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noun: slog; plural noun: slogs
1. a spell of difficult, tiring work or traveling.
There are few words to describe this trek. The Mountain Weather forecast said ‘some clouds’ for the entire day. This was true if ‘some’ means a cloud sitting on us most of the day.
From the start, the forecast looked to hold true. As usual, meeting up in Concord early it was dark, but some stars were visible. After a few introductions to some new friends, we set off. The road trip felt brief as we only had to reach Franconia Notch for this hike. We took some time to suit up for day. When we popped open the hatch, Adam made us aware he had forgotten his jacket, gloves, and most of his snacks at home. After assessing what he needed, we gathered enough to allow us to continue on.
The temps hovering just above freezing was a nice treat compared to my prior hike. We all tossed conditions and gear needs around. Most were bringing sleds for the trip down. Most were also bringing spikes/light crampons along with snowshoes to cover all possibilities. All methods were needed and used. We all started in spikes/light crampons.
From the Basin parking lot(on 93S side) the weather looked promising. There were a few breaks in the clouds and blue skies poked through. We hiked down around the Basin swirling pool and started up the Basin Cascade Trail. The trail was well packed out. It was a short climb to the first junction of the Cascade Brook Trail. We banked left here as we knew we stayed on the Appalachian Trail for a bit. We continued on only about .1 mile before switching over to snowshoes as the trail was very lightly traveled. We cruised along, and the trail continued to descend. There were some comments early on about this but we continued a bit longer, some even enjoying some early sledding. After hearing a bit more traffic on 93, Nate suggested we check the maps. Turns out we were all heading the wrong way from the junction. We had traveled .8 mile the wrong direction, and dropped some elevation too. This means we had to hike back, up, back to the junction. In an instant, I went from the back of the line to the lead. Frustrated, I contributed to us going the wrong way, I put my head down and marched back up to the junction. It was an early blow to morale we didn’t need.
We took a rest at the junction, milling around a bit recovering from the mishap. We crossed the Cascade Brook heading north on the Appalachian Trail, the right way. Not far from the crossing was the correct left on the Kinsman Pond Trail. Resuming my slot toward the back of the group, it took me about a mile to realize the trail was not broke out. The previous 6-7 folks in front were packing out the untouched snow on the trail. This can be a tiring task for the leader(s). The mild temps had the snow feeling mushy, a sort of marshmallow feel that clung to boots and snowshoes. Also contributing to the marshmallow snow, was the fact that we gained elevation into the now consistent cloud cover. There was a mist falling on us, and the trees. The snow on the trees was melting and creating its own constant rain.
We took several needed breaks along the way. The wet drips, rain, and sweat had us all thoroughly soaked. Pat broke the trail up until maybe the last half mile before the pond. A commendable effort. As I reaped the benefit in the back of the pack much of the way, I volunteered to lead. It was no easy task making Pat’s efforts more apparent. As we approached the Kinsman Pond, the grade leveled off but the drifts became more frequent. We had to weave around a few small fallen trees and soon we broke out to the end of the Kinsman Pond. As soon as we stepped out of the woods, the wind took a bite into our wet layers. It looked like we were hiking in the cloud itself. The trail continues to the right of the pond. It strafes the slope weaving in and out of tree tunnels. More drifting snow made the trail tough to follow and stand upright. Joel found it easier to walk across the pond. We were all hoping to reach the shelter and seek respite inside from the rain and wind.
We turned the corner to the shelter to find 6 hikers unpacking and sprawling out to spend an overnight in the shelter. It was not possible to get inside from the cold for a break. We stopped for some food and gear change. Nate feasted on some hot chowder he brought in a thermos, a great idea. Tom shared his homemade granola bars. Everyone seemed to check on each other to make sure everyone had enough gear/food.
I think it was a unanimous decision to abort taking the two summits. Though one was only about half mile further, the heavy cloud cover and wet conditions made it far from attractive.
I opted to switch from snowshoes to Hillsounds(Trail Pro) and replaced my wet outer shirt with a dry one. I picked the wrong day to leave my shell home. Shame on me for blindly trusting the weather reports. I also switched out my gloves for OR Mt Baker Mitts to combat my ongoing cold digit issues. I almost made the transition without stinging hands, almost perfect though. The heat packs in my boots from the start continued working perfectly all day. The heat packs and mitts at the summit were great for my hands.
We started our descent and quickly picked up the Fishin Jimmy Trail at the junction of Kinsman Ridge Trail. The upper sections of Fishin Jimmy were quite steep and icy, even before the sledding. Those that brought sleds up, were having a blast. It was a great spirit boost to begin sledding down and hear the WooHoos and laughter. A few times it was so steep, some didn’t opt to try those sections. However the ice made some of us sit down anyway. We made quick work of the upper sections laughing and chattering along the way.
It didn’t seem long till we reached the AMC Lonesome Lake Hut. We decided to go inside and sit down for a rest. Perhaps a mistake, as the fire was blasting and there were 15-20 people already inside. Many of those folks were staying the night. They had cards and board games spread out on the tables having fun. The sole hut croo member offered up brownies and hot potato dill soup for sale. Reluctantly I passed on the soup knowing we were stopping for dinner on the way home. We lingered in the hut a while enjoying the warmth and dry seating. It was a difficult decision to leave the hut and head out in the cold, but it was the only way back to the car. We layered up and gathered our gear.
We crossed the foot bridge and picked up Cascade Brook Trail toward the Basin. This stretch went quick, or perhaps I zoned it out. The constant drizzle seemed to subside which made the descent more enjoyable. Soon we were back at the junction of the Kinsman Pond Trail, a big loop. We crossed the Cascade Brook and picked up the Basin Cascade Trail. This dropped us back at the Basin and the lot near 4:30.
We all swapped out of our damp hiking clothes and loaded up the gear. We packed into the cars destined for Lincoln to get some well deserved grub. Stopping in at GH Pizza is a popular post hike reward for a bunch of the guys. The pizza looks amazing and the subs are great. After some delicious chow we packed into the cars and made our way back to Concord.
In hindsight this was a mentally tough hike but still a great day. The wet conditions and unbroken trail made it grueling, but seeing the guys sledding and hearing the laughter washed that all away. Met a couple new great guys that I hope to hike with again.
A bad day in the whites is still a good day.