–submitted by Adrian Houle
— photographs submitted by Carmen Zitek
February 10th, 2018:
Four members of the Island Mountain Ramblers headed out on a winter camping trip to Lake Helen Mackenzie. The goal of the trip was to gain experience camping in sub-zero temperatures. And sub-zero temperatures we had!
We had to get to the Raven Lodge parking lot by 8:30 am because backcountry parking is only allowed in the far end of the lot across from Raven Lodge, or on the snow lot if cleared. This is to allow snow clearing to take place at night. Spots fill up quickly from day users, and if you park in the wrong spot, even with an overnight parking pass on your dash, you will be towed. Overnight parking passes are free, and can be obtained by the Raven Lodge store staff (the spot that sells sunglasses and equipment.) If you want to start before 9 am when they open, you can call the day before and they will arrange to leave you a pass outside.
Our group used a few different methods of travel. Carmen and her Sister Colleen traveled by snowshoes, working together pulling a sled (one pulling and one with the rope on the back to hold back the sled on the downhill and rough terrain. Nick was also snowshoeing but carried his gear in an overnight pack, which is what a majority of winter campers do. I was on AT skies, pulling a sled, although missing my partner who was home with the flu (thanks to Nick for un-flipping my sled a few times.)
Other then the occasional slip and fall; we managed to make it through Paradise Meadows, across Battleship Lake, and onto the frozen shores of Lake Helen Mackenzie were we were to make camp. One thing to note about traveling through the Meadows is how to deal with Mount Washington’s permit to operate in the park: I believe that even though this is public land, in exchange for the clear road and parking lot they provide and the relative hassle-free overnight parking system, one should try and respect their trails and cross-country skiers. Traveling on the cross country tracks, or unnecessarily causing skiers to have to lose momentum, will only lead to conflict and the resort making the parking process more difficult out of spite. You may occasionally run into resort staff checking tickets, you simply have to explain that you are accessing the backcountry and avoiding marked trails as much as possible. However, to avoid cross-country tracks you must sometimes use the marked trails and so far they have seemed understanding of this.
We decided to camp a bit away from the summer camping area, both to give other campers some privacy, and to get more evening and morning sun. Our spots were still close walking distance to the outhouse; witch other than having to be dug out was operational. So after finding good spots for our prospective tents, we dug in and set up camp for the night. Due to needing to have an early start to get a parking spot, and the short distance to camp, we had a lot of time before dark, but nothing time with a shovel and some creativity can’t deal with.
After making camp and some supper we decided it was time to go for a walkabout. It was not dark yet but it was too short of a day so far to head into the tents just yet. We walked around to a few islands; the snow was still icy enough that we didn’t even need our snowshoes. As the sun set, the shadows of Mount Elma and Brooks made for interesting effects on our path across the Lake.
As night fell and temperatures dropped we headed in to our tents with the plan of getting up once the stars came up for another walk around the lake. Time to relax, eat some snacks, have some drinks, and chat about hikes and life. Thanks Carmen for the tasty Sambuca! About 9 pm we got out for that last walk around the lake. The moon was only a sliver and hidden behind the trees, but was managing to cast a light on the snow of mount Elma and Brooks, lighting it up and making them glow white. Up ahead between the two peaks, fog belched out from Albert Edwards and spilt onto the lake. We went half way across Helen Mackenzie before deciding to head back and call it a night.
February 11th, 2018
It got cold, the clouds did not cover up like they were supposed to, and temperatures reach awfully close to the negative double digits. But thanks to warm sleeping bags and hard drinks, the morning sun and morning coffee came soon enough. After a bite to eat, we packed our gear and started heading out around 9:30 am. We took the same route back, mostly a downhill route, and other then a few more flipped sleds and minor tumbles, we made it back to the truck, bought some coffee, and called it a day.
All Ramblers accounted for, no injuries or incidents. Picture credits: Carmen Zitek
Thanks for coming out!