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I was, again, invited to go along with a great group of folks destined to take advantage of the 12 inches or more of fresh powder. The goal was simple, find some trails to sled down.
I was running late and hustling to get to our meeting spot. I raced in about 10 minutes late, even skipping coffee *GASP*. I shuffled my gear into Joel’s truck and off we went up 93. Mostly good company on the ride up. Joel’s wife, Julie in the back crammed between their nephews, Jackson and Lucas. Lucas and Jackson conserved their energy on the ride up. Following us up were 3 more, Adam, Luke, and Pat.
We arrived at the AMC Highland Center Lodge just after 08:00 and geared up inside. With the temps in the low teens, this was a nice treat to remain warm while lacing em up. We collected in a nice room with a fireplace and a couple folks reading by the fire. Such a perfect spot. Everyone got layered up and lashed sleds to pack and off we went.
We returned the car to grab snowshoes. I snapped a photo of the sun rising over ridge. The air was dry and wind still. We walked across the street to the trailhead and affixed our snowshoes. Joel worked hard to make sure everyone was secured into their shoes and we started our journey.
Julie led the crew of 8 up the trail. The Crawford Path is the oldest maintained trail in the US. It has a relatively mild grade and the recent snowfall made this a great choice. We stopped and adjusted layers at Gibbs Falls to make sure folks were not too hot. The rule is to start a winter hike cool/cold, knowing you’ll warm up as you become active. It is tough to get this right and always a struggle.
After the adjustments, we were on our way. As we gained elevation, the snow clung to the trees more and more. The branches bending under the weight. It creates a magical scene that pictures fail to convey. Time seemed to go by quickly. There were a few stops along the way for snacks and water. Julie kept us on a strong but steady pace. Soon we reached our first views of Mt Eisenhower through some branches. With its rounded treeless summit, the snow seemed extra white.
Once we reached the junction of the Appalachian Trail to the summit, the wide open views take your breath away. Adam meandered out toward the steeps to get a closer look. The dry air allowed for miles and miles of views. The white snow contrast with the blue sky makes it easy to take good pictures. I’m pretty certain everyone was grinning when we reached this point. Though the temps remained in the teens, the sun was beaming and less than 5mph wind made it feel warmer. After many (almost too many) photos, we continued up to the summit cairn.
The summit of Mt Pierce is rather lackluster but with the snow and rime covered trees, it was rather beautiful. We milled around the summit for a few, snacking and chatting.
I tended to my cold toes with a feeble attempt to strap heat packs to the top of my boots. This was an epic failure in an attempt to warm my toes without removing my boots. If nothing else, it got a few chuckles from the others.
From the summit we continued down the Webster Cliff Trail toward the Mizpah Spring Hut. The hut is closed, but going this route offered a bit more steep descent for a some sledding. We weaved through the narrow trail which had a couple snow glistening clearings. It wasn’t long before we reached some of steeper terrain and we swapped our snowshoes for sleds. This has been typically a painful transition but Joel figured out how to use Gear Ties to strap the gear to our packs. These are like giant rubbery twist ties that are very durable. They worked great and the transition could be done quicker and with gloves on.
The first run of the day. I think it was Adam up front. Could hear laughter, then screaming, then laughter and finally faded into the distance. Each took their turn, laughing all the way. Each nearly careening into the prior at the end of the run. The runs weren’t too long, but fast and steep here. It was probably the fastest mile I’ve traveled on the trail. In almost no time we were at the hut. We took a decent break here, still under the warm sun, fed ourselves and some gray jays. They always seem nearby.
Continuing down the Webster Cliff Trail to the Mizpah Cutoff, this was a march always hoping around the next corner there would be enough decline to sled, but there wasn’t much available on this stretch. We hooked back up with the Crawford Path. Another gentleman was resting at the junction after coming down Crawford from the summit. We chatted a bit and he seemed eager to see us use the sleds. We took off down the trail smiling and some giggling. He seemed impressed. After each run, he was quick enough to catch up to us, or we were slow enough, that he had to wait a bit behind us. Even though the actual sledding time is quicker, there is some time to transition between the getting up and down and hiking to the next possible run. I felt bad we were holding him up, but he was a kind and let us have some fun. We reached a point where another couple came up behind us and we allowed all three to pass by.
There were a few more stretches to sled and before long we were back at the trailhead. We were almost near the trailhead when we realized clouds had moved in and it was snowing. Everyone wanting one more time to sled, each slid down the stairs to the road snow bank.
Again we went inside the Highland Center to change out of our wet clothes and prep for the trip home. This was a very successful day hiking and sledding. Can’t wait to do it again.
The same photos along with some video clips on Youtube: https://youtu.be/n8PezviLUwA