The morning sun streamed through the windows. I half thought about staying home, but the deep blue sky quickly overruled that idea, even with a foot of snow on the ground. I began to think about where I wanted to go. On such a clear day, I needed to find a place with a view. After thinking about a couple different trails, I soon settled on a return to the Bartlett Mountain Balds. After all, I’ve wanted to see it on a clear day with snow on the ground.
But I knew it wouldn’t be easy.
I quickly loaded up my gear and brought my snowshoes. I was soon on the road. My hope was to park at White Brook, but the trailhead wasn’t plowed and there was no berm to park. So, I drove down to Stony Brook where I found a place for my car. This approach would be longer, but not as steep.
I put on some wrap around sunglasses to protect myself from the glare and was soon snowshoeing up Stony Brook. The snow was powdery and over a foot deep. It was going to be long day. The blue sky was incredible, almost electric in its clarity. Stony Brook offered some nice views of the plateaus I would soon be climbing.
The climb up along Big Deer Brook was long and taxing. I saw odd, symmetrical porcupine tracks and several deer tracks that randomly meandered through the woods. In a few places under hemlocks, I could see where the deer had bedded down. The snow got deeper as I ascended and I had to take a rest several times. Even with snowshoes, my feet sank deep in the powder. The trail explored a deep hemlock forest covered with snow, as the forest floor had patterns of bright light and shade. A wall of fallen snow had formed on a suspended log.
The trail leveled off and I followed the snow covered brook. I startled a quail, hiding in the snow, as it exploded in the air with the beat of its wings only a few feet from me. The trail took me into a tunnel of hemlocks and to the first bald. A windblown snow formation surrounded a concealed rock. The bald was covered with snow, now almost 2 feet deep. The sun pierced through the crystalline sky. I entered another deep hemlock forest as snow covered branches arched over the trail. I tapped the branches with my poles to clear a way. The trail descended past large boulders and I reached an old forest grade. I pushed on to a rim of cliffs with large boulders. I struggled to the top where I was greeted with a series of glades along a rim of cliffs. The snow was now over two feet deep and I was wondering what purpose my snowshoes were serving. The snow was so powdery I continued to sink deep. I began to think I should turn around. I was losing daylight. But I had come too far, so I pressed on.
I followed a rim of ledges, passing white pine trees stripped of bark by porcupines, and the tracks of what appeared to be snowshoe hares. I battled through mountain laurel and lowbush blueberry. I began to reach the balds where snow drifts reached my waist. The balds were stunning with waves and furrows of wind blown snow. Boulders were surrounded by crescents of powder. A deep blanket of powder covered the narrow, overhanging ledges, the crevices and caves. The sun seared over the frozen landscape. I was exhausted.
I continued the hike up the balds and reached views to the distant plateaus and mountains. I could see over 30 miles away. Deep green spruce stood guard, insulated with pillows of snow. The sun was beginning to set as cirrus clouds began to expand from the west. I stood there as a soft breeze drifted through the spruce. There was no one else around for miles. The isolation and serenity was absolute.
And then I heard the lone howl of a coyote. It howled several times. It was in the deep spruce forests to the east. Nothing responded. It howled again, a soft echo swept across the balds. It was haunting, a chill ran down my spine. The sun began to fade in the clouds along the horizon.
I had to get back. In my haste getting ready for this hike, I forgot my headlamp. I decided to descend along White Brook. That would get me back to the road quicker, even though I would have to walk the road three miles to my car. It was easier following my tracks across the deep snow, but I soon had to break trail for the descent. The snow seemed too deep for an easy glissade and I still had to work to break trail even with the help of gravity. I should have just followed the way I came.
I descended the steep grade along White Brook as the snow covered buttresses of the plateaus glowed in the setting sun.
I reached the road at twilight and took off my snowshoes, my feet felt liberated. Despite being so tired, I walked the three miles along the road quickly back to where I parked. I reached my car in darkness.
On this beautiful winter day, I had this place to myself, accompanied only by a lone coyote.