What a Difference a Week Makes

Last week I wandered into the woods on my favorite local running trail for a practice hike. While it was passable, it was still snow stacked on ice. A week later, it was a completely different trail, thanks to warming temperatures and a couple of short rain events.

The pictures aren’t nearly as dramatic in portraying the differences as actual foot-on-terrain time was.

In just seven days time, a tiptoe trek atop the snow and ice transitioned to a slog through slush, soft snowpack, mud and mini lakes. Several times I postholed in snow nearly to my knees, only to go ankle deep in mud and water just a few feet later. It was a good and enjoyable workout, thanks in part to my usual load in the Kestrel.

Even the weather was markedly different. The previous week’s tramp through the trees featured temps in the mid-30s with wind chills ten degrees colder. Seven days later? 60 degrees. And both hikes started at 10:00AM and peppered me with similar 10-20MPH winds, so the compare/contrast is pretty accurate. Last week I was buried under my typical multi-layer cold weather wear. This week I hiked in shorts. I always enjoy hiking in shorts while walking on/through snow. It’s such a surreal and fun experience, especially after a long winter.

The AT out of Monson gets more snow than we do, and has more substantial tree cover than this trail. Translation? It will be a few more weeks before I can launch a day hike on that significantly more difficult terrain. But I am so looking forward to it. I think it’s safe to say that, after a seemingly endless five months, my spring hiking season has nearly arrived!

Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

With the threat of more snow (this IS April, right? Right?) on the horizon, I decided to take a quick practice hike to my favorite local woods trail to see if it was passable without the snowshoes that I refuse to buy. It was, sort of. I mean, after a long winter buried under an endless (and deep!) white landscape, this looked like a groomed trail to me:

Approach

Thanks to a few melt/refreeze cycles, I only sunk in a few inches here and there, but the sub-layer of twisted ice formed by the boots of others who had come before me created perpetual opportunities for ankle wrenching. Though I had to pick my way through, it was definitely a morale boost to spend several precious minutes on my favorite running trail wearing what I consider to be acceptable footwear (translation: no skis or snowshoes) and carrying my beloved Osprey Kestrel 28 burdened with the now-typical 22 pounds.

Trail

I’m tempted to say that I was only able to cover a mile and a half in the woods but, after a seemingly infinite winter, I’m choosing to be more positive than that and say, with enthusiasm…

I got to hike a mile and a half in the woods!

Did It!

I actually made it out onto the AT in Virginia. Finally! Of course, it wasn’t a monster hike or anything. Apart from the Merrells I had on my feet, I was gear-free. But it was a nice easy three mile out-and-back on a 30 degree morning.

As you can tell from the above photos, there’s a pretty striking difference in the terrain from Virginia to Maine. Southbound out of Daleville, VA (left) looks starkly different from northbound out of Monson, ME (right). But the elevation gain out of Daleville is greater than that out of Monson, so each section has its unique challenges. According to a GPS-equipped fellow hiker out doing a weighted practice stroll in approach shoes (ice climbing in the Whites in January, anyone?) we gained over 1600 feet in elevation in a mile and a half. But the smoothness of the terrain underfoot made me start thinking “trail run”. I guess old habits do die hard, huh?

I was pleased with my hour-long saunter on the AT, especially given it was December 23rd. My son-in-law (whom I dragged out there with me) and I are already planning an early spring overnight out to Tinker Cliffs.

img_20161223_091712

Is it April yet?