Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mt. Adams, December 23rd

A couple days before Christmas, RD and I made an attempt at Adams. Up at 6 in North Conway, with lunch and gear packed the night before, we were on the mountain by 7:30, so we had plenty of daylight to play with. But going was slow. Even the Appalachia parking lot had gotten a couple of inches of snow during the night, and the higher up we went, the more accumulation we encountered.

Elevation seems to influence weather even more during the winter than in summer. The hike up the Airline takes far longer in the winter than summer, inducing you to study the forest in somewhat frustrating detail. The whole time we had a pretty good idea of how far it was to treeline simply by the temperature. When we needed our hats, we knew we were about to pop out.

When we did emerge onto the ridge, visibility was limited, and snowdrifts began to seriously impede our progress. It probably took us an hour to get from treeline to the Airline Cutoff—a distance that only takes fifteen minutes to cover in the summer. Our snowshoes helped with the snow, but the pitch of the slope made us slide back, sometimes three or four steps in a row. The quads and hip flexors felt this part of the hike.

Unfortunately, the clouds never lifted as the weather report had suggested, so we never got to look across King Ravine. However, the rime ice on this trail sign was superb.

Past the Airline Cutoff, the wind increased sharply as we rose above Adams’ western ramparts. This made the going much easier because the snow was scoured from the mountainside, allowing the teeth of our snowshoes to bite into the granular snow, but of course the air grew a great deal colder, too. At the junction of the Airline and Gulfside Trails, we paused for a picture, a bite to eat, and a powwow about whether to continue.

Given the limited visibility and the difficulty of distinguishing cairns, which had become white lumps of rime by this point, we decided to forego a summit attempt and instead descended along the Gulfside to Madison Hut, which was rebuilt by the AMC’s construction crew during the late fall. It was a chilly walk downhill made eerie by the strange sensation of recognizing landscape features that, given the snow and ice, seemed very out of context. I was glad we did not continue up the summit cone, which I do not know so well as this section of the Gulfside.

The new Madison Hut, which CC was working on until Thanksgiving, looks snug and very similar to its predecessor (this photo shows the old bunkrooms, of which the skeleton has been preserved because it dates back to the thirties). The interior is apparently different, but since the hut was boarded up for the winter, reviews will have to wait until next summer. Not yet ready to head down the Valley Way, we trekked up to Star Lake and found the moon rocks, though the white quartz was concealed by a layer of ice.

The wind was fairly cutting here, too, so we turned around and sped past the hut onto the powdery length of the Valley Way. The snow was so deep that we could slide down the steeper patches at a great pace. Before long, we were exhausted, however, and the bottom half was a drudge. We were off the mountain at two, without having seen a soul the entire time.

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