Mts Jefferson, Eisenhower, Washington from Mt Pierce
After my Avalanche Class last weekend, I stayed in the White Mountains for an extra day to get a little more exercise and bag Mt Pierce (4,320 ft), another 4,000 footer that I've climbed before, but never in winter.
The climb up Pierce is about 3.2 miles with 2,400 ft of elevation gain and a round trip book time of 4:25. Book time refers to the standardized 3 season estimates found in the White Mountain Guide, which documents the hundreds of trails and mountains in the region. It's a useful reference, but tends to be a bit short on specifics, and shouldn't be relied upon without a good map and compass.
I was hiking up Pierce solo, which can be a risky strategy in winter, but the peak is very close to the AMC Highland Center, and I figured I'd meet other people a bit later in the day if I encountered any problems. I also figured that trail conditions would be excellent after the holiday weekend stampede, and that the trail would be well broken out.
This turned out to be the case and I was able to bare boot it all the way to the summit, which is far less tiring than wearing snowshoes or crampons with my plastic mountaineering boots. (I can't wait to wear trail runners again for hiking.)
It was a beautiful sunny day, but temperatures were still in the single digits and there was still a wind chill advisory in effect for the high peaks from the Mt Washington Observatory, with winds at 15-25 mph. I was still a little tired from climbing up to Hermit Lake the previous day at the base of Tuckerman's Ravine, but I wanted to bag a peak and continue to whittle down the Trailwrights 72 peakbagging list I'm working through this year. This list is particularly challenging because you need to return to a road or a trail head parking lot between each peak, limiting the number you can climb in one day.
The trail up Pierce runs along the oldest section of the Crawford Path, built in 1819, which is considered the oldest continuously maintained footpath in America. The Crawford Path and the Appalachian Trail overlap between Mt Pierce and Mt Washington and I took this same route up Pierce to Mt Washington, when I section hiked the AT over the southern Presidentials, two years ago. I think it's one of the most scenic hikes in the White Mountains if you get good weather, but it's quite dangerous in winter, if there's a wind blowing.
The winds were calm up until treeline when there was a noticeable drop in temperature. I donned face protection before breaking out of the trees into the krumholz below the bald summit and quickly lost the trail in the drifting snow. It was uncomfortably windy just below the summit, so I kept my head down and found a faint route through the dwarfed vegetation, circling to the left around the peak, and climbing up to the summit cairn. I took a few photos but could barely hold my camera because it's metal body was so cold.
Deep snow nearly covers the Alpine Zone Sign on Mt Pierce
The view however was great. The sky was a deep blue and I could clearly see the weather towers on top of the Mt Washington, with Mt Jefferson to the left of Washington and Eisenhower in the foreground. The wind however had other ideas, and I got off the peak quickly and back under cover of the trees as quickly as I could go. It was really blowing hard and quite cold.
It had taken me about 2:30 to climb the peak, but I hiked down in half that time, wearing crampons to give me some extra traction on the steep descent.
I was 10 minutes away from the trail head, when I greeted a man wearing snowshoes, who turned as I passed him and said, "I know you. I read your blog." It's still a surprise to me when that happens. It turns out he's a gear tester for Backpacker Magazine, MSR and Tubbs, so we compared notes on product review technique and had a short visit before parting.
I'm glad I stayed up north an extra night for this hike. The official end of winter is March 21st and I will probably only get up to the Whites 1 or 2 more times this season before the big thaw. Winter is never long enough in New Hampshire.