The following story was written by 1993 World Mountain Running Trophy silver medalist Dave Dunham. A prolific multi-surface athlete and adventure, Dave writes about snowshoe running up Kearsarge Mountain in New Hampshire fifteen years ago with teammates Dan Verrington, Alan Bernier and ATRA’s Richard Bolt.
March 18, 2005 – My injured hip left me unable to run at all from mid-December through the beginning of February. Once I started running, I started looking for fun things to do. I sent out an email looking for suggestions and then settled on a run up Mt Kearsarge. I’m pretty familiar with the road to the summit from racing up it many times since the first organized Kearsarge Mountain Race took place back in 1995. I had never been up the road in winter and was hoping it would be in good shape from the snowmobiles that zip up and down it throughout the winter.
Richard Bolt was immediately interested in the run, as was Alan Bernier. Richard has been training a lot on snowshoes and racing well this winter. Al has been doing a lot of Mountain hiking. He is working on hiking all of the 4,000 footers in winter and recently did a 21-mile presidential traverse. Dan Verrington, my training partner on most days, was also up for the run. We decided that we would be better suited for a sunset run, rather than getting up to Kearsarge in the early morning hours.
The entrance to Rollins state park is at about 1,000′ and the parking lot where he race ends is about 3.5 miles up the road. After the parking lot there is a half-mile trail to the summit at about 2,900′. I estimated that we’d need a little less than an hour to get up without missing the 6:02 PM sunset. Unfortunately we were a bit behind schedule and had about 45 minutes to get to the top. We set off, and right away I was off the back. My aerobic form is not very good; the time-off did not sit well with me. Al and Richard chatted away and Dan chugged along. Dan had thought we were hiking up but he is usually game for another run. He had run nine miles at lunchtime and was slightly concerned about wearing himself out as he is racing at the USATF New England Half Marathon on Sunday. The first mile of the climb is the toughest, with no breaks in the climb.
We saw a snowboarder who had hiked up and was flying down the road. The road was in excellent condition from the snowmobiles packing it down. We might have been able to get away with running in sneakers. A little further up we passed a man heading down the hill towing a child in a sled. The road would be fun for sledding or snowboarding down. Running up was good as well, but lung busting. We got some breaks after the first mile with some flat sections and even a couple of downhill parts. It seemed very familiar to me despite the absence of leaves and the presence of a few feet of snow on either side of the road. We took a very brief break at about two and a half miles to check out the view. There is a great open part on the road and you can see for miles looking out to the East. We had perfect weather, clear skies and views for miles upon mile. We could see the alpenglow and the shadow of Mt Kearsarge projected over the landscape.
From two and a half miles you can see the summit and it looked to be only a few hundred feet higher. Richard pointed out the clearing where the parking lot (finish line for the race) is. He also mentioned having a round-trip snowshoe race. I heartily agreed that it would be a very cool and very challenging course to race. We were getting close to sunset and it looked like we had it timed out correctly. We hit the parking lot (three and a half miles) in 39:34 and took a couple of pictures. Next up was the final push to the summit; this was a steep half-mile trail. I had never been up to the summit despite racing here a 1/2 dozen time. The last section was very steep in parts and Richard and Alan quickly moved out of site right away. I took a couple of pictures and hit the summit just missing it dipping below the horizon. It was very windy and cold on the summit and the sweat from climbing was quickly cooling us down. We took some pictures and enjoyed the panoramic view. It had taken over 7 minutes to do that last half-mile.
Running down the half mile to the parking lot was not particularly quick as it took me a good five minutes to get to the parking lot. It was slowly getting dark but the view was excellent. Richard pointed out Jay Peak and surprised us all with the sight of Wachusett Mountain – home of the Wachusett Mountain Race. It appeared very close and was incredibly bright. We also had a clear view of Monadnock and could see lights from the metropolis that is Warner (highway rest area) shining below.
As we made our way down the crescent moon was bright enough that we cast shadows when we got into the tree-lined sections of the road. We made it down in 30:42 and it was fully dark by the time we got to the car. Our total time was 1:22:53 form 8 miles with nearly 2,000′ climb and descent.