Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Trail Report: Mount Pierce

On Feb. 4 2013, Tony and I set out to do our first "official" winter hike.  I say official because we've hiked in cold weather, with a little snow and ice, but it wasn't the winter season, it was still fall.  This hike is right in the heart of winter.  We both finally broke down and purchased winter hiking boots and snowshoes.  As it turned out, the trail was mostly hard packed snow and ice with a little powder from the night before, so we ended up not needing the snowshoes as we micro-spiked it the entire way.

My new gear consists of Garmont Momentum Snow GTX boots (I think, I gotta verify this) and MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoes.  The snowshoes were recommended by a half-a-dozen people in a thread on the Views From The Top forum board (http://www.vftt.org), so I went with these, as did Tony.  Boots I just tried on a few pairs until I found ones I thought felt comfortable.

Garmont Snow GTX & MSR Evo Ascent Snowshoes

Shoes strapped to my backpack

The road to the parking lot of the trailhead was covered with a couple of inches of snow, being in the middle of nowhere on Route 302 I didn't want to get stuck, so we went over to the parking lot for Mount Tom.  This lot wasn't plowed, so we ended up parking at the AMC Highland center.  The sign says parking is for people staying at the center but we took our chances and parked there anyway.  I didn't get a ticket or towed.  We geared up and headed to the trailhead at 10:14am.  It was 12 degrees at the base.

Please note: I didn't set the clock back an hour on my camera, so all my pictures are one hour ahead of the actual time.

Parking lot for Crawford connector trail

Parking lot and trailhead signs

Crawford connector trail

Snow covered bridge

Mizpah was closed but we went to it anyway

Gibbs Falls

Tony @ Gibbs Falls

Down trees on Crawford Path

Mizpah cut-off sign

Mizpah cut-off trail

Up until the Mizpah cut-off we were following someones shoe prints in the snow.  We were not alone out here, surprising for a very cold and windy Monday morning.  Whoever we were following continued up Crawford path, Tony and I decided to take the cut-off to the Mizpah Spring Hut.  It was clear no one had taken this trail today, and considering the amount of fresh powder, I'd say not many people use this trail during the winter months.  We probably could have used our snowshoes here but we didn't.

Mizpah cut-off trail

Mizpah cut-off trail

Mizpah cut-off trail

Mizpah Spring Hut

The snow was halfway up the main door

The trees were beautiful

During the summer you would hike up this ladder

First view above treeline

Almost to the summit

Summit of Mount Pierce 4,310'

Mount Eisenhower from Pierce

This is about 100' away from the summit but it had a better view of Eisenhower.  Who took the pic?  The only other person on the mountain today, the foot prints we followed up until the Mizpah cut-off trail

Closeup of Mount Eisenhower

Ridge trail to Mount Eisenhower

We did not stay long at the summit of Pierce.  The winds were howling and my personal meteorologist was saying it was -20 degrees.  Being so cold we didn't even stay for our summit brews.  We continued on past the summit of Pierce as we were doing a loop and not going back down to Mizpah.  We started walking and realized two things.. 1) Tony was missing a microspike and 2) We were not on trail.  We had been a the summit for 10-15 minutes and it was getting cold.  For the first time since I started hiking, panic began to set in.  This is what you don't want to happen and is how people die on these mountains.  The micro-spike issue was not a big deal, but not finding the trail because of all the snow and ice was becoming a very serious problem.  Getting lost below treeline is dangerous, but getting lost above treeline can become life threatening very quickly in these harsh conditions.  Thankfully, we found the trail within a couple of minutes, but those minutes felt like hours to me.

It's amazing how much warmer it is below treeline

Tony missing a microspike.  We think it was lost in the deep snow at the Mizpah hut.

Parking lot @ the AMC Highland Center

It was a great hike today.  I don't have all the official stats because the cold weather was eating my GPS batteries and I ran out of batteries during the descent.  These are some pretty good estimates.

Summit of Mount Pierce: 4,310'
Total hike time: 5h
Distance: 7m
Elevation Gain: 2,350' (taken from another website)
Trails: Crawford Cut-Off, Crawford Path, Webster Cliff Trail, Mizpah Cut-Off

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