Ted's in Texas for the AMS conference and the weather in the northeast is finally above zero. With nothing else to do and blue sky all around, off to the mountains I went!
I left before sunrise and drove two hours to Crawford Notch, and spent way too much time climbing up the taller-than-me snowbank looking for where the trail starts. After a series of postholes to the trail sign, I found myself enjoying a freshly packed snowshoe trench all the way up to Jackson. I'd hoped to loop over Webster too, but opted against it because it wasn't packed out, but also because I was solo and way too eager to get to a view. All through the woods, the fresh snow was piled on every tree, and every now and then I'd get a glimpse of the sun rising on the other side. I finally climbed the last pitch to the summit and an expansive winter wonderland of mountains unfolded before me. Mount Washington was as white as it could be, and with no wind, I considered extending my hike heading toward it, until I ran into someone who had turned around from the ridge and said breaking it out alone just wasn't worth it. I ended up having the summit to myself for almost two hours, with the exception of the shadows that came from behind me as soon as I settled in. THE GRAY JAYS!
A pair of gray jays, clearly used to being fed by hikers, landed on a treetop behind me. The longer I sat there, the closer and closer they hopped, until they were sitting next to me, then on my backpack, looking for a peak treat. When they hear wrappers crinkle, they perk right up, and they sat still hoping for a handout, long enough for me to have a mini photo shoot with them. It was cool to sit quietly in nature and have these birds come hang out with me, but was sad to consider the real reason they were so friendly is because people had conditioned them to associate humans with food. It reminded me of a hike I did one winter, on a popular Rocky Mountain National Park trail, where a squirrel actually ran up my leg and down my arm trying to get what it thought was food in my hand. When animals are fed human food, it not only puts their health at risk since what we eat isn't always nutritious for them, it also puts us at risk. Wild animals stop being afraid of people, and we often think it's exciting to have an animal eat from our hands, but what about the risk of getting bitten, or the risk of them spreading disease to you? There's also the risk of having animals destroy your personal property, such as mice or martens ripping into your backpack for any snacks or even crumbs they smell in there when you leave your pack or campsite unattended. I know it's extremely exciting to have encounters with wildlife, but next time you have the choice, remember you can help keep birds and animals healthy (and yourself safe) by not feeding them.
To learn more about how you can protect yourself, wildlife, and the landscape while exploring, visit LNT.org.