Winter Cabining

Last weekend eight of us went camping at the Nunnemacher cabin in New Hampshire, run by the Dartmouth Outdoors Club. The cabin is nestled between some of the ski trails of the Dartmouth Ski Way. We spent two nights with no electricity or running water, and nothing but a drafty, ice cold privy. It was great.

The cabin was quite large, with two rooms downstairs each with its own wood stove. Climbing the ladder in one room led to the sleeping area, with convenient vents above the wood stove which kept it quite warm at night. The weather was pretty wretched (mid 30’s with icy rain), so we spent most of our time in the main room eating. The wood stove kept the room plenty warm during the day, and as long as someone remembered to feed the fire, I slept comfortably upstairs with just a light blanket.

While the writeup said the cabin was an easy 0.75 mile hike up the A-T, it felt a lot longer than that, perhaps because much of our hike was in the dark, and all of it was up a steep, icy trail. That we were carrying all of our winter equipment and a large cooler stocked with enough food and drink for an army didn’t make it any easier. Fortunately, most of us had rented snowshoes for the trip, which did make the climb much easier.

Some of the group had planned to go skiing or snowboarding, but the trails were pure ice and the weather was bad, so instead we stuck to snowshoeing and a bit of sledding. We adventured through the icy rain up to Holt’s Ledge at the top of the ski mountain. The fog prevented us from enjoying the view on our first trip, but we came back the next day to check out the surrounding hills and lakes.

Coming back down from the ledges, we experimented with sledding down the ice covered ski slopes, resulting in minor injuries for all those involved (and occasionally for bystanders as well). Maybe I just haven’t taken physics in a while, but you pick up speed going down those slopes a lot faster than I expected. Also, attempting to sled with snowshoes is kind of like sledding with giant, spike studded clown shoes — you have to stick them way up in the air so they won’t catch in the ice, and trying to use them to brake or steer just results in spinning the sled around so you speed down the hill backwards. Again, it was great.

I had never used snowshoes before, but they were a lot of fun and amazingly effective at gripping the slopes. We were on about as steep and icy terrain as you would ever use them on, and our rentals still worked just fine. If they go on sale I’m thinking about getting myself a pair since they could definitely be a lot of fun even just for hiking around Amherst.

Although we were out in the woods, that doesn’t mean we didn’t eat well. The first night we had a nice hearty meal of chili. Some previous cabin occupants had left behind two bottles of champagne, so added to our bottles of wine we were pretty well stocked. For breakfast we had french toast one day and oatmeal the next. The second night Megan and I cooked up a chicken stir-fry. Lunches were sandwiches and leftovers, of which there were plenty. For dessert we of course had s’mores, but also apple pie and tiramisu. Add to that snacks like trail mix, bread and cheese, and granola bars and it’s a wonder we didn’t just roll ourselves out of the cabin and down the hill on the way home.

All in all, it was an experience of rustic luxury. We played cards by candlelight and boiled stream water to drink, but when we decided we should rent some extra snowshoes for those who hadn’t brought them, someone just pulled out a cell phone and found the nearest rental place on the internet. It was a nice mix though, since we had a great sense of being out in the wild, I’m sure we were the only people on the mountain, but we were still close enough to civilization to carry up some comforts.

On our final day we spent some time cleaning up the cabin and trying to eat or drink as much of our leftover food as possible before beginning the hike back down to the car. This time rather than taking the Appalachian Trail we just snowshoed down the ski trails to the base, which was definitely a more direct route. It was also more conducive to riding the cooler down the mountain, which was much more pleasant than carrying it.