My first non-solo hike in maybe 10 years. I can get really uncomfortable in unfamiliar social situations, but this group made me feel at ease almost immediately. We started up the Greeley Ponds Trail and a nice pace, the flat trail being well packed. We stopped here and there, usually to Bob H.'s funny stories, and off we'd go again. We'd start to get glimpes of the east side of Osceola through the trees (a bonus of winter hiking), and we made it to the Mt. Osceola Trail seemingly in no time. It was around 3F at the start of the hike, but we and the air were warming up quickly. I was down to a Techwik undershirt and a microfiber shirt and very comfortable up to first viewpoint.
I was worried about my physcial shape, as I've only been hiking once a month lately, but I had covered about 6 miles and 1700 veritcal feet on my last hike. Heading up the first part was very comfortable, and I was feeling very good about this. I had my usual clumsiness, having my pole sink deep and losing balance slightly, etc. etc. Eventually the trail got steeper, and I had to focus on traction. I have new snowshoes (a gift), some brand called Guide Gear, and they do have traction on the bottom. I had seen earlier the flotation was terrific. but I was starting to have trouble keeping from sliding backwards. Part of this was definitely technique, as the terrain got steeper and steeper (I forgot how steep this trail is!). I had to keep reminding myself to hold my weight on the balls of my feet to keep digging in, and occassionally step hard into the snow on top of that. At one point, I slipped right backward into New Hampshire, and it took some effort to extricate myself. Oy. He nicely and correctly suggested I switched to barebooting, as the surface was plenty firm, but at that slope, I was worried about my pack sliding down into nothingness.
We finally made it to the slide after much effort. I was still feeling physically OK, but I was promised one final steep pitch to the gentle slope leading to the summit. The slide offered some really nice pictures, and my eyes kept being drawn to the slide on the west side of Mt. Kancamagus, and to the west peak and cliffs of Huntington, my last peak in the Whites. Huntington brought back some great memories, save for the cannister hunt from hell.
The final pitch was brutal and seemed to never end. This is where I was having serious trouble moving forward. Fortunately at this point, I took up the rear while the others went ahead. The last section was the worst, with loose snow, I could hardly keep traction and kept sliding backwards. The others were out of sight, but I knew they were at the side trail to the viewpoint, so I just kept swearing at my shoes (or myself) and slowly and finally made it up. The views were really nice, and from there I could see the trek over to Osceola was a pretty easy one (save for knowledge of the fabled chimney). But I had serious doubts about making it over there and back. Well, over there would probably be ok for want of that peak, but going back up E. Osceola was probably going to take everything I had, even if the slopes weren't that bad. Ah well, that decision to be made later.
The winds were whipping at that point, as the forecast promised. We had been nicely sheltered until this point, but now snow was being blown off the trees. I finally ditched the snowshoes, and while holding one glove, I looked around in a very confused manner as to where the other glove went, including looking nervously off trail down a steep side. Finally I asked the group if anyone had seen my other glove, to which New Hampshire immediately replied "You mean the one on your hand?" Oh yeah, that's the one. Durr. Welcome to the World of Salty, folks. :)
I was happy to be out of the shoes, and we quickly made the summit. The cairn (practically the only thing I remember), was still visible, at least the top 8" of it. This was BobC's 47 out of the 48. Sweet. Some summit pix, and then a discussion on what to do. I knew BobC wasn't particularly concerned with Osceola, and I perhaps badly invoked his name and my jelly legs in wanting to skip it, mainly so if people who wanted to continue, I wouldn't be necessarily heading down solo, which being a solo guy, hardly would have been an issue anyway. The group decided all head down without any sense of disappointment. This is good, because I have a really sensitive sense of guilt. :)
We stopped at the view near the top to the east, and took in some more great views. Amantio mentioned spruce traps, and no kidding, it looked like spruce trap hell just below us!
Now it was fun time. Butt sliding! I had only done a bit of this in my last Minks hike, but this was to a totally new level. There were some great runs for length, and some for speed. One in particular I was moving fast (and llllloving it!), and had to take a turn. Wheee! We got down pretty quick thanks to this. Amantio was in crampons, so no sliding, but he was moving fast too. We made it back to the views of the cliffs and someone noticed climbers up there. Hard core! The general consensus was "no bleeping way", but it was amazing to see what these guys were doing. We made it back to the trail junction, and another decision to be made. Geri asked if we wanted to go to the ponds, and Bob H. just wanted lunch. I liked this and let Bob know :) Even going down was taking more out of me, trying to keep my balance heel sliding a fair deal of the way. Wimpy-Man has arrived!
The last 1.3 miles was quick and pretty quiet, save for the labs we had seen on the trip who kept barking everytime we came into view. Being labs, I didn't feel too threatened. :)
We headed off to the Woodstock Inn for food and drink for a really nice after-hike get-together. Nice to be back in the Whites, nice to hike with people again, and nice to meet some of the folks I've seen online.