March 2007 - Windham High Peak



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I decided at the last minute to go hikng on Sunday, rather than finish up my taxes. It was the last weekend in the winter, and the last few days' rain and snow had just stopped, so it looked like Sunday would be pretty good hiking weather.  Although it was already well aftr midnight, I set the alarm clock for 3:00 so I could be at the trailhead by daybreak.  The drive up was very pleasant.  The roads were dry, the traffic light, and the sky unnaturally light, almost like dawn, most of the way up.  
P3180051.JPG I did attrive at 7:00, just at dawn.  It took a few minutes to organize my gear, pack my bag, and strap on snowshoes.  The radio said it was 20 degrees, but aftr the last few weeks that seemed mild.  I put on a couple of light underlayers and packed my coat in the bag.

This time I was hiking from the Peck Road trailhead for a change.  As I signed the register, it seemed unusually short -- about knee level.  The only name in the book was a ragner, and that was a week ago.  But the trail was broken, and I sufffled along easily in the firmly packed trough in the fresh snow.
All that ended a hundred yards later, then the tracks stopped.  OK, I get to break trail.  How hard could that be?
In a hundred yards, I realized -- hard indeed.  I was sinking into the fresh powder a couple of feet.  My poles were going in even further.  Sometimes I would break through the underlying layer, and go in up to my hip.  I realized the blue trail markers were at knee level, rather than at eye level, and that meant there was about five feet of snow on the ground.
At Windham Lean To

This segment of the trail is pretty flat, thankfully, but I was exhausted.  I began to realize that it could take every bit of energy to make it to the peak.  I had gone an hour and had not even reached the leanto, a single mile in.  And I had not even started the serious climbing.  I set a time limit of 12:00 to turn around, but debated in my mind if I had enough energy to struggle on for that long.  Maybe a group would overtake me and help break the trail.

In a way, that is exactly what did happen.  When I finally made it to the leanto, I saw that the trail from the other side had been broken, and the broken trail was heading up toward the peak.  It was so much easier and (faster too) on broken trail.  It must have been a large party, because the trail was well packed down.  Curiously, if I stepped off the beaten path, I would sink in lower than the packed down part.  It was almost like walking along a narrow catwalk -- step off and you would fall. P3180058.JPG
Snow on the trees near peak



The snow level was as high as the lean-to floor, meaning that there was no comfortable place to sit there, so I did not stop to rest as I had planned.  The need was less -- now walking through the snows on snowshoes seemed like resting.  I recovered some of my energy and accelerated the pace, so that I could remain reasonably warm in my light underlayers.  Once I was on the ridge, the wind was brisk but now that I was climbing I was still comfortable.  

There are sections of the trail with dense evergreen trees, and these were sheltered from the wind with solid, well-packed snow.  In between there were areas of increasingly high winds, where the packed trail was completely drifted in.  I could tell when I was walking on it, because the light drift gave way easily and I could walk on the catwalk.  If I stepped off, I would sink in and struggle to regain my footing.

All this time it was alternating between light snow and plain dense clouds.  But as I ascended up the ridge I got glimpses up ahead.  Gradally these seemed less and less far away and less far above, until most everything was down.  When I attained the summit ridge the sky cleared a little and I could see down toward Alabany through the clouds, and a little to the ridge to the south.  
View North from Windham


I finally reached the peak about 10:30.  The wind was strong, but I was still reasonably warm.  But as soon as I stopped to eat a snack I began getting cold.  I had taken great care to keep my water from freezing up, but the sandwich, the M&Ms, and the other snacks were frozen solid and pretty unappealing.  After sitting for about five minutes my hands were starting to get cold, so I packed up and started back down.  

I discovered that a large section of the route had already drifted over, so you could not see the trail.  Again, I proceeded carefully, looking for the slightest sign of previous travel, so I would not fall in more deeply.  The slope seemed steeper going down than it had coming up: on the way up I could kick steps, and my cleats would bite into the ice.  Coming back down I was much more prone to slip and fall on the steep sections.  It was all so soft I was not at all worried.  I hurried along, trying to warm up again, and eventually I did succeed in doing so, but I was traveling pretty fast.

At the peak 

P3180073.JPG Down in the tree section again I ran into another party, of two, heading up toward the peak.  They had come up from the north side, and had seen my tracks.  I said hello and kept on going.  
In the tree section

Back at the leanto, I stopped to take a drink and finish my lunch.  I stamped out a little pit where I could put my feet while I sat on the platform.  Not very comfortable, but it was out of the wind.  The frozen sandwich was still no more palatible than before.

The final descent was easier than breaking trail in the first place, but not nearly as easy as the other broken trail.  I had only the one set of tracks to step in, and I still had to raise my feet a long way in between.  I tried stomping down the in-between parts, and I alternated with stepping in my old tracks.  Neither one was ideal, but I made rapid progress nevertheless and before I knew it I was back at the trailhead.  It was only noon: I doubled my speed going back. 
My tracks 


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