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!

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