Active Outdoors: Kicking winter into gear
Even with toenails, four-paw-drive was no match for a steep and icy trail on Mount Monadnock the day after Christmas. This poor pup was slipping and sliding with every step. His human companions with micoSpikes on their hiking boots did better. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
December rains and freezes left sections of the trails on Mount Monadnock looking more like frozen brooks than hiking trails on the day after Christmas. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
These climbers wearing traction aids had no real problem with the icy trails on Mount Monadnock the day after Christmas. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
Stiff-soled Lowa mountaineering boots with Trail Crampons from Hillsound were a perfect combination for traction on the slanted, often snowcovered ice on Mount Monadnock the day after Christmas. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
My Christmas was great, thanks for asking. How was yours? Lots of family stuff? Yup, me, too. Good people, warm feelings, too much tasty food and good wine – ho, ho, ho – but I’m glad it’s about over. It’s time to get back outdoors, get a little exercise, breathe some fresh air.
What did you get for Christmas? Anything fun? Santa was very, very good to me. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my dream of hitting the high points in New York and New England this winter and I’m making it happen. The first two things I needed were better boots and a better-tuned body. Of the two, the boots are perhaps the tougher to achieve. Fit is everything in footwear and I am cursed with hard-to-fit feet. I’d give anything to have “normal” feet.
Santa got me exactly what I wanted: a new pair of Lowa Mountain Expert insulated, stiff-soled mountaineering boots, perfect for snowshoeing and cramponning on the steeps of Mounts Greylock, Washington, Katahdin and Marcy this winter. These are European-made, low-volume boots with a tight heel pocket and a lacing system that allows them to naturally adjust to different “styles” of feet. They fit me even better than I’d hoped.
Of course, you know as well as I do that you have to break in even the best-fitting new boots carefully or your feet will break first. Taking to the high hills with new boots is a perfect recipe for pain and suffering, and I don’t like pain and suffering anymore than you do. Fortunately, climbing some easy hills is the perfect way to break in the new boots, burn off some holiday excess, and get legs
and lungs in better shape for the challenges ahead in the New Year.
There’s snow in the forecast for tomorrow and, as soon as I can get my act together, I’m headed out the door to climb a mountain. Maybe I’ll see you there.
I’ve never seen any hard data to prove it, but Mount Monadnock in southwestern New Hampshire is often referred to as the “second most climbed” mountain in the world after Fuji in Japan. I know for a fact it’s the mountain I’ve climbed most. And I know I always see other people on it. And it is a perfect place to break in new boots.
My favorite route up is the Dublin Trail, part of the Monadnock Sunapee Greenway on the north slope of the mountain. I arrived at the trailhead later than I would have liked on the day after Christmas. Tracks in the snow showed that eight or 10 people had climbed the trail since an inch of snow had fallen on Christmas morning. At least five had also come down the same trail.
The lower slopes were easy walking through open hardwoods with just a dusting of light fluffy snow over rocks and leaves. But once the slopes started getting steeper and spruces started shading the trail, things got more interesting. At one point, the trail surface abruptly turned to pure ice, looking more like a series of small, frozen waterfalls than a hiking trail. From there on up it was almost all ice. Some of the tracks snaked off into the woods where hikers had bushwhacked to avoid the worst ice. But the snow had been dusted off a trailside log where some hikers sat to pull on traction aids.
I followed their lead and donned my own. Since I’m testing traction devices for EasternSlopes.com, I put a Kahtoola microSpike on my right boot and on my left boot I alternated between a Hillsound Trail Crampon and a Yaktrax XTR Extreme. All these are similar with spiked chains underfoot, which pull over your boots quickly and easily with a sturdy rubber harness.
And though there were slight differences in the performance characteristics among the three, they all made it infinitely easier to ascend and descend a trail that was treacherous without. I had full-on crampons with me, too, but they weren’t necessary. By the way, any good, sturdy hiking boots would have been fine for this trek. The mountaineering boots were definitely overkill.
The tracks told the story. Hikers with traction aids simply walked up the trail, struggling only on three or four six-foot high ice-covered rock scrambles that are a bit of a challenge even when the trail is bare and dry. Hikers without traction tried to pick safer routes, but still slipped and slid with every few steps. I met one young hiker coming down without traction devices. He’d given up well before reaching the summit. Good decision on his part.
My primary goal for this day was to begin to break in my new boots without breaking my feet. So, when I started to feel a hot spot on my left heel that wouldn’t go away despite readjusting my sock and retightening the boot, I quit at the junction of the Dublin and Marlborough Trails about a quarter-mile short of the summit. Minor discomfort is to be expected when breaking in new boots. I could have slapped on a patch of moleskin from the first-aid kit in my pack and made the summit, but I had other responsibilities waiting. And besides, I’d already seen the best view away north to the snowcapped summits of the White Mountains and west to the ski areas of southern Vermont.
The trip down took almost as long as the climb up – even with good traction you had to be careful with each step on the steeper sections. The only bad slip I had all day was 100 yards from my car, crossing a wooden bridge after I’d taken off the traction aids and stored them in my pack. It’s easy to get careless, but no harm done.
Winter has set in full force today with wind and lots of snow. The same hike I did yesterday would be a very different experience today with deeper snow on the lower slopes and deep drifts alternating with bare ice on the summit. The temperature is going to drop over the next few days, adding yet another layer of challenge.
Even a relatively small and “friendly” mountain like Monadnock is a different world in winter. But if you are properly prepared, it’s a wonderful place to be on a winter’s day. Certainly better than sitting on your couch waiting for a spring that won’t come for a few months yet. I’ll be climbing a lot more mountains this winter (in my new boots). Hope to see you there.
Here’s wishing you a very happy, healthy and snowy new year! Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
(Tim Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)