Last weekend, Lilo and I met up with Paws on Peaks at the Glen Ellis trailhead for a winter-conditions hike to Glen Boulder.
This was part of a route that has been on my wishlist for months. My original goal was to do a gorgeous loop via Glen Boulder and Boott Spur, maximizing time above treeline while avoiding the congestion of popular peaks. But the distance and elevation gain was still a bit too big an ask of Titus and the hike plus drive time for the full loop is longer than I’m comfortable leaving him alone at home.
Glen Boulder, a dramatically-poised glacial erratic, is just 1.7 miles from the trailhead. It’s a relatively steep 1.7 miles, though, that breaks above treeline. That made it a good shakedown for all concerned: a quick little taste of “real winter” in the Whites without prolonged exposure.
The dogs were delighted by the cold and snow. Even Lilo did some crazy zoomies and she rolled and rolled while waiting for me to finish organizing my pack. We had a short hike up the gated road to the actual trailhead.
The hike up to treeline is a beautiful blur. It was awesome to catch up with Krista and the dogs had a grand time bombing up the trail together. The conditions were pretty wonderful, with just enough snow to partially fill in the rocks and merit use of microspikes but not so much that we regretted leaving the snowshoes at home. The mountain streams below treeline are not frozen yet, but this trail only sports a few easy stepover crossings.
I worry a lot this time of year about whether I’ll be too cold while hiking (or if something goes so wrong that I have to stop…), but it was a pleasant sunny day and we shed layers steadily as we climbed. There’s something so encouraging about being comfortable in the cold and snow. It makes me feel capable like almost nothing else!
The temperature did drop as we approached treeline and we began to hear the wind more strongly. There’s one short but tricky scramble just at treeline that gave the dogs, Lilo especially, pause. Krista lifted her two up and then scrambled up herself. I snapped Lilo’s leash back onto her harness and lifted while Krista assisted from above. This is the downside to hiking with big dogs. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I can do, conditioning-wise, to help improve Lilo’s core strength and balance.
The next stretch of trail was normal White-Mountain steep but the ground, covered in a crust of snow, dropped away rapidly to the left. The dogs trotted up it easily, but now *I* was a little taken aback. I have the most amazing(?) knack for picturing how things might go terribly wrong. I said aloud that I wasn’t sure if I should have brought Lilo on this hike. Krista assured me that the grade mediated up ahead where the dogs already were, though, so there didn’t seem to be any point in turning back. (And happily, that section looked much less daunting on the descent; we were down it before we realized that we’d reached it again.)
The wind was strong above treeline. I had layered up again (but still had a hardshell and my second puffy in reserve, and never felt the need to pull out my serious gloves — victory!) and opted not to mess too much with picture-taking, but I stopped often to wonder at the scenery all around me. Just a few miles away at this same time, a friend of mine was turning back from an attempt on Washington and Monroe due to poor visibility in the blowing snow. Below the boulder, though, it was a gusty, gorgeous day.
The prehike discussion had included a possibility of ascending a bit above beyond Glen Boulder. The trail did look inviting! I discovered immediately after taking Lilo’s picture by the boulder, though, that she had cracked a nail *and* reopened the happy-tail scarring at her tail tip at some point on the ascent. She hadn’t notice, because pit bull. But the spot where she sat for the photo looked a bit like a murder scene. I thought at first that she had sliced her pads, though I couldn’t think how on such nice, non-icy snow, and was relieved to discover that they were intact. I assume she did the nail on a scramble and Krista theorized that the cold, dry air had caused the scar tissue to crack. So that’s something I’ll need to debug. I’m thinking some sort of protective sleeve that I can attach to her coat? Not sure yet what that will look like, though. Between those (minor, but still) injuries and starting to run up against my turnaround time, we opted to turn back.
The hike down went smoothly, except for the part where Lilo decided to launch herself off that scramble and Krista ended up having to catch her, with a resulting tumble into the snow. Guess we need to do a little more work on our “wait” command…! It was thematically appropriate, though, since one of the great joys of winter hiking is speedy controlled-slide descents. I’m painfully slow rock-hopping downhill; it’s fun to zoom along for a change.
So it was a bit of a mixed-bag as hikes go: great scenery, better company, and a confidence-boost in the prepared-for-winter department, but obviously I vastly prefer that hikes not include any bleeding. I really enjoyed the route as a shakedown hike and opportunity to get quickly and briefly above treeline and in the abstract I’d love to revisit it and continue on, but I’ll have to think about that scramble. The former will fill in and be dog-friendlier as the snow deepens, I think, but I’m not sure what the section just above it will look like at that point. So I’m not sure yet if we’ll go back that way before summer — but I’m sure we’ll try it then!