After much, much procrastinating, the time had come to tackle a winter ascent of Allen. Such an innocuous name, "Allen Mountain". Doesn't sound particularly tiring and challenging, like, say, a "Slog Mountain", or perhaps "PITA Peak". Don't be fooled, however. Allen is a long slog, leaning a little more to the mental side of difficult than the physical side, but still with a good dose of the latter.
Carefully poring over the forecast for the approaching weekends, we settled on a day that had a so-so forecast: mostly cloudy, chance of snow showers, moderate temperatures. I didn't want to put off tackling Allen for too long. Our intention was/is to finish the winter 46 this year, and to do it with a finish on "good" peaks. Allen wasn't on our "good" list, and so we wanted to get it out of the way before the final climbs.
From my experience with Allen the first time, four years ago, I knew that the approach to Allen was a long, long walk through a patchwork of old logging roads, private lands, and right-of-ways. The elevation profile of a hike up Allen involves 10 kilometres (6 miles) of almost flat walking before starting to make the actual ascent of the peak. With a hope of making this tiring trudge both shorter and more interested, I proposed skiing in over much of the flat stuff, then switching to snowshoes.
The lumpy section
With grudging acceptance, Ewart and Jenn agreed to my ski-and-snowshoe plan. We started off from the trailhead shortly after 6am. Surprisingly, the sky was mostly clear and the stars were out.
A bit unsteady on our long-and-narrow classic cross-country skiis, we bumbled our way along the trail, across the Hudson and Lake Jimmy, and onto the network of old logging roads. Here, we encountered an excellent recent ski track, probably left by someone coming in from the private lands on the far side of the Opalescent. It was heavenly to be able to glide along the track, chewing up ground at a faster-than-hiking pace. This might just work, I thought.
Unfortunately, all too soon the track we were following went straight ahead into private land at a spot where the trail headed left, and we were forced to break trail. No problem, I thought - I remembered that this was a short-ish connector route that ultimately led back onto another good, flat logging road.
The connector trail between the two roads turned out to be less than ideal for skiing. Firstly, there wasn't enough snow depth to fully cover the uneveness of the terrain underneath. This in itself wasn't so bad. What made it much worse was that the recent rainstorm / thaw had created numerous areas that had melted down to swampy and wet ground underneath, and this was covered with a thin layer of new snow and ice. This made for tricky and slow going on skiis. In one spot some wettish ground result in some wet slush freezing onto Ewart's skiis, and we had to stop and wait quite a while as he laboriously scraped at the stuff. Then, to cap it off, in one spot I carefully edged across a nice flat-looking spot between some mounds of snow. Crrracck, crr-ack. Uh-oh. CRRR-ACK, sploosh!
If I'd not had skiis on, I could have easily scrambled out of the 1 to 2-foot deep water that I had crashed into. Tried as I might, though, I couldn't manhandle the unweidly skiis out quick enough, and within seconds my ski boots were filled with the fetid water (suprisingly fetid smelling, it was). Great. Finally managing to get myself out of the mess, I immediately tried to clean off my skiis, knowing otherwise very shortly they would be entirely encased in ice and not particularly useful for sliding on snow. my feet were soaked, but - for the moment - still feeling fairly warm. Things were not going so great anymore. The speed advantage that we'd gained by skiing in to this point had now been fully negated by this little incident (and Ewart's before it).
Nice road again
Now with noticeably less glide (there was obviously still a few patches of ice on the bottom of my skiis that I'd been), we finished the "lumpy" section (that's what I'm going to call it from now on) and arrived at the road that parallels the Opalescent. Here at least, we made pretty decent time, cutting a nice new ski track through the light powder that covered a firm base. This part would hopefully be a beautiful glide back later on. Unfortunately, as we skiied along, my soaked feet became colder and colder. Even the activity of skiing wasn't warming them up.
By the time we arrived at the bridge crossing the Opalescent, we thought it was time to switch to snowshoes. I needed to get into warmer footwear, and we knew that the trail became a little more uneven from this point on.
I gratefully accepted Jenn's offer of fresh, dry socks, and changed into them, and then donned my mountaineering boots. Still cold (but at least now dry), I needed some stiff walking to warm them up. I hung up my wet socks and ski boots on a tree branch for some 'freeze drying' (ha ha).
Approaching the logged area
Ok, so... now on snowshoes, we crossed the bridge across the Opalescent and hiked through the logged land. It was definitely nicer in the winter than when I did it four years ago on a soggy, wet November. Much clearner looking, and today we had an actual view. The sun had come out, and we could see views to the surrounding peaks: Cliff Mountain, Mount Redfield, Calamity Mountain, and Mount Adams and it's teeny fire tower. Allen was still not visible, being further away on the right. That sucker is far in!
It was an uneventful and fairly easy trailbreak through the logged land. There was about 6 to 8 inches of fresh powder, and we could see the faint remnants of the previous hikers who were in here last weekend. Ewart had his own water adventure where the trail crosses a small brook, pitching his hand and side into the flowing water when a bit of the crossing gave way under him. Fortunately, though, it was not a major wettage event and we were soon on our way. The crudely drawn signs for 'Marcy' and 'Allen' were encountered, and, soon after that the gravel pit (all of this section is quite well signed and marked, for those of you who haven't been up to Allen yet).
The next phase was a gradual ascent up to a pass over a low ridge that separated us from Allen itself. We hiked up the wide old logging road, but again here the recent rains and freeze had created a lumpy hodgepodge of good deep snow and very thin snow and ice over muddy and swampy ground. We were therefore required to snake back and forth around and across this stuff. Somewhat annoying. Outside of these wet and thin sections, though, the snow conditions were perfect for snowshoeing.
Eventually we reached the height of land, and stopped and had a good snack break. It was surprisingly warm and still fairly sunny (relative to the forecast, that is). We weren't complaining.