Saturday January 14, 2012
The alarm says 5 am.
The thermometer says - 1 F.
Lunch is packed and the plan is made to climb Mt. Madison in the White Mountains, New Hampshire, named after the fourth President of the U.S. It's listed as a 8.3 m hike topping out at an elevation of 5367'. Fueled up with gas and caffeine we drive the 3 hours to the trail head. On the way there, we pass several other trail heads and notice parking lots completely void of vehicles. Oh well... When we reach our destination, there are three cars in the lot and we feel a little better about the state of our sanity. The outside temperature gauge now reads -9 (-23C). The thought of peeing outside makes me wish for once that I were a man...
Layered up and with gloves stuffed full of hand warmers we set off up the path with gaiters and hiking poles. It is absolutely beautiful. A little puffed up bird chirps tentatively as if he is wondering what we are doing there. I have no doubts why I am there. I notice a set of rabbit tracks hopping across a thick tree trunk suspended across the frozen river but we encounter no other wildlife, unless you count the three people descending from having spent the night on the mountain. Considering this is bear country, maybe this is for the better. The silence takes our breath away. Or is it the cold?
We are comfortably warm within ten minutes and enjoy our ascent up the Valley Way trail, the main winter trail up to the summit of Mt. Madison and Mt. Adams. According to http://www.hikenewengland.com/AdamsMadison080906.html, "The overall rating for this hike is very strenuous." The last half a mile is steep. Pretty darn steep, actually. But with our EMS Kathoola microspikes strapped to our feet, we travel like mountain goats and traverse the 3.8 miles up to the arctic zone in approximately two hours and fifteen minutes. At an elevation of 4825' we reach the Appalachian hut, which is unfortunately not open for hot chocolate, but instead presents us with fierce winds and absolutely no protection from it. We huddle in the one corner that was somewhat protected from the howling winds and shove down what I would proudly describe as my best bi-national creation ever: Swedish pancakes with peanut butter and bananas. Two fellow hikers having just come down off the summit dressed in full ski-suits and ski goggles very much appreciate our offer to share our excess, and offer us hot coffee/chocolate in exchange. A marriage made in heaven: caffeine, chocolate, fat and protein.
Based on our fellow hikers, the temperature above the hut is -40F. Hm. One of us has no face protection and my fingers are about to fall off. We decide to not take the very real risk of getting frost bite and return for the summit another day.
*There are no photos from this journey because it was too cold for the camera to work.*