23.2 mile traverse, with a hut stay at Zealand Falls Hut.
First, a huge thank you to Tim and Val C., who graciously agreed to watch Sage last Friday. Alex and I wanted to leave in the middle of the day so we could complete the 6.4 mile hike to Zealand Falls Hut before sunset, but Hugh was not able to leave work until Friday evening. Tim and Val took care of Sage until Hugh arrived; my youngest had a blast and we are much obliged. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Alex and I began the hike to the hut at about 1:30 on Friday afternoon. Please excuse the spotty quality of some of these pictures. I am still learning how to take photographs in winter; my camera does not appreciate the damp and the cold, and the lens rebels from time to time. Some of my photos turned out quite well, and others...not so much.
We reached the Zealand Trail after about two hours of walking. After taking a very short break, we entered the woods and sped-walked the 2.8 miles of well-packed trail.
We reached the hut at 4:30, three hours after we'd left our car.
Here's Alex, in front of the hut...
...and here's the hut itself.
Alex and I had never stayed at an AMC hut in the winter before. We arrived warm and toasty from hiking, but then quickly become chilled from lack of movement (the huts are not heated). We changed into dry (unsweaty) clothing, layered up, and stayed close to the lit wood stove. I made some mashed potatoes for Alex; she felt much better after eating hot food.
Once warm from food and fire, we relaxed and enjoyed the company of those around us. Turns out we were one degree of separation from most of the other guests. There are quite a few different hiking groups, associations, and clubs (official and nonofficial) in the northeast, and it seems like we met representations from at least half of them. It was a very social evening.
Alex and I slept 11 hours that night. It was tough getting up in the morning and leaving the warm and comfy confines of our winter sleeping bag. Once out in the cold air, we packed quickly. DaveBear and MadRiver arrived at the hut just as we were ready to roll.
Here's where things got a little off kilter. DaveBear, Thor and MadRiver had planned to catch up with us at the hut or, if we'd already left, somewhere on the Twinway. We'd then hike the rest of the traverse together. However, MadRiver needed to change layers when he got to the hut, but Alex and I were becoming chilled and therefore we needed to start moving. DaveBear, Thor, Alex and I started up the Twinway toward Zeacliff after making sure MadRiver didn't mind. We figured we wouldn't get too far ahead and that he'd soon catch up.
We hiked with DaveBear and Thor for a while, but there came a time when Alex and I needed to go ahead a bit in order to stay warm. We assumed we would not get too far ahead, but, unfortunately, it became difficult for us to slow down. When we tried, the cold became a problem. We could not stop to wait unless I dragged out my sleeping bag, which I most definitely did not want to do.
We've known DaveBear and MadRiver for years now. Both are trusted friends. Therefore, we knew that both would both understand if we kept moving. Also, since I knew many people would soon be on the trail behind them, I was not worried for their safety. We figured we'd eventually use the hiker grapevine to connect with them.
Alex and I broke trail through 2-5 inches of fluffy powder almost all the way to Zeacliff before being passed by a fast young man who informed us that our friends were probably about ten minutes away. We decided we'd try to wait for them at Zeacliff.
Zeacliff was socked in and blustery. Unfortunately, we could feel the wind no matter where we tried to wait. Remaining still was not an option. We moved on toward Zealand.
Once at Zealand (winter 4K #35), we found a place a few feet from the intersection that felt sheltered enough for us to stop for a while. We had a small piece of chocolate and waited for about five minutes before the chill began to set in. Just as we started to head toward Guyot, three hikers appeared from behind us. They told us that DaveBear and MadRiver were close. Relieved, Alex and I started slowly moving toward Guyot (we could no longer remain still).
Just before reaching treeline, a large VFTT group caught up with us. They passed on the message that DaveBear wasn't feeling the hike today and had decided to turn around. MadRiver was going to go with him. They both said they'd meet us on the other side of the traverse later that evening. I found out later that we'd missed each other at Zealand by five minutes (arg!).
Heading over to Guyot was...interesting. Alex and I headed above treeline without gearing up, since we didn't hear or feel any wind until we were in the midst of it. Once we felt it (strong and cold!), we beat feet into some nearby scrub and donned all the appropriate clothing.
When we stepped back out, the VFTT group had emerged and were walking single file through the Whiteness. I have mixed feelings about what happened next.
I've navigated my way into and out of a near white-out on three occasions -- once on my own and twice with Alex. What we faced heading toward Guyot was far from a white-out; visibility was not the greatest, but one could keep visual tags on the green mound of trees that one needs to enter in order to approach Guyot's summit. The question was, where was the entrance to the path that led through those trees?
I walked with Alex (and a few individuals from the group) downhill too far and missed the appropriate turn; I'd mistaken snow-covered scrub for cairns. Had I been alone (with Alex), I would have taken out my compass, reversed our direction by 180 degrees, walked back to where we'd started, gone back into the scrub, and reassessed the situation. This is the kind of thing I'd like Alex to learn how to do. The wind was blowing, but it was nothing we haven't experienced multiple times before, and we were both warm thanks to our various layers and headwear. It wasn't exactly ideal weather, but we were comfortable enough and not in danger of frostbite. Part of me wishes I had taken the time to go through that exercise with her in those particular moments.
I wasn't alone, however, and my self-sufficiency quickly converted into a desire to follow-the-leader. Someone from the VFTT group pointed toward a specific spot in the trees, walked confidently toward it, and waved for everyone else to follow. Turns out he had a GPS system showing exactly where we needed to go. This was convenient, and I'm grateful for the relative ease in which we crossed, and I'm glad they didn't mind me and Alex falling into their group for a while. However, it bothers me that I so willingly followed without spending much time trying to figure it out for myself. At the very least, I should have pulled out the compass and marked where I was in the event the group had gotten it wrong and we needed to backtrack. I'm familiar with some of the people in this group, and I know they're experienced hikers. I do not doubt their ability or judgment. I knew, in the moment, that they'd probably gotten it exactly right. It's simply the principle of the thing.
Alex and I went ahead of the group, back out of the trees, to the summit of Guyot.
The group caught up with us again as we headed to the West Bond Spur. We let them pass, then tagged behind them up to West Bond. Alex started getting grumpy, and I realized that besides the small piece of chocolate she had at Zealand, neither one of us had eaten anything since breakfast. I then decided that, in spite of a slight desire to continue tagging along with the group over to Bondcliff (I was a bit worried about a lack of visibility on the ridge), we'd stop and eat something substantial before heading up to Bond.
We reached West Bond (winter 4K #36) and -- behold, the arrival of the sun and the clearing of the sky! We saw John of "J&J" (good to see you!), and a lady in the VFTT group offered to take our picture (many thanks!). Here we are on the summit...I'm doing a great impression of a pumpkin (the wind was having fun with my layers).
We headed down West Bond with the group, then lingered behind as they left. We couldn't come to a complete stop, since lack of movement made us cold, but we could slow our pace and indulge in some cheese and crackers. Once fed and watered, it didn't take long for Alex to perk up considerably.
Up, into the official Alpine Zone...
...and onto the summit of Bond (winter 4K #37)!
The wind had died down since our crossing to Guyot, and the skies were clear. This eased my mind greatly. Finding your way from the Twinway to Guyot in less than ideal conditions is one thing...getting from Bond to Bondcliff in subzero windchills and low visibility is quite another. Had we arrived at Bond and found ourselves in an inhospitable environment, we would have either retreated back to Zealand Hut or spent the night at Guyot Shelter. Thankfully, we didn't have to pursue either of those options. However, just to be safe, I told Alex to wear all her layers and headgear (facemask, goggles, etc). I couldn't see any snow blowing over the ridge and it certainly looked relatively calm out there, but I didn't want to assume too much.
Once down Bond and into the col, it was apparent we needn't fret. There was a wind, but it was light. I took off my facemask, and Alex sat for a while and enjoyed the views.
We took our time walking across the ridge. It was wonderful. The views were outstanding, we both felt good, and Alex was in her element. This was the best part of our entire trip. Gorgeous, simply gorgeous.
We reached the top of Bondcliff (winter 4K #38) and lounged about.
Eventually, and with much regret, we decided to head down.
I'd never descended the south side of Bondcliff before. What a treat! Alex loved the moderate downhill grades. She used her sled frequently and with gleeful abandon.
We reached the Wilderness Trail at sunset.
Though we had our headlamps at the ready, we rarely used them for the last 4.6 miles of our journey. The moon was a beautiful and brilliant waxing gibbous; there was little need for artificial light.
The flat miles went by quickly. We were at the suspension bridge at 7:30pm, which gave us a total traverse time of 15 hours (Friday's hike to the hut included). Sage and Hugh were waiting in the parking lot, along with DaveBear and MadRiver. Alex and Sage happily danced with each other while I profusely thanked our friends for coming all the way out to Lincoln Woods. We talked about that morning; all three of us were okay with what had happened. John and June ("J&J") were in the lot and came over to say hello. It was good to see them both again.
Alex was more than ready for this hike. I never had any doubt that she could handle it. During the past couple of months, she's routinely taken on 12-18 mile treks and accomplished them all within adult book time, with plenty of energy left over. After we got home, I asked her if she thought this hike had been especially tough. She answered that though it wasn't easy, she didn't feel it was any more difficult than doing Owl's Head in a day.
A huge note of thanks to Hugh and Sage. Those two have prepared massive dinners for me and Alex on every winter hiking night thus far. The girls support each other, and Hugh supports me and the girls. We could not do what we do without each other's help; the four of us continue to grow as a team, and for that I am profoundly grateful.
10 mountains, 6 more hikes to go before March 20.