Off Yonder – Adventure Travel Stories - Seeing the world for what it is

Snow Country
Gray Knob Cabin, White Mountains, New Hampshire

The metamorphosis is nearly complete. The first substantial snows of the season silently marched in overnight as I slept transforming the green boughs of fir, the fading yellow grasses and the dark brown soils of the trail all to a white bliss. The giddy joy usually reserved for childhood filled my heart and soul as I beamed out the door to surround myself in my wonderful new environment.

The hike down to the valley to re-supply backed up the evidence of seasons change. The snow faded from the thin white blanket, to patches tucked in protected crevasses and finally disappeared as I descended the trail. Among the hardwoods, where the bright glowing yellow and orange leaves covered the branches and trails the trees were now naked. The solemn gray trunks stood empty in the transparent forest. Those once vibrant leaves, now dull shades of tan and brown, were all on the ground crunching under my boots as I strode along still awed by the beauty no matter what this landscape did. When I looked up, the barren branches looked like fingers of electricity trying to return lightning back into the deep blue sky.

With an amazing forecast for the Columbus Day holiday weekend, which coincided with the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday weekend we braced ourselves for the masses. Al came up to stay at Crag Camp and help out with collecting fees and to ensure the place wasn’t left a total mess. In the end, we were over capacity at both cabins, but not grossly so.

Al came over to Gray Knob while I was out checking on the Perch and started cooking dinner for us. We had a great dinner and met some neat folks all out to enjoy the mountains. The calm clear evening sky and the full moon was so bright as to make headlamps completely obsolete I was suddenly inspired to organize a moonlight hike to the summit of Mt. Adams.

Actually, it was one day past the full moon, but it was a very special full moon. I came back into the cabin and with enthusiastic voice and prose I pitched the idea to the room. I explained how rare and unique opportunity this was because this is an October Harvest Moon. Normally the Harvest Moon is in September, but because the September full moon was so early in the month, this full moon was the one closest to the solstice, which is what actually defines the Harvest Moon. Not only that, but because the moon is at it’s perigee, where it’s closest to the earth on its orbit, it is about 12 per cent bigger and brighter in the sky! The perfectly clear skies and complete lack of wind made this a perfect night for a moon-lit ascent. I told them it should only take an hour and a half and that the experience on the summit would be serine.

Of the 17 guests at Gray Knob, nine were keen for the hike, two were happy to stay and the remaining six had already started to settle into bed upstairs. Once they were all ready to go, I wished them a good journey. They looked a little baffled, suddenly realizing I wasn’t going with them and asked who will guide them? I told them Karen was out there ready to take them up — she’s about 3-4 feet tall with a white helmet that will glow in the moonlight. Well, ‘Karen’ is really ‘cairn’, a stack of rocks with a piece of white quartz on the top spaced every 50 feet or so along the path to mark the trail all the way to the summit of Mt. Adams.

The eager hikers headed out and I sat down with the two of the guests who were ready to wind down for the evening and I let out a big sigh. Suddenly the cabin was nice and quiet, serene even. I went to bed before the night hikers returned but got a report in the morning. Three made it to the summit and said it was truly an amazing experience. They said it was like walking on the moon with the bright moonlight on the barren rocks of the summit. One of them thanked me in the log book for the trip to the moon. The remaining six were ready to turn around when they reached the smaller summit of Adams 4 which is along the way to the true summit. They said they enjoyed the hike, but weren’t as impressed as the summit group.

With the fresh snow and sunny skies I had to get out to explore to see how the upper reaches of the landscape was transformed by the dusting of snow. Much of it either blew away or melted in the direct sunbeams. But the few traces that remained provided a fascinating amplification of the texture of the land. From the summit of Mt. Adams I could see the powder white tops of the neighboring peaks and the distinct line where the white snow stopped and no longer covered the evergreen trees.

To much surprise, the weekend after Columbus Day was even busier! People must have thought they’d miss the crowds by waiting a week. Again with two overfull cabins everything went very smoothly. Crag Camp was nicely cleaned up and some folks at Gray Knob offered to help me carry some trash down to keep the cabin clean.

With the arrival of the snow the temperatures finally stayed low. Just the other day the first sub-freezing day was logged with a high of 32°F. The lows were getting down to 26°F. Even in these temperatures I have yet to keep my sleeping bag all zipped up. I usually get too warm in the middle of the night and have to vent out some heat. Hopefully in the weeks to come the mercury will continue to drop more snow will fall and winter will be well on it’s way.

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