about 1.0 miles from the trailhead. One mile in 2 hours? What had we gotten ourselves into? At this point, we seriously considered our options. Our feet were quite cold (fears of frostbite arose) and we were SPENT! We were just a little over half way up...and the steepest part was still ahead of us. We contemplated and talked about it. After a short meal and some warmers in our mittens and our boots...we decided to push on and up.
Push to the top
We trudged on and on and on...taking turns as we had before. Our respite at the cabin had given us some energy and we spent more time enjoying (ok...maybe not enjoying. Maybe noticing is more like it) our surroundings. We noticed lots of deer and moose prints and plenty of bunny rabbits. Here and there...they seemed to be mocking us and our difficulties. We passed the time discussing how each would look in snowshoes and if they were watching us right this moment wondering what the heck those silly humans were doing now. We noted at several points along this treck our "gumdrop" (no longer so pretty...more evil then anything) off to the right.
After what seemed like an eternity, the trail finally dog-legged to the right. We knew that at this point, the trail was to get very steep in the final push. As our feet were getting warmer and, amazingly, the summit did appear to be getting close...we began to feel like we would be able to get there.
We kept reminding ourselves that this was very doable...but would take a lot more effort. The sky, while still very blue had begun to get those "mackerel" clouds. They really were beautiful and I just had to stop for a picture.
By this point...we had really gotten into a rhythm and were able to take briefer breaks. I figured I had this snowshoeing thing figured out. Again, I was to be proven wrong. After this right turn, the trail got quite steep. Not class three (thank GAWD) but definitely close. I offered to take the lead for this. HA HA HA...one step up...slide all the way back down. Another step up...another slide down. Ok...so...how the heck? I could just imagine the rabbits, deer, and moose having quite a laugh at this. Finally, I remembered that the snowshoes had crampons...and for crampons you needed to set them and use the balls of your foot to take the step. This seemed to work quite well. However, being of short stature, it was quite difficult to get my stubby little legs up high enough over the mound of snow to take the next step. My hips were protesting quite loudly before very long. And then it happened, the light showing through the trees changed...it seemed more, there and more all around us. We noted that the trees were a bit shorter and we could see sky ahead of us...not just above us. I think we're just about there!
The summit and views
I pushed ahead. I always seem to gain speed when the summit is within reach. All of a sudden, Bobby yells, "hey, you missed this!" Backtracking (a very depressing thing to do with such hard-won ground), I noticed a small side trail leading to a scenic view. GEORGEOUS. THIS is why we do this.
Tumbledown and Big Jackson from the 1st viewpoint
As usual, pictures do no justice especially since the feelings and emotions associated with this cannot be adequately portraied. Fatigue? What fatigue? Sore hips? When? After a brief stop at this view, we hurried (ok...not hurried) the final bit. After 4 hours (not counting the 1 1/2 hour hike on Mt. Blue Rd), we had done it...the summit.
We knew that the summit was "wooded" and that there were several scenic outcrops. We were a bit anxious that when we got to the top, we wouldn't have those views that make it all worth it. Not to worry...there were three wonderful viewpoints...all well marked. What was a bit of a surprise was the little solar building.
We knew about the tower...but not the building. I've heard there is also a helipad...but with all the snow you'd never know it was there. The summit, however, was quite charming and I'll look forward to seeing it in the summer. We went over to the tower and, much to our relief, removed our packs and snowshoes. It was time for a much needed and deserved lunch and rest. We just marveled in the views and that we had actually done it!
Do I look whooped?
View from the Tower viewpoint Saddleback from another viewpoint "Heafether's" hero shot Webb Lake...did we come from THERE?
Unfortunately, after about 30 minutes of resting...we began to get cold. Up to this point, the weather had cooperated wonderfully but now the wind began to blow. We hadn't checked out the other scenic views yet so we reassembled our gear, strapped on our snowshoes, and shouldered our packs. Yes, it was very worth the struggle getting here. We were refreshed and feeling very proud that we had endured and achieved. We felt very rewarded and began planning to return with the kids in the summer. After some joking and readjusting the gear (cold weather hiking really is a different beast!) we descended.
Descending...or is that sliding?
We merrily went on our way down the mountain...feeling very good about ourselves. I had figured out snowshoes! Um..so I thought. At the first very steep down section, I just stared...so, how does one get DOWN? After several attempts...it became apparent to me that it was slide down on my butt by accident...or on purpose. Guess which I chose? Actually, Bobby ended up following me (not sure if it was on purpose or not). I knew I should have taken a picture but...didn't. I guess I didn't want the kids getting a hold of it and using it as ammunition against me in my oder years.
After about 1 1/2 hour, we made it to the trailhead. Imagine, 4 hrs up and 1 1/2 down. That really does say something. It was now time to hike the 2.0 miles back to the car. I must say, this was truly the hardest part of the trip. We were wet (remember, sliding on backsides...oh...and my snowshoes kick up wicked snow as I walk), cold, very tired, and ready for a warm car and some real food. Finally, the glorious car was in front of us.
Despite the butt whooping we both got at the hands of this "evil gumdrop", we spent most of the drive home discussing where we would be going next. Baldpate in Grafton Notch...here we come!