Monday, February 27, 2017

Mount Jackson, revisited

"Ma, you're not funny"

We're back! Quite the hiatus, regrettably, but we never "left" the mountains.  Our visits were shorter and at lower elevations but, with life moving on, I think things are on the up and up.  (I'm exhausted so please humor the elevation pun).

*Note: I wrote this the night we returned but didn't publish til the following day and was too lazy to revise the references to Sunday. Hike date 2-26-2017.

In light of that, I'll also endeavor to adhere to the 'trail report' purpose of the blog.  Ty and I started early, about 7:40 this morning at the Webster-Jackson trailhead.  From the start, it was in excellent condition.  None of the rain I'd seen hinted at in last night's forecast seemed to precipitate, not even town where I'd technically checked the forecast for.  Instead there was the finest dusting of fresh snow that, along with the weather conditions, gave a nice film of traction for Ty over icier terrain.
The sporadic blue patches of sky would
continue throughout the morning

Well-packed trail
But not without postholes
 Underneath, it was a hard crust that could easily have been ascended with decent traction but I opted for my new Tubbs Flex Alps because televators.  Seriously, those things are genius and made it much easier for me to keep up with an especially enthusiastic Ty ty.

Happy chica
The trail spends its first 1.4 miles rolling along with moderate gains, a couple steep hauls, and several dips.  Steep areas already have large patches of boiler plate ice and some weak snow where water runs underneath.  Most of the time it was obvious but learning the hard way taught me to be more observant and find alternative routes, which there was typically at least one of.

First water crossing

A short while past  a spur to a lookout point (not Elephant Head) and after dropping down a hill, there were a handful of water crossings.  One was extremely shallow but tricky for me to maneuver the whole 2.5 feet of in snowshoes due to poor foot placement options.  The second was a little sketchy to us.  The snow bridge was still intact but the warm weather as of late had me and Ty feeling very wary; on each side was a narrow and fierce stream of water leaping up towards the air then disappearing under snowy tunnels.  Other crossings were mere tip-toes over muddy trickles so as not to mar new snowshoes!


Our initial goal was Webster since we've never been and, if time allowed, the full loop up and down Jackson (we were due home for 1:00).  Heading in that direction at the fork, the trail dropped steeply and it was obviously less traveled.  Ty was ahead and I saw her stop and lean back apprehensively before returning to me.  The loud sound of water gave away her concern: I peaked down to see another snow bridge over an even more engorged brook.  I scooted a little closer to evaluate but ultimately bowed to Ty's wishes and we reset our sights towards Jackson.

"nope face"
It looks tame and we probably would've been just fine
but I don't question an adamant "dingo dog!"
The steep climb on the other side of the un-crossed bridge
Much happier!
The second half of the ascent I would compare to the former as steeper with less breaks.  The further we continued, the fewer breaks there seemed to be for the majority of the climb. I don't tend to characterize trails as steep because there are always steeper ones nearby but the Jackson fork is on the tougher side of moderate in my current state (nothing over 2K in several weeks!) and pushing our time limit.  If I remember correctly and skip doing the math, many sections seemed steeper than the standard grade up to the base of Tuckerman Ravine.  Nonetheless, the pictures below seem to paint a different (and easier) picture!

A fleeting ray of sunshine

I kept waiting for the one piece of the trail I remembered, not because I stopped having fun but because we were creeping up on our turnaround time.  Additionally, Ty was looking to me for reassurance more frequently as the winds gained strength and the treetops came closer to our heads.

Finally, after a series of small gains alternating with easier strides, there was the telltale, steep curve rightward.  I knew it was the last one and as I rounded the corner, I would see the bare, probably icy slabs that would lead us to the summit.  As I came out of the trees, Ty was already halfway up the rocks but decided to pick her way down the sheet of ice back to me.  We're working on that.... Once with me and happy with the encouragement she received, she opted to pick along the krumholz, which I believed was a good choice that wasn't available to me, the big human with tree-killing teeth of death on her feet.

And so, I made my way up and with ease, thanks to the Flex Alps!  Snowmelt had been funneled into a wedge where the krummholz met the rock face, creating a 20 foot or so river of smooth ice.  At that point it seemed best to hoist Ty for a few paces til the ice became grainy and she gained some traction.
"Thanks for the lift mum, now hurry up please!"

So at our exact turnaround time of 9:30, the wind all but knocked me into the trail junction sign.  Without losing too much time, we took the last 20 or so paces to the official summit and enjoyed imagining the view of Washington beyond the thick cloud cover.  I tossed some treats around to keep Ty's focus off of her discomfort with the wind so I could take a few photos of the beautifully rimed trees.

I had really hoped to snap a few photos of Crawford Notch, where the clouds were thin and quick-moving, and of the tricky sections back to the trees but the phone died just after snapping Ty's summit photo.  Officially on the descent, Ty showed off her mountain goat skills while I made a couple dumb moves and wiggled down the ice and rock and back under the tree cover.

And then we ran!  We made amazing time getting back down to the junction and met a few nice folks along the way we chatted with momentarily, mostly about Ty! The last 1.4 mile seemed to take a little longer.  The grade wasn't as steep and there were the small hills that make me realize I was over-layered everywhere but my heels.

We passed another few people and a pair of dogs, said some really noob things to the AMC gentleman who made a nice comment about my footwear choice, and then it was over with an unexciting wait on the snow bank for a line of cars to pass in order to return to the Subie where I was happy to see that, even with some backtracking, we'd finished ahead of schedule after 3 hours on the trail.

What can I say, this one is a budding favorite.  A grade tougher than Pierce, the option (someday) for a loop, and an exhilarating summit experience, whether that's due to struggling to remain up right in the face of powerful winds and beauty-induced clumsiness from admiring the ice-rimmed krumholz or the spectacular views of the Presidentials on a bluebird day, it has a ton to offer.  Current conditions are great.  The trails are nicely broken out, wider than usual and have a nice dusting of fresh powder over them that grows to a powdery couple of inches closer to the summit.  Someone expended a lot of effort postholing the first mile or so and sporadically further up the mountain but the deep, frozen bootprints didn't pose a problem.  While Ty was able to trot along the crust, zig-zagging back and forth to follow small animal prints, it only took a half step off trail for me to punch through.  The one important snow bridge is still intact, regardless I quickly jumped and spotted Ty on the way up.  The ledges below the summit are not (currently) dog friendly but a savvy four legger can get the job done.  It was a perfect re-introduction to winter hiking and ironically so, as the same and only 4K we've done in almost exactly a year.  (Better stats in that post.)