December 21, 2004
The annual winter solstice hike

Another winter has begun and yet another solstice hike to kick it off. This year the gang (or part of the gang anyway) decided on tackling Osceola and East Osceola peaks. Unfortunately, several parties could not make it this year for various reasons, leaving only Gordon, Gary, my dog Noah and myself. Nonetheless, it was a memorable hike. Hopefully, everyone who could not make it can make the next one!

We got off to a late start (surprise, surprise), getting to the trailhead, the Greeley Pond trail, at about 9:30 to gear up. As we headed into the woods it was overcast and a frigid 10 degrees, but there was no wind to speak of, so once we got the blood moving things warmed up quickly. As always, not even a quarter mile in, we were already stopping to strip off some layers and had not even started to climb yet. The Greeley Pond trail is relatively flat, climbing only slightly for about 1.3 miles before it junctures with the Mount Osceola trail. Given the easy climb to the trail junction, we were feeling good and confident of a quick hike to the summit (I was anyway, Gary and Gordon new better, and I was soon to be educated), just 2.1 miles up.

Shortly after turning onto the Mount Osceola trail we began to climb, and climb, and climb till it almost seemed as though we were heading straight up. Before we new it we were looking out across spectacular vistas, with great views of the Greeley Ponds and beyond. Thus far we were able to get along with just snowshoes but about half way up Gary switched to crampons. Gordon and I continued on with snowshoes, although in hindsight, maybe we should have switched as well as the conditions really did warrant it.

As we crested the ridge at just less than 4,000 ft we met with a fairly severe wind coming from the other side of the mountain. We instantly chilled down and stopped to add back layers and face masks. It was still 10 degrees, but with the 20 or 30 mile and hour winds, it felt like –20. As always, Noah seemed not to notice and kept on making it all look as easy.

It was only a few hundred yards to the summit of East Osceola from the crest. Unfortunately, East Osceola was not a very exciting summit, lots of tree cover and relatively few views. There were a few spots as we approached to catch a glimpse north and south but with the dark clouds that were now looming, we weren’t able to see much. We decided to just keep moving on over to Osceola where we knew we would be treated to spectacular views.

The ridge between the two had us fairly exposed to the wind most of the way so we stayed bundled up. We lost quite a bit of elevation as well and some pretty steep cliffs stared us down as we approached the main peak. As we approached the low point in the ridge, we came to what seemed like a wall that had to be scaled to reach the summit. I was very nervous that Noah might not make it. At this point Gordon and I switched to crampons (the only way it could have been done) and we all grabbed some nourishment before taking on the challenge. I headed up first, and what seemed like an insurmountable wall at first was quickly scaled. Gary followed, then Noah with a little push from Gordon, then Gordon. Not bad at all, we were all at the top of the cliff in no time.

The remaining walk to the summit involved several false hopes, just as you would crest another steep climb, thinking you were there, you would be greeted with yet another steep climb. It seemed worse than it really was, as we had been climbing steeply all day. By 2:30 we were on the summit. Although the sun had come out a few times throughout the day, it was completely behind the clouds by the time we reached the summit. No matter, the views were spectacular regardless. We took our obligatory summit photos and group shots and cut our visit short, as the winds were wild up there, and the longer we stood around the colder it got. It seemed as though the wind had picked up momentum all day, so by this time it was moving pretty good, especially on the exposed summit.

Other than the fact that we (including Noah) were not looking forward to having to scale the East peak again, it seemed like we would have a pretty quick hike out. By the time we got to the top of the east peak again the temperature had started dropping and the wind picking up so we were eager to get off the summit and out of the wind, thus, we skipped the summit photos of East Osceola No matter, there were no views anyway.

The next mile or so was a wild ride down. I slide down most of it on my butt, having one of the best slides I have had since I was a little boy. Gordon and Gary took it a little more conservatively and hoofed it most of the way, but they were not far behind. I think Gary couldn’t resist a slide or two as well. Noah stayed right behind me the whole way. He’s smart enough to know that getting in front of me as I slid wildly down the mountain might not be the best place to be.

Once again, we came to the junction of the Greeley Pond trail and it was a quick hike out from there. Another great day had by all. We all agreed that this hike ranks up there with the best of them. It offers a nice cross section of hiking experience, including some steep climbs, a few rock climbs, a nice ridge run, spectacular views and a manageable distance to be done on the shortest day of the year.

Two of us bagged two new peaks towards our goal of the 48 NH 4,000 footers; Gordon had these in the bag already.

We are all ready for a full winter of hiking so stay tuned, more to come in January.



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