The mountain is an easy hike from the perspective of the gradient, but a rather long there-and-back of 5mi in each direction.
I packed carefully the night before - getting the small package of emergency items (paper map, compass, headlamp, first aid kit and toilet paper) and the food (gorp and some candy for energy) ready with my day pack. The weather prediction was for around 40 degrees F (4 degrees C) and a low of 25 F the previous night and a wind of around 9mph. John had recommended that we pack our microspikes in case we needed to walk on any ice that may have accumulated when the rocks were wet.
Ordinarily in winter hiking you should also pack something that you can climb into if you get injured - like a down sleeping bag and an emergency survival bag - but with the weather prediction of around 40 degrees I decided to go with some good warm layers and leave the sleeping bag at home.
Sitting here the next day and looking at the conversion to Celcius, I realize that 40F is actually damn cold and I probably should have been a little more aware of this then... also our clocks were set back last week and sunset is at 4:30pm which should have triggered a mental alarm of some sort as we decided to meet at Einstein Bros at 7am for an expected start at around 10am. The book prediction for hiking speeds is an hour for each 1.5 miles so this didn't leave us with much leeway with a projected 6.6 hours of hiking time - not counting any stopping.
We had a great breakfast at Einstein Bros as usual and left there at about 7:25am which got us to the trail-head at around 10 am.
The first 1.7 miles is very even, with a very slight gradient and we did that in good time. It was followed by a section of slightly harder gradient interspersed with remarkably few high steps over rocky ledges. These were made challenging by the fact that water had been seeping out of the ground above them and had left a covering of ice to skirt around each time.
As we got higher in the hike, we saw evidence of a light dusting of snow on the ground. Across one section of the trail were these tiny white balls of ice rather than snow. Occasionally there was evidence of this weird phenomenon where ice gradually squeezes out of the ground as it expands and makes these little tubular shapes like fibers. These are called Needle Ice, apparently.
Although the micro spikes are handy for moving across relatively flat sections of ice, my inclination is to take them out only when there is a lot of icy ground over long distances. This is because you have to take off your gloves (sometimes you can get away with keeping the thin inner gloves on), put the microspikes on and then, if the icy section is short, repeat the whole process to take then off again.
The sections of ice in this case were infrequent and fairly easy to traverse around so we were pleased not to have to bother with the microspikes.
As we got higher it became clear that the forecast for partly sunny was an exaggeration and the cloud cover was pretty solid. The line to my camelback also started to freeze and I had to push it down inside my fleece to keep it from freezing closed. Clearly the temperature was well below 40F and I was beginning to feel it in my hands.
I had reasonably good gloves with me but found myself regretting not bringing my mittens that are designed for serious cold. I seem to always miscalculate when to add layers to keep my core temperature up and only start to notice when the blood flow in my hands slows and my fingers start to go numb and feel wooden. By this time it is always too late to stop and is accompanied by a pretty miserable sensation - having hands this cold is not fun.
Guido (John's son, Parker has this nickname which translates to "guide") and I were both of a mind that we needed to eat. It was close to 1pm and the peak was not in sight, plus by all accounts the peak would be colder than it already was where we were. After some discussion we found a place to stop for lunch.
Angelika pointed out that she was hiking a little slower than we were and that we might not make it back before dark. She decided to leave us to go on to the summit while she started to slowly make her way back down to the car. In retrospect both John and Angelika said we should have taken the lunch out and eaten it on the move because we were all very cold when we finished wolfing down the food and started to move again. Guido was visibly shivering.
It didn't take long to start to warm up again though. The gradient - though not terribly steep - was sufficient to keep our heart rate up and the pain in my fingers was reassuring though unpleasant. It is better to have painful fingers as the blood starts to move again than for them to be totally numb!
There is a false summit and a ridge that you walk along to get to the true summit where there is a tower. We paused to look at the scar of a large rock slide on a mountain across the valley that looked like the batman symbol. I was too cold to get the iphone out to take a photograph, which I now regret - but cold fingers are pretty demotivating!
By the time we reached the tower at the summit I was feeling much better. My fingers were no longer in pain and the food had given me more energy.
Guido was feeling a little less enthusiastic but did muster a smile for this summit portrait at the signs pointing to the Pemi wilderness and Mnt Desolation. For a picture of how he really felt, follow the link at the bottom to the album of other images from the hike....
The tower was covered in rime but we went up briefly to take a couple of photos including this panorama that distorts the foreground but gives a good sense of the ice on the structure. Guido came up to the top of the steps, but he was still cold and didn't linger.
The view from the top is spectacular. This is a mountain that offers great views of the white mountains in all directions and I'd like to come up here again in better weather.
Our friend, Michael McDonagh, told me that this mountain offers views of almost all the forty-eight 4000-footers and people fly flags on the tops of all of them on Sept 11 every year. From here you can see many of the flags.
The hike back down was pretty uneventful until it got dark. The air warmed a little as we descended and we were able to shed a layer.
Despite my careful packing I had convinced myself with a cursory inspection of my pack during the hike that I had left both my Gorp and my emergency kit at home. Part of the problem is that when you are cold you don't want to spend a lot of time delving into the pack looking for things. I discovered after the hike that it was all there! Next time I'll pay more attention to leaving it where it is readily accessible.
As the light faded I worried that it would get pitch dark and we'd have a problem finding our way. John and Guido both had head lamps so it would not have been a problem but I was stuck with this impression that I hadn't brought a light and was mentally kicking myself for it. It also started to get colder as the light faded.
A hiker passed us just before John retrieved his light from his pack. I told him that I wasn't sure where the path went to from where I was standing and he went past us and figured it out for himself. About 5 min later he came back with a bright light to make sure that we knew where to go. This was very kind. John had pulled the light from the pack by then and I could tell that Guido was pretty concerned about getting to the end as the path became more difficult to see.
Fortunately we were not far from the parking lot and we arrived there before it became pitch dark (at around 5:13pm). The hike had taken us 7hrs 15min.
42 done, 6 more to go.
A slideshow of all the images is available here