It had long been in my mind that Judy and Emma would finish their W48 on Lafayette together if and when it was to occur. Well, like so many plans, circumstances have changed, and so have the plans we set long before circumstances forced them to change. At any rate, again, beyond hope, we have been blessed with another winter summit together with the toughest little girl we know, Emma. This puts her winter total at 41, not too bad for a 13.5 yo Pomeranian who we rescued as a pup from the streets of Lawrence, Mass. Her earliest days had been spent scrounging for garbage and dodging cars, a 10 week old stray.
As I have said before it was never a certain thing, nor even a goal that any of us would ever hike the 48 in winter. I was blessed to finish my list last year as we have been chipping away at them over the years. After an injury and surgery to her right rear knee on an ill-fated hike last March, I think it safe to say that Emma has made a full recovery and is still doing very well for a dog of her stature and age. Exhausted after the hikes, she still does the same thing she has always done and that is to sleep in the back seat for the 2+ hours ride home, only to hit the ground barking upon our arrival, announcing to the world that she has conquered yet another mountain.
Lafayette was my first winter 4k 12 years ago. Judy and Emma were not interested in joining me at the time, nor was I interested in bringing them out to face winter in the mountains with little to no experience myself. I teamed with a friend from work who had lots of experience on mountains all over the world, but who over extended himself on Lafayette that day. He went down with a back injury and although he made it off the mountain himself was laid up for weeks afterwards. My winter hiking took hiatus almost as soon as it had begun. Not thinking it wise to hike in winter alone and not knowing anyone else "crazy" enough to join me, winter hiking in the 4ks went on the shelf for a couple of years.
In the meantime Judy, Emma and I struggled with learning the ins and outs of winter hiking on our own by taking on smaller mountains, trying different types of traction and clothing, and learning to regulate body heat by adding and removing layers. Eventually I convinced them that we were ready and would be alright on a winter 4k. In '03 we ascended Mount Pierce and faced fierce winds and blowing snow which filled our tracks. The deep snow obliterated all signage, and this caused us to descend too far from the summit in search of the Crawford Path. A quick realization of the mistake, and knowledge of the path gained on previous fair-weather hikes soon corrected our course and we survived our mistake. Over the next few years we began pecking away at the 4ks as the winters came and went. On all our forays into the mountains in winter, beside us was our little dog, Emma.
As I've said repeatedly in other essays, Emma's safety and comfort were foremost in our minds on all our hikes, winter or otherwise, and will continue to be our objective rather than gaining another summit for as long as we can hike together. There is no patch for dogs who have completed the W48, and for good reason. It is one thing for me to go out and risk my safety in the mountains in winter, but quite another to bring along a creature who will devotedly follow me to the ends of the earth at her own peril. As Emma has gotten older, and of course after last winter's setback, the idea of getting her to all the summits in winter has sunk to the bottom of things we wish to still do with her while we still can. I would gladly spend the rest of her days sitting in the shade beside her as she slept an old dog's sleep in the quiet by the pond, but it seems she still has some adventure left in her, and for as long as she is willing, we will try to satisfy that need.
All that said, Emma had a very good hike not unlike her much younger self. The snow was firm for her to walk on, so she had no snow-balling issues, no ice in the fur between her toes, just perfect for little dogs who are concerned about such things. Judy and I wore snowshoes from the parking lot to the summit, though there was little snow above timberline where micro-spikes would have been the better choice. Most of the summit was scoured of snow exposing the bare rocks which were filled in between with patches of ice. Damp, freezing fog on the summit with visibility of about 100' made for a short visit. The fog froze on my beard, Emma's fur and Judy's hair. We met some hikers who had crossed the ridge from Lincoln and we swapped cameras for some summit shots, then headed back down to the hut where there was less wind and more visibility.
On the descent we came out of the clouds and got some sunlit views to the south, while the cloud cap continued to obscure the summits. The cloud cover had helped keep the snow from softening and we had a good solid track to descend by, others without snowshoes did not fair as well as post-holing was a problem and will continue to get worse as the temperatures warm. Emma did well on the descent and she continues to amaze, and yes, she hit the ground barking when she got home... Today she is sleepy, which is not unusual, but otherwise showing no ill effects. Tough little cookie...