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Hope Springs Eternal

It is human nature always to find fresh cause for optimism.

We open the door letting in some fresh air kissed by the sun. Winter ebbs like a tide, receding and becoming less of a threat or concern. It’s not even cold today, and in the sun it’s actually warm — hot if you’re doing something in it. True to the words of Robin Williams: “Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!'” And we’re ready. The earth is thawed — at least around here — the grass greening, flowers blooming, and bugs are starting to show up. The rivers are still very cold but have settled from their muddy flows threading through a no-longer-flooded landscape. We, the mountain locals, know the cold water is the product of snow melt, but from here, looking up toward the White Mountain, you can only see a few patches of snow on “The Beach,” the “Eastern Snow Fields,” and of course in the major ravines and certain gullies. People are probably up there skiing.

Battle in Progress

This is the time of year that rising temperatures to our south prompt the so-called “flatlanders” to head on up into the mountains. In their eyes it’s a jump on summer. And this is just fine; we love the optimistic enthusiasm, but slow down. You can’t jump into summer without a springboard, so to speak. And up in the mountains old man winter is still having a stubborn fight with Persephone. She’s the daughter of Zeus and the Goddess of Spring and Nature, if you didn’t know. The struggle is real. During the day the sun beats down on the mountains. Where it hits rock the sun warms the landscape exposing more rock. It’s a cycle. Where the sun hits the snow it reflects a ton of energy (tanning the nether regions is possible), but some of that energy does melt the snow. It gets soft and wet throughout the day. When the sun sets it all re-freezes. The snow becomes hard, and more supportive if walking on it. This process continues, the snow becomes more granular turning from icy specks to BBs to “spring corn” as the skiers call it. This granular snow, at least in the day when it’s soft and forgiving — when it’s called “hero snow” — is fun to ski in.

Welcome to Monohell

Walking not so much. In winter most of the trails get flattened by people wearing snowshoes, grading the path, making it a pleasure to walk on for those preferring more uniformity. The creation of these snowshoe trails packs the snow quickly turning it to first hardpack snow, then actual ice. In the spring the non-compacted snow in the off-trail woods melts out much more quickly leaving just the hard snow and ice ribbon on-trail. Hikers will call this a “monorail” as walking on it elevates you higher than your surroundings, except this is no ride around Disney®. At first this is fine to walk on, but as things heat up even more and the monorail starts to disintegrate — still re-freezing on many nights — it becomes a difficult mess. Moreover, most hikers will eventually start post-holing in the sun-softened monorail creating opportunities to break a leg. We won’t lie. It can be a hard and even dangerous time.

How Locals Deal

One might guess you can skirt alongside this monorail, and in some places you can though you need to mind your impact and there may be a muddy price to pay so often the choice is to get on top or give up. The woods can be super thick, especially in the boreal forest, so you have to grin and bear it or, again, give up. We don’t mean to quit hiking during this time (a valid choice), there are options, workarounds, we can make decisions at this time to broaden our horizons or change our latitude. We admit, the Ossipees, the Belknaps, even Pawtuckaway, have lured us in times past. The worst part can last a week or two, but quickly lower elevation trails open up here in the National Forest and we no longer have to travel south to avoid the messiness. At this stage we can modify our days by aspect and elevation. Anything facing south, exposed to the sun, particularly a deciduous forest at lower elevation, will melt out more quickly. Knowing this helps us plan our avoidance strategy.

Ignorance is Dangerous

If one insists that they need to go to the elevation that they need to go, knowing it may be difficult, we have to say thank you. Just like breaking out a trail after a snowstorm, someone has to do it. We’re okay if you want to. There are a few spring dangers you should be aware of, though, beside the leg-breaking potential of post-holes in the annoying-at-best monorail, like we mentioned. The items on the following list should be noted.

  • Mountain weather is usually much colder, windier, and wetter.
  • Dramatic air and ground changes may occur in minutes in the shade.
  • Long, sliding falls can be a threat on steep slopes at this time.
  • Ice, snow, and rock above and around you may become loose and fall.
  • Snow bridges covering gaps will be less supportive during the day.
  • Water levels will rise throughout the day so plan crossings early.
  • Ice on slow rivers and lakes thins and should be avoided altogether.
  • Entrapment in soft snow and river features possible. Know the dangers.
  • Icy snow and rocks lead to further hiking challenges and time required.

Spring Time is Party Time

The seasons in New England are one of our joys. As soon as one season begins to wear out its welcome, a new one comes along to change the scenery and to change our outlooks. We’re fortunate for this. Happy spring, friends!

Note: Excepting open crocuses on snow photo, above, the stock photography accompanying this article is courtesy of

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