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Frostnip on Mt Moriah

Guthook, Hikerbox, and Pam
Guthook, Hikerbox, and Pam

It took less than a minute for my fingertips to freeze, but I could tell I had a problem right away from the pain. We’d stopped to put on goggles and facemasks when we encountered strong easterly winds and blowing snow on Mt Moriah, a 4000 footer overlooking the Wild River Wilderness in the White Mountains.

Easterly winds in the Whites often signal the arrival of bad weather from the nearby Gulf of Maine, either heavy rain or heavy snow, called Nor’easters in Winter.

I had to take off my softshell gloves to put on my goggles and facemask. The temperature outside was four degrees and I guess the windchill from the 20 mph winds got to me.

There’s no cure for frostnip, a cold injury that freezes the skin of an extremity. My fingertips felt very cold so I got them back into my gloves to warm them up, and we got moving again toward the summit, snowshoeing in several inches of fresh powder.  Eight hours later, my fingertips are still numb and a bit painful, but frostnip is not a long-term injury and the pain should pass in a few days.

Mike celebrates his 48th, four thousand footer
Mike celebrates his 48th four thousand footer

I was climbing Mt Moriah with a bunch of friends, including Mike (Hikerbox) and Ryan (Guthook) after backpacking in the previous morning to camp out and practice winter survival skills in the Wild River Wilderness. Camping conditions had been excellent, with several feet of fluffy white snow. Pam, Matt, and Siren had met us halfway up the mountain the next morning, and we’d all completed the climb to the summit together.

This climb up Moriah was Mike’s 48th four thousand footer, a right of passage for most White Mountain hikers.

Food break before heading down into the wilderness area
Food break before heading down into the wilderness area

Conditions for this hike and our backpack couldn’t have been better. While the trail up Mt Moriah had been broken out, we’d had enough fresh snow to warrant snowshoes for the entire 10 mile hike. I can’t remember the last time I’ve hiked a 4000 footer wearing snowshoes for the entire hike; usually trails are so well packed out that microspikes are the most traction required.

Despite the cold (and my fingers), this was a very pleasant hike up Moriah, one of my favorite peaks, with good friends.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post when I’ll talk about the winter fire starting practice we engaged in during our first night on the mountain.

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  1. It is a good idea to occasionally provide examples of how quickly harsh weather can become more than inconvenience. Not so much to scare us back indoors but to remind us to take preparation seriously and thoughtfully.

    I’ve heard Will Steger speak a couple times. Once a young boy asked him if he’d ever experienced frostbite. He said “No, frostbite is a career ending thing for a polar traveler. We have to carefully plan how to avoid it and that includes knowing that every piece of gear we bring can be managed in the worst weather while wearing bulky mittens.”

  2. On hindsight, I think it was premature to put on goggles or facemasks. I was at the end of the line, with a bulky pack, when the word was passed down to suit up. If I had been in the head we would have probably carried on, but your point is well taken. PRACTICE for the worst conditions.

    • Sorry for making that call Philip, at the time I thought the ledges were more continuous but that was a short section. At least we had the goggles ready for the next set.

      • I wasn’t blaming you Mike. I should have thought about it for another second. I’ve been that peak in winter before and never needed googles/facemask until the open summit. In general I defer putting on my goggles as long as possible because I have fogging problems due to glasses. That’s why I kept mine on so long. Once on they get damp, the only way to keep them clear is to keep wearing them.

      • I blame you and I wasn’t even there. You should have known the subtleties of a mountain you have never been on!

        Congrats on the finish and being injury free

  3. Sounds like fun. What was your route? I hiked up that way late last Fall and was enchanted with the Wild River wilderness. Trails are kind of hard to follow, even without snow cover.

    • That’s by design. Wilderness areas have little blazing. We hiked up the Stony Brook tr and down the Moriah Brook Trail but didn’t get very far because the snow was so deep and the trail unbroken – really deep, like 3-4 feet, and very powdery which made it hard to brake going down slopes.

      • I have to admit, I like it wild. I can imagine the snow would get deep in that bowl below the Moriah cliffs there. Farther down, the Moriah Brook trail has a fun beaver dam trail crossing. I was a little taken aback when I got to it.

  4. That’s a strange response. If your fingers got frost nip is a minute or two out of the wind then what about your face when we were in the full brunt of it? I was happy to have had full face protection on. Also I always wear glove liners and virtually never take them off. I also keep hand warmers in my mittens to warm up cold fingers when in harsh conditions like yesterday. I’ve had very mild frostnip even so but never had numbness for more than a few minutes. It was a fun hike anyway and I hope your fingers are back to normal soon!

    • My fingers got wet. I think that was the root cause plus the wind. I don’t remember why they got wet, but they did.You’re lucky that you don’t wear glasses…goggles and macemasks are very hard to adjust with any gloves on. I guess I should practice it more.

  5. Phil when you write your trip reports would you consider including the elevation you begin your hike at? You have that watch so make use of it..Lols..I’m just curious as maybe others are, regarding the time factor in altitude gain as in your comment of taking 8 hours to gain the summit so those who may plan to do the same hike and guessitimate and plan their timing….thanks. Meaning I do not want to start at 12 noon to find I have run out of daylight and have 2000 feet to go…. When I left up State New York so many years ago the wind chill was minus -35 so I understand all your pain.. Upon returning from a cross country hike across Saranac Lake in 1963, I had to spend 5 hours slowly thawing out my feet in a bathtub using increasingly warmer water over those 5 hours….Do not try to do an instant thaw on any frozen or suspected frozen or frost bitten part of your body..Slow and easy is the way to go, gentle rewarming and yes it is going to be painful..I will admit when thawing out my feet I cried due to the nerve pain…

    • I normally include that info…wrote this post in a Dunkin Donuts, stuck in New Hampshire because of snowmageddon. PLus it hurts whenever I type!

      The ascent on this hike was 3,000 feet over 5 miles, so 10 miles RT. I usually figure 1 mile an hour in winter, including any elevation gain.

      • Thanks Phil and I hope your pain goes away quickly and safely…I agree with you 1 mile per hour figure..You do not want to work up a big sweat and then have the sweat freeze on your skin…Hypothermia…thanks

  6. Was visiting your neck of the woods is in the White Mountains this past weekend to hike the great gulf trail and summit Mt Washington. We were surprised to find multiple feet of unblazed snow the entire trail and had to turn back at 4300 feet, about 7 miles in, due to a lack of daylight hours left. Is that much snow unusal at those elevations? We never experienced that in the adirondack high peak region.

    • It’s been an unusual three weeks. More coming too. The great gulf probably has more than other places because it’s protected by a ring of mountains. It’s also an unusual way to climb Washington in winter – going up the head wall, I assume. I’d stay away from that route due to avalanche danger. Most people hike up the Lion Head trail or the Amonoosuc Trail, which are usually broken out and are much less dangerous.

  7. Nice meeting you this weekend, and I hope your fingers are better!

  8. Glad to hear the fingers are improving. Here’s some info concerning cold injury for those of you who like this sort of thing.

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