Hiking on New Years Day was originally not how I intended to spend my day off;
the weather looked crummy, but that didn’t stop me from checking the weather in the typical grid pattern that I do around the White Mountains of NH and into Eastern VT to get an idea of what peaks would appeal to Ciara and I and simply be tolerated by our doggies Boone and Crockett (they don’t like the winds in their ears!).
I had it stuck in my mind from the second that I swiped my badge at work Monday afternoon that I would be running some considerable distance Tuesday again, low and slow distance. I had my sights set (had I decided as a ‘back-up plan’ to hike a mountain) on Waterville Valley, the target slowly drifted from the 4003′ peak of Mount Tecumseh (the top is in tree-line so the wind wouldn’t affect as atrociously) to somewhere I had never been: The Sandwich Range. I honestly just like the name and the fact that it traversed a ridge, knowing that the water would still be high from the recent rain and oddly unseasonably high temperatures.
Over some New Years Eve kombucha I began thinking of a back-up to the first back-up hiking plan –
what if I did not what to drive over an hour and a half on a sheet of ice while being blown around by 60+mph winds? I wasn’t really in the market of crashing my Subaru on my day off – and the first day of 2019!
Remembering that I didn’t have super high expectations for Smarts Mountain from a few weekends ago (I really, really went into that hike knowing next to nothing other than the trail map glued to my brain cells and that there is a fire tower on the summit), turns out that was one of the most fun days of hiking that I have had in forever! And this peak actually connects to Smarts Mountain, should one have the time to make the 8-9 mile journey from one peak to the next (they are actually both the first “real” mountains that Northbound hikers on the Appalachian Trail will encounter as they head toward Maine!).
Ciara did not see me checking the weather for a more local hike as she piped up from her crocheting:
“have you thought at all about Mt Cube? It’s more local and really nice!”, what had just occured was some kind of omen! It just so happens that I had also thought of Cube, well that settles that – Mount Cube it was!
As morning came.. fruit got cut, smoothies were made, celery stalks juiced; she got ready for work, I got ready for a hike. The weather, when I checked had deminished to mostly wind, left over snow from the prior night, but not really calling for new accumulation – I could deal with that for sure!
I had decided to wear my Salomon running vest for this 6.6mi (from Alltrails) trek southbound along the Appalachian Trail. I assumed the trails would be wet, despite the dry roads where I was driving from, so I opted for the good ol’ Asolo boots instead of the meshy trail runners that I would be guaranteed to have soaked toes in! I brought my 21″ snowshoes which hung out in my trunk for the hike, Hillsound spikes did just fine for this one! Because of the chance of heavy rains – and especially the 50+mph wind threats once the elevation was gained, I broke out the Gore-Tex Marmot jacket to throw over my North Face fleece when needed. Thick water-proof gloves and my warmest beanie were pulled out for this excursion, I knew the temps would be hovering around the 40’s but in the back of my mind, all I could think of, to prep for – were the forceful winds that cut through any fabric once I stood on the summit.
A short drive while munching on my morning carrots and celery juice later,
I arrived at the “parking lot” on Highway 25A, which I backed into – I was the only vehicle in what appeared to be an extra-wide shoulder (thanks to the friendly village snowplow), ready to stuff 2-3 cars right in that lot! From the lot I did not see any signs, admittedly I really did next to no research other than the map direction once I got rolling (sounding ironically similar to Smarts Mountain?) so I began my journey down a one lane road, which quickly ended at warning signs of Trapping in the area. Shoot, this was definitely not the path I needed to take, back to the car for a better look – I mean, this was the Appalachian Trail.. how could it be hard to find?
Once back at my car I saw right where to head, okay.. first problem solved! The sign read 3.4 miles to the summit of my destination, I was set to follow the infamous White Blazes all the way up – how hard can this be now? Fair enough, I made it half a mile before my easy to follow trail crossed a logging road, still no problem, began to walk up the road because I saw signs for “such and such forest” with other signs that gave mileages. 0.1mi into my side road there was a fork, “gotta go up, I guess”, so up hill in the general direction I began. Checked Gaia GPS on my phone (works great in airplane mode to save the battery), I was off my trail “Shit, you have to be kidding me with this!” – pretty sure that actually came out of my mouth with no one around.
My trail was through the woods, so into the woods I began.
I knew the direction that I needed to travel to intersect that pesky AT, to my luck the bushwhack through the forest was not through knee deep snow, it was still packed and crispy ice, easy to travel – and the best part of winter bushwhacking? If you need to turn around, just follow your boot prints and you’ll get back to where you started – especially today – I was the only one out in the forest with no other prints for miles to be confused over!
I was off my path for the better part of a mile, mostly running right along side of the AT and eventually I merged right back up with where trail maps would suggest I should be. Being back on the wide and well-marked Appalachian Trail, my pace now easily hastened considerably.
The one main water crossing was easily do-able,
Brackett Brook showed evidence of being high recently, but not today. Still incredibly careful while stepping on the snow-bridges that spanned the brook because if I crunched through – that would be my knee probably hyper-extending and plunging into some super chilled water! What works for me is to aim for where the snow and ice span looks the thickest, if the snow connects all the way down to a rock, that’s where I’ll be putting my foot!
Not long after crossing Brackett Brook, I turned to face the ominous, dark clouds with the wind whipping all around. A few drops of rain, not worth digging my jacket out yet; a few minutes later those drippy drops had turned into sheets of opaque freezing rain blowing nearly sideways! I was still feeling toasty from ascending, so deferred the Gore-Tex layer for now. Luckily the super-chilled rain really did not last long and I continued climbing. Most of the rocks that may have been exposed during the summer months were smoothed right over with ice underneath the 3-4 inches of granular pellets of rain drops.
The Hillsounds dug in perfectly and before long I was cutting up the switchbacks and found myself at the next trail sign, my destination was not far now! I swung left, continuing my trek along the southbound AT and within about one tenth of a mile I could see the summit – socked in with winds blowing. There is something incredibly remarkable about being in deafening wind gusts and being able to actually see water droplets cruising through the air – I have heard about the wonderous views from the summit of Cube (hence why it made the cut for the “52 With A View”), but –
the glazed over quartzite summit cone at 2909′ made this an unforgettable experience!
I was even fortunate enough to spot the USGS marker, it was frozen over just the same as the rest of the summit rocks, so I opted to not try to chip at it (I secretly cringe inside when I see someone stabbing at a frozen Geological Marker with an ice ax just for a photograph).
Heading back down I went straight at the junction that I had arrived at earlier in my journey and proceeded to what Ciara included in her brief trail report to me as a “must see”, over on the North Peak of Mount Cube – which is clearly marked and appeared well traveled! It’s a short and quick 0.4mi spur trail to reach another gem of a summit – North Peak’s open rock summit, enough trees to gladly cut the wind, but after seeing photos online of the views, I see why folks made the quick trip over to this side of the mountain!
I found the pile of rocks announcing “You have arrived at the 2nd summit!”,
snapped a couple of GoPro – wide angle shots, and turned back to waste some time over on the open rocks watching and listening, just breaking and breathing up there away from life’s noise (some may call this ‘meditation’?).
Just as put my gloves back on and turned to follow my foot prints out of that beautiful white-out, I glanced back to see the cloud cover lightening up just enough to make out several landmarks down below – what a truely pleasant surprise this mountain had in-store for me!
Once I had soaked up as much of the unexpected view as humanly possible,
I officially packed it up and booked it back down, still following my tracks back – I had a mysterious burst of energy now, and felt incredibly light on my toes despite the solid construction of the Asolo boots. I ran back to the intersection. I made my turn left to head back to 25A and kept running, it felt as if I was flying – sure there was ice underfoot and I slid with literally every step, splashing up a wave of freshly fallen rain pellets that I faught to gain traction through on my ascent. Of course I slowed for the minor stream crossings but my path was smooth sailing right down and in about 45 minutes, I covered the same terrain that took about 2hr 15minutes to climb.
A day in the mountains that I will surely never forget.
A mountain that I cannot wait to sit on with Ciara, Boone and Crockett as soon as the temps increase and the snow melts. Another gem in our backyard for sure!!
I hope you enjoyed the New Years Day write up of my experience with Mount Cube along the Appalachian Trail in winter. Of course, there will be many more reports of my veggie-fueled hiking and running excursions – so don’t forget to subscribe over there on the right and you’ll receive updates right to your email box!
Everyone have a stellar 2019 and I look forward to seeing you out on the trails!
Cheers and Happy Trails!!
Overall stats for the day:
Recorded with my Coros Pace watch
- 3hr 7min (~2hr 20min ascent/ ~45min descent)
- 2418′ total ascent