First snowfall

The first snow of the season is always special.

I missed the first snowfall of the season. I left town on Tuesday night for a business trip to Chicago, and missed the 2″ snowfall that arrived on Wednesday morning. So today, back at home and waking to a brilliant blue-sky day, I was eager to get outdoors. Most of the snow had melted close to home, but we chose a short hike along the Appalachian Trail to the top of Holts Ledge – home of the Dartmouth Skiway. (Things looked very different when I visited seven weeks ago!) We didn’t have to climb far before reaching an elevation with consistent snowcover. It was shallow, and crunchy from several melt-freeze cycles, but it was a wonderful taste of the winter hikes to come!

Descending the Appalachian Trail on Holts Ledge. Lyme NH.

We paused at the top to enjoy the southward views across the Upper Valley and toward Mounts Cardigan and Ascutney. We then strolled over to view the activity at the top of the Dartmouth Skiway, chatting with two fellows who were tinkering with the snowmaking equipment. Only three weeks to opening day!

Snowmaking coats the trees at the top of Dartmouth Skiway. Holts Ledge.

Halfway down the Appalachian Trail we encountered one of those wondrous effects to be seen this time of year: needle ice, where some mud froze, causing the expanding ice to crystallize and push the mud upward into the air.

Crusty ice spires in the mud along the Appalachian Trail on Holts Ledge.

Snow line

Winter and spring in one scene.

Early spring (late winter?) storms sometimes give one the opportunity to see the dramatic difference elevation makes. It rained yesterday afternoon, hard at times, for many hours. When I hiked up to the top of the Lyme Pinnacle this afternoon – it’s really just a grand hill, not really fair to call it a small mountain – I enjoyed the broad views into Vermont on the west and the hills of Lyme to the east. Most prominent, today, was the vast bulk of Smarts Mountain, with its level summit ridge and its fire tower rising above the trees – all coated in a fresh dusting of snow.

Smarts Mountain – dusted with snow – from the Lyme Pinnacle.
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Holts Ledge

What a difference a week makes.

A mere five days after I went snowshoeing through winter’s glorious powder in the Kinsman Range, I went hiking with two friends … in decidedly spring conditions. Granted, Holts Ledge is much lower (elevation ~1069′ rather than 4293′) but there was much more snow at the base of the Kinsmans than there was at the summit of Holts. This week’s rain and unseasonably warm weather (close to 60º during our hike) has turned the low-elevation trails into mud, and (no doubt) the higher elevation trails are packed ice.

Ken and Dave on Appalachian Trail, Holts Ledge. Photo by Tim Burdick.

This section (and other low-elevation sections) of the Appalachian Trail is now basically done for the season, and should be avoided until after mud season.

Holts Ledge cliff overlook (near the summit). Snow almost gone!

Ironically, the view above is at the top of the Dartmouth Skiway… fewer than 100m from the top of the slopes. There, skiers were still happily skiing on spring-condition snow. At least there were some views, below.

David with Tim Burdick atop Holts Ledge on a late-winter day. Photo by Ken Kaliski.
A stream crossing on Holts Ledge, with plenty of meltwater.

Sigh, we haven’t even reached the spring equinox yet.

Mount Kinsman in fresh powder

A late-winter snowstorm triggers my itch to get up into the mountains.

A massive winter storm blew through New England yesterday – starting as a light drizzle, but turning to wet snow as the temperature dropped. Here at home in the Connecticut River Valley, I was disappointed by the heavy, wet, two inches we received despite hours of snowfall. I knew, however, that there would be more – lots more – at higher altitudes, where the storm may have been an all-snow event and where the cooler temperatures would brew light, fluffy powder. As the photo below shows, I indeed found great powder conditions. Read on!

Deep drifts along the Kinsman Ridge Trail.
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Spruce Mountain

A return one year later.

This morning I was looking for a good destination for a winter’s afternoon hike. Morning business meant I could not reach any trailhead until after noon, so I picked Spruce Mountain – an easy 2-mile trail up a short mountain in east-central Vermont. I was here just over a year ago, in deeper snow, but the memories of a lovely hike were shadowed by a sad incident on the drive home that sent my Tesla into the shop for almost two months. So today was an opportunity for redemption. And a beautiful day at that!

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Smiles and skis

Fresh snow brings out the smiles in everyone.

Friday brought us a wonderful snowfall, 6″ of super-light fluffy powder. Then Saturday and Sunday brought us blue skies and moderate temperatures. Each day I drove out to the edge of town, where a generous landowner maintains (and grooms!) a vast network of cross-country ski trails. The beautiful weather and fresh conditions brought out many other skiers, eager to be back on snow after two weeks of warm weather and (gasp!) rain ruined the skiing. The sky was blue, the wind calm, and the sun glinted off the sharp edges of the fresh snowflakes coating every branch.

A brief puff of wind sprinkles snowflakes into a beam of sunlight.

This landowner (very generous!) even provides warming huts, with a woodstove and amenities like hot chocolate, at strategic points around the trail network.

One of the warming huts along the ski trails

The trails – and parking lot – were busier than I’ve ever seen them, with dozens of people out and about. They ranged the gamut – from young families with eager children, to middle-aged adults shuffling by on their classic skis, to athletic adults skating by at great speed. Everyone was in a cheerful mood, smiling and saying hello as they passed. The many dogs were friendly and excited. It’s all enough to remind you how wonderful winter can be.

Classic tracks on the left, skate tracks on the right.

Moosilauke ice

A chance to finally try my crampons.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting an opportunity to hike Mount Moosilauke this winter. My schedule rarely gives me a window of opportunity… and this winter, those windows have often corresponded with heavy cloud cover or intense cold. So this weekend I was pleased to see that Sunday’s (today’s) summit weather appeared to be reasonable – midday temperatures around 10ºF, with winds 20-30mph – and even better, there was snow forecast for Saturday (yesterday). The icing on the cake was a hiking invitation from an old friend. Thus, we found ourselves at the Glencliff Trailhead at about 9:30am, suiting up in single-digit temperatures. Read on!

Moosilauke – view toward North Peak.
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Eagles on ice

Nothing like a deer carcass to bring everyone together.

As I drove home today along the Connecticut River I noticed a dark object out on the ice – clearly, a carcass of some unfortunate deer. It was already attracting visitors that, from a glance, appeared to include a bald eagle. I dashed home to pick up my camera. When I returned, I found three bald eagles – one mature adult, and two juveniles – enjoying the spoils of this opportunity. Several crows were nearby, but were shooed away by the eagles whenever they came too close.

A bald eagle feeds on a carcass on the ice – and scolds a crow that tries to join in.

It was interesting to see that each eagle looked quite different – even the juveniles looked very different, perhaps of different ages. I also noticed the mature eagle flying alongside one juvenile several times. Family members? or rivals? hard to tell.

A pair of Bald eagles (one immature) flying (and fighting) beside the Connecticut River.

I shot well over six hundred photos, most of them out of focus – on my first visit it was snowing heavily and the snow wreaked havoc on the camera’s autofocus mechanism. But I returned later when the snow stopped and the sun came out. I saved a dozen decent photos for you in the gallery, where you can see each of the three eagles, sometimes together.

Bald Top Mountain

Breaking trail in fresh powder can be delightful.

A grand snowstorm ended late last night, dumping 12″ of fresh powder snow on us here at home in the valley. The snow was preceded by a day of rain, so I expect there was vastly more snow at higher altitudes – where the rain would have turned to snow much sooner … or perhaps had been snow from the start. So I was eager to get out hiking today, to enjoy the new snow. There truly is nothing so exhilarating as to snowshoeing through fluffy fresh powder. (It can also be exhausting, if you are breaking trail!) But Mount Moosilauke and other high places were forecasting single-digit temperatures for the morning, dropping into the negative single-digits by afternoon. Add some wind, and those summits were not so appealing. We went out anyway… read on!

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Morning after snowstorm

Winter keeps its promise.

Today broke sunny and blue, with a foot of fresh powder smothering the landscape. It snowed hard for nearly 24 hours, and left us with this beautiful, soft powder. As I went out to shovel this morning I was intrigued to see the deer had already criss-crossed the lawn and pawed through the snow under crabapple trees to see if they could find any treats.

The sun rises behind a crabapple tree, under which the deer have been scrounging for apples overnight.
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