Mary’s Peak in the Winter

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With school and work making a big dent in my time and resources, my hiking is beginning to suffer. To fix it I decided to find the closest peak with options for longer hikes and a low-commitment drive. Solution: Mary’s Peak.

I visited Mary’s Peak this summer and I hated it, but I really wanted to give it a second chance. In July, there were mountain bikers aplenty, dull views along the trail, and ugly buildings on top. Now that it’s winter and there’s snow up there, the mountain bikers surely would be somewhere else. If I approached this hike strictly as a training hike, I could get over the ugly factor. There was simply nothing I could do about those buildings. So, I decided to go for it. Twice. And I’m sure glad I did.

In mid-February, I sneaked out of town early-ish to follow my summer route: up the North Ridge to the summit, then down the East Ridge and Tie Trail to loop back to the North Ridge for the descent. In all, there was about 9.5 miles and 2700′ of elevation gain.

Somewhere near the junction of Tie Trail and North Ridge I started to come into the snow. It was very cold outside and the snow was frozen solid. Of course, I’d left my hiking poles at home (more proof my hiking is suffering) and I had no traction devices for my feet. I carefully fumbled around on the icy snow, trying my best to step into previous travelers’ footsteps to remain steady on my feet. A group of runners came up behind me and continued along up the trail in their running shoes. That was enough to shut me up about the slippery snow and keep me moving.

Once I broke out of the trees and onto the road, I looked ahead at smooth, snowy rolling meadows. It was beautiful! And talk about slippery…

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The summit structures were all dolled up in rime ice. It was chilly up here, so I ate my lunch and didn’t hang around too long.

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It was no small feat getting down to the East Ridge trail from the summit area. I had no memory of where this trail came in and there are no signs anywhere. I looked at the map and made some guesses as to where to go. Of course, this would be a piece of cake in the summertime when you could see the ground. With the snow covering up any sign of a trail, routefinding was a bit of a challenge. To make matters worse, it was like a skating rink up there and I had nothing to stop me if I slipped and fell. I didn’t want to go for a long ride into a tree.

I poked around at the edge of treeline searching for blue paint. Aha! At last. I could see the trail, but I could see no remotely sane way of getting down there. Everything on the forest floor was covered with ice, and it was a steep slope between me and the inviting, flat trail.

All I can say is that I was glad there was no one around to see my adventurous escapades down to the trail.

Things were okay for a very short while. Soon I realized I’d be fighting with slick ice for much of the way down. The North Ridge Trail must have melted out faster. This was nasty stuff.

As I continued descending in elevation, it seemed somehow to get colder. Once I was back into the never-ending brown, I started to see light, white particles drifting and swirling around in the sky. Holy cow, it was snowing! The snow left a very light dusting on the trail. That was a pleasant surprise.

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The only living thing of interest on the entire trail was this reproducing lichen.

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A couple weeks later, in March, I returned to hike the same loop. This time I brought a partner. We’re in training for bigger and better things.

But it was different now; this time we got great views! The snow conditions on top were perfect (plus, I brought my poles!). It was clear that much snow had melted since the last time I was up there. The road near the summit was visible, and the grass on the side was clear.

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It was a wonderful, sunny day to be romping around in the woods. Everyone and their dogs were out today. Some jeepers even managed to get up the road (was that legal?). I was sure happy to leave the populated summit area and duck back towards the quiet North Ridge on the way back.

I’ll definitely return to Mary’s Peak. It’s close, convenient, and just enough snow falls in the winter to dampen down the crowds and keep the mountain bikers away. While I have nothing against mountain bikers, I find it really hard to share the trails with them while I’m hiking. So, I’ll give them the spring, summer and fall, keeping the true gem of winter to myself.

One thought on “Mary’s Peak in the Winter

  1. Aaron Gifford

    Was a fun day, really beautiful on top. I don’t really want to imagine you trying to get down that backside trail by yourself with no traction devices on your previous hike. Even with snow shoe crampons and hiking poles it was pretty sketchy when we were there and it sounds like the snow was softer. Sure was nice to cut out the long drive and get straight to hiking though.

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