02 03 2016.

hiking: mt. waumbek

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Over the weekend, Darren, Jess, PD and I decided to accomplish our first hike of 2016. Save for Darren – who had done a few snow-filled hikes in the Whites a few years prior, this would be our first winter hike.

We had been eyeing Sunday the 31st for a week at that point, since the weather was due to be pretty warm. Sure enough, as the day approached, we were in luck – 45 degree base temperatures were expected.

Day hiking in the winter involves a different kind of planning than similar hikes in the summer. To start, the gear that you bring and wear is a lot more significant to your experience. Wear too many layers and you’re likely to be uncomfortably warm – possibly sweating. Sweating, in colder conditions, can actually cause your body to cool off too quickly, especially when you’re resting. This loss of heat can lead to extreme discomfort and possibly hypothermia. Alternatively, pack too light and you risk the same thing!

Getting there.

We left Portland at 7:15 and arrived at the trailhead on the Starr King Road around 9:30. Typically the Starr King Road would be closed during the winter, but due to the below-average snowfall that we’ve received, the road was open and we were able to park at the trailhead! The part of the road beyond all of the driveways was a bit snowy. I have an all-wheel drive vehicle and was able to maneuver just fine, but I can imagine that a front or rear-wheel drive car would have some difficulty.

When we arrived at the parking lot, we put on our boots and choice of stability. Jess, PD and I wore microspikes. Darren chose to put on his snowshoes.

Notable gear.

Long sleeve wicking shirt, long sleeve zip-up, Columbia Omni-Heat (lightweight) jacket, thermal leggings, running gloves, handmade sweater mittens, hat, wool socks, hiking boots, microspikes.

The hike.

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I started out wearing three core layers, which was ideal for warming up. It was around 34 degrees fahrenheit at the base, but over the course of the next hour, proceeded to warm up to 45 degrees.

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The trail starts almost immediately ascending at a 13-15% grade, which I’d describe as easy to moderate. The incline is pretty constant for the first 2 miles. We walked along a stream or river to our left for a while and could hear the rushing water every now and then. After 20-30 minutes of hiking, we took a “layer break” to remove excess layers so that we weren’t sweating. I took off my Columbia jacket, switched from my mittens to gloves, and removed my hat. This attire was perfect for the duration of the ascent.

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A mile into the hike, we came across a blowdown. Because so many people had already been on the trail so far that day, there was an alterate path cleared that went around it so it wasn’t an issue at all. Depending on what lies underneath all of the snow, it may be more of an issue during the warmer months.

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One thing that I noticed was how quiet it was. There were quite a few other hikers on the trail that day, but the snow was so insulating that sound barely traveled.

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About 2 miles into our trek, the trees began to thin out and the snow on the path was less dense. The spikes were still ideal for this type of trail.

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As the trees thinned out, the wind picked up as well. I still had my outer layer removed, but as long as I kept moving, I stayed fairly warm. It was only after we stopped at the first summit (Mt. Starr King – 3,907′) that I cooled down enough to put my hat back on. Mt. Starr King’s summit is recognizeable by the fireplace that sits off to the side of the bare rock. It’s kind of a strange sight – a lonely fireplace atop a mountain that looks over the presidential range of New Hampshire.

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The view was breathtaking, especially in the winter – the highest peaks are coated with white and the world is a vision of beautiful blues. It was a new view for me – seeing the presidentials from the north. (Take your time here, Mt. Starr King’s views are the best/only of the hike!)

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To stay warm, we continued on our way. Ridgewalking from Mt. Starr King to Waumbek was very quick. We descended only a few hundred feet, but it made for a very quick mile. The ascent up to Waumbek wasn’t that difficult, but was definitely the steepest part of the hike.

The summit was far from quiet, like the rest of the hike. A rather large group of hikers were standing in a circle enjoying cold beers – chatting and laughing about their hike. We moved off to the side so that we could eat our lunch. There was nothing to see up at this summit. It was fully wooded – even with many of the trees bare from the season. I pulled out my Flask thermos that I had prepared with hot chocolate in the morning and found that the cocoa was still warm! That was a welcome treat at the top that we all shared.

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Standing up there for a while, though, we all got cold. I ate my sandwich with gloves on, and then put my Columbia jacket back on as well as my warmer mittens and hat. We all bundled back up – knowing that we weren’t likely to work as hard during the descent.

From there, it was all downhill – well…mostly. We practically ran back to Mt. Starr King, took a few more photos, attempted to make friends with the birds, and then started the descent.

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We flew down the mountain. It only took us an hour to cover the 2.6 miles to the base. We had a blast, too. Spikes made going down the mountain very efficient and exciting. We could descend faster than we normally would in the best of conditions during the summer. Darren’s snowshoes were a different story, though! Going down in snowshoes was much harder than going up. If he leaned back slightly, he’d skid down uncontrollably, and nearly fall down! The rest of us got a kick out of his constant fumbling. Microspikes definitely would have been a good decision for that kind of hike given the trail conditions that we had.

The hike itself was on the shorter side for the White Mountain 4,000-footers. I clocked 7.1 miles total – roughly 4 hours, 40 minutes. It was also on the easier side, so absolutely suitable for families and dogs.

Overall:
Mileage: 7.1 miles | Garmin data
Elevation: 4,006′
Time: 4:45


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