Day One Sentinel (and not Kilburn)
After leaving my vehicle at Monument Falls Luc La Barre and I parked his on Bartlett Road, where Liscombe brk. crosses. We angled away from the brook and worked our way up through open hardwoods to a ridge that parallels the drainage. This beautiful, rolling ridge is covered in huge, sparsley distributed pines and hemlocks and runs from the Cobbles to the eastern flanks of Sentinel, into which it merges at 2500'. Gradually the landscape turned to white and we donned shells and gloves.
I had this route wired (or so I thought) and indeed everything was going according to plan. However, at about 3400' I missed a crucial turn up through a weakness in the long line of east-west running cliffs and we lost 20 minutes, precious energy and got completely soaked by pushing through thick spruce, whose branches were covered in wet snow. It was about 32F. Once back on track we were chilled to the bone and the wind sawed at us. No matter how hard we tried to generate body heat there was no end to the wet snow that kept falling onto our soaked clothing, chilling us even further. Steep inclines were welcome sights and half-way up one (half-way to be warm and then to get warm again after stopping ) we stopped and I put on an extra hat and fresh mitts.
The plan was to push on to Kilburn but I wasn't liking the idea and I don't think Luc was all that wild about it either. Once past the summit we would be descending very slowly, exposed to the wind and then crossing an wide-open area with tons of blowdown. Ie. slow going. Putting on a dry base layer now would be useless - it would be soaked in minutes. So, just before reaching the summit of Sentinel we agreed to turn back and follow our tracks out. We then we booted it the final 50 yards, took a summit pic and turned tail gladly. I don't recall ever being that cold, I was utterly drenched from stem to stern. Using our tracks we went back as fast we could and managed to sort of warm up.
We corrected my error (got it all in a tracklog now) and half-way back to our (correct) inbound route I had an intuition and made a hard right turn. This led us down through a very steep drop between 50' cliffs on other side of us. That must have been where Tom Penders and I turned up to the summit ridge in August of 2016. We kept hustling and once below the snow line we gathered sticks and lit a fire. Once we had dried out and warmed up we continued east along the beautiful ridge for another mile to where it ends at the Cobbles. From there we enjoyed the views from three different (huge) rocky outcrops. The views swept around the compass dial from Pokomoonshine through Jay and Saddleback past Giant and Dix then across to Sentinel, Stewart, a piece of Esther and the Willmington Range. Wow!
Dial-Nippletop-Elk Pass-Nippletop-Dial for 6300 feet of elevation gain.
My three previous hikes had been fairly rough (slush-fest on Skylight-Colden, heavy ice on Giant-RPR and the brush with hypothermia on Sentinel just the day before). I needed to get my mojo back and decided on a tame hike with decent elevation gain: ie. Dial-Nippletop-Dial for about 5000 feet worth and no difficulties, just a nice hike. The forecast for Keene was for a high in the low 50's so I wore Tingleys over trail runners and carried my Hillsounds, which went on half-way up to the shoulder of Noonmark. It was a beautiful suuny day and I was wondering if I should have done Marcy (and more) instead. But then the weather moved in very quickly. The vis dropped, the wind kicked up and I watched the clouds shred their way through the trees on Dial. Then it started raining, which became a full-on 20-minute snowstorm and I was glad not to be doing Marcy.
I was feeling fine and wondered about adding on Colvin and Sawteeth but had started at 9:30 and didn't feel like hiking for hours in the dark. Finally I got the bright idea of doing a round-trip to Elk Pass which gave me another 1200 feet of elly. The people I had seen on Nippletop were very surprised to see me coming back up from Elk Pass! I did the 0.2 mile out and back from the junction to Nippletop, not once but twice. I felt perfect all day, moving easily and feeling very comfortable descending the icy trail to Elk Pass in 24 minutes exactly (took me longer to go back up!). The toughest part of the hike was the 300 foot re-climb of Dial- there's that one steep section. Half-way down Dial I saw a deer run past. It was a like a very swift and silent arrow. How they do that I'll never know.
The view from Noomark's shoulder in dying light was to die for (but I didn't). Soon thereafter, I was descending towards the Lake Road in near total darkness and my headlamp was picking up the markers nicely, although the trail was easy to follow. Then the next marker winked out. I've never seen such a thing before and I mused that such a thing was impossible. Then as I I drew nearer I saw not one but two small markers placed side by side. A deer stood stock-still on the trail 10 feet in front of me and we had a staring match before he/she took off. The deer was surely wondering where he could get a headlamp just like mine. I had similar staring matches with 3 more deer on my way out. I was back on the road just before 5 and it was pitch dark.
Day 3. Marcy and Tabletop.
At 7:30 I was walking towards Marcy Dam through a gloomy winter wonderland as it had snowed a bit overnight. The wind was moaning insistently and the sky was a dark grey. I was in no hurry. A lone hiker caught up and passed me at the Phelps Brook crossing above Marcy Dam. He was also doing Marcy. I was wearing my winter boots and of course carried Hillsounds. Getting to Marcy is a long walk in the woods. The lone hiker opted for the ski trail and I decided to stay on the Van Ho. There was maybe 2'' of snow on the ground, which had completely transformed the landscape.
It grew colder and colder as I ascended and the snow deepened. The forecast was for falling temps and 10F with 35 mph sustained wind on Marcy. At the Phelps junction I geared up. I put on two pairs of fresh wool mitts under OR Revel shell mitts, my OR wind-stopper bela-clava, a hand-knit bela clava over that and cinched my shell's hood very tight and zipped it up all the way.
The cone was wicked rough and the summit remained inside a cloud while above me the sky was blue. I was getting pushed around and the bit of exposed skin on my face (I had no mask or goggles) grew very chilly in no time. The snow at times was mid-shin with the odd knee-deep drift and the lone hiker's footsteps were mostly blown in. I wondered where he was and why he wasn't coming down yet. I had been thinking of going down to 4 Corners but the visibilty was very sketchy. I kept turning around and memorizing my route down and did my best to leave a furrow in the snow. The snow alternated with wind-swept ice. The closer I got to the top the wilder the wind got. At the plaque I went around to the left and there was no wind under the 6 foot high cliff-wall. I went all the way around it in 2 feet of snow and there it was as if I stuck my face into a snowblower. I looked at the route down to 4 Corners and it was socked in so darkly it was like looking at the edge of the world. There was no way I going down there! There was no indication anyone had gone that way so I looked around the summit area for the lone hiker but never saw him. Going down was uneventful but one heck of an experience all alone up there in shrieking wind and foggy vis but I knew every little turn and most of my tracks were still discernable, although filling in rapidly.
After that it was a meditative walk in the park and I went up Tabletop in gorgeous sunshine but Marcy and Haystack remained socked in. On my way out past Marcy Dam two guys I had seen below the Hopkins junction heading up to Marcy with two dogs came running down the minus one dog. They said it had broken its leg and kept on moving fast. When I had seen them going up it never occurred to me that the cone of Marcy might not be a great place to take a border collie-sized dog, not ever having had one. I thought it was of a size that could readily be carried but they were long-gone before I thought of any questions like, where did you leave the dog?
At the end of this 3-day shakedown weekend I marveled at how much I had learned on Sentinel and how utterly different each day of hiking had been.