Greg Day and Fritz Farrington made a winter ascent of Mt. Monadnock in Jaffrey, N.H., last week, under blue skies and bright sun. Temps were around zero at the start of the climb at 8 a.m., and a stiff north wind dropped the wind chill on the summit well below zero.
"When we arrived, one guy was just finishing his trip to the summit, with face mask still on. Plastic boots are for the serious winter climbers/hikers and he had them on," Day said.
This was in contrast with several other climbers Day encountered, who were to his mind woefully underprepared for an above-treeline climb in mid-January. "I am always amazed and concerned with the lack of gear seen on this hike," he said.
Winter climbing in New England is no joke. Weather can turn a mild summer summit into a winter epic, dangerous for the unprepared, and occasionally fatal.
Day and Farrington were well prepared for their route, which followed the Halfway House Trail and the White Arrow Trail about 2 miles to the summit of Monadnock, 3,165 feet above sea level, and the highest point in southern New Hampshire.
"I had a synthetic short sleeve t-shirt with a long sleeve one over it. On top of that I wore a polar fleece pullover and a polar fleece vest, topping it off with one of my shell jackets. I brought along more clothes as emergency items, as I always do in this type of weather. A head/neck unit was needed for the face-protection qualities," Day said. He finished the ensemble with an Elmer Fudd-style hat, with ear flaps.
"I was pleased to have brought along my long ice axe that I have had for many moons. This was great on the final ascent above treeline. Fritz hiked with hiking sticks and was dressed in a similar combination with long johns and wind pants. We both used stiff leather boots. We had the mountain to ourselves for the morning and I found the hike went by more quickly than usual," he said.
"We shared the cozy wind-free spot on the summit with three other guys. My apple froze while I was eating it.
"Lots of windblown snow made it very beautiful and the rock lichen was noticeable due to the fact that there was a lack of ice on the barren summit.
"On our way down, we saw several pairs of folks coming up without crampons and one woman with sneakers," he said.
About 10 inches of snow lay in the woods, and hikers had packed that down to a firm base on the trails, Deeper snow would have required snowshoes, but crampons sufficed on this day.