Sunday, Jan 12, 2020
Start/End: Ammonoosuc Lower Falls trailhead
Elevation gain/loss: 2736′
After getting up at 5am, I drove the 3.25 hours up to the Rt 302 Ammonoosuc Lower Falls trailhead, packed up my backpack, and hit the road by 9am. I hiked along the gated, icy access road for 3 miles, wearing microspikes to keep from slipping and dying on the slick ice. I made it to the Hale Brook trailhead by 10:15am and headed uphill. Initially, the trail was ice, and as I got higher, it turned towards frozen but softening snow.
As to be expected, the water was running very high today. Every stream was running hard, and the crossing of Hale Brook was really intimidating, with icy cold water roaring through, up to 3 feet deep. I did some acrobatics using my poles, a partially submerged log, and my microspikes to get across the brook, and I was very glad of my knee high waterproof socks because it soaked my boots in both directions.
Above the brook, the snow began to soften and get deeper. I eventually ended up post-holing up to my knees a few times around 2800′ and threw on my snowshoes (right around when there was a 15 minute downpour); that made for much better going, and had little trouble with the spring/shoulder conditions up to the summit. Other than that downpour, I saw no other rain, which was a good deal considering the weather forecast. I even saw blue sky 3-4 times! It was also warm enough that I was bare handed the entire time; that was novel for a hike in January!
After summiting, I started to head back. I was in a decent mood, until I met two sets of 2 people. The first ones I met maybe half a mile from the summit. They were dressed in hiking clothes, with microspikes and trekking poles, but carrying very small summer day packs and no snowshoes. They were post-holing their way up the trail, leaving huge holes in the trail that is going to freeze solid tonight and plague future hikers. Their booted feet had also ruined the small snowbridges over two streams. When I mentioned with some incredulity that they didn’t have snowshoes, they said that they hadn’t ‘thought they’d need them’ since it was so nice in the parking lot. I surmised from this that they were NOT experienced winter hikers. Maybe a mile later, I came upon the other two people. The man was dressed in cotton everything, in pants and a t-shirt, with a sweatshirt wrapped around his waist. He didn’t have a backpack at all and was wearing spikes. The woman had a small summer pack on and off-brand YakTraxs. Neither had snowshoes or looked like they were ready for hiking in the Whites on anything other than a pristine summer day (and I’d honestly question that set-up for anything above treeline). I let them know that Hale Brook was a rough crossing and that the snow got deep and soft higher up so they’d be post-holing to their knees if they went that far. Neither set of hikers turned around, and both thanked me for the beta.
I was mainly concerned for the second couple’s well-being, since they did NOT look ready for the 20 degree drop in temperature that was going to happen in the next 4 hours, and they still needed to walk back to their car along the 3 miles of Zealand Road. I was mainly annoyed at the first couple for causing substantial damage to the trail that is going to effect other hikers until the next really substantial snow.
And seeing so much trash thrown on the trail did not make me feel better. I packed out an empty Poland Springs water bottle, purple bandana, half-eaten beef jerky wrapper, and disposable hand warmer. There was also a used feminine napkin on the side of the trail, but I didn’t have nitrile gloves or a sealable trash bag so I left it where it was. One of the couples had also dropped a handful of used tissues along the road, and I narrowly avoided stepping on human feces in the middle of Zealand Road.
Today was not one of those days that restored my faith in humanity, unfortunately. I ended my hike feeling quite curmudgeonly, though also pleased to have knocked out this 10.1 mile hike in ~4 hours.