As I mounted the North flank of Jay Peak in Vermont it became plain that I was going to be snowed in. During my climb ponderous clouds unleashed snowfall. The wind lashed ice pellets at my face with shotgun blast intensity. My breathing was strained, my hands were losing sensitivity, and my field of vision was diminished to mere feet.
I knew the crest was within reach in about ten more minutes of hiking. Even so, I knew that if conditions continued to worsen at the rate I observed them, the trail would become concealed in a torrent of white and I would be stumbling for direction in a blizzard. Instantly I knew what it felt like to be apprehended by a blizzard without reference points.
I fished my compass from my pocket and formed my best calculation, slogging forward through drifts of snow which threatened to bury the way entirely. I was unable to trace a clear path and was left with no recourse but to look at the trees to find reliable trail blazes. The blazes were white. White trail blazes, many on white paper birches, in a milky snowfall. Things were getting crazy.
I trudged upward, only partially confident that I was still on the blazed trail. A specter of doubt settled into my thoughts, a suspicious “voice.” “You could be anywhere!” the White Devil seemed to say. “You might just waltz into the woods and freeze to death, never to be found!” Was that a laugh I heard?
“Ridiculous!” I thought. I’m walking the Long Trail in Vermont, not a rabbit trail in the arctic tundra. Shelters are abundant. There’s no chance I’ll get into trouble here. Still, there was that “voice”…
The wind was howling. The next shelter was over the cap of Jay Peak in Hazen’s Notch. I wouldn’t be getting that far this day. I moved on, leaning into the force of the mounting storm, struggling upward, at times losing my footing on ice bound ledges and slippery leaves. Finally I stumbled into a clearing, an open ski slope. I saw a grayish bulk rearing above me in the whiteout — the summit house.
It was a late Sunday in October and the tram had stopped operation, having made its final run of the day, so a ride down into the valley was out of the question. I was left alone on the peak. I dropped my backpack, leaning it against an outer wall, and scouted for options. It was clear no one was around and all the entrances were shut tight. I was about to despair when I discovered a door at the basement level of the building. I was elated to see a sign indicating it was a refuge room for hikers. I rapidly retrieved my pack and clambered inside, the keening wind slamming the door behind me. The basement room featured numerous windows on two sides. There were saw horses and some planks which made a makeshift platform for sleeping, and there was a tap with potable water. Home; but for how long?
Realizing I had been fortunate, I set to making the platform my bed, fluffing my sleeping bag and unrolling my mat. Outside, through the vertical windows, the vista was…white. The wind ramped up, and a doleful howl began as the tram cables were rattled by the gale. It sounded like the strings of the world’s largest and most sour violin. That dissonance would scream at me the next few days. (end of Part 1)