There is this part of my essence with the sole-purpose of seeking out adventures. The more unusual the experience, the more appropriate it corresponds with my life.
So, it is only natural that I climb my first 4000-foot peak in New Hampshire with winter-like conditions. (Lila, the 4-legged Notch mascot, did too!)
I didn’t know what to expect before the trip. Being the new employee at the Notch Hostel, I was invited to join the Notch owner Serena and a group of other hikers for a December hike. I didn’t feel nervous, but questions were spewing about in my mind.
Crawford Path is a gradual climb to Mount Pierce, a 4,310-foot peak in the White’s southern Presidential Range, I was told, but having a mixed background of hiking experience, what did gradual actually mean? Easier than the rest? Flat and long and winding? It was a mountain after all.
Then, there were the continuous inches of soft snow piling up over the week. Potential ice. The wind chill. The exposure at the top. Would I be warm enough? How would I climb if there was too much ice? Would I be protected from the wind chill that was supposed to be subzero?
And exactly how much is 4000 feet? Only able to reference small two-four mile hikes that didn’t rise much in elevation and endless days of trekking in the Himalayas a couple years back (another story for another day), my mind couldn’t decide where 4000 feet sat on the scale.
I’ve been active—doing small hikes around the White Mountains, and running on and off (currently off) since graduating from college, where I was a competitive runner. The week before, though, I kept wondering if that would be enough. Would I be winded and struggling to breath? Would my legs ache and prevent me from reaching the peak?
As the day approached, my confidence in my athletic ability and my gear (some borrowed) grew. The night before, I received some advice and feedback on what would be appropriate for the conditions we could potentially find ourselves facing. I made sure to bring a pair of micro-spikes, layers for warmth and protection against wind chill, and nothing cotton because cold sweat is the worst sweat.
It was a beautiful yet chilly morning when our group began the ascent. The snow was packed down from other hikers using the same trail. We met a few on their way down, warning us about the cold winds at the top.
As we moved deeper into the woods, we entered another world. A bleached, frigid, and serene world.
Hiking warmed us and it was tempting to remove a layer, like others eventually did. I was glad with my decision not to because I could taste the cold in the air when we stood around, even on small breaks to drink water or eat a snack.
The climb was easier than I had anticipated. I continued at a steady pace, despite my breathing being a little on the heavy side. The path flattened out near the summit and I was surprised to learn we were near the peak. I thought it would’ve taken longer and been more vigorous.
We layered up for subzero wind exposure on the summit, adding to our protection. It was a drastic change from being inside the confines of the woods. The trees were frozen in snow rather than toppled with it. The wind nipped at any bare skin. My fingers could feel the difference as I struggled to take a picture of the view.
I wish time had paused for a moment on the peak. There was a sense of accomplishment while standing atop Mount Pierce, staring out at the snow-capped mountains and surrounding land. It was majestic and almost surreal.
But both Lila and I were a little chilled and descending was preferred over becoming a frozen statue.
Going down was almost like free-falling, being small, balanced and wearing micro-spikes. We hiked back to the base in no time.
This hike demonstrated my need for better quality and waterproof gloves, especially with winter approaching and the temperature dropping. I might invest in a water bottle insulator for my Nalgene or learn more about ultralight tricks such as keeping it wrapped up warm in my pack for future winter hikes because frozen water won’t help much at higher elevations.
There was very little ice on Crawford path and therefore, wearing micro-spikes was optional. I was still glad I had them. They gave me comfort while descending the mountain rather than being cautious about each step for fear of slipping in the snow.
The satisfying experience left me with a yearning for more. Winter conditions or not—I will find myself climbing other “4000 footers” during my stay here (potentially next week!). I can’t wait for all the other adventures that will come my way during my winter in the Whites.
Shannon Grossman is an emerging freelance writer that is currently working and living at the Notch Hostel for the winter season.