Four of us met at 8:30 at the Underhill Center commuter lot and took one car up to the winter parking area on the state park road. It was overcast and around 20 F as we started up a little before 9 AM.
Although we did the 0.9 mile road walk from there, the road was actually passable all the way to the state park, where the gate was open. The CCC road gate was also open, and someone (who may not have known that they weren’t supposed to) had driven all the way up the CCC road to the Sunset Ridge trailhead.
With heavy foot (and car) traffic we hike in just boots all the way to the Sunset Ridge trailhead, but about halfway along the CCC road we put on snowshoes, which we used for the rest of the hike until we got back to the CCC road. The snow was very crusty under a light layer of powder, so our snowshoes provided great traction even going up some relatively steep snow slopes. We reached the bottom of Maple Ridge around 10:15. The snow was piled pretty high below the rock face on Maple Ridge, and it looked climbable, but with tricky with snowshoes, so we opted for the short bypass to the left.
Somewhere above the Rock Garden junction we found a jacket frozen into the snow, half hanging from a tree branch. David crunched it into a wad and bungied to the back of his pack (if you lost a jacket up there, send him a description at email@example.com and he’ll get it back to you).
About this time the sun came out and we found ourselves in a “blue bowl.” Blue sky above and sun, but clouds on all sides. The blue bowl followed us until we reached the Sunset Ridge junction, where we went back into the clouds and overcast. It was getting very windy as we reached the Forehead around 12:30, and then turned onto the Long Trail. There was evidence of past hikers without snowshoes, including some one to two foot deep post holes, so we were glad to be wearing them.
We followed the access road past the LT turn to the visitor center since the headroom along that short stretch is low at the best of times, and even lower with snow on the ground and a snow load on the trees. We followed the Long Trail along the ridge and stopped for lunch in a sheltered pocket behind some rocks and small trees just before the Sunset Ridge junction. We headed up to the summit, reaching it a little after 2, and on our way down saw the first other people we’d seen old day; actually three groups of them. We hit some icy spots on the way down Sunset Ridge, but were OK with our good snowshoes.
Between the CCC road and the Laura Cowles junction and the CCC road we saw at least three significant blowdowns, and had also seen some on the CCC road between the Sunset Ridge and Halfway House trails, so a trip up with a chainsaw will be needed at some point. We got back to the car a little after 4.
A great hike!
Participants: Chris Luczinski, Julie Cimonetti, Jill George, David Hathaway (leader). Photos: David and Chris.