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Hiking in New Hampshire: Shoulder Season

May 12, 2013

New Hampshire hiking can be dangerous. The White Mountains are unpredictable in all seasons but if you hike during either the spring or fall shoulder season be careful.

I looked up notes from a Mother’s Day hike in May which was probably the most dangerous hike I ever did. SORRY, NO PHOTOS THAT DAY. You will see why.

CANNON Mountain, New Hampshire

That day I told my family that I would like to celebrate Mother’s Day in the White Mountains getting to the top of one of the 4,000 footers for the first hike of the season. Here are my notes:

Two friends celebrating Mother’s Day in a brutal snowstorm in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with their two dogs. At risk of hypothermia, in shock, not enough warm gear and post-holing at the top just to make it to the summit.

Most vivid memories: HAD checked forecast and conditions
HAD read that one trail was icier
Had asked at the AMC hut about the conditions. Not told about the 18 inches of snow on the summit.

I was out the door at 4:00 am heading to experience the joy of climbing a mountain, the satisfaction of a successful climb, shared pain with a close friend.

No White Mountains since the snow hit last October. Eager to get out, wondering if I could do it after a winter with limited training on hills.

Started out in the gray. Thought the weather was going to clear. Wearing?
No memories of the first hour. Which parking lot? Lonesome Lake Campground?
WHEN did I start worrying? When Rebecca’s pole collapsed on a rocky step incline and she fell? Seeing her bleeding lip and swollen chin? Should we stop? No. I’m fine. Let’s go on. We only have ____ hours until the top. Downhill will be easy. (BUT we faced THE LADDER with two dogs).

We ended up taking the wrong trail and we had to climb a frozen waterfall. How did the dogs make it around the waterfall and through the 18 inches of snow we encountered after that? One was a Jack Russell Terrier and one was a Golden Retriever. Did we even worry about them before we got to the ladder going down? Were they at risk of hypothermia? We were.

Our gloves got sopping wet as did our pant’s legs and our arms. Our boots held up. Did we have gaiters on? If not, HOW did we make it through the deep snow on top?

We kept going even though both of us were wondering if we should. We asked each other a few times and never admitted to each other that we were really worried. Got to the top and ran into deep snow. Finally learned what post-holing is… breaking through deep snow one leg at a time to follow a trail. Rebecca was in following mode. I had to pound through the snow and hope my feet did not get too wet. We still had to get down Cannon Mountain.

Cold, wet,fog was swirling around us as we searched for the exact summit. We were never sure we found it because visibility was so bad. We were both in a daze but I had to take charge. Rebecca had no warm clothes. I gave her socks from my pack for her hands and two bandannas to cover her head. We had not packed for wind, rain, fog and 18 inches of snow. We were in trouble but there was no choice but to get off the frigid, snowy summit and head down as fast as possible. Getting past the post-holing was a major goal. Just being on icy ground was a relief.

We got to the ladder that we had tried to avoid because we needed to take the fastest way down the mountain to get to warmth. The two dogs could not find a way around. So I told Rebecca I would carry each one down. I inched down facing out from the cliff hoping each dog would not wiggle or struggle in my arms and throw me off balance. The risk was enormous. I made it with them and now Rebecca, in shock, had to make it down the ladder.

She did. We trudged downhill thankful that we had changed our route to this faster descent. We had a waterproof map and I had just enough sense to suggest that we go down in a different way than we had planned. How I was even thinking straight enough to refer to a map? Incredible…

HER words on a trip report to the 4,000 footer Club:
Total miles hiked 6.4. Names of Trails: Lonesome Lake Trail, Kinsman Ridge trail up. Down Dodge Cut off, Hi Cannon, Lonesome Lake.

Cold, rainy morning. We had high hopes for our first 4,000 footer of the year. The weatherman had said SUNNY. Boy was he wrong. This was quite a hike. At first it was picture perfect. Lonesome Lake was still frozen and quite beautiful. No one else was out today. We missed a turnoff somehow. What a mistake that turned out to be. … I was tired, wet, cold. Still in shock I think because of the pole busting up my lip. I think I chipped a chin bone as well.

Summit cold and windy. No views. I am shaking at this point. Not prepared for this weather or the deep snow on the summit. I have wool socks on my hands. 3 bandannas on my head as I did not have a hat. No warm clothes. Thank goodness Meg had some extra gear with her.

We post-holed sometimes going right up to our hips for a lot of the trail down. It was a tricky situation. Our legs are sore now for sure.
We came to a ladder on the side of a rock face. We had to get the dogs down. That was fun I can tell you. We came down as fast as that trail would allow. I was glad to get to the car and put the heat on to warm us all up. Another adventure.

Yes, a memorable adventure. We have been careful about checking conditions for higher up on the mountains since then.. but.. still New England has thrown us a few surprises… probably never as dangerous as us hiking with two dogs, in shock, sopping wet in winds and snow just to make a summit.

AND IN MAY. It was a Happy Mother’s Day?

  1. Yes, I have many hiking adventures to write about and so much more. I am never bored. I love your photography…

  2. At least you learned a couple of lessons: 1. Never be afraid of turning back when realizing you don’t have the proper gear. No view is worth the risk of your life. 2. Dangerous situations make for great stories!

    Glad your okay and were able to share it.


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