Thursday, February 23, 2012

Carter Dome

I had my first hike with snow shoes up another one of the 4000ft peaks in New Hampshire.  This one was Carter Dome, one of the peaks about 2hours north of Concord.  All told it was 7 hours of driving on this day, the hour and half to Einstein Bros for breakfast and the two hours North of that (Carters Dome is very close to the Wildcat ski resort) and then back again.

This was also one of the easier 4000ft ascents with a really gentle walk to start and even though we chose the harder option to go up a secondary peak I found it easier going than I expected.  The secondary peak (Mnt Height) is also over 4000 ft but doesn’t count as one of the 49 because the dip in the saddle between it and Carter Dome is too little to qualify it as a separate peak.

Driving into the region earlier in the day (we arrived at the trail head at 9:30 am), we didn’t see much snow - but from previous hikes (and because John just knows these things) we elected to take snow shoes and micro spikes with us.

The first section of the hike was along a swollen stream with some really cool rapids and pools.  The water was white with some of the pools in various hues of green, rimmed in snow and ice.  I regretted the fact that we had to keep a steady pace because I would have liked to have gone down to the water level and taken many photographs.  I consoled myself that I’d take pictures on the way back (which I did).  I think that these streams justify a separate trip here just to take pictures though.

The snow and ice appeared after about an hour of walking and we were able to navigate around it - walking on the side of the path and on uncovered rocks until we were pretty close to the summit of the first peak where we decided to start with the micro spikes because it was mostly ice.

You have to be pretty trusting of the spikes and really stand down hard on them when you cross ice - but in this case the places we needed to cross directly were not too bad.  As we got closer to the top, though, the evidence of earlier hikers “posting” through the snow became more common place and I started doing the same.

John explained that there is about a 6 inch section in the middle of the path that is pretty hard and after trying to step on it and failing a few times I realized that I more or less had to place one foot in front of the other to stay on this harder ridge.

I mentioned before that posting through the snow is exhausting.  When I hike with John and Bruce I usually go in front because I set the slowest pace - but I pace myself at what I consider to be the quickest I can walk without overdoing it.  My breathing and fatigue are kept just at the point where I can sustain the pace.  For this hike - probably because I have been able to maintain at least a once a week visit to the gym - I was feeling a lot stronger than I did on the previous hike, but as soon as I started posting through the snow it pushed me to the point where I really felt I’d need to stop to catch my breath.  I slowed down a little more and as I got better at placing my feet on that narrow strip things improved.

I wondered why we didn’t put the snow shoes on (I’d find out later what a pain they are) as we slid and slipped in places where the hard ridge simply didn’t hold out at all.

Before I knew it we were at the top of Mnt Height - which is quite exposed!  The wind was pumping really hard.  It almost knocked me over a couple of times before I got my footing.  It reminded me of the way the Cape Town South Easter gets channeled in the Foreshore down alleys and blows people across the street.

Fortunately the wind was not very cold.  The temperature at the top was probably above freezing - still cold enough that when we stopped I’d feel my hands start to go numb, but not cold enough that I had any distress about it.

We fought our way off the exposed top and down into the fairly shallow saddle between Mnt Height and Carter Dome where we found that even walking on the narrow harder ridge of snow in the middle of the path was not enough.  I started slipping and posting and fell a good few times as my leg went through the snow and off to the side.

The snow shoes are pretty easy to walk in - the strap tightly over your hiking boots and have a hinge near your toes so that there is some mobility in the shoe.  I expected them to be heavier on my feet, but they were actually fine.

What wasn’t fine was that even with the shoes on I was posting through soft sections of the snow in any case and putting one foot in front of the other with these long snow shoes is harder than you might think.

One side effect of this hard ridge of compacted snow in the middle of the path is that it is like a peak so if you do post through you would more often than not have considerable lateral movement which was making me fall and (in case you have not tried this before) it is pretty hard to get back up again if one foot is buried three feet down, you are twisted and lying on your back and the other foot is on the hard ridge of snow a foot or so higher than where you are lying.  One one occasion I felt like an upended tortoise and John and Bruce had to help me up.

Although I seemed to be the one who went down most often, neither Bruce nor John were immune to this and both of them landed on their backs at least once on the ice and I think John fell on the snow as well.

The Carter Dome peak is not very auspicious, but we stopped at the sign for lunch.  I had brought some granola bars that I’d eaten on the way up and I had some jerky for the summit.  A little dry, but worth it anyway.

My pack was a little heavier than the last trek because I had run out of water the last time so I carried an extra liter this time and ended up needing it so I didn’t regret it either.

With all of the posting and changing from mircro spikes to snow shoes we ended up taking a fair amount longer than we had anticipated.  We got back to the car at 6pm and after telling Anne that I’d be done walking at 3pm I had a worried text message from her waiting for me.

I was pretty happy with how I did on this hike.  I look forward to getting in shape for these a little more aggressively.

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