My trip report for the New England GTG #2
I believe everyone was meeting at the lower shelter 2mi in mid-day. My housemate and her boyfriend and I were set to join the group later that night, planning to get to the trail head around 10:30pm.
We miraculously arrived at 10:30 and proceeded to gear up and hit the trail. It was already dark and rather cold. We began to follow the tracks we saw and at one point said to ourselves "this can't be the trail", at which point we had no better option that to just continue to follow and hope to end up at the shelter. Eventually we got to a T in the trail with tracks leading on both directions. First we went left, but ended up hitting the electrical right-of-way with no further tracks, so we went back and eventually found someone sleeping in a bivy using a fallen tree as wind protection. Turns out it was Jeremy who had trekked in a few hours before us and lost their trail and decided to just sleep and figure things out in the morning. We had ended up following his tracks. Being in the same situation we decided to look for a good spot for our shared tent, wake in the morning and do the same. This was around 1am. We set up the tent, enjoyed the sound of the very high winds, and proceeded to get in as much sleep as we could.
Around 7am Jeremy came by to wake us up, cook breakfast with us and figure out what our plan was. We spent some time looking at his topo-map with the trail superimposed trying to figure out where we were approximately, if it was worth trying to find them from the point we were at or to head back as far as needed to find the correct trail, etc. We proceeded to make some breakfast and pack up. About half way into packing a group of hikers appeared in the distance, about 100yards up the hill. Jeremy hollar'ed and lo-and-behold (but really, who else is crazy enough to be backpacking this mountain in this weather?!) it was our boys Seth, his twin Dan, Bryce, Clint and Ryan!
They came down the hill to meet up with us, do some introductions, etc. My housemates boyfriend who was feeling slightly under the weather the day before decided he was too far into it to continue the hike and so they would spend the rest of the weekend at her parents place in VT and pick up me and Lupus (the dog) the next evening. Jeremy said the same, that he was feeling ill and would have to join us for the next trip. Quite a night for him seeing as he drove up from NJ! But it was good to meet another New England BPL'er and hopefully we'll get to do some backpacking with him under better conditions.
So we figured out provisions I would need/want of what we had shared amongst the packs, and what I could give the housemate to take off the mountain. We bid fond-farewell and Lupus and I proceeded to join the group on the ~8mi hike to the shelter just below the peak.
The weather for the hike was not so bad this day, a little overcast but not exceptionally cold. Seth is a beast and broke trail pretty much the whole way for us. Ryan, and I believe Clint, took some time breaking the trail as well, but really it was Seth that skippered the way. Clint, Ryan and I took turns as second, helping pack the snow down for the group. My time spent as XO was spent chatting with Seth and I can tell you I now have a fitness goal for winter 2012/2013!
My time as 3rd and 4th told me that the first two really did 95% of the work breaking the trail. Props to Clint and Ryan for doing much of the XO duties, especially after the lack of a long nights rest and such put me outside of the abilities for following behind Seth.
Ryan was our navigator, keeping us appraised of our current location, upcoming elevation gains, and current temperature. Making sure we rested and resupplied our bellies at appropriate intervals for the upcoming terrain.
The temperature continued to drop as we rose in elevation and the day wore on, but we made good time and were able to stop for a few group photos and such at some of the scenic overlooks.
The worst of the first day was the final ascent to the shelter after we rounded Little Pond Mountain. 2800' to 3600' in roughly 1/2mile. A lot of rest stops and checking our mileage. We finally made it to the shelter and with plenty of sunlight to spare, which was good, it was already proving the oncoming cold night was going to be a bitter one, I believe the temp was already below zero at this point.
The shelter, a lean-to facing a very nice view off the south side of the mountain was covered in snow. Ryan's shovel and the supplied broom made quick work of clearing off the sleeping and porch space. I believe Ryan broke snow to the loo for our use the rest of the evening and following morning, as well as "breaking" open the frozen close door. We proceeded to decompress from our day, set up our sleeping spaces, and getting our cooking areas ready to boil water.
Seth's sleeping bags had collapsed from the night before, and while they weren't totally a lost cause, they did pose an issue for the "group" to ensure he kept warm. Thankfully his twin, Dan was with us, and so the awkwardness of sharing a sleeping bag was diminutive. We spent sometime figuring out how they could best combine the use of Dan's bags and what insulative value was left from Seth's bags, combined with their sleeping pads, mylar sheets, and clothing. In the end they were able to get some rest, stay decently warm, and survive the night, knowing the following day would provide a much easier hike back down the mountain to the cars.
As the sun set the effective temperature began to drop quickly. Ryan and Seth began the process of boiling water for dinner, with others helping to collect water from the flowing river 100yards away. Headlamps were searched for, and after meals were made the water boiling for nalgene sleeping bottles began so we could all get nice and comfy in our bags to get some much desired sleep. The plan was to wake up before sunrise to make it to the fire tower in time to watch.
Lupus slept between Clint and my sleeping bags, with my quilt covering both he and I, as the night wore on and the temperature continued to drop we also squeezed ourselves into him, whether that was to take advantage of the inferno that is a dog or to help keep him warm is up for debate. It did take me a bit of time to perfect how to best tuck the quilt in around him so my tossing and turning did not pull it off him. This only happened a few times before I got it. Clint and I discussed feeling his mid-dream twitching and running, so he was also able to get some good sleep. In hind sight, we should probably have had him sleep between Seth and Dan in their zipped together bags if there was room(?).
So the next morning Ryan's alarm went off at 6am and he proceeded to hollar at us to wake up. Telling us the thermometer was reading -18F probably didn't help, but the enticement of watching sunrise from the fire tower pulled us out of bed for making the ~30minute trek up the hill. As we woke up and prepared ourselves for leaving our sleeping bags We discussed the order of the morning duties of watching sunset, packing up and eating breakfast. I took the time to wander down to the loo to leave some processed dinner behind and to try out this whole wiping the bum with snow thing (fyi: it works quite well!).
Ryan and I were first to be ready so I followed his lead up to the fire tower breaking the trail for those to follow. It was bitter cold and as we waited for them we ran around the peak taking advantage of some snow mobile trails that had been left at some point the day before. Eventually the rest of the group arrived and we proceeded up the tower to watch the sun rise, take some photos and further freeze in the winds. The view was pretty minimal as it was quite overcast. Ryan made the suggestion of heading back down to cook, pack and make one final trip to the top when the sun had some time to heat the air up and hopefully give us a better view.
So back we went, packing, cleaning and cooking. Discussing how we fared through the night and how happy we were to not have to break trail the way back. Eventually we were ready and with our bags mostly all packed we left them to make a quick run up to the tower for another view and some photos. We could see quite a bit more by this point as well.
So we started out trek back, boiled water for the drinking on our way back, and said good night to our home for the last 12 hours.
The hike back was mostly unremarkable other than the fact that the temperature never rose above 0F until we got back to the cars. We made quick time, I believe we averaged 2mph? A combination of a well packed trail and trying to keep moving to stay warm. A couple more group photos and an attempt by Seth to take a video, though I belive the camera shut-off mid recording as it was apparently too cold! We saw some neat animal trails, including a moose, a deer, and a small animal of some sort. I also got to experience the beginning of the trail that I had missed the first night, which was great as there were some amazing winter forest scenes I had never seen the likes of before.
When we finally got back to the cars we began to discuss where to get our post-hike meal and decided on a pizza joint just down the road in Bennington. The final adventure of the trip was me managing to lock Lupus in Clint's explorer with the keys and engine running (to keep him warm). Apparently Ford Explorers do not allow the key fob to work while the car is running, so do NOT manually lock the drivers door in this situation! AAA was called and Lupus was awarded his bowl of meatballs in tomato sauce. I don't think he realized he was locked in with the key, but he was more than happy to consume his reward!
I have to add that we all had a fabulous time, pain and all. The New England BPL'ers are a great group and, while we all said it numerous times near the end of the hike, it must be said again that a better group to go on such a arduous, cold journey could not be found. It was great to have Seth's brother out with us, even though you were never sure who you were talking to since they have the same voice, but thankfully different backpacks.
I'm sure I missed some stuff and others will fill in the gaps and add their own humorous stories. Hopefully Dan will send his thoughts via Seth?
Hopefully we can meet up with Jeremy again and get a full hike in (your more than welcome to crash in my place in Boston if/as needed). My housemate Julia said she's definitely in for the next hike as long as it stays above 0F, which I think most of us feel the same about, at least for this winter!
Finally, I'd like to thank everyone for putting up with me and Lupus for yet another weekend hike! Fare well until NEGTG3!