Every day I get a little bit stronger and my breathing gets a little bit easier. But getting Covid in December really kicked my ass. Even worse was the Covid cough that followed, setting me back a month or two in terms of winter conditioning.
But there’s only one way to get back in shape and that’s to hike. So, I’m out getting back my momentum, bagging a four thousand footer every other day or two, and relishing the cold, winter air. It pains me because I was probably in the best hiking shape of the past five years when I contracted Covid, but I can see myself improving daily, so I’m hopeful that I’ll catch up to my old self in a month or two.
My goal this month, at least one of them, is to finish my 9th complete round of the 48 White Mountain 4000 Footers. North Twin was one of the last three mountains that I needed to summit to finish that goal, so I was motivated to climb it as soon as a decent weather day presented itself.
North Twin is extra challenging to climb in winter because the forest service road leading to the North Twin Trail Tralhead is seasonal and gated closed. You can still hike the trail, but it’s another one-and-a-half miles of hiking just to get to it and three miles if you do an out and back. For directions, see The Winter Route to the North Twin Trail Trailhead.
There’s also at least one potentially high-consequence river crossing (the third): the other two are avoidable by following a well-established herd path along the east bank of the Little River described in The White Mountain Guide. Although, there’s also a log that spans the narrowest part of the river just above the 3rd crossing, which simplifies things this winter. There’s no guarantee that it won’t be washed downriver after the next big rainstorm or spring thaw, though.
North Twin is usually climbed with South Twin and often with Galehead Mountain to form a big loop of sorts, although the start and end points require a shuttle at the end. I’ve already hiked South Twin and Galehead 9 times previously, so I only needed to climb North Twin on this hike. With an elevation of 4759′, it’s still a significant climb.
I drove up to Twin Mountain and parked at the Seven Dwarfs Motel to park which charges hikers $10/car to park because parking anywhere along the road out to the motel is illegal and enforced. The Seven Dwarfs is celebrating its 50th year of operation in 2023 and if you’ve ever visited the place, it shows. The place is in a time warp. But I take it, they still get a regular clientele. The motel grounds are situated along a very nice stretch of the Little River, which is a nice river to fly fish for brook trout.
I followed the winter route to the regular 3-season trailhead, before heading up the North Twin Trail proper. The trail had some water running down the middle along with patches of ice and snow, before turning to all powder about 1/2 a mile in. I followed it to the first river crossing and continued past it along an institutionalized herd path that continues up the east side of the river, passing the turn-off to the Fire Wardens Trail (a decommissioned trail still in use) which climbs to Mt Hale.
I passed the point of the second stream crossing and continued to the third, passing it by about 25 yards to a place where there is supposed to be a log spanning the river that you can cross on. It wasn’t as large as I’d been expecting…just a log across a narrow channel…but it was quite secure and easily crossed. In any case, I’d brought a pair of Wiggy’s Waders with me in case the log had disappeared or was too sketchy to use.
I crossed to the other bank and put on my lightweight Atlas Helium Trail snowshoes. It was borderline trail crampons or snowshoes, although I do think snowshoes provided better traction than trail crampons, especially with the televators deployed. These are metal supports that slot under your heels and raise them a few inches in order to reduce tension on your calves when climbing up steep hills.
I must say, this climb was probably a lot easier for me with snowshoes than climbing North Twin with trail crampons. I did use the trail crampons coming down though where a sharp bite into the ice below the snow was necessary to avoid an uncontrolled slide on the powdery surface of the trail.
The last time I’d climbed North Twin has been with my friends Ken and Wanda, during my first winter of gridding last year. That had been a tough climb for me, early in winter, especially since Ken and Wanda are much faster on the uphills than me (I’m faster on the downhills). We also went all the way to South Twin which is close to 3 miles more distance. Now a year later, I made much better time, climbing steadily, until I was at the summit viewpoint. It’s been a while since I have had to use snowshoes though and I could feel the difference when it comes to the muscles being taxed with each step. In other words, much more hip flexor, and much less gluteal.
The trees got shorter and shorter as I gained elevation until the trail led into the well-defined lane running along the summit ridge of North Twin. This section of trail, bordered by dwarf trees, often fills in with deep snow in winter and snowshoes really help to conserve your energy and preserve the trail for others instead of making the trail a post-holed mess.
There is a side spur trail to a nice viewpoint at the North Twin summit and I followed that when I reached the top. There’s a great view of Franconia Ridge and the Pemigewasset Wilderness from the south.
I took a few photos, turned around, and hiked back out the exact route I’d hiked in on, only faster on the downhill, making it back to my car at dusk. This had been a pretty exhilarating solo climb and descent and I was feeling pretty good after getting another big hike under my belt. There’s still a lot of January left for some tough above-treeline hiking and I think I’m making a good recovery at this rate.
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide, 31st ed.
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- White Mountains Map: New Hampshire and Maine