First Hike of the Year
I set our early Sunday morning to do the Hancock Loop. It’s a bit early for hiking the Whites, but I was in Lincoln Saturday night to attend Patricia Herr’s book signing. I thought it might be a good opportunity to get in an early hike. Failed to summit, but it was a good hike anyway.
First mistake: appetizer and dessert at Woodstock Inn Saturday night. The dessert was enormous. It was basically a banana split with the banana wrapped in filo dough and fried first. I ate it all, but really couldn’t even finish my breakfast Sunday morning it was so much food. Because it was cold and windy on most parts of the trail, I wanted to keep moving so I didn’t get chilled. I really never got hungry until the last two miles hiking out. That section was windier than the rest of the hike, so I plowed through it – I knew stopping at that point would mean a nasty chill. Don’t know if my lack of food impacted my hiking, but I was hiking SLOWLY.
Second mistake: Didn’t take any preventative allergy meds. With a fairly windy, spring day, super high pressure and dry air, pollen must have been blowing around pretty well. Ihad a mile asthma attack on the trail. Luckily, I always carry albuterol, so it was a minor inconvenience, although I never really felt I had 100% lung function.
Third mistake: Forgot to pack puffy jacket. I knew the ridge walk between the two summits would be cold, and I wasn’t sure as I approached the south summit that I had enough clothing.
Changes made: I hiked in my 5 lb/pair leather Limmers. Despite having a pretty light pack, I was wondering if the heavy boots were slowing me down. I was glad to have them when the water topped my boots on a stream crossing, though. My feet stayed warm. I think I would have picked them anyway if I had a lighter option, but . . .
I did go out today and bought a pair of lightweight hiking boots that are less than 2.5 lbs – closer to 2 lbs. My pack weight felt fine, but the saying is that a pound on the feet is like carrying 4 lbs on the back, so maybe the lighter boots will increase my trail speed when it warms up. New boots wouldn’t normally be remarkable, but for two things:
1) I’m attached to my Limmers. I’ve had them 24 years now, and haven’t begun to wear them out, although they are pretty worn around the tops. I got married in them, for heaven sakes! They’re also perfectly broken in and I KNOW I can hike long days in them without blisters. Peace of mind goes a long way here. They were invented, however when 50# + packs were the norm, and are really too heavy for someone planning on hiking light.
2) I bought a pair of trail runners last year with the same idea in mind. One hike convinced me that those things were not tested in the White Mountains. My feet were pulverized by the rocks. I’ll save those for short day hikes and hiking the Virginia AT. The estimate is that I’ll need four pair of shoes before the hike is over.
Also, I bought a pair of Microspikes. I did remember to bring my ice creepers with me, but they’re getting old, and the spikes were only a bit over 1/4″ long. Worked great all winter on the flattish trails around town, but it wasn’t enough traction for the ice at the top of the trail that was easily a 30 degree incline. With the temps above freezing and the top layers of ice melting, the coefficient of friction was approaching zero. I bailed VERY close to the top of South Hancock – the combination of being worried about getting too chilled on the ridge trail and the slippery ice did it for me. Four functional limbs are always better than fewer. And no one likes hypothermia.
Things that worked: My layers were a silk turtleneck with Smartwool mid-layer on top, and silk under layer with my polar fleece sweats for the bottom. I layered my ultra-light M-50 wind jacket on top where it was very windy, and I was pretty comfortable all day until just before the summit. I saw several folks hiking in heavier layers, and wondered if they were sweating to death.
Also, I stitched up a water bottle holder from some mesh and grosgrain ribbon for the backpack strap Friday so my water bottle wasn’t in my side pocket. I really wanted to anchor the bottle holder at the bottom with something light like a mitten hook, but couldn’t find one. Otherwise, it worked well. I may move the attachment point down about an inch, but it was pretty close to perfect placement. And I’ll probably go cannibalize a pair of mittens for the mitten hook.
Oh – and the next time I do the Hancock loop, I’ll probably overnight it. Great camping spot about 2/3 of the way to the summit next to the last stream crossing.