Knowing When It’s Time to Turn Around

This past Monday I met up with my friend Eric (from I Love Inclement Weatherand a few of his buddies to go for a hike in the White Mountains. Eric and I are both back in NH from the west for a brief visit, and so it seemed a nice opportunity to catch up over our usual preferred activity of type two fun. I had developed a strange nervousness about my hiking ability despite numerous examples proving that I am perfectly capable, and so I felt glad that Eric had brought some friends along. Sufferfests are always better in a group.

Eric decided on hiking Canon Mtn. in Franconia Notch. We were to hike up to Lonesome Lake- a commonly done hike even in the dead of winter- continuing another two miles up to the top of the mountain. Screen Shot 2017-05-11 at 3.22.28 PM

I looked up the weather for Canon, which is also a ski mountain. It was to be 36 degrees and snowing. “Welp,” I thought to myself, “I guess I just have to assume it’s always winter in New Hampshire.”

When Eric and his friends picked me up at the public library an hour later, however, they looked at my down puffy jacket with concern. They had come from Boston that day and, even though it was chilly in Boston, it was certainly not winter. “Do you know something we don’t?” Mac asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Why are you dressed for winter?”

Laughing, I said, “Because I’m pretty sure it’s snowing up there!”

And sure enough, as we entered Franconia Notch, it was snowing, and not just a few flakes here and there kind of snow, but really, the-air-is-completely-filled-with-snow kind of snow.

We started the hike anyway, and had relative ease of travel until we reached the cusp of the hill that leads to Lonesome Lake and the AMC Lonesome Lake Hut. There, we encountered a trail phenomenon that I had yet to see, called the “monorail.” The monorail occurs when the snow on a trail has been packed down by foot traffic, resulting in what is essentially a mini glacier. This glacier takes longer to melt than the rest of the snow around it, and so remains on the trail until well after the rest of the snow has melted. For hikers, it becomes a balance beam challenge.

We took some rest at the hut, where I found a fellow UNH alumni doing his caretaker duties (shoutout to Carter!). He was shocked to see us there as it was the middle of the day on a Monday and it was snowing. But we, the intrepid seasonally employed/students were not to be held back by such petty things as snow storms and work weeks.

After a group survey, we decided to keep on and try for the summit of Canon. The trail wends its way around the lake on what would normally be a boardwalk. Thanks to the monorail, however, it became more of an exercise in falling and trying to not get your feet wet, at which we all failed at one point or another. I was glad to have my gloves and trekking poles for sure.

Once around the lake, the trail heads up a classic New Hampshire trail/stream combo for ensured foot dampness that is also incredible steep. So. We had: steepness, wetness, and monorail conditions. It was terribly exciting. The clouds moved off somewhat, however, which allowed us some clearer views of the stunning and seemingly endless White Mountains around us.

I’m guessing that we were three quarters of a mile from the summit when the trail got a little crazy as NH trails are want to do. The snow accumulation had made the rocks pretty slick, the technicality of the trail had only increased with altitude, and my companions did not have gloves. So, even though I was contentedly chugging-on through the suffering, when my companions finally called it, we decided to turn around. I am not one to abandon a goal unless a crazy storm is coming in, but I also firmly believe that if one of us needs to call it, we all need to call it.

It was still a journey to get to the bottom of the hill again, and we cheered to our attempt with ice cold beers in our ice cold hands, content that even without a summit, we had earned our safe return to try again another day.




One response to “Knowing When It’s Time to Turn Around”

  1. Kile Stockbridge Avatar
    Kile Stockbridge

    My girlfriend of 9 years and I went up Mt. Cardigan on this same day, dressed for the weather as you have described. There was no precipitation on the first mile and a half of the Manning trail and then the white out began. We kept going for as long as our poncho-less bodies could withstand the moisture barrage​, for the temperature of the air was 45° and hypothermia seemed a myth. I understand what it is like to turn around and we did indeed experience this. We live to hike another time happily and further understand how to admit defeat. Enjoy your mountain adventures my friend!


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