a different world

The snowy view from Mt. Jackson (photo by Natasha)

We spent last weekend the White Mountains of New Hampshire, hiking the Webster/Jackson loop in the southern Presidentials on Saturday. The trails and mountaintops around Crawford Notch were snow covered despite temperatures in the low-50’s. We were alone for most of our hike up to the summit of Webster and then across to Jackson, breaking trail through fresh snow for much of the way. Saw some snowshoe hare, fox, and mouse tracks crossing the trail in many places. The snow got deeper and icier as we climbed. Near the summit the shortened trees were caked with wind-blown ice and snow, but we had blue skies and and astounding views of the surrounding frosted mountains.

Silver Cascade on the way up Mt. Webster (photo by Natasha)

In winter the mountains look and feel completely different than they do in the summer. Snow covers the world with its silence. No leaves are left to rustle in the breeze. The chatter of birds, squirrels and chipmunks has died down. The trails are uncrowded as most folks hang up their hiking poles for the season or trade them in for ski boots. I appreciate the added elements of challenge and risk that come with winter hiking. A slip and fall is maybe more likely and probably more difficult to recover from. The importance of being prepared with enough food, water, dry clothes, and emergency gear is even greater. In the mountains, weather changes quickly and looks can be deceiving. As I hiked I wondered, if I had to hunker down in a mountain snowstorm overnight with just the contents of my day pack, could I? Would I be prepared? Would I have the emotional and physical fortitude to make it and to help my fellow hikers through? Or would I be one needing more help, relying on rescue, or falling apart mentally? My thoughts wander to imagining the lives of the animals who survive through these cold New England winters. Comfort is subjective. Survival is not.

On this day we had blue skies and light wind, with snow beginning to melt by the time we made our way back down to lower elevation. We were visited by Canadian jays begging for trail mix and a few other groups of hikers on our descent. It was a satisfying and seductive introduction to what I hope is a full season of hiking, skiing and snowshoeing. Bring on the snow and the changed perspective of winter.