I asked for a final bathroom stop before the trail head, which turned out to be a good call since we hit a snow bank at the end of the plowed road and before the trail. There was a house with a plowed out area in front right by the snow bank but no one answering was the door. We backtracked a bit on the plowed road to where we'd seen some people chatting by snow mobiles and they said to knock louder, the guy who lived there was 90+. They joked that he'd charge us $50 to park there, but at that point we were so eager ot hit the trail (about three hours after leaving Boston) that we probably would have forked over cash or brought in fire wood for him. :-) He answered the door on the second try and just asked Cris to not block the wood pile with the car. Over the snow bank it looked like there was a packed down trail, so we carried our snow shoes for the first half mile or so. At a bend in the road it switched to snowmobile tracks which were a little bit harder to walk on (the snow was very soft) but we were soon at the trail head and strapping on the show snoes for the 3.7 miles up to the cabin.
There was a small display marking the Liberty Trail, with a sign saying no fees necessary (I think they collect them in better weather if you camp up there) and a small trail map. There was no place to sign in that I could see, so as soon as we were shoed up, we set off along the gently sloped path. Cris and Forest had to break trail the whole way up, the last storm had pretty much buried the trail in four feet of snow. I volunteered to break trail at a flatish part, but they said that it was really hard on their knees and I was still recovering from a knee injury from our last backpacking trip. My pack weighed in at around 40 pounds, I'd debated if I should bother to bring water since it would probably freeze, but figured we could try to melt it in a pinch - though having the bottles freeze solid would negate their use as water fetching receptacles - we crossed a couple of still flowing streams. The first part of the trail was really quite flat, through trees that had dropped most of their leaves, letting swathes of sunshine through. The stream crossings were a bit dicey as we figured out how much of the snow around them could support us, and which bits of snow in the water were covering stable rocks. Most of the streams we could stride across though, but we followed one for a little while and had a wider brook crossing as well. Things started getting steeper, though not beyond my sport snow shoe's capabilities (they didn't do so well on the steep climb to Grey Knob), and we were seeing no trail blazes at all. I think we finally saw one yellow one when Forest turned back to say something to me and spotted a blaze for the downhill path. We spotted a sign showing the edge of a forest protection area and how far we were from the intersection with Hammond and I almost cried. It showed us as barely halfway up and we'd been going for about three hours by then. For reference, the old guy where we parked said the round trip to the peak could be done in 5 hours, though he must have meant in summer. Conifers were blocking the sun, but we were all warm enough struggling up the mountain that we'd taken our jackets off. Very thankfully we soon came on the trail intersection sign that said we only had a half mile to go to the cabin (and another half mile to the summit after that), the forest area sign was misplaced I guess. This was the hardest part of the hike, but the only dicey spot was getting over a hidden ice boulder that was edging me toward a drop. We could see partially obscured views over the valley by this point, passed an open area that at first I thought was where the cabin was, but then came over a hump and saw the peak still a ways away.
The sign for the outhouse marked almost being at the cabin, a minute later we came out of the trees and saw the chained down wooden structure with the peak in the background. The chains weren't as substantial as I'd expected, but I was excited to see them. :-) We hadn't had any sort of wind on the trip up though, the weather was below freezing but not by too much. Forest had found a light shovel and strapped it to his pack, but we were able to edge past the drift almost covering the entry way to get to the door. Summer view showing the steps that were completely covered (ignore the text, most of it is wrong). The dead bolt was frozen, it took the shovel to get enough leverage to slide it open so we could get in. We left our snow shoes and poles in the entry way (I went out to chip off a ball of ice from my shoes with a rock), though I brought my poles in for the night and hung them up to keep them safe from any nibbly creatues. The snow was deep and fluffy around the cabin, we had to put our snowshoes back on when we went out to pee. My knee had only given me a bit of trouble when I tried to crawl over a hump in the trail and had to readjust since I dind't want to put any pressure on it. The cabin had three three high bunk beds, and we all went straight for the top ones since they had the most head room - though Forest and I both bonked our heads on the ceiling beams. I had to be careful of my knee climbing up, though I only ended going up and down once - my sleeping bag was way too comfortable! We'd been snacking on the way up the trail but were all desparate for something hot to eat. There was a round thermometer in the cabin but we think it was broken, it didn't move from 20F the whole time, and when we came out the next day it was 10F. Cris and I got both stoves going and made up three servings of the dehydrated African stew that I'd made for the trip. It was the lunch option and we were leaving the turkey based cowboy pasta for dinner. It was around 3pm once we got up there, so we had time to settle in and cook before the sun went down, but we had all soaked through our base layers and needed to change and warm up. I changed my top right away but left my sports bra on, bit of a mistake. Once I got up onto my bunk I swapped out my long underwear pants and socks as well. I didn't end up using the down booties that I'd picked up on sale for this trip, once my boots came off, I was in my bag. We ended up talking, well, Forest and I did, and Cris dozed on and off, it was like a very very chilly sleepover. :-) None of us were hungry enough to brave the cold to make dinner, and I think only Forest braved the outside to go pee after we were all tucked in. I had my -5F down bag with my down overbag and was tucked into my bivy sack as well. I'd put my wool top and the fleece pants in with me to try and keep them warm, as well as my stuff sack of clothes to use as a pillow. I had the hardest time finding the tiny pocket inside my sleeping bag - I'd put a pair of earplugs in there but even with my headlamp it was hard to spot. For the record: it's at the edge of my left shoulder. The stupid earplugs wouldn't stay in once I gave up and settled in for the night, but luckily the guys were pretty muffled in their bags and I could barely hear them. I was mostly warm enough, though bits of me would get cold if they pressed against the bag and compacted the stuffing. I'm pretty sure that I burrowed down completely a few times. I had my down jacket on as well as a hat and a fresh balaclava I think. The bunk was also high up enough and short enough that I worried about tipping out, though I still did end up turning a few times. Forest wasn't warming up early on and I had him dig out a pair of handwarmers, one each, and I ended up putting mine in the toe of my sleeping bag and that helped once it warmed up a bit (they were weak though).
All of our water was frozen by 2/3 of the way down the mountain, even the water bottles that Cris had thawed in my kettle during breakfast (my 1L bottle perfectly fits in the kettle opening, nice). We had to stop every so often to dig out the one unfrozen bottle that Cris was carrying and share sips from it. Each time we stopped and opened it up, there was larger and larger skim of ice in the opening, until it was completely covered by a thin sheet. The next time we stopped we couldn't open it because the threads had frozen. It was much colder than it had been the day before, though we weren't working as hard with the prebroken trail and the downward slope. I kept my jacket on, just unzipped, and often had my mittens on, not just the liner gloves. I had to keep pulling down my wool cap lower over my ears as I had soaked through my ear band the day before and was only wearing a balaclava under it. My snow shoes were picking up packed snow and ice even more today, I had to call for a stop and take both shoes off so we could chip things off. Luckily the snow was still pretty soft so I didn't need a lot of traction, but the weight was really slowing me down and wearing me out. It was very pretty with the fresh snow on the trees, though Forest was soon covered with snow that he knocked off the over hanging tree branches. Snow was falling and the clouds were coming lower so we didn't get any views on the way down, and the wind picked up near the end of the trail as well. My injured leg was feeling shakey, it was tired but the knee was fine. We made it back to the car by 12:30, a much quicker return trip. We left our snowshoes on for the snowmobile path and the foot path, which turned ou to be good with the extra snow.
The old guy invited us in to warm up but we we wanted to get on the road as soon as possible. We passed a store sign
that gave the time and temperature, it said it was 10F/-12C. We tucked in behind a snow plow for most of the drive back
to 16, that helped on the winding country roads. The only problem was that 16 had a lot of patches of black ice and a
lot of traffic going very slowly. :-/ We were pretty hungry and wanted to stop for brunch, but were constrained by what
was open, and skipped the happy pig bbq joint in favour of waiting for a more brunchy place. We ended up at a family
restaurant on 16 with a slew of snowmobilers - I think there was some sort of meet, some kids had some trophies. I made
a circuitous way to the bathrooms, ending up back in sight of our table but across a ballroom floor. I had to strip off
my knee braces to start getting warm again. I had lots of tea, but we had a long wait for our food, my sweet potato
burger was good though. I finally took off my boots once we were back in the car and was able to get my toes to warm
up and I stopped shivering. We made a stop for gas and then again at the NH liquor store. I got an update from my town that
another snow emergency was in effect and the snow was starting to get heavy. Cris did a great job getting us home
safely, we made it back at around 6:30. I staggered up the stairs to my apartment, got my wet gear spread out to dry and
made supper, struggling to stay awake until my parents were supposed to call at 9.