The stars that night were beautiful, although it was hard to stay outdoors for more than a few minutes in the -15ºF temperature.
We woke early but didn't get on the trail until 8:30. We started up the Crawford Path to the summit of Mt Pierce. The snow was very compacted on the trail and fairly easy to walk on. If you stepped slightly off the trail however, your entire leg would instantly disappear. Going up took a while with the steady and sometimes steep incline. Trekking poles were a necessity. Red-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees were almost always audible. A single Boreal Chickadee flew over the path and called a few times. The higher we climbed, the thinner the trees got and the more they were covered in snow. A single Pine Siskin could be heard calling as it flew over. The ascent took us a few hours and stopping just shy of the summit to eat something it became obvious how cold it really was. During the climb I had shed down to 3 thin layers as I began to sweat, but once we stopped moving I had to layer back up.
After eating and walking a little further the view opened up to show Mt Eisenhower and Mt Washington very clearly. The breeze picked up in the open as we climbed the last distance to the summit. The surface of the snow was frozen solid and proved very slippery. The photo below shows the view towards Mt Eisenhower where the path continued towards the next summit.
Once we reached the summit I noticed a group of people huddled together and one had their arm raised into the air. Just as I looked up, a fairly large bird flew towards the people and landed on the raised hand. Gray Jay! It was bigger than I was expecting with a head that looked like a puff of snow. A few people continued to feed it and the jay flew to and fro, clearly caching these pieces of food in secure locations. More and more people made it to the summit and as people began to forget about the jay it took advantage. Sneaking up behind someone who was eating, it jumped onto their pack, picked up a piece of food and flew off. The person soon turned back to their pack to reach for their food and looked confused as they realized the piece they were just eating was gone.
I positioned myself in the perfect spot for the light as the jay landed near the group of people who had been feeding it. I came away with the exact shots I had dreamed of for this species. The distant mountains in shade made for the perfect backdrop. The bird was more handsome than I imagined and it seemed perfectly suited to the 0º temperature and wind as it glided delicately back and forth between raised hands.
Our descent from the summit was unbelievably quick in a little over an hour. Without crampons or snow shoes we were almost forced to run/slide down the steep parts (which was most of it). This made for an incredibly speedy descent although I felt it in my knees and hips at the end. Back down at the road I was thrilled to see a raven perched very close and spent a few minutes watching him and trying to get his attention by imitating his gravelly call.
On the drive south I was very happy to finally nail a few Bohemian Waxwings when we stopped for a minute to get a last view of the mountains. One bird was perched at the top of a tree and it soon joined others in flight, so I didn't get the awesome photos I hoped for, but the Gray Jay most certainly made up for that.