by Amy Patenaude
Sometimes I don’t make the smartest decisions and still everything ends up fine.
Danielle and I have been trying to make a winter trip up Mount Success since Christmas. Due to extreme cold temperatures and or a big snowfall we have cancelled our plans four times. But this past Wednesday we decided it was really going to be the day to do it.
Success Pond Road from Berlin is a private road that isn’t maintained for average car travel. My hiking friend Keith, from Berlin, said that Success Pond Road was plowed but it was icy. I told him I had chains and he thought we’d probably be fine.
I picked up Danielle in Concord and as we drove north on I-93 we watched to the west the big bright Super Moon sink out of sight. When we hit Franconia Notch is was snowing but as we neared Twin Mountain the sky was more blue than cloudy.
We headed up Success Pond Road and the first bit was fine because this is the access for the City of Berlin’s snow dump. Ten wheelers were traveling in and out and a bulldozer was pushing the snow away.
Here it was flat and the ground was an ice rink. I stopped the car and got out the chains. Danielle and I went to work putting them on the front of the car. But there was a problem: I had never put them on this car before and I did not know that my car’s suspension did not have clearance for the chains. Of course I had managed to jam the chain up and it took some work to dislodge the mess.
So here we were with blue sky and an icy road. I have an older Audi Q5 all-wheel drive car with new all-season tires. I decided I would give it a go anyway and attempt to drive the 5.5 miles to the trailhead. I had a shovel and a pair of cross country skis in the back just in case I thought. I rationalized if I made it up and down the big hill at the beginning we’d be fine.
Yes this was not my best decision, I decided, as I kept one side of the car’s wheels in the snowbank to keep the car from sliding down and turning into an uncontrolled bobsled. I drove slowly and let the car bounce in the frozen ruts. Danielle was quiet in the passenger seat.
45 minutes later we were parked near the trailhead where luckily a wide spot was plowed at a snowmobile crossing with room for a car or two to park.
We put on our boots and bundled up since it was only 8 degrees but there was no wind. We shuffled to the trail and discovered that a snowmobile had recently taken a ride up the trail. We tied our snowshoes to our packs and decided to bare boot it up the trail as far as the packed snow would hold our weight.
The snowmobile made it about half way to “The Outlook” and from this point the trail was still packed well by previous foot traffic. We made good time up the 1.6 miles of trail to reach this fine view ledge. The Outlook has spectacular views of the Presidentials over the nearby dramatic ledge face of North Bald Cap. The Outlook is also a fine perch to view the peaks in the North Country. Danielle and I had once bushwhacked to the summit of North Bald Cap on a cloudy rainy day and it was nice to see it.
We put on our snowshoes since the snow was not packed above The Outlook. We broke through the thin ice crust into the softer snow beneath between 1 to 4 inches. Of course occasionally we got tripped up by a deeper punch into the snow but that is the fun of snowshoeing.
Now the steep trail was behind us and the rest of the way to meet the Mahoosuc Trail/Appalachian Trail was pleasant. We pushed through some mean blowdown trees right before reaching the Bucket Tree. Over the years, pieces of a cast iron stove and rusty pails have been placed on this tree as a reminder that long ago this place was a logging camp.
We turned south on the Mahoosuc Trail and we realized there was more snow here because our heads were hitting the tree branches above the trail. Route finding was challenging since the white blazes of the AT are few and far between and were difficult to see in the snowy conditions. We quickly got up and down the steep ledge near the bottom of the col between Carlo and Success because our snowshoe’s crampons stuck fast to the ice and snow.
We put on our puffy jackets before we let Mount Success wow us with its open windswept summit. Rocks and ice covered the summit ledge. Below, the ice covered bog bridges across the frozen meadow poked through little snow. The wind was cold here. Danielle stopped to take some photos and I felt too cold to stop yet and so I hurried off past her to reach the other side of the mountain where I recalled the views were more open to the Presidentials. We enjoyed the grand vista far and wide.
On our return we walked out on the frozen ground to an area that would not be easily reached in the summer to a rocky knob with a fine view down to The Outlook.
The trip back down the mountain went by quickly. This was Danielle’s first visit to Mount Success and we could not have asked for a more splendid winter day.
I wasn’t looking forward to the drive back and in fact I forced myself during the hike not to think about the icy road because it wouldn’t help to worry.
There are mile markers on the road. Mile marker five was missing but 4, 3, 2, 1 were a welcome sight. I drove slowly and often on the wrong side of the road with my wheels in the same snowbank that delivered us to the trailhead safely.
As we neared the last big uphill and the final downhill to the snow removal dump my palms were sweating and I was nervous. I increased my speed for the steep climb and my car just barely had enough oomph to reach the crown of the hill.
I had no time to enjoy the fact we had not slid down backwards because now I could just barely see through the sun’s glare reflected off the ice covered steep chute. I couldn’t help but notice that the road aimed directly at the bulldozer parked in the middle of the flat ice rink below. We now noticed numerous truck ruts that led into the ditch where my car would find no return.
Again, thankfully my car did not turn into an out of control bobsled. With the wheels in the snowbank as far as I dared keep them we crept straight down that hill a bit faster than comfortable but the car didn’t slide into the ditch. We made it and we didn’t even come close to ramming the bulldozer.
We enjoyed a good day on the mountain and there were some scary thrilling moments on the drive that I would have rather skipped. Yes, not my smartest decision I decided. And what would I have said to my husband if he had smashed up his car on this icy road? I didn’t want to think about it, it was behind me now.
When we were back on nice black pavement something popped into my mind, “Why didn’t I put the chains on my rear tires?” Duh! Next time, right, if there is ever a next time. Have Fun.
Amy Patenaude is an avid skier/outdoor enthusiast from Henniker, N.H. Readers are welcome to send comments or suggestions to her at: email@example.com.