Just a couple days prior to this hike, the NorthEast got hit with a SECOND freak warm spell in the month of January, only this time it was accompanied by over 1" of rain on Thursday, even as high up as Mount Washington's 6288' summit! This dramatically reduced the snowpack in the mountains (and essentially eliminated it in low elevations). And immediately following this, there were several very cold days. Thus, I was expecting, and found, very hard-packed snow and ice. In fact, none of our group of 13 even bothered to bring our snowshoes, and we never missed them at all.
For this hike, we were using the normal winter route to these 2 peaks, which entails using Greeley Ponds Trail from the Kancamagus Highway, to the Mount Osceola Trail over East Osceola and to the main peak, then returning the same way. Tripoli Road is closed and gated in winter, and so using the other, more moderate, end of the Mount Osceola Trail, as is common in summer, means a roughly 3-mile road walk each way. This side of the Mount Osceola Trail (as far as East Osceola at least) was brand-new to me (yeay for a little red-lining!), but I knew from reports that it is quite steep (the AMC's White Mountain Guide describes it as "one of the steepest and roughest in the [White] Mountains"). It did not disappoint.
But first we had to hike the 1.3 mild miles from the Kancamagus Highway. We started off right from the icy parking lot in microspikes, and roughly 1/4 mile in we came to 2 crossings of the North Fork of the Hancock Branch. The heavy rain just days before coupled with the melting of 1-2 FEET (or more?!) of snow had resulted in very swollen river crossings. And only about 36 hours of cold meant that the snow and ice bridges had not reformed. And so these crossings were a little tricky.
|Crossing Number 1|
Now for the fun part. We all switched to crampons here, and started on our way. While the trail began climbing here, it was not overly steep as it passed beneath some impressive cliffs on the side of East Osceola. But soon enough the climbing began as it had to (from the junction to the summit is only 1.5 miles and gains 1900 feet in all). And boy was it steep! And icy! But we all had on our crampons and made our way slowly but steadily up the trail. Partway up it skims the edge of a rock slide, and near the top it actually climbs up the slide for a short distance (it really crosses it diagonally). These spots were the iciest, and in the case of the upper one, a slip would have resulted in one sliding a fair way, but we made it up without incident. The nice thing was that there were some nice views off the slide, as the morning was nice and sunny with blue skies.
|Hancocks (see Arrow Slide on left), Carrigain behind the tree in the center|
|Mount Osceola from the outlook shortly below the East Osceola summit|
|East Osceola from the outlook|
|Mount Osceola from a little below East Osceola|
|The bottom of the chimney in summer - the scramble section is straight between the trees|
|Tripyramids from the top of the chimney|
|Pemi Wilderness from Mount Osceola's summit|
|Tripyramids dead center, Sandwich Dome on the right|
|Tecumseh's ski slopes (Waterville Valley) from Mount Osceola|
|Mount Chocorua in the distance|
|Carrigain, East Osceola on left from Mount Osceola|
|Sandwich Dome over Waterville Valley|
|The group eating on the view ledges of Mount Osceola|
During this time, we saw several people both ascending and descending in nothing more than microspikes. Let me just say, that was a very poor choice of traction. The ice was hard, and microspikes do not bite well enough nor are they long enough to provide safe purchase on such steep and icy terrain. This was the first time I really felt crampons were a necessary thing (even snowshoes with good crampons would have been overmatched) in my winter 4000-footer quest thus far, and watching these people skid and slip everywhere made me cringe constantly. I can only hope they all made it out OK.
We made it down in one piece to the junction with Greeley Ponds, switched back to microspikes for the trip out, navigated the stream crossings with little trouble (they had iced up a bit more since the morning, though we crossed in the same spots we had found in the morning), and made it back to the parking lot without incident. A quick load up, a return to the cars we had left behind in Lincoln, and we all went to have a great meal at the Woodstock Inn.
This was probably my most challenging Winter 4000-footer hike thus far in my quest, but it was still a fun and enjoyable hike. Getting to see several familiar faces was great too.
39 down, 9 to go!
Peaks: East Osceola (4156', NH4K), Mount Osceola (4340', NH4K)
Trails: Greeley Ponds Trail, Mount Osceola Trail
Mileage: 7.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3200 feet
Book Time: 5.5 hours