Sunday, December 30, 2012

Kinsmans 12/29/12

Working title: Winter hiking, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. One, two...

Peaks: North Kinsman, South Kinsman

Trails: Mt. Kinsman Trail, Kinsman Ridge Trail, Kinsman Flume Spur

Mileage/time: 10.0 miles, 4000 feet of gain, book time of 7:00, actual time of 7:38

Well, here it is, the year is now at a close, and what a year its been. Disillusion, apathy, triumph, and joy have punctuated this year, and defined it. Only the latter two are allowed into 2013. I'm mending, and I'm feeling a lot less broken than I was even a few months ago, so here's to continued renewal, and good times to come.

The last couple of weeks have been a struggle as far as hiking goes. I awoke Wednesday the 19th with a sore throat, which stuck around until the 26th, though whatever it was never presented any respiratory issues, until I decided to go hiking. After planning a hike for 12/21 with Mike and Wayne, some communication issues on my part led to me waiting in the wrong spot (coincidentally right across the road from where they were waiting), and them going off and hiking the Hancocks. I started to feel ill while I was waiting, so I bailed and drove back home.

I worked the next four nights, right through Christmas (hooray, Christmas at work!), and started feeling better and ready to hike by the time Thursday rolled around. Big plans, an Osceolas/Tecumseh traverse was in the works. A big storm decided to wind up just in time, and Mike called me at 2am, while I was getting coffee, about to head north to meet him. He expressed some concerns, which I allayed to a certain extent, and we decided to still meet at Waterville Valley. The roads weren't great heading there, but with few people out, it was easier to negotiate the miles. We met up with Wayne, and headed to Greeley Ponds trailhead on the Kanc where we would start our day.

High winds and blowing snow immediately greeted us as we started up the trail, with 4-5 inches of fresh snow on top of a solid base. My new snowshoes immediately started to give me problems, that and the fact that I hadn't worn snowshoes in almost 2 years. We reached the junction with Mt. Osceola Trail and started up, the winds growing stronger, the snow drifting deeper, and my lungs burning. It was tough going, especially since I was lagging behind, but the unconsolidated snow became infinitely harder to make headway into, once Mike and Wayne had already been through. Just before the slide, I threw in the towel, my heart rate continued to be through the roof, and I couldn't properly catch my breath. I'm foolish, but I'm not stupid. It sucks to bail like that, and I feel bad about it, but its one thing to risk myself, its another to risk others.

Fast forward, it's Saturday, and I'm feeling much better. I hoped my lungs would cooperate, as Mike and myself would be with a large Meetup group. Meet time was 6, with a 6:30 start time. I was there stupid early at 5:20, and Mike wasn't far behind at about 5:30. The lot was not plowed, but our vehicles made it fine, John and Holly's cars, not so much. We pitched in and did some shoveling, and pushing, and got their cars situated. Warmed up before we even started! Of the original group of 10, we would instead have 6 today. On with the snowshoes, it's time to hike!

The Mt. Kinsman Trail had been broken out since the last snowfall, and we followed a nice snowshoe track through the woods. It was nice to be able to layer down, since it wasn't precipitating or windy, and I started with just a thin base layer and a fleece on top. It was a very comfortable slog up through the hardwoods, alternating the lead, so people wouldn't get too tired out, and we soon reached the Bald Peak Spur, which we decided we would hit on the way back in the afternoon.

The trail continued onward and upward, snow crunching under our snowshoes, then I hear an "uh oh" from up ahead. Whoever was kind enough to break out the trail, decided they had had enough, stopped, and turned around. That left about 400 feet of climbing and 0.5 miles of trail breaking to do. Mike was a champ and broke it out to the ridge, we all just followed along. Once on the ridge, we donned shells and pushed on to North Kinsman. I remember the views being better the last time I was here, then I remembered there was at least 4 to 5 more feet of snow here. The views from just below the summit didn't disappoint.

Lafayette and Lincoln

Sandwich Range

Cannon and the Cannonballs
We didn't linger here for long, as there was a pesky second summit 0.9 miles away that needed to be dealt with. Following a single set of snowshoe tracks, I led the way down off North Kinsman, skiing on the backs of my snowshoes at times, enjoying the soft footfalls in the snow. I relinquished the lead shortly after starting the climb to South Kinsman, and stuck to the middle of the pack up to the false summit. Unfortunately for the peakbagger before us (whose tracks we were following), they stopped at the false summit, and not the true summit. We then broke out the trail to the true summit, which was windblown, with a little snow and ice clinging to the rocks. The views continued to be good, but within minutes, snow began to fall, and the views had all but disappeared by the time we got back to the false summit.

Snow and ice armor on the trees!

North Kinsman from false summit of South Kinsman

Monochromatic Franconia Ridge from South Kinsman

North from South Kinsman
Now we had the lovely climb back to North Kinsman, something I know we all looked forward to. To be honest, it passed uneventfully, and just before the summit, we ran into the first people of the day, a solo dude headed over to South Kinsman, and a group of four. More people presented themselves on North Kinsman, and the descent to the trail junction, probably about 12 in all. It's always good to see other people out in the mountains in winter. Descending Mt. Kinsman Trail was great, my knees loved it, soft footing in the snow does wonders. Myself, John, and Holly were in front for the most part, and Mike, Bernie, and Jocelyn brought up the rear.

North Kinsman from Kinsman Ridge Trail
By the time we reached the Bald Peak Spur, no one was up for it, there would have limited to zero views from there as it was. In the interest of redlining, I insisted on going down the Kinsman Flume Spur, and the rest of the group said they would wait for me (which wasn't necessary, but I appreciated it). I bounded off down the trail, in 12+ inches of unbroken powder, so much fun! The flume was pretty unremarkable in the winter, however it was a 30 foot deep, 4 foot wide slot, with snow at the bottom (and some trees), and the sound of water rushing below. As I was edging closer to try and get a picture, I looked up to see John coming down the spur. What a pleasant surprise, thanks for sharing this spot with me! The trail ended pretty obviously, so we worked our way back up the pretty steep ~0.1 mile spur back to the group.

A terrible picture of Kinsman Flume

Winter wonderland on Mt. Kinsman Trail
Down, down, down we went. Mike and I joked about not making it out in daylight, as has been common with our hikes lately. Instead of needing headlamps, we popped out at the parking lot at 2:28, just shy of my predicted 2:30. Snow had continued to fall throughout our descent, and there was about an inch of fresh on the cars. We all said our goodbyes, and parted ways.

Mike and I decided to hit the Common Man in Lincoln for some vittles. However, the Common Man was full up at the time we arrived, and the dining room didn't open until 4:30, so we went searching elsewhere. Mexican it was, and some pretty good Mexican too, as I had some delicious Enchiladas, Mike had a bit of everything. So much for just wanting a bowl of chili and coffee!

Glad to finally get another winter peak under my belt, now up to 16. Time to get busy.

Happy New Year!

2012 Hiking Statistics:

Hikes: 35
Mileage: 381.02 (10.9 mile/hike)
Elevation Gain: 129,370 feet (3696 feet of gain/hike)

Here's to 2013!

Edit: My friend Keith informed me that the "false" summit on South Kinsman is actually the true highpoint according to the USGS, and that you get credit whether you hit that summit or the other one with the big cairn. Why the big cairn on "not the" summit then?!?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Moriahs 12/14/12

Working title: It's days like these that I live for

Peaks: Shelburne Moriah, Mt. Moriah

Trails: Shelburne Trail, Kenduskeag Trail, Carter-Moriah Trail, Mt. Moriah Spur, Rattle River Trail

Mileage/time: 13.9 miles, 4300 feet of gain, book time of 9:05, actual time of 9:55

With a well deserved rest day on Thursday, it was time to get back out on the trails. The hike was going to be a big one, on unfamiliar trails to the both of us. For those of you who don't know, I'm redlining the AMC White Mountain Guide, which means I need to hike every section of trail in that book. This was going to be one of those kind of hikes. The only section that I'd been on before, is the 0.1 section of Carter-Moriah Trail, and the Moriah Spur. Here's to new territory!

Mike and I met up at the Cumberland Farms at the corner of Rt. 16 and Rt. 2, meet time was 7am, but when I pulled in at 6:35, Mike was already there. "You're late!", he said with a grin on his face. He then followed me to the Rattle River trailhead, where we suited up, piled into my car, and took off for the northern trailhead for the Shelburne Trail. The turnoff from Rt. 2 is kind of nondescript, there's a sign for the Old Man of the Valley, and a parking sign. You end up following this road past the parking area on Rt. 2, and it turns into Forest Road 95 (Conner Brook Road), which you'll follow to the gate and trailhead. Today, the road was passable in my sedan, but the built up hump of ice and snow in the center of the road flirted with my undercarriage a bit. Of note, this road isn't closed in the winter, but it is not gated, or maintained for winter travel.

Final preparations complete, we started past the gate onto the continuation of the road, which is the trail for a portion. This road walk portion continued for quite some time, way longer than either of us thought it should, but it was easy walking on crusty snow that our boots dug right into. Speaking of boots, I've been breaking in a new pair, and today, they broke me back. Not far from the car, the area above my left ankle started to hurt, so I made some adjustments and carried on. The pain continued all day, and as I sit here now, those areas on both my ankles are visibly swollen and bruised. Definitely something I need to figure out!

So, where were we... oh, right, boring road walk. Just as we wondered if we'd missed the turn off the road, there was a broken cross country ski stuck in the ground, with a piece of blue material screwed to it, with faded writing, barely discernable. It started with an "Sh", the road appeared to end a short distance from here at a landing, and there was a small cairn, so we followed the trail up and away from the road. Finally, on a trail! This section passed fairly quickly, as we climbed to the col between Shelburne Moriah and Howe Peak, the woods were beautiful and there were some nice ice formations just off trail.

One leg of the journey done, we arrived at the height of land, and the junction with Kenduskeag Trail. From the junction, you could see down the continuation of the Shelburne Trail to the sign for the Wild River Wilderness, which I yearn to explore, but would be on the edge of all day. Taking the turn, we started climbing more steeply, with more ice to deal with in spots, not yet enough to warrant traction. The woods stayed fairly open with beautiful birch areas, and we shortly reached a pseudo-highpoint, and scrambled up to a ledge. Vast views were opened up to us, the entire Baldface-Royce Range, the complex of peaks in the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness, the Carter-Moriah Range, and the whole of the Wild River Wilderness.

Looking over the Royces, into Maine

South view over the Wild River Valley

Kenduskeag Trail
Leaving our perch, we continued west on Kenduskeag Trail, as it wound its way up, over, and around various ledges along the way to Shelburne Moriah. We finally decided to put on traction, and I was happy to try out my new Hillsound Trail Crampons, which I replaced my dull Microspikes with, after Wednesdays debacle on Howker Ridge. They worked extremely well, allowing me to scramble up, and to an extent down, the majority of ice flows we found throughout the rest of the day. Soon we found ourselves on the true summit of Shelburne Moriah, the views continuing to be strong.

Kenduskeag Trail

Kenduskeag Trail

Presidentials from Shelburne Moriah

Pilot/Pliny Ranges from Shelburne Moriah

From here, we worked our way carefully down the open ledges and back into the woods, reaching the junction of Rattle River Trail, where we took a break for lunch at the base of Middle Moriah. Here we saw our first footprints of the day, coming down from Moriah and headed down Rattle River, good thing we'd have something to follow! Break over, we trudged up the Kenduskeag Trail, which skirts Middle Moriah to the south, and then climbs to meet the Carter-Moriah Trail just below Moriah. This section proved to be the most icy, with huge sections to clamber up and down, and a blowdown or two to deal with. The scramble at the beginning of the climb to Moriah from the junction seemed less daunting to me than it did a year and a half ago, and was easily dispatched (on the way up at least). We climbed up the last few feet onto the bald summit, and the views. While we had been crossing the ridge, clouds had moved in overhead, and apparently over the Presidentials as well, because they were unseen under a blanket of clouds.

Mike, scrambling

South view from Moriah

Baldfaces et al from Moriah

Shelburne Moriah from Moriah
Our descent off Moriah went well, the scramble before the junction was tricky, but doable. Some downs and ups, and we were back at the Rattle River junction, where we again took a break. Starting our descent at about 3pm, we debated whether we could get out without headlamps. Rattle River Trail drops steeply off the ridge at first, and with the leaves off the trees, you can see the drop into the valley that you'll be following out. The steeps don't last very long, as the trail moderates the further you get from the ridge. There was an interesting rock formation that caught our eyes on the north ridge of Middle Moriah, from the angle we were at, it looked like a fish head. We hereby dub said rock, as Fish-head Rock.

We reached the shelter, which is directly on the trail, and took a short break in the waning light of the day. 1.7 miles to go! We made it more than a mile without headlamps, the sky darkening overhead, but the snow on the trail made it easy to follow in the dim. There was one small stream crossing that I got sketched out by, and ended up turning on my headlamp. From here, it was quickly out to the road and Mikes waiting truck. After retrieving my car, we parted ways, I had dinner plans with my roommate, and Mike had avalanche school in the morning. I also ended up getting pulled over by a Cumberland County Sheriff in Raymond on my way back, no big deal, just my plate lights are out... way to go Maine state inspections, glad you find things that are wrong with the car!

Thanks Mike for another memorable one!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Northern Presidentials 12/12/12

Working Title: "Howker Ridge can go fuck itself" and/or "Book time is dead to me"

Peaks: Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Adams, Mt. Madison

Trails: Caps Ridge Trail, Jefferson Loop, Gulfside, Israel Ridge Path, Airline, Osgood Trail, Howker Ridge Trail

Mileage/time: 10.4 miles, 4600 feet of gain, book time of 7:33, actual time of 11:10

The turning tail and retreating of last week, turned into another completion and set of check marks today. Mike and I had discussed how we would attack the Northern Presidentials, and initially, a loop was planned. Then the realization set in, that with two cars we didn't need to do a loop, and Jefferson Notch Road was still open. Challenge accepted. We were going to start at Randolph East as it was, so we just switched it around and started from Caps Ridge instead. I had a Plan B in case Howker Ridge was deemed unfit for descent, and I'll admit, it was a ridiculous/self-indulgent redlining extravaganza, but another time.

Our meet time was set for 6am, and Mike and I are finding out that meet times don't mean anything. I pulled into Randolph East at about 5:15, and just as I got my boots on, Mike pulled in, having gone down the road a piece before turning around and finding the lot (which isn't marked). We both suited up, and hopped in Mike's truck to head up to Jefferson Notch. The gate was still open, so up we went. The road is still in halfway decent shape, though there was a dusting of snow above about 2300 feet, making the driving interesting enough that Mike put on his 4WD. I made the comment that this would be interesting in the afternoon, in my front wheel drive car!

So, it came to pass, that at 6:15, we started up Caps Ridge Trail. This was a trail I've long had on my list of trails to come back and conquer, since I turned back on it in October of 2010, under heavy winds and hail. Good thing I started redlining! We started up through the woods, here dominated by thick evergreens, coated in a gossamer thin layer of snow. Every time we'd look around, there would be thousands of pinpoint reflections off of the snow crystals, and in the silence of the early morning, it was pretty magical. Soon we reached the view ledge, and got a glimpse of what we had to climb, a view I'd been witness to before.

The southern Presidential ridge

We spent a few minutes, myself with wonderment, at the outlook, watching the early morning light bleed color into the cold, steel blue surroundings. Then we headed up towards the Caps. The only description I can give for them, is that they're large, rocky, protuberances on the ridge that you have to climb up, over, and around. They were a hell of a lot of fun, with just enough snow and ice to make things interesting, but without the need for spikes or heavier traction. As we climbed, we found that rime ice had formed on the rocks, and the amounts of it increased steadily as we climbed.

Nearing the bottom of the first Cap

Castle Ridge to the right

After clearing the Caps, it was a stiff, but beautiful, climb to the summit. I was surprised that there had been barely any wind up to this point, especially since we were so exposed to the prevailing westerly flow. No sooner did I think that, the wind picked up, not especially strong, but enough to be noticed. We then crested the summit, and took in the views.

Adams from Jefferson

Washington and Clay from Jefferson

West view towards Mt. Dartmouth and Mt. Deception
As we descended towards Edmands Col in the bright sunshine, I realized something. Each of the three times I've ascended Jefferson, there's been snow somewhere along my route, a perhaps unimportant, but interesting tidbit. We ran into the first person of the day just above Edmands Col, he was out doing a solo Presidential Traverse, and we chatted for a minute before continuing on our separate ways. He had told us that a group camped out above treeline the night before, and we'd probably run into them. We decided to take a break on the lee side of the ridge not far from Sphinx Col, somewhat out of the wind.

Mike negotiating the Jefferson snowfield

The trail-less Jefferson Ravine

Looking up towards Adams V near Edmands Col



Some food, and further layering later, we started up towards Adams. We soon ran into a group of five, were these the folks who had camped out last night? We never did find out, as they passed without stopping, the lead guy saying "hey boys" to us on the way by. They all looked to be having a good time. The climb to Adams passed uneventfully, with more feathery, rime covered rocks and things to catch my interest. The summit of Adams presented the strongest winds we'd experienced all day, with Mt. Washington recording gusts to 60 MPH from about 10:30am onward, and we were on Adams at about 11:15.

Madison from Adams

From Adams, our descent became rickety. We both realized early on, after putting on our microspikes, that they were dulled to the point of being nearly useless. This made the descent off the cone of Adams tricky, not to mention the rocks we had to negotiate. We made our way cautiously down to Madison Hut, and took a break in the sun on the east side of the hut, out of the wind. I'll always know where I was at 12:12pm on 12/12/12, at 4800 feet in the Madison/Adams col, hard to forget a setting like that.

Coming down from Adams, I made mentioned to Mike about my backup plan for descent, and how I wasn't sure about Howker Ridge. He left it up to me to decide, he was fine with either. After our break, we layered back up, and tackled Madison. About halfway up, I decided to give Howker Ridge a go, as I didn't feel like descending this portion of Osgood Trail with the ice and snow sitting the way it was. Decisions, decisions. Then we hit Madison, and the views continued to be fantastic.

Mt. Hight, Carter Dome, Carter Notch, and Wildcat A from Madison

The Mahoosuc Range from Madison
Here's where the pace slowed to a crawl. The Howker Ridge Trail follows the crest of (would you believe it?!?) Howker Ridge, passing over several "Howks" along the way. Each of these requires a steep ascent and descent on either side, and each of these ascents and descents were covered in ice. Clinging to trees, and making long reaches with arms and legs became standard practice. I know how Xar felt when her and I did Saddleback last month, I was definitely beyond my comfort level on many occasions, but the only way to go was down, rather than risking going up and over what we'd just come down. Putting crampons on crossed my mind, but that would have only served to slow us up even more, but also would have dulled my crampons with all the rock.

Needless to say, our descent was treacherous at best, and we didn't end up taking off our microspikes until about 3/4 of a mile from the car. We also came out in the dark, such is life this time of year.

Looking down Howker Ridge

Deceptive trail in a col between a couple of the "Howks"

Looking back towards Madison

After retrieving Mike's truck from Jefferson Notch (my car handled the road like a champ), we went looking for food. Cabin Fever was closed for some reason, so we went looking further towards Conway, and ended up at a pizza joint across from Attitash (I can't remember the name), where we gorged ourselves on pizza. A great way to spend the twelfth day of the twelfth month, of the twelfth year.