Welcome Winter – Mt. Cardigan

Winter is here. November is a weird shoulder season here in New England. The plan was simple, go climb Mt. Lincoln with Anton and my dad. I was excited to sink my teeth into another 4,000 footer. The weather looked a little rainy in the early morning, but that would clear by the time we arrived according to Accuweather. That’s the last time I trust Accuweather. We turned around when we arrived at the trail head since it was still raining with no end in site. We did see on the radar maps that Mt. Cardigan State Park was free and clear so we drove south once again.

When we arrived at Cardigan the ground was covered in snow, and it was still snowing! We were all brimming with excitement. Now that it was already 10:30am we opted for a very early lunch. I was already starving since we ate breakfast at 5:30am anyway. Plus, why carry food when you don’t have to?

We ate nice warm dehydrated food packets as quickly as possible. As we were eating it hit me, my microspikes were in my summer backpack. Why? I tried to fit all my gear in a 28 liter pack, but it was useless. Ski pants, extra layers, ski googles to keep the heat in, plus all my usual gear. I realized that this was a job for my Gregory Deva. My poor 40 liter Bergan sustained a few small critter related injuries last spring thanks to me thinking it would be okay storing it in the basement of my former apartment… wrong. The Bergan was tasty because it had my sweat on it. Critters love human sweat. Be careful with where you store your packs! Also, double check to see if you have your microspikes always!

Luckily Cardigan is an easy 3 mile trip mostly in the woods with very limited snowfall. As we walked through the forest I started to feel that exhaustion that a person feels when they’re out of shape. Okay, I’m not totally out of shape, but my lifestyle isn’t as active as it used to be. Clearly that needs to change.

Then as luck would have it, things got steep and icy. Anton insisted that he was okay without microspikes so he let me have his. Amazingly, they fit me well enough to keep me upright. I’m the clumsiest person ever, I needed them. Eventually it was so cold, so windy that the entire surface of the mountain was covered in Rime ice. Rime ice forms when supercooled water liquid droplets freeze onto surfaces. I saw a bird take flight, poor guy didn’t get to far in the sustained 60mph winds.

Hiking on proved to be more difficult than anticipated. I saw the fire tower at the summit and said I was okay calling our current spot summit if Anton didn’t feel comfortable walking across the ice with only his boots. I even offered to give him the spikes back and let Anton and my father bask in the glory of the summit. I was okay admiring the view from where we were. Nope, Anton just kept on going. My dad and I looked at each other and followed along as closely as possible. If Anton fell I wanted to be close by for assistance.

It was the longest, coldest 20 minutes of my life in that exposed wind, but finally we made. And we didn’t linger, my dad practically sprinted off the peak. Anton and I cautiously went down. The microspikes helped me but obviously the fit wasn’t great so I always felt like I was going to go over. Every time there was a big gust Anton started resembling an ice skater. I kept him just in front of me for safety sake. My dad was a good 200 feet ahead and didn’t care, he just wanted to get out of the wind. And once we were all out of the wind I couldn’t be happier, I felt like I could breathe again.

Exposure to negative temperatures and cold for more than a few minutes is taxing on the body, I had forgotten how difficult it really was. This was a difficult, but friendly reminder of how prepared you must be for winter hiking. You have to be ready to survive up there, and if you are your hike will be lovely. If you aren’t, you are risking everything. Be safe and get out there!