Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Do you remember your first time?

After Christmas 1977, four of us met up somewhere in New Hampshire’s White Mountains for a few days of winter backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. It was my second time in the Whites but my first time on the AT. The year before I had spent three or four days cross country skiing, hiking, and mountaineering near Pinkham Notch, but not on the AT.

Mt. Washington above Tuckerman's Ravine in winter
That first trip the year before was spectacular. Three of us enjoyed clear blue skies, cool days, cold nights, and a deep but solid snow pack. The temperature never went above freezing during the day. At night, it dropped into the single digits. In spite of the high winds and white out conditions above tree line that thwarted two different attempts to summit Mt. Washington, I loved the experience.

My second trip was not so spectacular. The winter had been warmer than usual. The snow pack could be measured in inches rather than feet either because less snow had fallen or much of what had fallen had melted. Daytime temperatures were going well above freezing, and night time lows were not dropping below twenty.

At least a couple of us on that second trip were experienced winter backpackers and knew we could not expect to cover much distance every day. Since the daytime temps were going above freezing we opted to carry snowshoes rather than cross country skis. I think I remember the trail being mostly free of snow or else so well packed down from other hikers that we never strapped on our snow shoes.

During our first day and just a few miles from the trail head, we encountered a stream that we thought we could not safely cross. In colder conditions, the stream would have had less water and might even have been frozen over. In summer, we probably could have rock hopped across it. The warmer weather and snow melt, however, had turned that mountain stream into a raging torrent. There was no way we were going to safely cross it. Dejected, we turned around, hiked back to our cars, and made alternate plans, that I think might have included a couple of motel rooms for the night.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on The Trek.

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