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I enjoyed everything about this trip and ready to go do it again.
We were able to coordinate a 2 day trip to attempt Mt Adams. It was the long Presidents Day weekend and we worked it out to head up Sunday afternoon hoping the crowd would have come and gone the night before.
The weather was looking favorable and planning went well. Joel and I worked out the details and sent out feelers to see who else would join in. As of Friday, it was going to be just Joel and I. Jake seemed to have forgotten about it when he was reminded.
This being my first winter overnight, I was worried about my gear and not knowing exactly what I’d need and if my DIY quilt(s) would be enough. I pre-packed my 50L bag and found it a very tight fit. I couldn’t add any of my Nalgenes inside. I needed to find a second bottle insulator to avoid ice. I spent the day Saturday running from EMS to REI to find a suitable item. REI was out of them, but I was able to find a tall one at EMS. Right next to it was a 42oz Nalgene that looked like a perfect fit. I grabbed both and headed home. Turns out the insulator was for .5L tall bottle even though the length was the same. I managed to force the bottle inside, though suspect I lost much of the insulating properties by stretching it. I was able to hang it from my pack which was good enough.
We had planned to leave Sunday afternoon. Leaving for a hike in the afternoon is foreign to me. I didn’t know what to do with my morning except worry about having the right gear and freezing all night. Even though we targeted a cabin, it is first come first served and could be full. The potential for needing gear to sleep warm in a lean-to or outdoor shelter was very present in my mind. I finished packing and made my way to Joel’s to meet up.
When I got to his house, Jake was there packing the truck.. in shorts and flip flops. I wasn’t initially certain if he was going or if he was lending Joel some warmer gear. I was glad to hear he was joining us for the trip. After some joking about the shorts and flip flops walking on the packed snow/ice in the driveway, found that Joel had asked to borrow a warmer sleeping bag from another, Todd. It worked out that Todd would be joining us as well. The more the merrier. We were able to jam out bags, snowshoes, and sleds in Joel’s truck and headed for the hills.
I think I was excited as the trip to the trail head was a blur and went quickly. We reached Lowes Service Station on Rt 2. It is $1/day to park there, darn good price. The Lowes trail head is a couple hundred feet up the road. We took some time to put the finishing touches on our packs and layer up for the cold mountain air. The temps were mild all day, but expecting to drop into the night. We strapped butt sleds to our packs anticipating sledding down Lowes on the way out. All layered up and packs tight, we headed down and across the road.
Nearing 4pm, we strapped out snowshoes on at the Lowes Path trail head. The trail was packed out, but the snow was softened by the mild weather. We marched on across the snowmobile tracks and into the woods. The lower sections of Lowes Path meander through some open forest with some hardwoods. The trail turns steeper and steeper as you cover some miles. We lost the rest of the sun and stopped to dig out head lamps for the rest of the hike up. It was tough to get decent photos with my phone as the low light drops shutter speed and ends up with blurred images, in part to my shaky hands. We past the Log Cabin which is one option should the hut be full. It would be a cold night if that is the case. The trail is really steep from from this point and seemed to go on forever. The soft snow made for good grip with snowshoes and I think we were all very grateful of our heel lifts.
We broke into alpine zone and as we approached the Quay the winds picked up and chilled our sweat. At the Quay, we could look down to the lights below. It reminded me of looking out an airplane window to the towns below. We continued beyond the Quay and and not long after reaching Gray Knob Hut just after 7pm. I think we were all very excited to be out of the cold and set up for a night in the hut.
Justin, the caretaker, came out to welcome us and to break down the lay of the land. There is water .2 miles down trail and a couple toilets just around the bend. Luckily we all brought enough water for the night and didn’t have to tack that on. There were already 2 groups totaling 6 people, and a beautiful husky staying the night. Justin shared there should be plenty of space for us this night. Had we came the night before, they packed 21 in the same space. We jammed our snowshoes and poles into the snow and headed inside.
The first thing we all noticed was how warm it was inside. I read it was an insulated cabin and the wood stove would be lit sparingly to control moisture. It was burning nicely and was very welcome. I think it was about 55-60F, compared to outside was very warm. The overall foot print of the hut is small, with a center staircase. There is a small table and benches just inside the door and another table and benches in a nook. Opposite the nook is the cooking counter and small corner counter section reserved just for the caretaker. In the center next to the stairs is the toasty wood stove. We shook off the cold and headed up stairs to the loft where the sleep quarters are. We arranged the bed pads(supplied by the hut) under the roof slope just at the top of the stairs. The space worked well with our gear stacked between each pad trying to minimize our footprint. I spread out my quilt and hung up my damp shirt and put on a dry one. There were plenty of clothes lines to dry out wet gear. Once the bedding was in order it was time for dinner.
We grabbed our water, stoves and pots, and food and returned downstairs. The hut provided boards to sit your stove on for safety. We all had canister stoves and boiled water to re-hydrate our various meals. I think we were all starving. Once you add water to the meals, you have to wait about 20 minutes to re-hydrate the food. This obviously feels more like 60 minutes when you’re hungry. By the time the food was done, the table in the nook was open and we sat down for some well deserved dinner. I enjoyed some Packit Gourmet. It was supposed to be Gumbo, but think it was missing some components. It was still delicious. The four of us filled our faces and chatted quietly as the rest of the folks turned in to rest.
Not too long after we finished, we readied for sleep. I dreaded going out to the restroom but knew I had to before sleep. The winds were low so it wasn’t too bad.
The wood stove had burned out around 10pm for the night, but it was still quite warm up in the loft, maybe mid to high 50’s. We all had layers on and warm sleeping bags and blankets. Although being warm, I was up for nearly an hour before falling asleep. I had a few spans of good rest, but not contiguous. I think Todd summed it up best saying the assorted noises were like a symphony. Being in a small space like that with so many folks, you hear everything. Between fidgeting, sniffles, snoring, even just breathing, can all get your attention throughout the night. The dog was quiet, until morning, then stretched her legs and shook out her coat a couple times. I’m sure I contributed to the noises as well. All in all, it wasn’t bad, just something not used to.
We woke slowly after the sun rose. I could see Jake sitting up as I looked out the window. I could see it was cloudy and flurries still fell. It was supposed to be cold and snowy overnight and the winds about 30MPH. First one of the other groups got up and headed down then the other. While laying under covers still, the scent of fresh brewed coffee and blueberry pancakes drifted upstairs. Certainly brightened the mood. We headed downstairs to eat our own breakfast. It was cooler, but not cold downstairs. The caretaker mentioned the night before he was leaving and may start the stove in the morning. He didn’t, but that was OK. Heated some oatmeal and granola, along with the required coffee(VIA for these trips) and fueled up. Following that we retreated back up stairs to pack up a bit of our bedding and layer up for the summit run.
After deciding on the layers and trimming out unneeded pack items, we set outside. It was flurrying and cold. It was hovering near 10 degrees but wind was light at the hut. The reports we had from the trail up was there were some snow drifts, but mostly wind scoured packed snow/ice. We all decided to leave snowshoes stuffed in the snow and make our way with only light crampons. Three of us were sporting the underrated Hillsound Trail Pro light crampons. These are more aggressive than a chain-based microspike, but shorter and thinner than a full crampon. The ratchet bindings/straps fit well without any pressure points and include anti-balling plates that simply work. Jake had recently scored a pair of the more legit Grivel G-10 crampons that he strapped on. We set out up Lowes Path beyond the hut.
Not far beyond the hut, the trial climbs quickly and pops out of the trees. We were greeted with a stiff wind coupled with increased snow and low cloud cover. The forecast was supposed to be clear all day, but never can trust those. We continued the trudge up all the while the sun kept trying to poke through, but would quickly vanish behind clouds and snow. The trail was decent and the cairns mostly visible. The winds kept the snow thin and we were walking on ice layered rock. The winds and snow made us guess a few times where the trail was. It wasn’t long before we approached Abigail Adams, one of the 5 sub peaks of Mt Adams. I had my Garmin eTrex30x and we were holding trail well. The top of Abigail Adams was lightly shielded from the winds and we stopped to figure out what the next plan was.
The reason we paused at the top was because the trail beyond was covered in snow. The next stage was into down a short drop from Abigail down into a saddle. This saddle was a small snow field that seemed much more vast when you’re in it. The snow drifts covered the trail and cairns were hidden. We decided to continue on down into the saddle. We zigged and zagged in search of the proper direction. We had the right direction, but were not able to reliably follow the trail by sight. I referenced my GPS laid over the topo and trail. We were moving in the right direction, but just off trail. The clouds and wind swept snow blowing on top of the snow covered ground created an uneasy blindness. Everything was white except us. We stayed fairly close together. Joel kept pressing forward in search of cairns before retreating back. At this point, Todd voiced concern for pressing on beyond a point of not finding a way back. It was a legitimate concern. If the weather held this pattern we may make the view-less summit, but could we make it back. We paused and discussed it briefly. I could sense the discomfort in Todd’s tone and we agreed to turn back staying together. I have been in that position before. Even if we pressed on, he would not have enjoyed it and the worry lay heavy with each step. It was best to turn back and save the summit for another day. We followed our snow filled footprints and GPS track back to Abigail Adams. Once here, the cairns reappeared. The snow and wind blew into our face.
The descent was going smooth. About half way down to the hut, the sun started breaking through the clouds and we could catch glowing glimpses of the town below. We could make out the cloud line behind and the clear skies beyond. By the time we reached the hut, the skies were clear blue and warm sun poking through. There were a few others convening at the hut as well. Others had made it Mt Jefferson through the same snowy conditions to be greeted with the sun on the return trip.
We went back into the hut and ate some grub and packed up the rest of our gear. For me, this is a chore as my gear barely fits in my pack. I have to be very strategic and compact everything down. This task is always easier at home, spread out on a floor/table. Something I never consider having to redo at camp. After wrapping up and double checking nothing left behind we headed out for a final descent. The conditions were colder and the snow pack solid so we decided on just crampons. This means strapping snowshoes _and_ sleds to our packs. A bit more added weight on your back.
As we started down, the views from The Quay were absolutely stunning. The sky a rich blue with the frozen snow on the summits and trees created a breathtaking contrast. Smiles had by all by this point. It wasn’t long before we reached the steep trail. The others decided to begin their sledding adventure. It was scary fast and solid trail. The previous days thaw had frozen over. I stayed in crampons for the hike down. I could see them take off around the bends and hear the giggling and screeches as they zoomed down.
The descent went by all too quickly as I didn’t want the trip to be over. The hike through the lower glades with the sun dappled through the bare trees was refreshing. It wasn’t long before we were crossing the snowmobile trails and out onto RT 2. I snapped a few more photos from the road trying capture the beauty. We made our way back to the Lowes Service Station lot. The mud and mush from the day before was now frozen ice around the truck. It made for some careful balancing changing clothes and boots. We jammed our gear back in the truck and started home. A successful first winter overnight of many, I hope.