Sometimes you get lucky.
Sometimes you wistfully ask a couple of more experienced hiking friends (including Krista of Paws on Peaks) if you’d be stupid to try ducking up above treeline in the event that the weekend’s planned hike doesn’t work out.
Sometimes those friends and others say, “HEY I WANT TO COME.” So you pick a day at almost-random, three weeks out, and agree you’ll all go if the weather holds. You don’t get your hopes up too high, though, because that day is the last in January and you’re still kind of winter-hiking chicken and who would ever expect the weather to hold?
And then sometimes when that day rolls around, you find yourself enjoying a tropical just-about-freezing-and-windless day at 4,310 feet, looking at this:
This was my first time on Pierce. It’s on all the 4,000-footers-for-beginners lists, but I fell hard this summer for the Pemi Wilderness and just couldn’t be bothered to go much of anywhere else. It was a lovely, scenic, relatively gentle hike and I think Lilo and I will return again and again. I can’t be sorry that we saved it, though; I can’t think of a better way to meet this mountain than in the company of amazing friends and dogs (we numbered five of each) on such a glorious day.
I was so distracted by the view from the ledges that if not for the others, I might have forgotten to run up the short trail to the summit — which would have been a shame, since this was 4ker #24 for me and #12 for Lilo — half- and a quarter of the way done, respectively! No wind above treeline is a rare gift, but we opted to push on rather than linger. Our plan for the day was Pierce for sure with the option of adding Eisenhower (4,780′) if conditions were good. They don’t get any better than this, so we scurried on our way.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Lilo on this hike. It’s touted as one of the easier peakbagging treks in the whites and certainly has one of the best view-for-effort ratios, but even if never overly steep, this was still the most elevation gain Lilo had done in a single day. (And I’m not quite fighting fit myself these days…) It was also one of (if not actually) her highest-mileage day. And if there was much wind on the ridge or the ascent to Ike, I figured all bets were off. I was a little worried that I was asking too much.
Everybody loves a bluebird day in the Whites, but I gotta say, I find varied clouds a little more interesting…and we had plenty to look at along the way.
I was worried, but Lilo wasn’t! She moved right along with the group across the ridge, waited when I stopped to change socks in an ill-advised spot right where the wind was starting to pick up, and set the pace for me on the final exposed approach to the wide, flat mountaintop. I could not have been any prouder of her.
She even put up with my stupid summit tricks when we got to the top!
There had been crowds on the summit of Pierce, but our crew had Eisenhower nearly to ourselves — one other group was leaving just as we arrived — and we lingered for a short while in spite of the wind. Pictures had to be taken. I forced pastries on the others in honor of one friend’s recent birthday. And it’s just not every winter day that you can chill on even one of the smaller Presidentials without becoming, y’know, overly chilled.
And getting to walk back across the ridge to Pierce was a pretty grandconsolation prize when it did come time to leave the summit. (I’d originally wanted to do the loop down Edmands Path, but we opted for the out-and-back for more trail time instead of walking down the seasonally closed Mt. Clinton road and a second time across the ridge definitely beat ducking immediately back down below taller trees. I’ll just have to come back and hike Edmands another time!)
Lilo did slow down on the ridge, so I first pulled her pack and snapped it to my own and then realized what the real problem was: she was too hot. My chilly dog above 4,000′ in January was too hot. What a day! The group stopped for snacks and to strip the dogs down before proceeding, and I spent the remainder of the walk back to Pierce wondering how it was that I’d brought two coats and a pack for this dog and somehow I had ended up carrying ’em all.
Lilo was tired but not flattened afterwards and woke up Monday morning with plenty of bounce. That’s more than I can say for myself; I’m officially no longer the fitter member of our hiking team, but to be fair, Lilo has a lower center of gravity and more legs than I do! I’m starting to settle into the rhythm of working full-time again, though, and looking forward to settling into our new home closer to the mountains and with a safer right-out-the-door option for after-work dogwalks in the dark.
In the meantime, it was really nice to check some new mountains off the list and I’m excited about the possibilities for our next hikes, especially if this weather holds. Kind of hard to believe that only a few months ago I was sure that we’d stick to lower-elevation treks until spring. I still want to see some waterfalls, but who knows where else we might end up going? Especially with a little help from our friends…!