NOTE: This hike was done and the post was written in mid-May.
It may be May, but the White Mountains have a mind of themselves when it comes to seasons. From the time that I saw snow in the summer to my experiences navigating the independently functioning weather system of Franconia Notch, these mountains never seem to abide by the seasons. So, I was not surprised at all to find over three feet of snow layering the Tripyramids on this spring day in mid-May.
With my ski season having come to an end in April, my winter-loving self was having some major snow-cravings. When we pulled up to the trail-head, I was incredibly happy to see some snowbanks. Zealand was excited as well and rolled around in the spring snow. I think she was missing it too. In case we had to break trail, we bungeed some snowshoes to our packs.
We started out hiking on a flat and wide cross-country skiing trail. The snow was packed down from skiers, so we used our microspikes, occasionally traversing periods of snow-less land. I was growing bored of the flat and repetitive ski trail, and was quite relieved when we veered onto a more traditional hiking trail.
As the trail grew steeper, blisters were forming on the backs of my ankles. I had to stop a few times to retie my shoes and eventually tape my ankle up. We came to the trail intersection where we could either hike up the Mt. Tripyramid trail (a steep rock slide that turns into an ice wall in the winter) or the Scaur Ridge trail. Though I really wanted to hike up the Tripyramid trail for the scenery and interesting terrain, there were no tracks heading that way and we decided it would be too dangerous to climb an ice wall alone with no heavy crampons. A few years prior, we had attempted this trail, it was a slick, cascading river of ice. Under-prepared, we were forced to turn around. This time, we knew better, and started off down the Scaur Ridge trail instead.
The lovely packed snow was short-lived, and deep soft snow took its place. We were post-holing and struggling to balance on the monorail in the middle of the trail. The rail of packed snow was so narrow and we were constantly misstepping and landing waist-deep in the soft snow. The skiier inside of me was happy for the “mashed potatoes” spring snow, but my hiker self was struggling. We ended up having to replace our spikes for big snowshoes. They weren’t at all a perfect solution, but they at least helped me from post-holing to the waist. Zealand was having some trouble with this snow too, but eventually learned to walk carefully on the monorail.
Suddenly, the trail seemed to take a turn for the steeps. It felt like we had hit a wall of mountain to claw our way up. Snowshoes were slipping, my blister was burning, one of my poles snapped, my giant day-pack was digging into my back, and I felt like a mess. Our snowshoes were slowing us down and were dysfunctional on terrain this steep, but we kept thinking that each upcoming turn of the trail was the top, and that we would want them on the way down. For every two steps I took up the mountain, at least one step was spent sliding down or falling back. Poles were useless, because they sunk too deep into the snow. My insides were on fire, but the snow was chilling my skin and extremities.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the terrain flattened out. Notice how I didn’t say that the “trail” flattened. No, there seemed to be no marked trail. During the entire hike, I think I saw a total of about three blazes. We were standing in the middle of a snow-blanketed forest, with no tracks ahead of us, blazes, or even a general linear clearing of trees. With no monorail, even the snowshoes were sinking deep. I looked up into the sky for the silhouette of North Tripyramid, but all I could see were the thick trunks of hardwoods towering into the clouds. We wandered aimlessly, eventually coming to a clearing in the trees where we could look out at the heights we had gained. It really is incredible to be that much higher than everything else, looking down at the world.
We navigated the best we could and climbed uphill until eventually we seemed to pick up the trail. At last, we came to the mighty peak. There wasn’t much of a view, but I was proud and happy nevertheless. Zealand and I shared a victory bagel.
We trudged through the snow down into the valley between peaks, then clawed up the side of Middle Tripyramid. We had learned, and replaced our snowshoes for spikes on the steep terrain. The peak of Middle Tripyramid was likewise view-less.
On the hike down from the peaks, the seasons seemed to change drastically! One minute I was sinking waist-deep into snow, and the next, I was following a butterfly down a sunny and rocky trail. Climbing down through the boulders was fun, and I was happy for the sun’s rays.
Overall, the hike was about 12 miles, but had some very steep and difficult sections. The snow absolutely increased the difficulty of this hike. I was happy to have finished my 45th 4000 footer!