Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hello Mr Blue Sky

The morning started off with snow, wet, sticky, heavier than what we’ve had up here this winter. I’d say five inches. It’s not quite noon yet and that fresh new snow looks bright and cheery as the sun has broken through and the sky is a beautiful tapestry of bright blue with large fluffs of white clouds floating happily along. Hello Mr. Blue Sky.

It’s interesting what a difference a day can make. Yesterday’s hike along Franconia Ridge got us back in the game. We needed a longer hike with multiple peaks to make up for all those single peaks we have been bagging. The mountains invited us to play above tree line and I’m glad we didn’t pass it up. We were down about three hours before the snow started but from the views up on the Ridge yesterday you could see the storm clouds encroaching.

The timing couldn’t have been better for this storm. We’ve hiked four of the last five days, six of the last eight. It’s a good day to take a rest. Friday snowstorms are also welcome for a different reason. The weekend sees an influx of hikers in the mountains and they are of great aid to Atticus without even knowing it. I seek out trails and conditions that are easier for him so we often go to trails where there isn’t much snow, or where the snow has been broken out. People will do that over the next three days of the long weekend.

The new wet snow will attach to the bullet proof ice that has been so dangerous and the reason we avoided some peaks and had to turn back on the Osceolas.

Bitter cold is about to hit, too. I’m not unhappy about this. It will freeze up the streams and rivers again and once the trails are broken out by other snowshoers the snow pack will become firm and fast.

In the coming days there are Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) trips scheduled that will break out some of the more difficult places to get to. One such trip has hikers heading over the Twins and the Bonds in a two day backpack trip. We may just have to follow them in a one-day hike. Actually, we’ll do the Twins and Galehead together and then if the conditions are right we’ll do the Hale, Zealand, West Bond, Bond and Bondcliff traverse. It runs about 24.5 miles and goes from near Bretton Woods up north down to the Kancamagus Highway. Like Franconia Ridge there is a lot of exposure. Unlike Franconia Ridge, there aren’t many exit points so it is important to pick the right day with good conditions and little wind.

The new snow will also fill in the “bony” trail above tree line. Check out the photos of the Franconia Ridge hike and you will see what I mean by “bony”; too many rocks jutting up from the ice. Not enough snow to smooth it all out.

On the eastern side of the Whites, about an hour away in Pinkham Notch, there is the annual gathering of hikers from the popular on-line hiking site Views From The Top (VFTT). Aside from all the drinking and merriment they’ll enjoy, they’ll find time to hike and break out trails over there too.

This confluence of new snow, weekend hikers, a cold spell following, and various organized hikes in the area should set us up well for the coming days. We’ll hike tomorrow, just not sure what we’ll be hiking yet, though. Sunday may be too cold, we shall see. But from Monday on, things should be looking good for a string of hikes to mountains we haven’t gotten to yet.

Today is the 28th day of winter and we now have 20 peaks done. But things are looking up for some multiple peak days. Here’s what to possibly look for from us in the coming week: Twins & Galehead (3 peaks); Carters & Cats (5 peaks); Bonds Traverse (5 peaks); Willey Range for the second time this winter (3 peaks); the dreaded (at least by me) Osceolas (2); Tripyramids (2); Whiteface & Passaconaway (2).

Yes, things are looking up. Yesterday’s four-peak day put me in a good place and put us back in the game. If you just consider the first four hikes of the prior paragraph there are 16 peaks in those hikes alone. Just for kicks say we got those done; that would give us 36 peaks total within the next week. As a reminder, we need to average a peak a day (or just above) to get all 96 peaks in one winter. This feat has only been done by one known person, the storied White Mountain winter hiker Cath Goodwin. (Cath was one of the three person team to become the first to hike all 48 in one winter and she holds the winter speed record for women in getting them all done in the quickest amount of time.)

This does not mean we will make this improbable goal. After all, we are behind where we want to be. But at least now it looks as though we are back in the game.

Now you know why I’m walking with a little skip in my step even after yesterday’s long hike and this morning’s snow. It’s all about breaks and strategy when it comes to winter. Well, that and hiking your butt off, too.