Trip Report: Osceola Surprise!

Mt Osceola (4,340 feet) East Osceola (4,156 feet). Waterville Valley and Livermore, NH. 2022-12-22 (Thursday.)

Via Greeley Ponds Ski Trail, Mt Osceola Trail, Greeley Ponds Trail. 8 miles round-trip. 3,116 feet elevation gain.

25 dF at the trailhead, 29 dF at the car. Winds were “mostly” negligible in the trees, but occasionally felt, especially at the summit. Mostly cloudy throughout the day. Not the day for endless views, but what was available was sufficient.

Trailhead: 1050. East Osceola summit: 1320. Mt Osceola summit: 1410. Car: 1630. 

Steep, strenuous, Snowy.

By dint of… oh, I dunno. Luck, actually getting moving in the morning, Mars rising before sundown, whatever. But however that one gets sliced, I hiked Osceola today. For December, this is “sweet sixteen” — East Peak was #15. I went by Greely Ponds Trail, which was a first for me in non-warm months. Meaning my preferred route, from Tripoli Road, was closed out. I don’t have backcountry skis, nor the expertise in using them, so the more extreme approaches to anything are off the table for the rest of the season. I’m told that this year, due to the scheduling of Springtime, Winter will only last about 91 days.

Photos are going to tell a good enough story for this one. Suffice it to say the trail was steep once it stopped being more or less along “easy grades.” Folks, this one rises fast, and slaps you silly in very short order. The hike up to the trail junction was quite nice, actually. After that point, one could easily say things got down to brass tacks faster than you could say “Jack Robinson.” I was hoping the col would offer some relief, but the snow was a tad greasy today. The chimney has a third route for the time being, going through the trees. I found that a nicer way to go. That said, I did a lot of glissading today. When I say things get down to brass tacks right quick, I’m not kidding. The trail is just that steep; many more times than once, I pondered what would happen if I fell. In winter, this is a different trail to what you find in the warmer months, and especially if you’re very used to the Tripoli Road approach. Caveat Emptor!

As I write this, a rain storm (yes, rain!) is bearing down on New England. No kidding, the forecast for Friday in Lincoln is supposed to include highs in the 40s before chilling down within half a dozen hours to the 20s. I’m expecting snow to get demolished and replaced with ice on a very wholesale level. On my way up and down, I passed several humans getting out before all this carnage is visited on the trails. So be aware that what wonders I saw are likely going to be a sopping mess within about 36 hours.

As always, stay safe out there.

Nuts and Bolts: Take exit 32 from Route 93. Follow Route 112 into the “real” bit of the Kancamagus Highway. You’re going a few miles past the Lincoln Woods trailhead. About a quarter mile before you get to Greeley Ponds, you’ll get to the ski trail. Unlike the former, the latter has the parking cut out as I write this. Follow the blue ski blazes, and in about half an hour or so, you’ll come to the junction with the Mt Osceola Trail. Blazes turn yellow at this point and go very steeply uphill. From here, the trail pulls no punches.

Note that at a few points, the trail gets a little committing. This isn’t as bad as on Caps Ridge (on Jefferson) but at the same time, going down is at least as hard as going up. Be forewarned, the trail will sucker punch you in a hot minute. You will need traction devices, preferably snowshoes. At the chimney, don’t take the left side (when you’re looking uphill) because a fall on the plentiful ice will mean certain death, or at least certain really nasty things happening to you that will be life-altering. Seriously, it has every ingredient to be deadly until the ice has melted in the late springtime. Go way to the right instead, where you can hike up inside the trees. Any fall there will last all of about two or three feet, where you’ll be hard pressed to build up any real momentum.

All this is saying “if you’re an inexperienced hiker, especially in winter conditions, leave this one for later, when you have that experience.” By certain of its trails, even Washington can be an absolute pussycat in comparison. Osceola can be deceptively hard. On the way up, you only see a steep climb. On the way down, you realize that’s just become a potentially steep and unforgiving fall. If this is your first round of the 48 (or your first round in winter conditions) leave this one alone until the snow and ice have gone away. Come back next winter when you’ve got a few more notches on your belt. I’ve had far easier experiences almost everywhere in the Presidentials.

If your app of choice is AllTrails, skip this one entirely until summertime.

On the topic of snowshoes v micro spikes. The trail was in fine shape overall, thanks to a bevy of hikers who mashed everything down with their snowshoes, making a nearly sidewalk-smooth route from trailhead to summit. That said, there were occasional divots and minor postholes left by hikers not wearing snowshoes. Folks, it takes a couple dozen trampers on snowshoes to make the trail a nice, smooth surface that’s a pleasure to hike along. It only takes two or three hikers in spikes to turn that loveliness into a potholed mess. When the rain comes, all this will be moot until the next snow. But the lesson remains.

Spikes are cheap. Depending on brand and style, they can be had for $75 on the high end, much less on the lower end. Snowshoes are a heftier investment — around $150 on the low end, and as much as $300 on the high end. They also take some getting used to, and that much weight is going to slow you down and tire you out. 

That said, pothole-riddled trails will slow you down and tire you out. In the snow, there’s a significant qualitative difference between the traction you get with snowshoes (huge!) v spikes. Even on ice, snowshoes provide comparable traction compared to spikes. A nice pair of snowshoes will have heel elevators, which take the burn out of your calves on the uphills. And when you have to step off the trail for (ahem!) “reasons,” you’ll love having the flotation that snowshoes provide. 

And hey, not for nothing, but Adirondack hikers already know about this. For everyone else, in the ADK wilderness areas, snowshoes are mandatory (by law!) in snow deeper than eight inches. (6 CRR-NY 190.13) I met an ADK hiker, who informed me that just this past week, they were handing out $250 fines. Imagine that kind of thing happening in the Granite State! Folks, do the right thing. Obviously, New York thinks this is important, which should say something to everyone else. Keep the trails in fine shape in winter, as you’d do in summer. 

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