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Wednesday
Feb292012

Smart decisions don't make the papers.

"If you have to call on your last reserves just to get down a mountain, it's the simplest thing in the world to make a simple mistake, like rappelling off the end of a rope in the dark."
- David Roberts & Ed Viesturs, K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain.

A little before noon, I realized it would take all my reserves to make it - so I called it and turned back.

The plan was simple - a winter hike from the AMC's Highland Center at Crawford Notch (NH) to Zealand hut, then mount a day long (~14 hour) hike from Zealand to Bondcliff Mountain (and back).

In August or September (2011), this would have been a simple proposition. September to January focused on rehabilitating a climbing injury suffered the previous June, driven partially by my decision to ignore the injury during my 2011 trips. Given retaining peak hiking form had not been my focus, February 2012 posed a greater challenge.

The whole drive up, my fitness level plagued me - was I sufficiently in shape to tackle this "easy" hike?

The trail was so well packed, I felt comfortable leaving my snowshoes on the pack and going bare-booted (no added traction).

Although the trail was easy, I found myself stopping continuously. My pack weight (43 lbs) was too much for this early in the season. Nevertheless, I continued - employing rest steps to ease the effort - and eventually found my stride. Slowly the trek become enjoyable.

A large bump to my right leg interrupted my solitude - a large dog walked past me.

"Don't worry, he's friendly," called the dog's snowshoeing owners. Not that the dog had even noticed me.

Seeing these snowshoe clad hikers convinced me to (finally) put mine on. Unfortunately, I wasn't ready for the extra effort. Snowshoeing is not easier than hiking - for starters, rest step no longer works. In short order I was hiking in the red again (high heart rate, frequent stops).

Slowly, the plan unravelled - no more Bondcliff, then no more Hale. I was very aware that at my current level of effort, neither Bondcliff's 14 hour nor Hale's 6 hour hikes could be completed safely. Ultimately, Zealand became the only goal, until, shortly before noon, I turned back.

The purpose of this hike was to (1) winter hike in the White Mountains, (2) relax, and (3) test my current fitness level against that of August 2011. Although not the way I hoped, I achieved the first and last goals in the first hour.

Regardless how the weather turned out, I think I made the right choice. The forecast called for a cold front to bring colder temperatures and snow. Given my state, that challenge would have forced me to dredge the depths of my reserves - never a good plan.

In fact the snow and wind arrived at 12:45 and continued for two hours before clearing. The night brought more snow and a blistering wind. The next morning, snow continued though mid-morning. Although a frigid cold front was expected to push the snow away by early afternoon. By that time, I was back home.

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