I got back tonight from a weekend at Cardigan Lodge in New Hampshire. As some of you read in my mom's Christmas letter, I've been taking a Winter Hiking course with the Appalachian Mountain Club. Initially this consisted of trotting down to Beacon Hill after work for 4 training sessions.
My first time on the way to class I had a very high class Boston moment. It was nighttime and I was lost in the maze of cobblestone streets on Beacon Hill. I stopped a very dapper looking man in a wool overcoat to ask where Joy St. was. He paused, looked both ways up and down the street and replied, "Why, I believe this is Joy St.!" I wanted to say, "Thank you and good-day sir" but I didn't. Needless to say, this wasn't much of a wilderness experience. But it was fun to be downtown, near the Common, with all the Christmas, er, Holiday Lights and ice skaters on the Frog Pond.
Some of of the class sessions were about safety tips and techniques, but most of it was about "this is what you need to buy." One of the instructors said, "Anyone who tells you that winter hiking is cheap is lying." At first I was very overwhelmed and tempted to forget the whole thing. But after some serious winter gear bargain shopping (TJ Maxx and Marshall's came through) I realized I could do this without breaking the bank. And it was cheaper than any other winter sport I could think of (hockey, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, etc.)
So I pushed through, gathered my gear, and signed up for the Cardigan Lodge weekend where we were supposed to put all the new knowledge to the test. Friday night, I headed up to Cardigan. Between 40-50 people came and bunked at the newly renovated hostel-like lodge in the southern White Mountains. After 15 minutes of sitting around twiddling my thumbs, while others initiated small talk, I went upstairs and grabbed my latest knitting. I sat down to knit in the living room area, and a woman about my age came up and said, "Oh my gosh, you're knitting. I'm going to go grab mine!" It was kismet. haha! But, she and I, and her husband, hung out a lot the rest of the weekend. Yeah for potential local friends!
Saturday, the AMC leaders offered five different hikes. I ended up going on one with my new acquaintances, and 23 other people. It was a very large group and the leader got us seriously off track, so we didn't actually make it anywhere of note. No ridges, summits, or even caves to speak of. But we were out for about 6 1/2 hours and definitely got to test the winter hiking waters. Quite literally for me because I slipped several times (okay, 6 total)...twice while crossing icy streams. Luckily no injuries or even bruises.
It was actually in the mid-40s outside, and the snow and ice was in a serious state of thaw. The rivers were swollen. And the ice patches were scattered among the slushy snow and didn't warrant pulling out my new crampons... (really bad picture below from a disposable camera).
All the falling convinced me to make one last purchase this winter--Stabil-icers, to strap to my boots for those occasional patches of ice. No one that had them was falling. I was reassured though when our trip leader fell himself right at the end of the hike. He was okay too. :)
One of the most exciting things about the weekend hiking was all the animal tracking we got to do. All this was somewhat new to me, and I was totally thrilled to be the first one to notice 1) a several bear tracks, and 2) several moose tracks. You can see one of the moose tracks next to my backpack and a trail of them leading to some moose scat. Exciting stuff. heehee.
A lot of people were seeing moose tracks and scat on the different hikes offered, and a Cardigan Lodge staff member was saying it was unusual for them to be up so high this time of year, but it's been unseasonably warm for a couple weeks now.
We also saw evidence of some probably moose, but maybe deer, antler rubbing and bark chewing.
Overall, it was an amazing, amazing time and I'll definitely be out there winter hiking again. I'm signed up for a hike up Mt. Major in a couple weeks, pending any blizzards we're long overdue for. And hopefully I'll be back to Cardigan this spring or summer to bag those summits. Next time, though, I'll tent camp behind the lodge to avoid any strangers' stinky boots or late night snoring sessions. ;)