Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Whiteout on Monroe and Washington - Dec. 14, 2014

Route: Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, Mt. Monroe Loop, Crawford Path
Peaks: Monroe (5384', NH4K), Washington (6288', NH4K)
Mileage: 9.1 mi
Elevation Gain: 4000ft
Book Time: 6hr 35min (actual: 8hr)

Ian (and Marlie), Theresa, and myself met early at the Cog Railroad parking lot for this hike. The weather was for the skies to clear by mid-morning, the temperatures to be near freezing above treeline, and the winds to be manageable. The skies were indeed hinting at clearing as we started off, putting the snowshoes on right off the bat at the start of the spur trail to the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. The snow depth was not terribly deep, but sufficient, at the start, but it quickly increased in depth as we progressed.

The first stretch into Gem Pool was easily traveled, but now we were in for the real climbing! I'd only been on this trail once before, on the descent in winter, but recalled that it was pretty steep above Gem Pool. In fact, it is really steep, and the climb is fairly relentless! We also noticed as we climbed that the skies weren't looking like they were going to clear anytime soon. When we reached treeline a short distance below the Lakes of the Clouds Hut (closed this time of the year of course), visibility was very limited, and it wasn't until we were 100 feet or so away that we finally saw the hut!

The base of the Cog Railroad

Gem Pool in winter

This of course meant that finding our way up to Monroe, which has only a few cairns to mark the way, could be a bit tricky. Since we all had been up here several times before, we were familiar with how the trail first skirts the base of the cone to the junction with the Monroe Loop, before steadily and mostly directly ascends to the false summit. We also had a GPS track if need be, but we walked right up to the trail junction without any trouble. From there it was easier, because you just need to ascend. We got a little offline, but recognized our mistake and swung around to the trail corridor, and then up to the actual summit as the clouds thinned a little bit.

On Monroe - in a cloud!

The Monroe Loop junction
The wind was really whipping on the summit, so after a few pictures and a short break behind some rocks to break the wind, we re-traced our steps back to the hut. From the hut, we had the long, steady ascent on the Crawford Path (the first time I've ascended Washington from this direction in fact!), but visibility had improved some. We could see usually 2-3 cairns ahead, and the cairns are quite large on the Crawford path too which helped. Aside from my legs being completely shot (still getting the snowshoe leg muscles in shape again!), the ascent went well. We had hardly any wind until hitting the junction with the Gulfside Trail 0.2-miles below the summit, and were quickly out of the worst of it as we swung around the summit behind the buildings. For once there was no line for pictures, and after taking turns getting our pictures taken, we headed behind one of the buildings for a break.

Snow cat tracks!

Hey Marlie!
With the wind still fairly strong out of the North, we opted to descend the way we had ascended, especially since the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail had been in such good shape (no ice, and good snowshoeing conditions). As we descended, the clouds thinned and lifted a little bit for the duration of the descent to the hut. We even saw a little blue sky, along with a rather freaky-looking cloud over towards North Conway. The sun was short-lived though, and so once again the weathermen missed a little bit. Still, it was a good introduction to winter above treeline for Theresa (winter officially didn't begin for another week but this was absolutely winter conditions!), and a fun time out!

Monroe in a sea of clouds

Freaky-looking cloud looks like it is sucking up something from the valley

Blue skies!
One thing I do want to say is that the snow depth above treeline was tremendous, as we barely hit any rocks with our snowshoes. The conditions were simply amazing, the best I've ever seen above treeline! All the usual rocks and holes between the rocks that are present in summer were completely covered and we had great snowshoeing all day long. I've heard of people saying they've had such conditions before, but I'd never seen it myself. It really makes hiking above treeline so much easier!

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