A Blustery Fury on Dial and Nippletop

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to write this one.  I attribute it to a busy winter hiking season!

Winter weather in the mountains this year has had more twists and turns than the Superman rollercoaster.  On February 3rd, the weather hung another louie to frozen tundra land.  Decisions about what to hike changed constantly until the night before and it would be another fallback duo peak journey.  Nippletop and Dial Mountains.  It was the smartest bet for what the projected forecast but dang, was it cold!!

Morning glow over Giant Mountain.

I was fortunate enough to be joined by two new hiking friends, John and Peter.  Despite their skepticism (haha) in my winter hiking abilities, (Maybe it was my baby pack of steel that made them wonder?) I gave the day my best.  It was a good thing they were kind enough to join me because my phone froze right when we reached the AMR gate. Most of the photos were either taken by John or Peter. Good people. Neither needed these mountains for their second winter round either.  Good people.

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7:30 a.m.

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Pretty soon, we marched our way down the long slog which is Lake Road. The counterclockwise loop was the chosen route.  I only had a few shorter winter hikes under my belt at this point in the season, so my legs were fighting to keep up.  But then again, I usually need the first 2 miles to warm up anyway.  That hike to the Gill Brook Cut-off really isn’t that long, but for some reason, it feels that way…every time!

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Once we hit the cut-off trail, the snowshoes went on and the lead balloon feeling in the old legs dissipated, thank goodness.  My nerves settled somewhat…being worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up. Which would have been ok, but Elk Pass has kicked my a$$ in the past, and I wondered if my mind would put up its own battle with me if I had to climb it alone.

The junctions were plentiful and the surroundings magical as always.  It was killing me that my phone was a quitter! Not one picture. Grrrr.

These guys though!  I missed the cue for the mug shot photo! All smiles, haha!

Turned out, I was able to chase Peter for a bit and we maintained a solid pace. The clouds were prevalent and the wind whipped through the barren trees from time to time.  A few stops of photo ops here and there. Humor helps, especially in the blistering cold.  And these guys weren’t short on humor! Pete and I discussing names…what is in a name? A rose by any other name…is surely a pain in the keister. 😉

Luckily,  the trails were broken out to the junction for Colvin/Blake. I packed my crampons just in case.  There was no way to know the conditions of Elk Pass until we arrived. The laughter and good nature of conversation eased the harsh temperatures.  Peter is a machine! And I mean that with the utmost respect.  His pink buttsled disappeared from time to time behind the snow-capped evergreens, but for now, I stuck it out and hiked on with determination.  John filled the mountain air with stories of hikes gone-by and plans for future endeavors.

My hip tugged on my mind for a few minutes, which my stubborn soul ignored.  Thankful I was, though, when we reached the next junction!

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Hooray! It was time for a purple Gatorade slushy break! Love my frozen slushies. The temperature continued to plummate. I think it was 1 degree with a negative double-digit windchill.  The windburned redness of my face speaks volumes.  Freaking cold!

The trail to Colvin and Blake was broken out…Nippletop and Dial? Not so much.  No worries though, we had Pete.

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Following our quick refueling break, it was time to boogie and press onward toward the pass.  The sun fought valiantly to make an appearance, even if only for a few fleeting minutes.  The flatter terrain was a gift for the moment, knowing full well what lied ahead.

More stories about midnight snowshoeing and majestic mountain nights continued…so many amazing experiences are out there! My mental bucket list was loving it!

Frozen hat, frozen braids, frozen heart…just kidding. My hat was fine. 😉

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As we made the turn for Elk Pass, Pete forged ahead with a steadfast tenacity.  Knowing the next mile or so would be a battle for me, John passed by and climbed onward.  The few fresh inches of snow that had fallen the night before saved me.  No crampons were needed. My snowshoes, however, seem to perform better with a thick layer of snow.  Slip-sliding away I floundered a few times.

My hip tugged more forcefully on my mind, but I refused to give up. I don’t give up. Stubborn bull. Slow and steady was the theme of my cadence.  Tree trunks aided my short legs when necessary. Peter plowed ahead and John kindly waited for me from time to time on the pass.  Just in case I bit it, I guess! Haha!

Determination in her soul.  Fire in her heart now!

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Always find the light in the tough times.  And always find a reason to smile.  Like here, when I blindly believed I was “almost there.”

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Elk Pass…my ass kicker trail.  I’m still not sure why honestly.  I’ve hiked tougher trails. But for some reason, this one knocks me off my feet every time! My stride was breaking down and my body inefficiently relied on those big muscle groups to deliver me to the ridge.

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Yes!! NOW, I was almost there! Oh my gosh, I felt like death! But I made it, frozen like a popsicile and pretty soon…

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A smile once again!  A super quick drink break, dropped packs and it was time to go get my mountain!

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I should mention that the wind up on the ridge was ridiculous! I think we passed a lone hiker on her way down from the summit.  She appeared much less exasperated than I…my body was still in conditioning mode.  Yea…that was it. 😉

The longest .2 ever and then…

That view!! Ha! It was a blustery fury, but nonetheless, I reached my 20th winter high peak on the summit of Nippletop Mountain!! Woohoo!

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Peter was thrilled too! Heehee. This team…they were amazing There was no shortage of encouragement mixed in with tough love teasing.  We were just missing Kristen! I was pinch-hitting for the day, but honestly, those shoes could never be filled.

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We cruised back down to the ridge junction and I desperately needed my hot water and Gatorade slushy to bring me back to life!  Peter needed to keep moving so off he went. I required some nutrition, as did John but the howling mountain air pierced through my bones.  The guys didn’t seem phased by it.  Tough hikers.  I’m still building my toughness.

But I’m smiling…still smiling!

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The climb up to Nippletop expended an enormous amount of energy for me.  I struggled  a bit to keep up now. Tenacity and determination ran through my blood though and my legs pushed me on further.

Once out of the wind, we paused to refuel.  Honestly, I didn’t feel like eating. It’s my downfall. I’m a terrible eater when I hike, especially in the winter. I just want to keep moving.  Unfortunately, though, the no-eating thing throws me right into shutdown mode. It’s a vicioous cycle. Ha!

John forced me to eat. Thank goodness. Cheese. Cheese was my savior and brought me back to the land of the living.  Good people. I was in the graces of good people for sure.  The breaks were short in order to maintain heat.  John hiked on ahead as I continued to battle with my hip.  A fleeting thought raced through my mind, wondering if I could actually be a Winter 46er.  What if my hips wouldn’t allow it? This was hard. My body was fighting like the devil to stay alive.  Meh! I shook that thought right out of my head and forged through the pain.

Peter was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, talking with John, when I, a.k.a. The Caboose, finally showed up!

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Oh the laughter that followed!!! My legs were so tired, I couldn’t even haul myself onto the summit rock.  I had to crawl…hahahaha!! #shortgirlproblems

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Despite the crawling shenangans, victory!! Dial Mountain was my 21st winter high peak! Boom! Almost blown off the rock, I didn’t even stand up!

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Not sure what is going on here?! Either we are performing a Broadway show or we trying not to blow off the freaking mountain! Hilarious! Laughter truly is the best medicine.

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At this point, Peter bid us farewell and dashed on.  He’s fast! I still had to contend with Bear Den (no biggie) and then Noonmark’s shoulder (that would be the final butt-kicker.)

The tunnel vision and “get me off the mountain” took over now. I was frozen.  Happy. But frozen.  Like Elsa. Only not pretty. Just yucky. Pretty yucky.

“Grunts of effort replaced with gleeful laughter.”- JK  Yup! So true!

A few bumps here and there with the bum hip, so buttsliding was the fastest way down! Age knows no limits in the mountains. In life, it’s important to remember how well you played!

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Then…the road! John shouted back to me that we were at the road!!! YESSS!

WOO HOO!!

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A high five and it was time to ditch the snowshoes!! Thank goodness! My hip threw its own party to celebrate as well!  We joined Peter in the parking lot not soon after. He was maybe 15 minutes or so ahead of us.  2:30 p.m. Incredible.

This loop was completed in 7 hours!! Holy crap! For as much of a struggle it was for me, 7 hours! 14 miles in 7 hours. Not bad. Not bad at all.  Pride swelled a little. I did ok with my new hiking friends.  With my baby pack of steel and all.

Reflecting back, this day was my turning point.  My conditioning hike. A good wake-up call.  I had become lax with my hip rehab, and it smacked my right in the face.  Time to hit the gym again and rehab my way back to strong.

Thank you again, Peter and John, for taking a chance on me.  I am thankful for your advice, jokes, toughness and endless fun!  Always a student.  I look forward to hiking with you again and Kristen too next time!

Thank you, Universe for allowing me the opportunity to test my abilities and push myself past my limits once again.

But most importantly, as long as you find a reason to smile each day, it’s all gonna be alright.  It’s all gonna be alright. Play.  Laugh. Smile.

Buttsliding into the next adventure,

J

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