• Laura Ventresco

Starr King & Waumbek: Snowshoeing, Weather, and a Missing Blaze

Peaks: Mt. Starr King (52 list) & Mt. Waumbek (4k footer list)

Miles: 7.2

Hike Date: 02/10/2018

Summit Beer: Fireball

AKA Blaze's Birthday hike as his birthday is coming up- on 2/14 he will be 5 years old

We finally did it guys! Our first 4000 of 2018 and of this winter season. We have been conditioning up to it with smaller hikes and adventures. This was the biggest we've done in a while, and I will tell you we are all feeling day 2. I was craving that challenge and excitement of a new 4000 foot hike, so it felt great to get out there.

We started our journey north a little later than anticipated. Our crew consisted of Myself, John, Luke and the pups- Blaze and Luna. I even packed the night before in excitement! No excuses! We had to be ready to rock in the AM. But we are the worst at mornings so time gets away from us. We fueled up with a healthy breakfast of bagels and donuts and hit the highway. This mountain is a bit further north and took an hour and 45 min from Concord.

The road to the trail is not plowed out in Winter, so we parked at a lot just before Starr King Rd and road walked the short distance to the trail.

Some Rookie mistakes were definitely made that you will soon read about...

  1. The late trail start

  2. Starting off bundled up with too many layers

  3. Donuts are not great hiking fuel

As we started hiking things were just not going smoothly. Due to the cold start we had WAY too many layers on and had to keep breaking to unlayer, change, and switch things. There truly is a science to winter hiking and its important to ace your system to prevent sweating and freezing on a mountain. Before we knew it, we were down to just base layers, I was even hiking in a T-shirt at one point. This also meant that my backpack was extra heavy and filled with all my clothing. The men did not have the same complaints about their packs.. but I'm obviously the weakling of the group. I had to stop what felt like every 10 minutes to adjust my straps and try to shift the weight around. Probably time for a new backpack with a little more support.

The trail was a perfect winter wonderland up at higher elevation. So strange how the beginning of the hike is almost spring like, then ahead a few more miles a subtle transformation takes place to complete FULL ON winter bliss. There was a light snow flurrying on us throughout the day blocking any views from the summit of Starr King, but plenty of awe-striking forest all around to make up for it. My Mom shared with me the day before that the literal meaning of Waumbek is "Snowing Mountains." So very fitting, and gotta love the Mom facts.

Starr King Chimney

My poor hiking partners today, I was seriously hiking at a snail's pace. This is where the donut error came in... I usually eat a more substantial breakfast for fuel. John was way ahead with the dogs and Luke and I were chatting about gear, and making small talk to pass the time. We finally summit Starr King just after 2pm, meaning we had 3 hours to summit Waumbek and hike another 4.5 miles. With the close call of daylight we put it into overdrive mode and decided to hustle.

Luke (AKA Little Bro)

On our way to Waumbek I somehow managed to trip into a small spruce trap. I am the clumsiest human ever! & I consistently forget that you cannot walk backwards in snow shoes. We finally summit and the snow is coming down. There wasn't much time for celebration due to the daylight limit so we drank our fireballs in quick fashion, got some photos and headed back down the mountain.

Due to the snow on the summit my camera lens got a little covered. I had it in my pack most of the day due to protect it , for good reason as once I pulled it out this happened:

We did it! #31/ 48 for me.

I'm going to be real with you guys.. we were hurting. Exhausted, hurting in strange places, and just ready to get off this mountain. Anytime the trail switched to uphill my legs practically screamed at me. You would think I would be conditioned for this!

I'm always reminded of this quote on the way out. The mountains are such a special place, but so is my bed...

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep."

We are making great time, and conversing about what kind of bomb food we will eat post hike. Hiking burns crazy calories- sometimes upwards of 2000 in a single day hike. So it's important to re-fuel post hike. There is something so rewarding about a hot meal after. I love things in life that make you appreciate the basics like that. We like to find somewhere to stop on our way home.

That's when Blaze gets onto a scent and takes off into the woods. We call and call him but he is not listening whatsoever. On our hike down, it had to turned to rain. Once we stop moving the cold sets in. & There's the constant reminder that we are gambling with daylight. We call and call until our voices are hoarse. I even try using my survival whistle to see if I can get a call to carry further than just where our worried voices can reach.

But Blaze is no where to be found.

We scan the area that he took off in, the snow is deep. There's a river below, half covered in snow and ice. The wrong footing could have him in the river or in a spruce trap in no time. It's terrifying. A feeling of complete defeat, that you can't do anything, it's just not in your power. But to hope and pray with all your might that he will return, and that he will return safely. John followed his tracks for a while, but it gets to a point where its not safe for him to continue on either. Even Luna called for him. The saddest, bravest howl. Calling to her brother, begging for his return.

Dusk is sweeping over, relentlessly. Nightfall doesn't wait for anyone, not even us with missing family. We have no choice but to continue to hike on. The emotions in this moment are just too much to bear. We don't say much to each other, then again we don't really have to. We are all silently plead for him to come running up the trail behind us. The uncertainty hangs heavy as we make it out, back to the start of the trail. Still, with no sign of Blaze. John decides to go get the car while Luke and I are still calling, hoping Blaze will return.

The car is now parked. Just waiting for us to pack up and start our nearly 2 hour commute home. As if we weren't already worn out enough- the yelling and backtracking up hill to look for Blaze had taken anything we had left. But we didn't have him. The thought of leaving without him was completely breaking my heart. We were all too spent to hike back up a mile, & its most likely unsafe in our wet layers to keep looking, but how do you just drive away without him?

John ventures forward with his headlamp, calling into the night for a final attempt. Luna is safe in the car and resting with me. When John's voice changes:

"You guys, I hear him...He's coming back."

By the time John could say he saw Blaze, I had burst into tears. I have never been so happy to see this dog (but also pissed at the same time that he would do this to us.) We put him in the car, thanking all our lucky stars and finally, we could head home.

Blaze hasn't left our side since.

**Don't worry guys, we've taken some precautions so this never happens again. We've ordered Blaze's replacement e-collar remote to help keep him closer to us. As well as plan on implementing some immediate training.

Happy Hiking Friends! Don't forget to give your dogs a big hug today :)

- Laura the Explorer

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