If you stop hiking for four months and avoid all forms of exercise, due to sickness, sloth, or both, it should not be surprising to discover your fitness level "ain't what it used to be". Nevertheless, I was surprised.
Enthusiasm for attending the Winter Gathering broke my stint of living the 'veal life'. The ability to secure a room at the Ark Trail Inn, at the last minute, was surely a biblical sign of impending transformation and salvation. Off to the wilderness I went to be saved from at least one deadly sin.
The Wolfjaws satisfied my need for a nearby objective that I had not hiked in winter. Thirteen miles and 2700 feet of ascent, from the Gardens, seemed like a reasonable itinerary. Given the spring-like conditions, I predicted completion in six-and-a-half-ish hours. Bold talk from a mouldering couch potato.
Armed with snowshoes, crampons, and μspikes I set off from the Gardens at 6:10 AM, headlamp ablaze. I was the first to sign in and break the forest's silence with the crunching of metal on crust. By day's end, sixty more would aerate the same frozen path.
Before long, dawn's soft light allowed me to extinguish the harsh glare of my third-eye. Devoid of snow, the path reminded me of conditions last April, yet this was February! This year's winter was proving to be a lamb to last year's lion.
Despite a self-evident lack of need, government-mandated snowshoes decorated my pack. I did not wish to be mistaken for a scofflaw Canadian; just a Canadian, please. Thank you.
An hour and a quarter later, the Interior Station popped into view. I stopped on the suspension bridge and marvelled at the mayhem of ice that is Johns Brook. A left turn plus two-hundred and fifty paces brought me to a trail junction. The walk-in-the-woods section was over and now it was time to ascend.
Wolfjaw lean-to was occupied by late sleepers. Perhaps they were recovering from a strenuous hike or were simply indulging their inner sloth. Either way, the crunching of my passing footsteps was reveille; rise and shine!
As everyone knows, last spring, Irene carved her signature across the High Peaks. Her blade swept across the WolfJaw trail and narrowly missed the lean-to. Had it occurred in a town it would have been a tragedy. Fortunately, Irene gouged the woods and the result is an ‘Ode to Entropy’ in the style of Deconstructivism. The piece is irresistible; you are drawn to enter, explore, and experience it. I must return one day and walk its length to appreciate it fully.
I reached Wolfjaws col at 8:45 AM, performed a mental coin-toss, and chose the lower mandible as my first objective. After easily surmounting two icy pitches, I arrived at a blunt-faced mass of amber ice. It laughed at my boots' baby-teeth.
Years ago, a shopkeeper insisted I carry my purchases, a loaf of rye bread and liter of milk, in a bag. His explanation, an entire philosophy crammed into two words, was: "Why suffer?". Why indeed; I had 12-point crampons and put them on. Now sporting a sizeable overbite, my boots eagerly bit into the frozen beer and made it shout "Respect!".
Lower WolfJaw will never win a 'Best Views' contest unless the other contestants are the likes of Cliff, Marshall, and Emmons. Moreover, its appellation bears all the charm of 'Anterior Sacroiliac'. Nevertheless, it represented my seventeenth winter peak and so it was Olympian and gorgeous.
The 700 foot descent to the col was a breeze and I immediately began ascending the upper maxilla. My fanged feet developed new confidence yet trouble was a-brewing. My heels had become blazing coals despite being shod in well-worn boots, swaddled in two layers of sock, and anointed in Boudreaux's Butt Paste. My feet are a never-ending source of discomfort and complaint. I have labelled the condition 'Orthopaedic Claustrophobia'; when confined in a dark, airless, humid environment, my feet freak out.
Loathe to stop and disassemble gaiters, crampons, and boots, I chose stoicism. Besides, taping heels is best done with dry feet and mine were currently stranded in the tropics. Fortunately, they never developed blisters but did glow fire-engine red for a full day afterwards.
I ascended an icy ramp sporting not one but two makeshift 'lifelines'. Ostensibly a handrail, I believe its true purpose is an 'object lesson' for the gullible willing to entrust their safety to refrozen, UV-aged, parachute cord. Snap! Oh, snap!
The glacial erratic, perched atop Upper WolfJaw’s false summit, was veneered in ice. Sunlight reflected off the verglas and gave it a presence worthy of 2001's monolith. Despite being a so-called 'lesser summit' of Upper Wolfjaw it wins out over Lower Wolfjaw’s meagre views.
I arrived at the true summit at 10:55 AM. Lunch consisted of two frozen Builder's Bars; dinner at the Gathering would more than compensate for the 'astronaut food'. A few photos of myself atop peak number eighteen, some time to savour the crisp air and warm sunshine, and I was off.
Below the col, I met Topo charging up the slope. He was heading to Upper Wolfjaw and after a brief exchange we parted company. Within minutes I met Tmax, destined for Lower Wolfjaw. Her knee was doped with cortisone but still sufficiently lucid to inflict tremendous grief. Nevertheless, she was committed to complete her assigned peak. I admire her fortitude and commitment.
I stopped at WolfJaw lean-to and swapped out the fangs for chains. For variety, I crossed Irene's oeuvre and headed back via the Woodsfall trail. I traversed frozen-over Johns Brook and emerged at JBL at 12:50 PM. The balance of the hike was a pleasant walk in the woods. Sloth was banished and replaced by a welcome sense of invigoration.
I arrived at the Gardens at 2:05 PM. It had taken me eight hours to complete the hike instead of my optimistic prediction of six-to-seven. Clearly, five months of indolence takes its toll on performance. Moreover, a day later, the Brotherhood of Hip and Knee Joints called a wildcat strike and had me hobbling like a lame horse.
My bed became Brother Hip's podium and his rallying cries kept me awake all night. Brother Knee chose to dictate his terms on my staircase. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable hike and I don't regret a moment of it. As soon as the strike is over, I'll be back for more.