And so it finally came. The return to the Pilots. We tried for the 3 peaks we needed in January on a bitter cold, and as we got up to the ridge, windy day. End of story there. This time, the forecast promised some sun, temps. in the 30's and 40's and light winds. This was big for Brian and I, as it represented the last peaks north of Rt. 2 that we needed.
I was concerned about recent snow that fell up there, but managed to find a webcam in Pittsburg showing only a couple of inches. I was also concerned, being so much further north that the snow depth up high would be bad. As we arrived in Lancaster, though, no snow was to be seen, so we left the snowshoes in the car, much to the relief of my back.
We set off on the same route we took before, passing familiar landmarks, and we were making great time. What an amazing difference. As we climbed to the Mary/Middle col, patches of snow appeared, and finally a solid cover with some ice underneath, but all the while the snow depth was never more than an inch. More concerning was a layer of snow on the trees. This could get bad if we hit bad woods. Ah well, onward.
We reached the col, took a nice break, and enjoyed a viewpoint there towards Franconia.
We then headed up to Mt. Mary, formerly E. Pilot, now named after a prominent hutmaster's wife. It was a very quick trip on easy terrain and good woods. We went back to the col, went northeast a bit and found open woods. We headed in a direct line to the summit other than some little bypasses in wide open woods. Boom. Holy cow we were making great time, and as a bonus the sun was coming out. The snow depth was still only an inch. We had fun playing with a moose antler on the summit.
We talked about going to West Pilot, a peak that used to be on the 3k list, but has since been discovered to not have enough prominence. Moving along so quickly, why not? It wasn't a lot of elevation gain, and it was along the way. Plus it would break up the traverse over to Hutchins. So, off we went, again in great woods the whole way. Bonus, the sky now completely cleared. We'd occasionally hit an open area with deep snow, but by and large, the one inch depth held. Incredible that it was still March!
About the most I can say about West Pilot is it's perhaps the funniest peak I've ever been on. Well, time to head off to Hutchins, and then get down and hit our favorite North Country restaurant, Scorpio's. I had mentioned when in doubt stay on the east side of the ridge to stay in wide open woods. As we headed out, we were dropping off to the west, though, staying in open woods. Much mocking of me at this point. “Oh look how tight these woods are! Mike, Mike, where are you?” Grunt. We'll see. We did hit some moderate woods then, nothing major, and we were still moving well, but we were still dropping off the ridge. We then had to fight a bit to gain the ridge, again in moderate woods. Again, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't nearly as nice as the open woods I knew existed “over there.” I mocked back, but the woods weren't bad enough for that to really take.
We ended up just west of the col, and after some more zigging and zagging finally made the east side of the ridge, where the woods opened right up. Smug satisfaction on my part. We headed up along the side, with Greg doing a good job of staying out of the crap, even on the steep cone until the last minute just before we reached the summit. Unfortunately, now the snow was dumping on us. Crap. The last peak. I had heard about a view near the summit, and it was obvious where it was, so off I headed. Oh yeah, this was a nice view, with the Percys prominent, and a bunch of the Maine peaks visible.
OK, time for Scorpio's! Greg wanted someone else to lead, and I happily volunteered. I heard the ridge wasn't too bad, and then we'd hit a subridge to get down to the valley. Everyone was getting cold from being wet, so I was getting all flustered trying to gather up my crap and get oriented. And so I immediately pointed in the wrong direction. Screw that damned GPS. Dug out the map, adjusted the compass and got the bearing. Greg suggested backtracking a bit. Nah, let's just go. Dumb. Really dumb. It was thick from the get go. Worse, we were getting constantly pushed towards the West peak col, which we could clearly see. Dammit!
Thus, the mocking of my leading skills and beta gathering began. Clearly, the north side of the ridge was not where the other folks were, but I couldn't find any decent openings going to the left, and so we got pushed further. We were getting snow dumped on us like crazy now. Argh. I finally just had to slab and push like hell to start moving over to the other side. It wasn't pretty, and it certainly wasn't fast. I was getting really aggravated at this point. Finally it opened a little, which felt marvelous. As we went along, it opened right up finally. Cripes!
OK, now we're good! I took another bearing to the spot I wanted to be at in the valley. I had to be careful to stay right, as left would hit some horribly steep stuff. So of course, I got pushed left, but generally stayed on course. As it turns out, we weren't on the horribly steep stuff, just on the very steep stuff. More cursing at me. I can't win. After what seemed to be forever, we flattened out. At least Brian noticed that yeah, we really did miss the bad steeps. From there it was a matter of finding a old road (which was annoying) and then a quick trip out.
Funny how you think it's going to be an easy day, and then things go horribly wrong, but that's the way it is. You can't (and really, nor should you) know how every inch of woods is going to be, that's part of the adventure. Although I really could've done without the ton of snow dumping on me.