We bucked all our Christmas traditions this year. With none of our adult children at home and still reeling from the election, there didn’t seem any point in decorating a tree, baking cookies, or preparing a Christmas Day feast. So we didn’t.
We hiked Stratton Mountain instead.
The weather favored our outdoor ambitions: snow-cover, sunshine, and twenty degrees, perfect for a snowshoe ascent of Vermont’s eighth tallest mountain and the one closest to where I live.
Stratton is only thirty miles from home. I can drive to the trailhead in under an hour. In the summer, I can usually reach the summit in an hour and a half. It takes longer on snowshoes.
The trailhead parking is usually packed in all seasons, but on Christmas Day, ours was the only car in the lot. And the hike was unprecedented for solitude: we didn’t see another hiker all day. More unusual for this time of year was the total absence of snow machines. No sound, smell or sight of them. It was wonderfully tranquil.
We weren’t the first to ascend through the snow; we followed tracks by someone in boots and someone in snowshoes. We also saw moose tracks, both old impressions frozen in ice and some from earlier that day. We didn’t see any moose, but then we weren’t particularly quiet: our snowshoes crunched on the old snow.
I love how snowshoeing always warms me right up. For the ascent, I pulled off my hat and mittens and unzipped my vest. I carried a daypack full of extra layers and my Christmas dinner, which I ate at the top: PB&J on homemade whole wheat with homegrown, homemade, raspberry jam. Hands down, this is my favorite fare for a day hike, and it didn’t disappoint.
We needed the fuel. Hiking uphill is hard work; snowshoeing uphill is even harder.
Our three and a half mile climb took just over two hours. When we reached the summit, we were buffeted by cold wind. The windows of the fire tower were plastered with snow, so I climbed just high enough to snap some photos of the fantastic view. Doing so required I take off my mittens, so it was literally a “point and shoot” photo op. Even so, my fingers instantly froze.
We didn’t linger.
Nevertheless, I didn’t once wish I was home, following the Christmas traditions. I didn’t miss the meal planning, shopping, baking, decorating, gift-wrapping, or house full of guests. We’ve done that for thirty-odd years. And we hosted and feasted at Thanksgiving, which was only a few weeks before. It was nice to have a year off. I was happy to be outside of the usual celebrations, back on the trail, soaking up the winter sun.
Just a few hundred feet down the trail and into the woods and we’d more than warmed up: we were sweltering again. We stopped to shed our extra clothes.
“This would have been a better place to picnic,” Tim said.
I agreed. It would have been perfect. But while we bucked our usual Christmas traditions, we remained constant to our hiking tradition of “Lunch at the Summit.”
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