One among the most adventurous days of my life. This winter hike was more dangerous and arduous than I expected which enlightened me with the basics of snow hiking. The other snow hikes in this winter was on relatively safer zones with less steep and exposure. There was an extra flavor in the adventure since this was a meetup and we were responsible for our own safety. I started reading about the hike when it was posted and it was interesting to know that P3 was named after the famous Himalayan veteran Pete Schoening whose ashes were sprinkled at the summit by his family and friends, hence the name Putrid Pete’s Peak. The distance(6 mile roundtrip) was less but elevation gain(3,100 ft) was significant and the the alpine scramble in the end sounded all the more intimidating and as usual I was skeptical and excited to give it a try. For the the first time, I had loaded the route on my watch.
It was 9:30 AM by the time we started our hike. There was snow right from the trailhead and we started with microspikes. I carried a pole and an ice axe and I had made a makeshift arrangement to hang my snowshoes horizontally on my 30l backpack. The first 1 mile was a gradual ascent and 2nd mile was pretty steep. Sometimes we had to go between trees with narrow spaces in between where my snowshoes used to get in the way1. I frequently used my ice axe and pole to help me navigate the steep sections. I was wondering how would we come down through these narrow steep sections. By the end of the 2 miles we had a break with awesome views ahead of us. We could look all the way down till the exit we took on I-90. Weather was not that kind to us and it was cold and cloudy.
For the last part of the hike, the trail ran straight to summit with exposed sections on most of the way. We gained up-to 1400 feet in elevation in this last mile!! We were the only group on the trail and it was our team who broke the trail. I was 6th or so and I had great doubts about my safety when I was traversing on exposed sections. We were going up in zigzags on an almost 45° angled slope with huge deposits of snow. I used my ice axe and pole diligently and made sure I had a strong support before I took steps2. My shoulders started to pain due to the force exerted on them during every step. Many a times, I hesitated kicking the trail for a better foothold since my shoes weren’t exactly waterproof and my toes were already cold3. This was one of the toughest scrambles I have done. As we gained elevation, wind and fog made the cold quite unbearable. My right little finger was almost numb and my face felt dry and cold. I stopped to wear my favorite balaclava and replaced my thin gloves with a heavy one and felt much better soon4. The final part of the summit was rocky and I took lot of time to go up and down which included less than 20 feet. The summit section was small which had a cliff on the other side. The ridge on either side connected to different mountains and its looks in the cloudy weather was intimidating. I didn’t spend much time due to the cold and I started getting down. This was probably the first summit I guess where I did not click pics.
Going down had its own difficulties. I would slip due to the ice deposits on rocks and sometimes my leg used to be buried in snow up-to knees. The pointed ice axe also posed potential danger if it got in contact with my body. I saw few had ice axe attached to their wrist and one attached to the waist/backpack. Still not sure which one is safe. Often I felt glissading easier but had to be really careful about not sliding fast which could throw me off the cliff or hit a tree. All these were hard on my legs and knees5. I used my heels and the powder snow was very helpful for my descent at most of the places. The wind and snow kept bombarding at me. Fortunately the descent on that 0.5 mile was not that tough as I had expected. I ate my lunch after this section and started with the final descent for the day. I was left alone within no time and I took shortcuts whenever I noticed some footmarks away from the trail. The marks even on the main trail started to get so faint that I had to maintain a strict concentration for the marks. I was confident with my loaded route on my watch and I kept an eye on the pointer. Also the snow had become icy and it was slippery. We heard whistles on the way down and my responses to them were futile.6 Later I came to know that people were lost and the organizer found them and they were safe. Slipping, falling, sliding, I completed the final stretch of the day. I was glad that I had a safe hike on my mom’s birthday. 9 out of 22 had made it by the time I reached trailhead. Others were still on the mountain and it had started to get dark. When I checked later, everyone had safely gotten through this adventurous hike.
It was a complete exercise which involved mind and body. How beautiful it is when the entire you works to do something. It was a great team effort and love how strangers come together to help each other and enjoy the nature in a more beautiful way. I cherish these experiences deeply and hope to have more such experiences.
- Get a bigger backpack for snow hikes. More things to carry and better places for all the gear.
- Make sure to learn how to use ice axe in a relatively safer zone.
- Compromising on the gear during a snow hike can be dangerous. Invest in water proof shoes, gaiters, good gloves, hat, etc
- Pack all the necessary gear. You never know what can get handy.
- Keep your body fit and do stretches regularly.
- Carry ten essentials.