Friday, October 26, 2012

Wandering in the Kilkenny 10/25/12

Peaks: The Horn, The Bulge, Mt. Cabot, Terrace Mountain (3 peaks), Mt. Weeks (3 peaks), Mt. Waumbek, Mt. Starr King

Trails: Unknown Pond Trail (north), Kilkenny Ridge Trail, various spur trails and herd paths, Starr King Trail

Mileage/time: 20.25 miles, 7200 ft. of gain, book time of 13:47, actual time of 9:47

This day gave me a lot of time alone, to reflect, to ponder, to make sense of things. The last year has seen a lot of changes, disillusion of my relationship, and a renewed focus on hiking, among other things. As to the former, good, I'm happier than I've been in a long time. To the latter, I've stepped up my game a lot since the beginning of August, getting out every week, and making some big hikes happen. This was going to be one of them.

So, after 4 hours of restless sleep, the alarm went off at 3am... who wakes up this early?!? Everything was prepared the night before, so it was a matter of getting dressed, and going. The fastest way to the Starr King trailhead took me on some roads I hadn't been on in a while, and they probably contributed to my getting there super fast, and way early. This gave me time to gear up and await my ride. Lefty E, my sponsor from the Views from the Top forum, graciously agreed to give me a ride from here to where I was going to start. He arrived right around 6, and after a short meet and greet in the darkness, we hopped in his truck and started north towards Stark. After a fairly short drive, we turned down Mill Brook Road and made it to the northern trailhead for Unknown Pond. We said our goodbyes, I thanked him for the ride, and made a donation towards gas/oil change/his time... it was the least I could do. Off towards the ridge trail where I would spend most of my day!

6:35am, still dark, hoofing up Unknown Pond Trail by headlamp. Probably 15 minutes up the trail, I ran into a giant mud pit on the trail. Not seeing any rocks to step on, I decided to go out into the woods to try and avoid it... and ended up sinking ankle deep in mud, with both feet. Nothing got over the top of my shoes, but it still made for interesting walking until the mud had dried and flaked off. Shortly after 7, I was able to turn off the headlamp, and made my way quickly up to the Kilkenny Ridge Trail junction, arriving at about 20 minutes of 8. Unknown Pond Trail from the north was pretty nice, not a lot of leaf cover on the trail, and really only the aforementioned muddy spot to deal with. Not to mention nice open birch glades in the lower section, and the consistent, easy grade.

Sun hitting the Pilot ridge

Looking down Unknown Pond Trail
Now the first of many climbs commenced. The woods up to the Horn were beautiful and open, and the climb to the spur trail went by very fast. The spur had very soft footing, and I scrambled up the summit rock (tricky) to vast views, at 20 minutes of 9. I soaked in the views, but didn't hang out for long, as I could see most of my objectives ahead of me, and that spurred me to keep going. I'll make sure to leave ample time to enjoy this beautiful spot, when I'm next here.

Mt. Cabot and the Bulge

Shoulder of Cabot in the foreground, Terrace, the Weeks, and Waumbek, Washington in back

Pilot Ridge

Carters and Presidentials
Back down the spur trail, where I had my first ankle roll of the day, the right one. I cursed, not what I wanted to happen, 1/4 of the way, and one peak, through the day. I managed to walk it off, and made quick time over the uninspired, viewless peak of the Bulge, to Mt. Cabot. Went to the actual high point (stick screwed to a tree), and found a herd path with a good view to the southwest... who knew Cabot had views! Then down to the cabin, passing the site of the old fire tower, which has good views to the east and west. Someone has definitely done a lot of work between the cabin and the summit, as I recall it being blowdown hell the last time I was through here. Great job! Again, I didn't linger at the cabin, though I did go inside, nothing's changed, and I'm still totally jealous of the raised relief map of the White Mountains on the wall.

Kilkenny Ridge Trail on the way to Cabot

The unofficial Cabot summit marker, there was writing on there at one point

Southwest towards Franconia Ridge from the near summit viewpoint

Cabot Cabin
 Now began the first of many steep drops I'd have to make throughout the day, down to Bunnell Notch. Thankfully this was a section of trail I'd been on before, so no surprises. Bunnell Rock provided a good viewpoint down into the notch, into Willard Basin, and over to Terrace, my next targets (damned triple peaked mountains). Uneventfully down, to around 3100 feet in the notch (which was beautiful this time of year), then the 500 foot climb up to North Terrace commenced.

Down into Bunnell Notch

Willard Basin from Bunnell Rock

Kikenny Ridge Trail in Bunnell Notch
The climb up to North Terrace wasn't that bad, the trail climbed on easy grades, sometimes switchbacking, though care was needed to follow the trail. The footbed wasn't the easiest thing in the world to pick out, and sporadic, old blazing didn't help either. A couple uninspired drops and gains, over Middle Terrace, and I found myself on the spur to South Terrace, which provided a view across Willard Notch to North Weeks. It was getting near time to take a break, and I decided to make the 1.1 down the notch before I did so.

Cabot talus fields from near North Terrace

Kilkenny Ridge Trail

North Weeks from South Terrace

Kilkenny Ridge Trail
At the junction with York Pond Trail, I found a rock, and took a seat. It was 11:40, and I began estimating when I'd be done. Not knowing what lay ahead (excepting the last 3.8 miles), I figured I'd be out a bit after 5, but with daylight still left. A sandwich, some protein, a gel shot, and some water got me ready for what was to come.

From Willard Notch (~2700 ft.), there's a stiff 1200 foot climb to North Weeks, which the trail accomplishes by switchbacks, though the trail was becoming more and more primeval in nature, with a footbed that was nearly indistinguishable from the surrounding forest. Sporadic blazing, and countless blowdowns, continued to be the the name of the game. The Weeks peaks nearly did me in, not only the initial climb to North Weeks, but the significant drops and gains between the peaks. Somewhere on the climb to Middle Weeks, I lost the trail. The nearest I can figure, is there was a giant blowdown that I worked my way over, but the trail must have taken a turn near there that I didn't see. Thankfully, the woods were open, and I was near enough to the peak, that I could see where I needed to go. After about 10 to 15 minutes, I popped out on the trail, which I followed to the summit. I'll mention that from the North/Middle col to Waumbek, this is some serious moose country. In this stretch, I saw no less than 15-20 moose, and every time I saw droppings on the trail, I'd let out a whistle, so they knew I was there.

All three Weeks were very uninteresting (see: no views), but the woods through here were absolutely beautiful. I wonder why the WMNF hasn't designated this as a Wilderness Area, as I found it to be incredibly remote and quiet.

Kilkenny Ridge Trail

Kilkenny Ridge Trail

A moose, got himself caught between two trees, trying to get away from me

He freed himself, and then starred me down
From South Weeks, the trail gains the summit ridge of Waumbek, and the walking became very easy, though my legs protested every seeming false summit along the way. A few hundred yards from Waumbek, I was presented with a fine view of the Presidentials from a blowdown patch, and then popped out on the viewless summit. It was 3pm, and there were still 3.8 miles to go from here. Confident that I'd be out well before dark, I started over to Starr King, and the descent to the car. 20 minutes later, I was on Starr King, starring at the old fireplace, and the view. Flying now, after the trail dropped into the hardwood stands, it became covered in down leaves. Thankfully the trail maintainer(s) had been up here cleaning out drainages, making the trail a bit easier to discern. About a half mile from the trailhead, I saw the first (and last) people of the day, a couple with their dog. I chatted with them briefly, and continued on to the car, arriving at 4:22. Thankfully, they were behind me, because my water bottle popped out of the side pocket on my pack, and they picked it up for me. Thanks!

Presidentials from near Waumbek

Fireplace on Starr King

Presidentials from Starr King

Starr King Trail
Well, put this one in the record books. The longest hike to date (by .25 miles), the second most elevation gain in a day, and knocking 4 peaks off my NEHH list. Couldn't ask for more!

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Baldpates 10/21/12

I awoke early this day, to prepare breakfast for my friend Suzy, then to take her higher than she'd ever been before (altitude wise). Breakfast consisted of some delicious smoked bacon, some scrambled eggs, and homefries, which she thought I had made from frozen potatoes... blasphemy. It was deemed acceptable, though the homefries could have been more crispy, and we then hopped in the car to head to Grafton Notch. The drive was pretty uneventful, not too many folks out on a Sunday morning, and we soon arrived in the notch, clouds obscuring Old Speck with the Baldpates in the clear. It was cloudy overhead, windy, and pretty chilly, and I would soon get a reminder that winter is coming... and that shit is cold!

We started across the road at a very gentlemanly/ladylike time of 10, and were almost immediately greeted by mud, which persisted throughout the day. Some being hidden by fallen leaves, some in plain sight, and some posing as solid ground. I let Suzy take the lead, as I wasn't sure how fast she hiked, and I didn't want her to have to try and keep up with me. She set a good pace, nice and methodical, slow, even steps. Along the way, were passed by a girl and her husky, who was on her first hike since having surgery, they went up and back to West Peak. The dog looked to be doing awesome, especially since it was her first hike back out! Excellent conversation was had, the mileage flowed by, and after a fashion, we found ourselves on West Peak, the wind blasting through the trees around us. 

Until this point, I'd been wearing a synthetic short sleeve with a long sleeve base layer over it, so I dug into my pack to get out my shell. It's a two year old Rab Exodus softshell that's served me well in some heinous conditions, though today it didn't like me. Upon pulling it out and putting it on, I began fumbling for the zipper pull, which I found on the wrong side, and then realized that it was bent and free floating on the right side of the zipper (not the left like it should have been... British). I was getting pretty cold at this point, and cursed myself for not packing my down jacket too. In the end, I got out my knife, popped the plastic bit off the top of the left side of the zipper, and was able to zip the jacket, though the zipper is messed up about halfway. Now to see if I can repair it (or have it repaired)... though I may just get a new shell, decisions, decisions.

East Peak from near West Peak

North view from near West Peak
After my wardrobe malfunction, we headed down into the col, where the winds continued to buffet us. The ledge sections here were very slick, and the mud especially deep and deceptive. The ladders were a nice touch, though slippery, and the bog bridging once in the col was just plain evil in its slipperiness. Ahead of us loomed the massive ledge complex on East Baldpate. The wind was at our back as we ascended the mostly dry ledges, and topped out on the summit plateau no worse for wear.

We soon reached the summit of East Baldpate, where we were greeted by a group of four ladies who said they'd come up from East B Hill Road in Andover, and were making a traverse down to Rt. 26. Sounds like an awesome day! After stopping briefly, Suzy had a snack (I wasn't hungry), and enduring the cold and wind, we sallied forth back down the ledges to the col. While on the summit, I had noticed off to the west, rain falling, and I made the recommendation to get down off the ledges before it hit. We did just that, and the rain, while brief, ended up making the ladies who we met on the summit cut their lunch break short. Carefully, we picked our way back up West Peak and then on down the trail. We leapfrogged the ladies a couple of times, then we took off down the spur trail to Baldpate Shelter, where we hung out in the sun for a while, relaxed, and ate. 

After the sun went behind the clouds, it got chilly again, and we got moving down. Shortly after the upper junction with Table Rock Trail, we ran into two thru hikers (within a couple minutes of each other), and one had the tiniest trail dog I've ever seen. It looked to me like a mini Dachshund, and it apparently had come all the way from Georgia! So awesome. Slowly, through brief showers, and much mud, we made our way back to the parking lot, making the day a success.

In the lot, we ran into two of the four ladies from East Baldpate. Apparently, they had made a traverse from South Arm Road (not East B Hill Road), and had left the keys for their vehicle in the car on South Arm Road. We offered to give one of them a ride to their other car, but the other two had already set off up the road to hitchhike, about 15 minutes before we arrived. I said I didn't mind driving up the road a ways to see if I could find them and give them a ride, so we did just that. After driving 6 miles and having seen no one, we figured someone must have picked them up, and returned to the parking lot to tell them just that. I hope everything worked out for you ladies! 

Lesson learned, always remember the keys. Thanks to Suzy for joining me for #62, and for a great day!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Whitecap (3856 ft.) and North Kennebago Divide (3775 ft.) 10/18/12

After taking a much deserved week off from hiking, it was time to get back into the fold. Some life decisions are in the works, so I figured it was time to buckle down, and try to get the 100 Highest done before said life decisions come into effect. I had big plans this week, but mother nature had other ideas, so when Dave called me and asked if I wanted to push Fridays plan ahead to Thursday, I said okay. The initial plan was to hike to Whitecap and North Kennebago Divide, get back to the car, then drive into Canada, and hike to Boundary Peak via the border swath. What follows is a lesson in success, failure, and learning not to always rely on your technology.

Up at 5am, supplies gathered, across town to Dave's house, throw my gear into his vehicle, and we're off and on the road by 6. The long drive north goes uneventfully, and we stop for gas in Rangeley, not far from where we head off the paved roads. He has the trailhead marked in his GPS, as well as directions to it, though the GPS initially sends us down a road that ends at a gate several miles in. Turn around, and try again! Eventually we find Morton Cutoff, and start down it. I won't bother with specifics, as this information is readily available. We wind our way along taking turns on Tim Pond Road/Lincoln Pond Road, Wiggle Brook Road, and Bear Brook Road, which eventually comes to a spot where you can't drive any further. Here's where we begin!

The "road"

We gear up, for some reason I'm wearing green (this guy needs to get a bright base layer for this time of year), and we follow the grassy road upwards. Its wet in spots, and muddy at times, but overall good walking. Shortly we come to a point where it appears the road may have continued straight, it actually takes a right here, and continues up the slope after a fashion. Thereafter, we notice several paths headed off to the left, one of which is flagged at the beginning. We remember these for later, and continue on up the ever diminishing road. Then we reach a spot where the road in front of us becomes grown in with small evergreens, there is a cairn in the grass, and to the left on a log is a small cairn, this marks the entrance to the herd path to Whitecap. You have to push through right at the beginning, but once you find the path, it's unmistakeable, and easy to follow. The path meanders through the woods, and we soon reached the high point and the canister. Number 91 for Dave and number 60 for me! In all, it had taken about 55 minutes from the car to the peak. Since we barely broke a sweat getting here, we signed the register (last entry from 9/21), and started back to the road.

Open woods along the herd path to Whitecap

Once back on the road, we descended to the point where the flagged path came in on our right. After consulting the map and GPS, we started off down it. The path was fairly wide and open at first, but then began to parallel Kennebago Divide and descend. We worked our way back up a bit, took a visual bearing on the peak, and started off down a likely path. This, of course, petered out after a short while, and we dove into the spruce. It was never extremely thick, and after a while, we found the ridge, and shortly thereafter, a herd path. The airway was never very open, but as long as you kept your eyes on the ground, the path was pretty easy to follow. Spruce needles rained down on us as we pushed through the growth, but we persevered and soon popped out on North Kennebago Divide, a repeat for Dave, and number 61 for me. Pictures and canister entries followed, then we started our descent, not before being visited by a couple of Gray Jays, who were probably pretty peeved that we didn't feed them. They also wouldn't pose for pictures... divas. We followed the herd path back down the ridge towards the col (if you notice a herd path continuing past the summit, don't bother following, it doesn't go anywhere), and we avoided most of the thick stuff we encountered on the way up. We did lose the path towards the end, but after a few hundred yards of moderate thickness, we popped out about 50 feet down the flagged path we left from. Solid navigation!

North Kennebago Divide from the "road"

We then made our way to the car, and arrived back at 12:45, 3 hours and 15 minutes after we left. That provided time, and the original plan was still on. Grab some food from the pack, hop in the car, and head to Canada. While this might seem easy, easy wasn't how it went down. Firstly, Dave had the "trailhead" for Boundary in his GPS from the last time he was there, so he set it, and we started off down the road. I'll explain that the GPS on the way in kept trying to tell us to turn onto Kennebago River Road (which doesn't exist to my knowledge), so really, we shouldn't have trusted it. What we wanted, was to find Tim Pond Road, and follow it all the way to Eustis, then go to the border from there. What happened, was we followed the GPS blindly, until we realized it was taking us in circles, and nothing around us was familiar. Megantic Winter Road, Cupsuptic Tote Road, on roads the GPS didn't even know existed. Eventually we saw a truck and pulled up next to it. The guy was from Seven Islands Land Co. (who owns most of the land in the area), and he told us to go back the way we came, which we did, supplementing his directions with those of another logger along the way. We eventually found Tim Pond Road, and after 18 long miles, we popped back out on 27 near Eustis. What a nice detour in the middle of nowhere.

So part three of our plan was underway. We soon neared the border, following a truck that was carrying several giant bundles of sticks, the one on the back was moving around... sketchy. We reached a line of vehicles at the Coburn Gore crossing (about 5), and found they were doing pre-screening on the U.S. side. Eventually, it was our turn, we stopped, turned off the engine, let the dog sniff around, and answered some questions. Then it was the Canadians turn to grill us. When asked where we were going, we showed the guy our directions, and told him we were going to hike on the border swath. He then informed us that we couldn't do that, and that the border swath was "no mans land". Also, that if we were caught on the swath, we would be arrested immediately, and then never be allowed to leave our country again because we would have criminal records. Note to self: if going to hike Boundary via the swath from the Canadian side, tell them you're going to hike Mont Gosford. I kept my mouth shut, let Dave do the talking, and we were cleared to pass through. However, once we reached the gatehouse for Mont Gosford (and being asked if we were going for a drive), we were told that the hiking trails were closed until the 21st for hunting season. Good thing we didn't try to bushwhack from Kennebago Divide to the swath... probably would have ended up getting shot.

After being in Canada all of 30 minutes, we successfully recrossed the border and headed south. We stopped in Carrabasset Valley to have a beer with our friend Brian, then made our way safely back to Portland. It was a long day, mostly spent on the road, but being able to cross two more off the list, and not getting shot, is priceless.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Osceolas 10/5/12

With much sloth, and little energy, I woke at 3:30, gathered my already prepared things, and rolled out the door. Today I was to meet up with Jes and her friend Bob/Bobby/Robert (he was called all these things throughout the day). I was told 6am, so I made my way along the familiar roads and arrived about 15 minutes early, I think I'm obsessive compulsive about being on time. Either way, there's no cell reception at the Greeley Ponds trailhead, so I waited, and waited... and waited. It got light out, and just as I was telling myself that I would start at 7:30 if no one showed up, they pulled in. They had been running late, and I had no way of knowing... not a huge deal, I chilled out and listened to some tunes, centered my chi, and what have you. We ended up starting at about 7:15, with a chill in the air, and some light clouds drifting overhead.

The jaunt up Greeley Ponds took about 40 minutes, with beautiful fall colors, lots of water, and lots and lots of mud. To be expected after such a prolonged wet stretch. We made the turn, and started up towards East Osceola. The first half mile or so wasn't bad, moderately steep in spots, and the footing wasn't terrible. The steeps then came upon us! Everything was wet, making for tricky footing in spots, but we clambered our way ever higher, eventually reaching some views from an old slide down into Mad River Notch and across to Mt. Kancamagus.

Hancocks and Carrigain

Cliffs in Mad River Notch
Above the slide, the steepness continued, until we reached a small knob. The trail turned left, but herd paths led out to some spectacular views up the Osceola Ridge to Scar Ridge, down into the valley where Lincoln sat under clouds, and over to the Franconia Ridge.

East Osceola


Lincoln and the Franconia Ridge

Scar Ridge
From our viewpoint, East Osceola was a breeze, and we arrived at the fantastic 360 degree tree views from its summit. This was Bob's first North American 4000-footer, and Jes's 14th! We didn't linger long, and made our way down into the col to begin the climb of Osceola proper. The chimney was wet, but manageable, and a whole lot of fun! We ran into several groups that had come up from Tripoli Road, and wished them well. Some views presented themselves on the way across, and before long, we were at the summit, enjoying the sunshine and hazy views.

Passaconaway and the Tripyramids


The Chimney

Waterville Valley and Tecumseh


Hancocks and Carrigain from Osceola

East Osceola from Osceola
The descent proved uneventful, we ran into the same groups coming back from East Osceola, and then picked our way down the steeps. After some slips, and trepidation, we finally came to the more moderate sections of trail, and from that point on, made good time. Mud and slick rocks were the rule of the day. There were a ton of cars in the lot by the time we returned, and by a ton, I mean there were at least 7 other cars in the lot including our own. It's a small lot too! There were several Asian men standing down by the road, with traffic going by really, really slowly. I didn't think anything of it until I pulled out. It looks to me that they tried to just pull out of the lot, not realizing there was an embankment and a drop off into a culvert. Needless to say, they ended up with one wheel on the road, and three in the air... talent!

My drive home sucked! I should have turned left, and gone up and around, but no, I'm an idiot and tried to go back through Fryeburg... at the height of the fair. So after an excruciating drive along the Kanc, dealing with leaf peepers and the great unwashed masses, I found myself stuck in a line of traffic going through Conway. Apparently, this was all caused by school getting out, and both lights in town flashing. Getting through that, I thought it was going to be smooth sailing. My hopes were dashed when a mile from the Maine border on 302, I encountered stopped traffic. I was stuck here for quite some time (also, traffic blows when you have a manual transmission), but in my frustration, I took a right on a likely road, and it put me out exactly where I wanted to be, south of Fryeburg on 113. Now I know how to avoid Fryeburg!

Thanks to Jes and Bob for a great day out, and congratulations on #14 and 15 for Jes and #1 and 2 for Bob!

Here's a link to Jes's blog, so you can follow along with her quest for the 48: LINK