The season for hiking in sneakers and shorts with a water bottle and a candy bar in your pack is over. On Thursday I hiked up to Hermit Lake to check in with the new winter caretaker. In Jackson the sun was coming through my kitchen window. But, looking north I could see a thick cloud bank sitting on Mt. Washington. As I hiked up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail it turned from mud, to slush to knee-deep powder snow. At Hermit Lake the wind was piling up snow in 4-foot drifts. The caretaker Chris Fithian reported that he hadn't seen the the Ravine wall in 4 days due to the clouds of blowing snow. It was in the mid-20's with a windchill near 0.
It was not long before an older gentleman arrived at the caretaker's cabin in jeans, a cotton sweatshirt and wet sneakers, inquiring how far it was to the summit. Chris did his best to introduce the topics of clothing, trip planning, and the wisdom of altering plans to fit the weather. He described the messy, miserable, viewless hike with all its post-holing (some into streams) and floundering. However, the gentleman seemed to be looking for a Shakelton-type adventure, and he headed out into the wind. Soon after two well-equipped hikers from Quebec came into the cabin. They had spent the night at Hermit Lake, and tried for the summit early in the morning. They spent an hour and a half just getting to the base of the headwall. The snow was very deep, and even with goggles it was impossible to see through the spindrift.
Today I headed up to Mizpah Springs Hut. On Saturday Mt. Washington recieved 4.5 inches of rain, and over 10" of snow. The trail was knee-deep mud in some places, and crusty snow in others. The crew was closing the hut, and cleaning up after a flood. All the rainfall and melting snow on Saturday created a flash flood in the hut. Water had come rushing in under the front door of the hut and soaked the first floor. During the night, however, everything froze up again. Today it was in the 30's in the hut, and the crew worked fast to stay warm.
I had to leave early to make it to Crawford Notch before dark. The wind had picked up, and there were new blowdowns across my footprints from the morning. They were the only ones on the Mizpah Cut-Off. Heading down with my hood up I could hear the gusts coming over the ridges to the west before they hit. It's a cold sound, the hollow roar of wind through a forest without leaves.
In the Notch it was snowing, the flakes melting on the pavement, and reflecting in the headlights of passing cars. A few miles down the road and down in elevation it was raining. Late fall in the mountains...