The Perfect Vacation Day
A buddy and I had been planning a big hike for the upcoming weekend. As the days of the week came and went, the weather kept changing. As we continuously eyed the weather, we hoped it would work out. I'm sure you know the feeling. When Wednesday hit and the weather hadn't improved, we knew we had to do something about it. It's no secret that winter can be tough. Shorter days, colder and more unpredictable weather, and tougher trail conditions all add up to the fact that epic adventures just don't happen as often in the winter. They're harder to come by. Huzefa and I knew we were both ready to pull the trigger on a vacation day if it came to that. Friday was shaping up to be a spectacular day, the kind of day that happens only a handful of times every winter, usually landing midweek. By the end of that day, the plans were set. We were going to summit Mount Adams, in the Presidential Range of the White Mountain National Forest, at sunrise.
3:00 AM EST FRIDAY 1/31
We met at the Appalachia Parking Lot on Route 2 in Northern New Hampshire. The stoke was high, you could feel it. You could also feel the rumble of what seemed to be some sort of generator or heater coming from the Jeep that was parked next to us. This parking lot is notorious for that, as it's a popular starting point to the popular presidential traverse, a 19 mile route traveling north to south, from Mount Madison all the way to Mount Pierce. We made the finishing touches to our packs, made sure we had everything, and then we were off.
There's something magical about hiking at night. Everything is quiet. Everything is at peace. You almost feel guilty for breaking through the silence with the stomping of microspikes on the crusty, midwinter snow. One thing I love about night hiking is that it totally destroys any perception of time and distance. Sometimes you don't realize it until you hike the same trail in the daylight and you realize how much longer it feels when you can see your surroundings better. Night hiking helps you focus on what's in front of you, because that's all you can see illuminated by your headlamp.
6:00 AM EST FRIDAY 1/31
At 6:00 AM, we reached the Madison Springs Hut. This is one of the Appalachian Mountain Club run huts that sit in different locations in the White Mountains. This hut sits directly below and between Mount Adams and Mount Washington, at approximately 4,800 feet of elevation. We swapped out trekking poles for an ice axe, put on our puffys and facemasks, and we started the final ascent of Mount Adams. The weather was damn near perfect, with a light breeze on the protected side of the ridge.
The horizon was starting to light up. Behind Mount Madison, you could see layers of red, pink, and orange starting to line the sky. The ascent was tough, but with a slow and steady pace we kept moving onward and upwards. Soon we were climbing up the last steep pitch, with a pink sky behind us.
As a photographer, I had been planning this shot for almost a year. I wanted to capture the final pitch of Mount Adams with a snow covered Mount Madison looming in the background. I don't think I realized in the moment what I was capturing, I was just trying to capture the experience. It wasn't until I got home and edited the photos when I realized that this photo was the one I had been imagining for almost a year. The second we topped out on the summit and were able to get our first view towards Mount Washington and Mount Jefferson, we were speechless. Over the next 20 minutes, the landscape lit up in ever-changing colors.
Once we could no longer feel our toes and fingers, we decided to make our way down the way we came, headed towards the hut. Often times with pastel sunrises like this one where the sun is obstructed at the horizon, golden hour ends up being spectacular. Golden hour refers to the period after the vibrant sunrise but before the sun makes it's way high in the sky overhead. The sun casts incredible light on the natural landscapes and it's truly breathtaking to watch the light and the landscapes interact. As we made our way off the summit the terrain we had seen just an hour earlier, had quickly changed completely. We were being hit by the mid morning sun and it was simply magical.
One of my favorite things about wild spaces like these is the shear magnitude of it all. People often say put yourself in places that make you feel small. I don't buy into that. To me the word small implies insignificance, which is the opposite of how these places make me feel. They make me feel incredibly significant, like I'm part of something much larger than myself. Yes we may be small, but we are not insignificant by any means. It's places like these that help me put things into perspective.
When we arrived at the hut, we took a short break before deciding to head up Mount Madison for our second summit of the morning. As we began to ascend the second peak, we realized the wind we experienced earlier in the morning had either subsided, or simply wasn't following us to Mount Madison. We quickly began to work up a sweat and soon our extremities were toasty once again. When we made the summit, we were shocked. We were treated to a winter Mount Madison on a bluebird day with nothing but a very slight wind. Moments like these are what dreams are made of.
After we thoroughly enjoyed the summit, we decided it was time to head down. It was a bummer to take those first few steps because it meant our final descent was about to begin. We knew this marked the beginning of the end of what ended up being one of the most memorable trips of the winter. But as we descended, we did so with our heads in the clouds. Our hearts and our souls were full, and our eyes couldn't help but take in the final views of the trip.
We took a final snack break at the hut as we enjoyed each other's company and decompressed from the alpine experience we had just shared. A few minutes later we began our descent. It's always sad to say goodbye to the alpine zone; there's simply no place like it. There's no better feeling than traversing alpine terrain in deep, yet solid snow, with views for miles and miles in every direction. You can't help but look down on the valleys below, and just feel gratitude for exactly where you are. Gratitude for this moment, and every moment. The good, the bad, and the in between. Because we know that places and moments like these will remain in our thoughts and our hearts, as we continue to plan and experience new adventures for many years to come.