Backpacking in the White Mountains, New Hampshire with the Brandeis Mountain Club, November 1998.

We started on saturday in the White Mountains, not far from Mt. Washington. It was snowing already, and on our ascent we found heavy ice and a thin layer of snow which made for delicate walking. Soon the snow became deeper, 4-6 inches, and that made traction easier and walking less treacherous. The pace was comfortable, but still we were carrying full backpacks and making a steep climb over difficult terrain. The surrounding pine trees were bowed over with the weight of the heavy snow on their branches, but still their evergreen color showed through.

After a few hours, we climbed halfway on our trail in attempt to make the peak of Mt. Jackson. The snow grew increasingly deep, and there was a high frequency of fallen trees blocking the trail, the fallen trees came from an ice storm early last year which wreaked havoc on the northeast. The climb was really becoming an adventure now, and not just a hike in the woods. Much of the walking required that you stamp your foot into the snow with each step to get good footing, and was punctuated often by the necessity of getting on knees and elbows to skirt underneath the fallen trees.

Several members of our 7 person group began to show fatigue and a loss of morale, but we agreed to push on. Later, as we approached a to within an hours walk of the peak, the snow became 18-24 inches deep, which futher fatigued the group. Not far from the treeline, where the alpine treeless landscape begins, there were three older men returning from the peak. They warned us that above treeline was white-out conditions, deep snowdrifts, and 40 mph winds. With some trepidation, our group voted to continue carefully, and quickly we found ourselves leaving the safety of the evergreen trees, and walking in a barren snowscape with fierce winds that almost pushed us over.

All afternoon a snowstorm had been over us and provided a pleasantly light snowfall to decorate the afternoon, but now we were in the midst of a heavy snowfall blowing horizontally, providing only 20 feet of visibility. The trip leader went on ahead and found the route we were to follow along the ridge on the other side of the peak. After his return we continued along the ridge, but it dipped below treeline and provided shelter from the wind. Our goal was to make it two more miles until we reached a wilderness shelter where we could pitch our tents.

We continued in the deep snow, and found ourselves often having to cross the small streams where the water wouldn't freeze because it was moving. These streams were bridged with planks by the park service, but were buried in the deep snow. We could make out the outline of the planks, but with slippery footing it requiered much attention to make it across despite their short length. One girl misstepped and became wet to her knees, and this was complicated by the fact that she was wearing tennis shoes and under her windpants had only cotton sweatpants. This was trouble, and she should have never been allowed to participate with that clothing. Now we had to act as a group, quickly before she got frost bite or hypothermia, so we made her strip off her wet shoes, socks, and pants. We dried her feet with some extra materieal, and then each person donated some back-up clothing for her to put on. ((Polypropylene clothing is the only thing a person should be wearing on a trip like this. Their socks, underwear, and outerwear should all be made from it. They should have on several thin layers of it, not just one thick layer, and have a Goretex wind/rain jacket on the outside.))

So after a half-hour of treating and drying her, our group began to move on again. Much of the day looked like the scene in the movie "The Shining" with Jack Nicholsen, where the small boy is climbing through the maze of shrubs in the dry powdery snow. Through all the exertion and complications I was really enjoying myself.

After an hour and a half more, we realized it would be very dark soon, so we just stopped to make camp there, without reaching our shelter. We set up three tents, two for people, and the other for putting our supplies and backpacks into. The snow was at least two feet deep, and the temperature was dropping quickly. The trip leader made the hypothermic girl and a fatigued guy get into the tent and sleeping back immediately. The rest of us set up a cooking area and began making soup, pasta, and hot chocolate.

Once I had the hot chocolate I felt very comfortable and alert, although the muscles on the front of my thigh had begun to cramp and lock up. The temperature had dropped to at least 10 degrees, and all of our water had to be made from melting the snow. Our breath hung in thick clouds before our faces and was illuminated only by the glare of our flashlights.

To increase the warmth, four of us climbed into a two person tent, and slept in alternating positions, head, feet, head, feet. It was necessary to put our boots inside our sleeping bags to prevent the traces of moisture from freezing them solid, which would prevent our ability to put them on the next morning. After an hour of story telling and talking, we began to fall asleep. Someone looked at their watch, and we were surprised to find that it was only 8:30.

Several times we were all awakened during the night by someone having to go to the bathroom, and standing outside in socks and was a challenge by itself.

We woke at 6:30, and one person remarked that they had been cold all night and unable to sleep. Me, I was roasting because my bag was so warm. I was the first one out, and I stood out in the predawn light to put on my boots. I found my goretex jacket, hung on a tree, had frozen solid from my the residual sweat inside it. I could pick it up like a piece of cardboard. But this was ok, because with a little massaging it became pliable, and was easy to put on. The sun began to quickly lighten things, and we sat in the sun while waiting for the morning's snow to melt and boil over the stove.

We were feeling refreshed, and yet worn out. Camp took an hour to break, and soon we were headed downhill on the trail. The trail was wonderful with the bright sun reflecting on all the snow-clad pine trees. Much later as we descended we encountered the ice and thin snow again. This was more dangerous now because of the downward momentum in each step that made sliding very easy. Someone fell everyfew minutes, and I was being especially careful to watch were I put my feet.

We stopped to rest a few times, including once to feed wild birds from our hands. There is one species, Clark's Nutcracker, that is especially friendly and carefully perched on a hand if it was lifted above the head.

By 1pm we reached the trailhead near where we started, and I drove home alone in the warm glow of the afternoon sun. I spent the evening sprawled out on the couch, feeling almost unable to move.