This winter, the Syracuse University Outing Club (SUOC) spent a week in the “Live Free or Die State” of New Hampshire. Those who attended were spoiled with a week full of ice climbing, winter hiking, and cross-country skiing, which was of course accompanied with general debauchery and shenanigans throughout.
One of the most enjoyable trips that I took during this week was an 8-mile winter hike up to the peaks of Mount Tom and Mount Avalon. It brought me a peace that I had missed while lounging indoors most of the winter break, while at the same time bringing a new and unexpected love for a new activity.
When we arrived at the base of the trail to Mount Tom and Mount Avalon we realized two things: one, the trail was incredibly slippery so micro-spikes would be essential as we climbed our way up the trail; two, Kyle had dropped his micro-spike in the car on the way here. Although it made for an interesting hike with a couple slips and slides here and there, Kyle (or as we call him Chef Kyle) noted that it actually added an interestingly strategic element to the ascent and descent that he enjoyed. I couldn’t tell what I was more impressed with; Chef Kyle’s optimism or his half limp/half hop up and down the mountain.
Coming into this hike, thinking that winter hiking and backpacking was much less enjoyable due to the inherent cold as well as a blanket of snow covering our views proved to be false on several accounts. I was surprised at just how much heat my body put off which allowed me to shed layers of clothing, leaving me at a comfortable chill with merely a synthetic long sleeve shirt and a softshell. It can be dangerous to sweat on a winter trail because if the sweat freezes, the synthetic layers on your skin then are rendered useless. This is why being slightly cool is always better than being too hot on a winter hike.
Furthermore, instead of blocking our views, the snow actually enhanced them as colors seemed to pop all around me. Used to the amazingly picturesque views offered by the Adirondacks, I found the White Mountains to offer equivalently beautiful scenery, however with a distinctly different tree cover, which was all the more accented by the white snow that blanketed the forest. The snow seemed to make all the other colors of the forest come to life which I think sometimes get overlooked when they seemingly blend into their surroundings during the summer time.
At the beginning of the trail, we were greet by a couple water crossings, which we maneuvered through with a couple hops over the icy water, and at times some interesting log balancing. As we continued our way along the trail I was stunned by two things. First was the incredible beauty found in the White Mountain Forest of New Hampshire. The trees throughout the forest offered a magnificence that I haven’t seen throughout my 19 years in upstate New York.
The second thing I was stunned by was the change in difficulty of hiking in the winter versus hiking in warming weather. Seeing as the Mount Tom and Avalon loop was approximately 8 miles, I assumed that it would have been an easy day especially with micro-spikes, considering I had been used to doing Adirondack high peak ranges and loops in anywhere from 18 to 24 mile days. I’m unsure if It had been due to the added difficulty of hiking in cold air, the added weight of clothing, or perhaps I had just gotten out of my usual physical fitness of summer hiking, but I was surprised at the difficulty that faced us as the trail seemingly got steeper and steeper as we continued along our trek.
As we continued our hike, I enjoyed the subtle changes in scenery as one type of plant cover would give way to another. I especially enjoyed a period of the hike when we ended up in a thick section of tall hemlock trees on either side of the path which eventually gave way to what seemed almost like a baby Christmas Tree farm atop Mount Tom. As we topped the peak of Mount Tom the wind and snow were considerably stronger and clouds blocked the views of surrounding mountains. However, the type of view that I did have on top of the mountain offered me an experience entirely different than what I was used to during summer hiking, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. After snapping a couple pictures with Alex and Olaf, a present from Alex’s cousin that he carries on his winter backpacking hikes, we made the descent of Tom which quickly entered into an ascent of Avalon.
The Peak of Mount Avalon offered a different but just as enjoyable experience. Warned by the sound of the wind whipping through the trees and learning our lesson from Mount Tom, we put on extra layers before we topped the exposed peak of Mount Avalon.
The top of the mountain was an interesting conglomeration of different experiences, allowing for some of us to relax on a rock outcropping on one side while others observed a nearby mountain looming over Avalon, which we assumed was Mount Tom. I found myself entranced with a particular cutaway in the trees where somewhat of a small snow tornado had formed. Except instead of standing vertically, it was situated horizontally.
After spending some time relaxing and enjoying ourselves atop the peak, we began our descent back to the train tracks. Not only did this trip dispel any preconceived notions I had about the idea of winter hiking, but it really brought about a peace within me that I only truly experience when I am immersed in nature, one that enables me to quiet my mind from all the duties and obligations imposed upon me in day to day life. However, I do find something funny as I write this article sitting within a warm building on the campus of Syracuse University (often times one of the most snow filled campuses in the nation). When making the trek from class to class in the snow, it seems so much of a worse force and less enjoyable experience than when hiking in equivalent or worse conditions on a mountain. Perhaps it’s not the weather or conditions that prove to be the harbinger of happiness or sadness, but rather the state of mind we carry on each step of our life. As was proved to me with my first winter hiking experience, the snow and cold did not deter me from having an amazing time, even when compared to many of my summer hikes. Maybe likewise, we can set out into our day to day activities and not let the weather be the controller of our moods for the period of time we are subjected to them. Regardless, nature has always proved an effective way to quiet my mind, dispel my worries, and bring about a happiness I experience nowhere else. My ascent of Mount Tom and Avalon proved to be no different.