Mt. Jackson: Lucy's First Winter 4,000 Footer and a Beautiful Start to the Season
Winter is finally here and Lucy and I are so excited for a season full of hiking and other snowy adventures! 11:19 pm Saturday, December 21st marked the start of the official winter hiking season that we’ve been itching for since last March. Winter has always been my favorite season with it’s fluffy blankets of snow and holiday spirit. I’ve always loved a day of skiing, ice climbing, or more recently hiking topped off with a hot mug of cocoa in front of the fire to recover. Sunday was the perfect day to get outside and celebrate the new season!
Although it’s felt like winter for the past few weeks, the solstice marks the start of longer days and official winter hiking according to the AMC 4,000 footers committee. The committee oversees the 4,000 footers club, accepting applications for finishers of many different hiking lists and making rules to go along with them. The rules state, “to qualify as a winter ascent, the entire trip must begin after the hour and minute of the beginning of winter (winter solstice) and end before the hour and minute of the end of winter (vernal equinox),” so there’s no confusion as to what counts as a winter hike. I know it may sound counter intuitive to have rules for a seemingly lawless activity, but I think it’s really fun to have a specific goal to work towards when I’m hiking. It gives me a direction and helps motivate me to get on the trail as much as possible.
With Sunday being the first full day of winter, Lucy and I decided on Mt. Jackson as her first official winter peak. Jackson is regarded as one of the easier 4,000 footers in the winter with only one steep and exposed section, so I thought it would be the perfect hike to start our winter 4K journey. I was a little nervous after Friday’s Waumbek bailout, but with the weather forecasted to be in the mid 20’s, I was hopeful the conditions would be more bearable for Lucy’s feet. After gearing up with all of my usual winter hiking equipment plus my extras for Lucy, we hit the trail with a few friends at around 10:15am.
The trail was very gradual with a comfortably subtle incline for most of the hike. The snow had been packed down allowing us to use microspikes as our primary source of traction. Lucy was off leash with her e-collar, so I had her check in every few feet making sure to keep her within sight and focused on me even in the midst of all of the forest’s distractions. There were grey jays flying through the trees with the occasional squirrel scurrying about. The snow sparkled in the sun, flickers of light dancing all along the ground. It was mostly untouched stretching deep under the trees with the occasional rabbit path hopping through the brush.
As we climbed, I appreciated every snow-covered branch and leafless tree. The crunch of the snow beneath my feet was calming and the cold air rushing to my lungs was therapeutic. In the past few weeks I’ve been getting over a nasty combination of strep throat, acute bronchitis, and pneumonia, so breathing in the dry mountain air without coughing too much was a relief. We ascended leisurely taking lots of breaks for me to catch my breath and slow Lucy down. She sometimes needs to be forced to stop and rest or she’ll run out of energy too quickly.
After about an hour I started to notice Lucy licking her front paws a lot. She was still happily trotting up the trail, but every time we stopped, she would sit and try to take off her front booties. I didn’t want snow to get balled up between her paw pads so I left the boots on for a little while longer, but about a mile from the summit I decided to take them off. She was so relieved and started bounding up the trail once again. I think the boots were irritating her feet, but I was glad we used them for as long as we did because it prevented her paw pads from getting icy for a large chunk of the hike. She finished the day with boots on only her back feet without any problems.
As we approached the summit the snow pack got deeper and the trees shorter. There were more and more steep stretches with slippery ice underneath the snow. Lucy needed a boost a few times but had no issues until we got to the exposed slab just before the summit. This part was extremely icy and pretty steep, making for a difficult climb. Luckily there were still large areas of slabby rock without ice, so Lucy went up those while we inched our way up the icy bits with our microspikes. Little did we know that coming back down would pose a bigger problem.
When we got to the summit, we were rewarded with gorgeous views of the southern Presidentials and Mt. Washington. It was a partly sunny day with blue skies in between the puffy clouds. Although Lucy was tired from coming up the steep section, she was bopping around with excitement sniffing around the brush and playing in the small patches of snow. I called her over and we sat for a minute looking out at the mountains in front of us, cherishing our little moment on top of the world. But after a quick snack the gusting winds convinced us to descend quickly.
Getting down the steep part of the summit cone was much more challenging because the wind had picked up and it was harder to avoid the ice. We maneuvered slowly down until the last, most difficult section. I tried to convince Lucy to go down the rocky slab, but she wouldn't budge so I took her in my lap to inch down the iciest part. All of a sudden my foot slipped out from under me and we slid to the bottom. Luckily we landed relatively gently and didn't get hurt. There was definitely potential for trouble, but thankfully we got out of it okay.
The rest of the descent went quickly, and I was happily surprised at how enjoyable it is. I forgot how much I like the walk out in the winter. The footing was good and it was easy on the knees so we cruised all the way back to the parking lot, chatting about our favorite international hiking experiences as we went. That being said, when we made it back to the car we were all eager for a hot shower and a well deserved meal to wind down from the day's activities.
I'd say our first winter hike of the season was a huge success. It was a beautiful day and we were rewarded with amazing views making it an awesome start to the winter hiking season. The weather was on the warmer side with only moderate breeze when we got above treeline. so both Lucy and I felt totally comfortable with the conditions. Look for more posts on what kind of gear Lucy and I use here!
Mt. Jackson (4,052 ft) via. Jackson-Webster Tr [5.55 mi, 2520 ft, 4:45].