A cold climax

Today I went for a nice 5 mile hike in the snow. I know, that’s not everybody’s idea of fun, but this particular route offered some interesting opportunities.

One was to celebrate the end of the plague-like sickness that has strangled my breathing for more than a week. The other was to do a winter hike … in spring … before a few warm days make the trails slushy and impassible.

And the real attraction: winter waterfalls.

The circular route is called Arethusa Falls, off Rt 302 near Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. Although there was “only” about 1200 feet of vertical gain,  on such a short route it meant some significant huffing and puffing in the first two miles. Unlike my previous solo winter hike (which wasn’t the best idea for reasons including insufficient preparation and underestimating the distances involved) we pulled on extra traction in the first half mile and were good to go.

the first half mile was not too exciting, but there was a bridge.

the first half mile was not too exciting, but there was a bridge.

we didn't need a lot of the gear we had in our packs.. wait, no, we didn't need ANY!

we didn’t need a lot of the gear we had in our packs.. wait, no, we didn’t need ANY!

The trails were so packed that we didn’t need snowshoes. But each of us still “postholed” a few times (stepped off the packed trail and instantly sank thigh-deep in snow). That worried me just a little, thinking we might need to evacuate an injured hiker off the mountain in the snow.. so maybe solo hiking isn’t so bad because I wouldn’t be responsible for anyone else’s misstep? When I commented about the possibility, one of my fellow hikers said “Naw, we’d just cut you up into little pieces and each carry part.” Okay, that makes me feel better.

Aside from the dark humor, I enjoyed the realization that there are other people in the world who like hiking enough to go out on an “iffy” (snowing) winter day and actually enjoyed it. I’m not the only one!

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Arethusa is on a spur trail that's steep and narrow but definitely worth taking.

Arethusa is on a spur trail that’s steep and narrow but definitely worth taking.

To understand the proportions, the guy in the photo is at least 6 feet tall. Others were busy sliding down a little slope on their butts. Children.

To understand the proportions, the guy in the photo is at least 6 feet tall. Others were busy sliding down a little slope on their butts. Children.

Other winter hikers have done this trail so many times (on snowshoes) that it looked like someone had driven a snowblower on the trail.

Other winter hikers have done this trail so many times (on snowshoes) that it looked like someone had driven a snowblower on the trail.

The five mile route took about four hours without any long breaks. We stopped for photos a couple times (how many pictures do you need of yourself standing next to a trail sign? I guess it matters to those who are crossing peaks off a list.) — and of course at times our thoughts turned to the snowshoes hanging on our packs. Nobody was comfortable with the way they catch on overhanging brush or, as in my case, clipping them to the pack was imperfect and lopsided. So do you get a new pack with optimal snowshoe hanging clips for that one hike a year when you may carry the shoes instead of wearing them? I think not. It’s a pain in the neck to carry — yet never need — extra warm gear like socks, a down jacket, water, first aid kit and … hell, I can’t even remember everything I put in that pack “just in case.”

not a boring trail, there were also great views from its 2350 peak. This is looking down Rt 302 toward Bartlett.

not a boring trail, there were also great views from its 2350 foot peak. This is looking down Rt 302 toward Bartlett.

there were a few places that were so icy and steep the only way to descend was the "butt slide" technique.

there were a few places that were so icy and steep the only way to descend was the “butt slide” technique.

Arethusa gets the attention because that’s the hidden gem, but in winter I have to say Frankenstein Cliff was very impressive. It’s at the end of the trail when you go clockwise, and it’s worth the price of admission. Just gotta watch for chunks of ice cascading down from the climber at the very top. A direct hit would most definitely leave a mark.

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While this was fun for me in winter, it’s short and scenic enough that I think I can persuade others to hike in to see the falls during at least two of the three seasons that follow (I’ll skip an ugly scene by avoiding mud-and-black-fly-season).

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One Response to “A cold climax”

  1. Trails Unblazed Says:

    Awesome hike. We hiked to Arethusa this past January

    http://www.trailsunblazed.com/arethusa-falls/

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