I had already decided to hike Balsam when I saw that there would be an official 3500 club climb that day. I called Jon Bentley, the leader, and found that it would begin at 9:00 AM.
I debated whether to drive up Friday evening and stay in the lean-to, or to stay in a warm bed and drive up early in the morning. I wound up leaving home at 4:00 AM, arriving at the trailhead at 7:30. It was not as arduous as I had expected. In fact it was pleasant having the road mostly to myself, and it was light by the time I got to the mountains.
I had plenty of time to get dressed and to walk up the trail a bit in my snowshoes. There was a foot of hard snow and almost a foot of light powder on top of that. Although the thermometer said 17 degrees, I figured that I would not need my heaviest clothing nor my crampons.
Eventually Jon arrived, with some of his antique equipment (the theme of the hike). Then Cindy, Randolph, and finally Chuck, the local ranger came up and we headed up the trail.
|We took turns breaking trail, as the snow gradually got deeper. We hiked a loop, up one ridge and down the other. The hardest part was a little past the junction, where the trail headed up a very steep part of the ridge. I kept slipping because the powdery snow was on steep rock slabs, and kept sliding off and burying me. It was a struggle, but I made it up. After that the ridge was more gentle. The area near the summit was glistening in the bright sun, all the trees covered in snow.
|Ascending next to Mine Hollow Brook
|We ate lunch at the overlook, and met up with a party of four following in our tracks. We had broken trail all the way to the summit, and found that someone else had already come up the opposite way, so that we did not have to break trail all the way down as well.
|View from Balsam overlook
|The descent was much faster than the ascent, but in some ways more tiring also, because the snow was getting a lot more slippery and I kept slipping. I was landing on my butt in powdery, soft snow, but still it was sometimes a chore to get back on my feet. In any case it was kind of embarrassing most of the rest were not falling nearly as often. Later I figured out that clumps of snow under my snowshoe crampons rendered them nearly useless.
|Cindy Descending Rider Hollow
The last part of the trail, passing by the lean-to, was scenic open and gently sloped, with a nearby stream gently gurgling. We stopped for a few minutes at the lean-to, then headed the last little way back.
|Crossing Rider Hollow Brook
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