Sunday, December 10, 2017

To the summit of Mount Howard

I was feeling a little discouraged. What was up with this patella, it didn't seem to be tracking. And after acupuncture, the IT band issue seemed to go away, but now I had a weird tendinitis thing near the ankle. Was my body just wanting to stop? I couldn't accept that.

To top things off, a dense fog had moved into the valley, keeping a lid on us and dropping temperatures to single digits. This was hard to take. However, the rumor was that if you drove above it, a springlike 50 degrees could be found, along with sun. It was time for a test--both of my fitness and of the rumored warmth.

I settled on one of the hardest winter slogs around here that still would allow me to get home at a reasonable hour. The hike up the backside of Mount Howard is no easy undertaking. While you do follow a closed road, the grades are terrifyingly steep, depositing you finally at 8,000 feet. As sprightly as your hiking pace may be, I guarantee it will be reduced to a slog before long.

Can you tell the typical wind direction?
A strange lack of snow allowed me to drive to the summer trailhead, reducing the trek by a couple of miles. I would take whatever advantage I could get. I was also delighted to find that the tram company had driven up the road recently in a snow cat, so the overall slogginess was reduced significantly. Was this cheating? No, I thought, as I sunk deep in interesting surface crystals (this is formed when water vapor from the snowpack moves to the surface. Very dangerous on slopes when it gets buried as far as avalanches are concerned). 
My attempt to capture surface hoar--not very successful, but trust me, it's like jagged pieces of glass.
Despite the snow cat advantage, my pace was reduced to a slow shuffle. I was down to one layer as I crept skyward. Animals had been having a big party; tracks crisscrossed the snow. I was, in fact, following very recent tracks of a large feline. I had yet to take my snowshoes off my pack, and so I comforted myself with the thought that the spikes could serve as a weapon, should I need one.

I could feel a bonk coming on as I approached the sunny switchbacks. The snow was soft here and difficult to navigate. I leaned desperately on my poles. Seriously, I thought. Why do I do these things?

It's always worth it on Mount Howard, though. At last I climbed to the tram building, closed for the season. In a few short months, thirty thousand people will arrive here via the gondola. But not today. Far below, the fog still choked the valley. Up here, it was a pleasant, warm day, though the lack of snow is a bit troubling. I should have brought a tent, I thought. It was that nice.

Fog in the valley below.

Good thing I carried these snowshoes for hours. Not sure what is going on with the braids.
I sat on a rock and munched a snack before reluctantly heading back. The trek downhill was much faster, and nothing hurt. Even the treacherous patella decided to behave. Gaining the parking lot, I surprised a cigarette smoking man, who wanted to know where I had been. "How far is it?" he wanted to know. When I told him, he abandoned the idea. I get it, buddy, I really do. But the slog? Worth it, every time.

Not much snow in those hills.

10 comments:

  1. Beautiful Mary, but I sure hope for next summers sake that the mountains start picking up a lot more snow. Thanks for the pictures!

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  2. I know! We don't need a big fire season!

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  3. Fantastic the body let you do the hard slog. The snow situation seems quite desparate.

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    1. It's early still and we have been here before, but last year was so much snowier at this time. Winters are getting so strange now.

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  4. So sunny up above the layer of fog. We've been under a similar blanket here for the last week. The snow can hold off until after the 1st. I don't want to travel the Gorge in snow and ice, but I also don't intend on cancelling the date with a yurt.
    Glad that your knee seems to be improving. It may take some time for your body to balance itself out. Slow slogs are better than no slogs at all.

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    1. Yep it can wait to snow until after I drive the Rattlesnake. The Gorge is also treacherous! A yurt, so fun!

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  5. I remember Mt. Howard in the sunshine...must have been a peak experience being up there all alone, and even making it up! The snow has set in here now...blizzard today.

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    1. It's really fun to camp up there too after the crowds have left!

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  6. I've taken my snowshoes out for a hike like that before. It feels a little silly when the trail ended up being packed the whole way, but who knows when and where the tracks end and you might need them? Right?;)

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    1. Right! I kept thinking I should ditch them by the trail but then I thought I'd feel really dumb if I needed them!

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