Ice is Nature’s Way of Saying “Get Involved”: A Winter Weekend in New Hampshire

From December 31st to January 10th, I was up in Conway, NH taking a Wilderness First Responder course at SOLO Wilderness Medicine School (more on SOLO in an upcoming post).  However, we had the weekend of January 4-5 off from class.  On tap for the weekend:  sleep in, relax, go shopping at the outlets?  I think not.

Winter is not a time to be inside.  Winter is one of the best times to be outside!  If there’s one thing I know, ice is nature’s way of saying “get involved.”  Think I’m crazy?  Ask Blair Cobden: (0:35) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oSKYImICxc

Okay, so maybe that was a ridiculous video that might have had some mild comedic effect, if I’m lucky.  However, I think it is important to embrace the winter, rather than fight it.  So when winter outdoor opportunities come knocking, I open the door.

Saturday, January 4th, 2013

While in Conway, it just so happened that my great friend Jeff from California was visiting the east coast to visit friends and family, as well as to do some ice climbing.  Turns out he made his way to Conway.  He is an ice climber.  I am not.  I’ve hardly even rock climbed since my sophomore year of college.  He invited me to climb with him anyway.  Sounds like a recipe for…FUN!

Crawford Notch from Willey's Slide
Crawford Notch from Willey’s Slide

Saturday morning, we sussed out the gear (Jeff had enough for two), and hit the road up to Crawford Notch.  The climb?  Willey’s Slide.  Willey’s Slide is a climb with a rating of WI2, meaning it is of low angle (as opposed to vertical – WI5+ or 6).  As a first timer out with a skilled climber, I was thankful for the low pitch.  It was hard enough as it is.  Out climbing with Jeff, I learned the basics of crampon and icetool use, setting and removing protection, climbing up, down climbing, traversing, and multi-pitch climbing in general.  Five pitches of fun!  We lolligagged on the slide all day, enjoying the scenery, taking goofy photos, and taking the time to just ‘be.’  For a first climb, I couldn’t have asked for a better time, teacher, or weather.  Naturally, dinner and beers followed suit.

Jeff on the third pitch
Jeff on the third pitch

I can’t say I’m a very experienced rock climber, but at first try, I think I may have enjoyed ice climbing more than rock climbing.  I feel like in rock climbing, the rock dictates your route, while in ice climbing, I’m sure there’s obvious ‘no-nos’ due to ice’s unpredictable nature, but it seems you can dictate your own route the way you prefer.  There’s no “holds,” just a sheet of ice in which you can swing your tool or set your protection as you so please.  The route is up to the creativity, confidence, and hell, even mood, of the climber him/herself, not the substrate.  This is my opinion based on minimal experience, but it made for an enjoyable first day out on the ice.  Surprised myself, I was more comfortable on ice than I ever have been on rock.

fashion show?
fashion show?

Most importantly however, Jeff set it off with a retro 80’s onezie, Outdoor Research hat, and classic straight icetools.  Climbing might not be a fashion show, but if it is, sheets of ice are definitely Jeff’s runway.

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

Ice climbing was a blast, but as I’m sure you know by now, hiking is my deepest passion.  So to spend a weekend in New Hampshire without a hike is unthinkable.  Naturally, Sunday was another early morning in order to hit the trails!  This time, with new friends.

Before going up to Conway, I signed up for a guided dayhike with the Boston chapter of the AMC.  Not just any hike, but one with Phil Werner as the guide.  Phil Werner is an extremely skilled hiker and backpacker, and the writer of http://www.sectionhiker.com (a blog, check it out!).  I have read Section Hiker for years, and have learned a tremendous amount from reading Phil’s posts.  I would not be the hiker/backpacker/guide I am without him and the knowledge he shares on his blog.  The opportunity to hike with Phil was great pleasure, and he and his co-leader, Bryan, led a wonderful and successful winter hike!  Turns out, Bryan is a ’91 Hokie!  It was awesome to hike with a Hokie, and swap stories about our college years and how Blacksburg has changed or remained the same.  I hope to hike with them again soon.  Additionally, the weather was perfect!

Phil, myself, and Bryan
Phil, myself, and Bryan

We set off from Crawford Notch along the A-Z Trail, with intentions of summitting Mt. Tom, Mt. Field, and Mt. Avalon in a lollipop of sorts.  With clear skies, and a seemingly strong group of strangers, it seemed that the day would be one of success.  It was.  The hiking was smooth, foot traction devices needed at times (micro-spikes or crampons, no snowshoes necessary), and the group took the time to get to know eachother.  We made it up to the junction of the Mt. Tom spur in no time!  We ascended Tom with ease, and enjoyed phenomenal views of the Presidential Range and the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

One of the joys of winter hiking is how quiet it is.  There’s fewer animals, fewer people, and even the sound of footsteps seems non-existent.  It is a different world, but one of tranquility, even while setting a good pace. Of the wildlife around, we had the joy of seeing some winter birds, particularly Gray Jays.  Very cool.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
the Presidentials from Mt. Avalon

The group hiked strong, onto Mt. Field and Mt. Avalon.  Once again, the views did not OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdisappoint.  Avalon in particular featured commanding views of the Presidentials and Webster Cliff.  The climb up Mt. Avalon proved a tiny bit tricky, with a steep slope and icy footing.  However, the group tackled the challenge with confidence and precision.  On the descent on Avalon trail, we took the time to have a little fun.  Avalon Trail was steep, somewhat icy, and very snowy.  There were a few points along the trail where it seemed to make less sense to try to hike down than to just slide.  To our butts it was.  We each took time sliding down on our behinds, using our feet and hands to control our speed.  This probably isn’t the “safest” way to hike, but it was fun.  No one got hurt, so no harm, no foul.  I was surprised as to how long some of our slides were, it was great to see the smiles as everyone came down the hills, rekindling into our childish spirit.  Turns out, no matter how old you are, a child still exists in all of us.  Next time, I’m packing up a sled.

We returned to Crawford Notch by the early afternoon, a great day trip completed.  A perfect ending to the weekend.  I even ran into Jeff again unexpectedly in the parking lot of the AMC Highland Center.  He had just gotten down off another climb in the Notch.  We celebrated a great day of working hard and playing in the mountains by sharing a tasty chocolate supplemental nutritional drink, haha.

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Check out Phil’s post about this hike here:  http://sectionhiker.com/the-tom-field-and-avalon-loop-in-crawford-notch/

Conclusion

There is so much great opportunity in winter, so I encourage everyone to find their winter passions.  Despite the frigid temps, unstable footing, and short days, there are plenty of ways to find a thrill in the winter.  Whether skiing, hiking, climbing, or hot tubbing where the only ice you’re dealing with is in your drink, I’m sure you can find a way to embrace it and find joy in the elements.  Get involved.

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