Zealand Rd --> Hale Brook Trail
Distance: 4.4 mi. (Mountain hiking) 5.5 mi. (Road hiking) 9.9 mi. (total)
Elevation Gain: 2,266 ft.
Time: 3:53 (Mt. Hale) 6:54 (total)
The trail starts off, as road. I left the winter trailhead at 7:30am where it was a balmy -9 degrees. I walked the snowmobile trail to Zealand Road and then headed up that. I put on my snowshoes at the start even though I didn't really need to. But, I wanted to use my new snowshoes so this seemed like a good time to get used to them. The road was well packed out from snowshoes, skis, and a couple snowmobiles that went past the signs saying they shouldn't be on this section. The road is an easy walk and was a good way to get warmed up before the hike.
When I got to the summer trailhead there was a pair of women skiing that had almost caught up to me. The quote of the day came from them as they stopped at the trailhead to hike as well. "Everyone is a little frosty today." I had already started icing up some from my breath hitting my jacket, and they were too. The trail was well packed out by snowshoes and was pretty easy going to start. It isn't too steep to start and gets you going up at a good pace. Through here, the women and I leap frogged each other a couple times until they finally stayed ahead of me. There are a couple small views through the leafless trees and one decent opening over an old logging cut just to the side of the trail.
Early part of Hale Brook trail
Soon you come to the crossing of Hale Brook in what is a very nice looking little spot. I imagine it is a great sight with fresh snow clinging to the trees. The trail continues up steadily from here for a while.
Hale Brook crossing
Soon I came to a nice section of trail where you go along a semi-steep sidehill along a narrow path. With the snow, there isn't much side room to step before you will slide some. This was a nice part of the trail though and fun. Shortly after this you come to a series of switchbacks that make the steep hillside a pretty easy climb. The turns were a bit steep in a couple places, but the new snowshoes worked great for traction (much better than my old non hiking snowshoes).
After the switchbacks, you are fully in the conifers. These were clad with snow making a few branches to duck under. But they made things much nicer to look at as well. From here it is a little further of still not overly trail to the summit opening. When I finally got to the opening I quickly went to the side that looked like it would have the least wind exposure. While there was only a slight breeze, it still felt plenty cold. According to my weather meter here, it was down to -13 degrees. There were a few more clouds than I expected today, so there wasn't really any views other than the summit and the blue sky above. The clouds seemed to be hung up in all the mountains.
Nearing the summit
On the summit in the cold, I learned that even with my lightweight gloves I normally wear winter hiking under my snowmobiling gloves, my hands can still get cold. If I could have fit my third pair of gloves between the two, I would have. This probably wasn't helped by needing to take them off at least one hand a few times to change the batteries in the camera and gps. They were draining quick in the cold and both have small pieces to move to open the compartments. I waited around for a while hoping to get some view, but finally after almost 30 minutes, I decided it was time to get moving again and warm back up. I am glad I had extra dry upper layers that I already changed into or I would have been colder.
Back to the trail
The hike down was pretty easy and went fairly quick. I had hoped to have time to do a loop down past Zealand Falls, but decided at the summit I wouldn't have time without finishing at least part of the road by headlamp. Back down to the road, there were a few groups of skiers and hikers coming in and out.
All things considered, it was a good hike. It wasn't quite as clear as I had hoped and it was plenty cold, but it was still a good experience. I have never hiked in these temps before and it let me see just how much harder it can be to breath when it's that cold out.
For all the pictures from the hike, just go HERE