View from the Mount Washington Col (photo courtesy of Ari Schneider)
Will Russack, a fellow Tufts student, and I stopped at the Carter Notch hut on our way up to Carter Dome. Russack only had to summit this 4832 peak to finish hiking the 48 “4000 footers” that lie in the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. Inside, the caretaker, a 20-something with long dreadlocks and a rustic smile, asked Russack if he was going for 48 in the winter, or just in general. I gawked at this statement, as it is just hard enough to get on top of all 48 peaks.
Hiking in the Whites may not compare to the altitudes of other beasts in the United States—the Rockies, the Tetons, or the Sierras. However, these 48 peaks hold great meaning to the New England outdoorsmen and women who call the White Mountain National Forest home. The caretaker’s comments represent a culture of being “hard;” going out on adventures in not so ideal conditions and pushing one more mile. This is the New Hampshire way, and this is what makes winter hiking in the White Mountains so enticing.
This winter is one people in New England will never forget. There was winter storm Juno, where Boston area college students were skiing through the streets and kayaking down hills. New Englanders became part of an endless cycle of shoveling snow. Ski resorts in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine saw record snowfall, which made this season extremely profitable—enough to keep the slopes open a few extra weeks. There was so much snow in Boston that the city started using construction vehicles and dump trucks to move snow to the beaches.
In terms of hiking, this winter was characterized by washed out trails, frigid temperatures, and snowshoes galore. There were not many days where the sun was out and it was never really warm enough to hike in a t-shirt; this was the year of the buff, the gaiters, and the trekking poles. This winter was definitely a gift for the skier, but for the hiker, it only added a littler more motivation to get out on peaks when no one else would.
I love winter hiking—there is a certain tranquility that comes with the silence of winter (which is often ruined by the crunching of snowshoes or microspikes). The feeling of summiting an empty mountaintop is bizarre in the greatest way—it is utter gratification. It is just you and the mountain in mutual solidarity. If that’s not poetic, then I don’t know what is.
As the winter comes to an end, the Whites will teem with thru hikers, summer camp excursions, family trips, and college students on summer break. The New England wildlife will roar back to life as it always does—with beauty and gusto. Lost is the challenge of knee-deep snow, of negative temperatures and numb fingers and toes, of unbelievable summits that become a winter hiker’s getaway.
This is why the caretaker asked Russack if he was going for all 48 in one winter. The culture of winter hiking is about the challenge, the grit, and the beer in your hand as you sit by the fire that night.
There’s always next winter.