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Stretching winter: Recreationists take to mountains to get winter fix

Posted: April 17, 2014 - 2:27pm  |  Updated: April 17, 2014 - 4:15pm
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In this Friday, April 4, 2014 photo, Joe Murdzek scrambles up a snowfield while climbing Mount Adams in the Northern Presidential Range of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Murdzek, 47, of East Hartford, Conn, and three high school friends have made a tradition of getting away on overnight climbing trips as a way to "hit the reset button" from the daily grind. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)  AP
AP
In this Friday, April 4, 2014 photo, Joe Murdzek scrambles up a snowfield while climbing Mount Adams in the Northern Presidential Range of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Murdzek, 47, of East Hartford, Conn, and three high school friends have made a tradition of getting away on overnight climbing trips as a way to "hit the reset button" from the daily grind. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

MOUNT ADAMS, N.H. — Joe Murdzek was leading a group of friends when he encountered a short, steep snowfield about a mile and a half below the summit of Mount Adams, the Northeast’s second-loftiest peak.

It was a clear day with unusually light winds, mild enough to go gloveless. It took two attempts, but he finally made it across the snow by scrambling on all fours, digging his fingers into the snow for better traction.

After a winter marked by the polar vortex and relentless snowstorms, most Northeasterners couldn’t wait for winter to end. But some stretch out the season by heading to the Northern Presidential Range in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

“It’s the beauty, the ruggedness, the cold, the deep blues of the sky, the little bits of rocks poking up though the white snow. You have an element of danger,” said Murdzek, 47, an insurance company actuary from East Hartford, Conn. “Hiking for hours and hours with a huge pack on your back has a way of hitting the reset button. It’s very cleansing. I was doing my war yelps all the way up!”

There are several routes up 5,798-foot Mount Adams, none easy. Lowe’s Path, probably the most popular, makes a 4.7-mile beeline from Route 2 in Randolph to the peak. A sign at the trailhead warns: “Try this trail only if you are in top physical condition, well clothed and carrying extra clothing and food. Many have died above timberline from exposure.”

“Most of these trails are like a death sentence,” joked J.P. Krol, a 29-year-old who has just started a three-month stint as spring caretaker of the Gray Knob cabin. Gray Knob, operated by the Randolph Mountain Club, is one of two cabins and two shelters open to hikers on the northern flanks of the Presidential Range.

Last week, a measuring stick behind the cabin indicated a snow depth of 37 inches.

“It’s basically like a 6-month winter,” Krol said.

Marielle Bergeron, a 59-year-old psychologist, traveled four hours from Quebec City with her sister and friend to stay at Gray Knob with hopes of climbing Mount Adams.

The White Mountains are notable for sudden storms and ferocious winds, and the good weather Murdzek’s group enjoyed the previous day had given way to freezing fog and strong winds. Bergeron’s group decided to try for the summit, knowing chances were slim.

Large rock cairns about 50 feet apart guide hikers in poor visibility. Bergeron’s group followed the trail for about a mile until visibility dropped to about 25 feet and they turned back.

An hour later they were back at Gray Knob, lunching on smoked oysters and cheese.

“We love nature and we love a challenge,” Bergeron said. “A lot of people say we are crazy. In French, we have an expression: We call it ‘douce folie.’ It means a ‘sweet madness.’”

Here’s a gallery of images from the White Mountains.

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