Very excited for our first winter hike in the Whites and first hike of the year, we were all ready to go New Years morning! I hadn't yet decided what to hike and we agreed upon Eagle Crag next to the Baldfaces. This was a favorite spot and a relatively pleasant winter hike. We parked on the road behind another car at the trail head and geared up at 9am. The snow didn't look all that bad, mostly melted and Scott decided to leave the snow shoes behind. I was a little bummed as I finally had snow shoes and wanted to use them, but I wasn't going to carry them if I didn't need them! In the back of my mind however I knew the Northern branch of the Baldface Circle Trail would most likely not be packed out.
We began our hike on a packed out trail and unseasonably warm weather. The jackets and gloves soon came off as we enjoyed the gentle walk. At the Emerald Pool junction the beaten path went left headed towards South Baldface and a lone pair of snowshoe tracks continued straight. We stopped to build a tiny snowman who turned out to look pretty evil! A sign of whats to come? The river crossing was fine with a pretty good snow bridge acrossed it with a rather large hole in the middle of it ... creepy! We soon arrived at the Bicknell Ridge junction and sure enough the snow shoe'r went up bicknell ridge and our trail lay untouched. Doh!
Breaking trail was easy to start, just a few inches with a little ice underneath hear-and-there. I stopped often to take some so-so pics of the river and the various tree mushrooms I spotted. I found one collection of versi-color shrooms that I love so much! These were a wonderful tan/turquoise and rust color and they became my photo subject for several minutes :) As the elevation gained so did the snow accumulation. We're talking 6 inches in spots. Not the deepest we have bare booted in before. While 6 inches may sound trivial to some, when your hiking uphill in wet, sticky snow with full packs on it is pretty tough! Especially when there are rocks and bankings under the snow that you don't see and trip and slip on.
A pheasant was nice enough to take flight in the woods next to us causing us both to make a startled "yelp" We dragged on and on finally reaching the Eagle Cascade junction ... 1.6 miles to go! The snow got seemingly deeper now as we trudged on. I took my micro-spikes off that I had put on at the bicknell Ridge junction as the sticky snow was clumping up under them and creating platform shoes which was driving me nuts! We entered the pine grove I had been dying to reach and new we were getting closer. Scott now began to fall behind and I was getting pretty exhausted myself. I kept my eyes pealed ahead for the glimpse of the ledges but each corner yielded more snowy hill and another corner. I took off for one final push ignoring my very sore legs and finally I spotted the ridge through the trees in the distance. I figured we would still have at least 45 minutes to an hour left and a couple hundred feet of elevation. Scott was no where in sight behind me and at that point I evaluated the situation. We were running an hour late anyway and we were beat. And I new going down would be tough and tiresome, and it was! I hiked back down to Scott who quickly accepted defeat and lead the way down as he always does.
The river was a little more photographic now as some of the snow had melted and I took off through the woods to take some pics. We also took the time to clear some minor blow downs from the trail. The only bad one that was at a back breaking waste height was too thick for a quick axing. So I chopped down the small trees holding it up so that it was now at an easy step-over ground level. We arrived back at our snow man who had lost some weight in the warm sun. We put him back together with some new, more friendly looking parts and continued heading down. The snow bridge had melted a bit and Scott got a scare as one of his feet went through! I crossed with no problems. We reached the truck at 2pm. Snow shoes would have more than likely brought us a successful summiting ... (as I open the back hatch) "oh look, snow shoes!" Still a nice day in the woods. Wonderful weather and good conditioning for the next hike! So sore today!! I have to keep in mind that winter hiking takes longer than summer and just stick to easy smaller hikes, at least until we have some winter experience built up. And bring the snow shoes no matter what! Have to figure out how to strap them to the bags. Trip was 5 hours - Mileage: about 6.2 - Elevation Gain: about 2000ft.