Melanie and i had planned on doing a big loop around Frissell and Brace and Bear Mountains on Saturday, followed by camping at Greylock and going up that mountain on Sunday. The one little detail we didn't plan was a blizzard arriving Friday night, and going through Sunday.
Trying to guess when the roads would be at least slightly safe, and praying that the road to Mt. Frissell and the CT highpoint would be plowed, we decided to head out of Boston Sunday morning at 4. It took awhile to dig out the car, but we hit the road before 5. The Mass Pike was very snowy, and it took us over 4 hours to cross the state to Great Berrington. Heading southwest, East Street from the town of Mt. Washington (aka Mt. Washington Road) amamzingly WAS plowed all the way to the CT state line, where there was a wall of snow and 3 massive boulders in the middle of the street, and no fewer than 5 forbidding signs to make sure no one dared to somehow manage to drive into CT. There was a parking area plowed out even, on the east side of the street at the state line, with an AMC sign. This is where the trail starts that goes up Bear Mountain, and to the AMC cabin on its flank.
Throughout our hiking day, it was snowing lightly, somewhat windy, and temps were in the 20s. We buckled into our snowshoes, and started walking at about 10:00. Not knowing how long, or even IF we would be able to make it to the CT highpoint, it was a no-brainer to forgo the fancy loop plans we had made earlier. We instead headed straight for the "standard" Mt. Frissell trail by walking back north on the road for literally only a few yards, and turning west at a clearing marked only by a chain draped across to prevent auto access. The snow was about a foot and a half deep, and breaking trail was tiring and slow.
Shortly after starting up the trail, it forks, either leading you left or straight. Following the red blazes, we turned left, crossing the invisible state line for the 3rd of what would be about 15 times that day. The no-frills plodding of snowshoes came to an end soon thereafter, as we came face to face with Round Mountain. I would like to sometime see this part of the trail without snow on it. Does it have steps? Is it a true scramble? Or just an extremely steep trail? In the snow, it required hand over hand climbing, steeper than the north headwall on Mt. Washington or the rock slide on Kings Peak. But fortunately not for as long. We labored up, precariously at times, frankly pulling ourselves up by using trees as handholds (sorry, trees), and very often relying on the teeth of our snowshoes. Each step up probably averaged an effort of 4 steps, 2 pulls and an expletive. There were segments that might have benefited from using an ice-climbing axe. I wonder also about using crampons for a slope like this. The powder was so thick, but there was ice underneath...is this cramponable stuff?
This was easily the hardest section of the climb, so if you're trying it in winter, just know if you can make it past that first big slope, you're going to be ok. We topped off Round Mountain at about 11:30, following the red blazes up and over the summit, and seeing snowy views of Frissell for the first time. Looking behind us, Bear Mountain came in and out of view, depending on the clouds and falling snow.
After descending again to a saddle, we labored up another harsh snow slope, slightly less steep than the one on the east side of Round Mountain, but slightly longer. Checking my altimeter (which i trust about as much as i trust a typical talk radio host), the slope was levelling off around 2450'. Looking at the AMC map that showed the summit as being 2653', i put my head down, groaned, and trudged on...for about 3 more steps, then hitting my head on a hanging metal box. The summit register.
Ok, so it didn't QUITE happen like that, but almost. The trail at 2450' forks again (actually this whole trip i'm not really sure we were exactly on the trail, but we were judging its direction by clearings in the flora, when there weren't red blazes to go by), either taking a left or right turn. I checked a few steps down the right fork, and saw a metal box hanging from a tree, at eye level. Remembering other trip report descriptions, i knew it was the summit register, and it took us about 2 seconds to figure out that our stupid map had the summit elevation listed as 2653' instead of 2453', exactly 200' too high. I guess this is better than if they had listed 2653' when the actual summit was 2853'.
Heading back to the fork, and taking the left option, we headed downhill, passing the big cairn on the right, expecting that was probably the CT highpoint, but continuing on. I figured i would at some point see the big, towering green stake i had thought i read about. And as long as i hadn't gone past the tri-state marker, i wanted to be sure i went far enough before turning around and scouring for the HP. I walked for awhile, and when it was obvious i had gone too far (but still i hadn't seen the tri-state marker), i turned back. The big cairn was at 2370' on my oh-so-trusty altimeter, so sure this was the HP area, i started digging and scouring through the snow, making a general mess of the area. Where was that stake??? It was frustrating to not find it, but after literally 30 minutes of tromping around every inch of the area, using my cellphone to try to call some fellow highpointers, and digging with my gloves (while Melanie demonstrated altogether too much sense to be a true highpointer, by instead eating lunch and occasionally trying to convince me to give up looking), i finally called it a highpoint, and we turned back at about 1 p.m.
We signed the register and started back downhill, grateful that the drifting snow had only slightly ruined our tracks. After about 5-10 minutes, in a classic "i forgot i left the stove on" moment, i realized i had been too busy shivering to remember to take a picture at the summit. So i turned back and rehiked to the top while Melanie cemented her normalcy status by continuing down without me.
Going down those slopes was as graceful as Disney's Warthogs On Ice, but after several falls, hugging a few trees for dear life, snow going down pants and up jackets, and the occasional solid step, we made it off the trail ok at 2:30. HP #22. (#3 for Mel) Looking at the online pics of the HP area, we had been above the stake, and it was buried in snow.
I'm not positive we could have made it up a snowy Greylock in a day, even if work were cancellable on Monday, so unfortunately it was a 1-HP trip, but a memorable one. I'd like to go back and do the CT loop i had originally planned, maybe staying at the AMC cabin, and then continuing on to Greylock.
Btw, during this hike, i got the idea that if i ever start a band, i want to name it "Zero Prominence."