Friday, November 30, 2012

The Montalban Ridge 11/29/12

Working title: Trails are for pussies

Peaks: Mt. Crawford, Stairs Mountain, Mt. Davis, Mt. Isolation

Trails: Davis Path, Crawford Spur, Stairs Spur, Davis Spur, bushwhack, Isolation Spur, Isolation Trail (East), Rocky Branch Trail

Mileage/time: 18.4 miles, 5600 feet of gain, book time of 12:02, actual time of 11:50

Last weeks Tripyramids extravaganza netted plans for this week, a Franconia Ridge traverse. Mother nature had other ideas. With the Mount Washington Observatory calling for temps in the single digits, 60-80 mph winds increasing to 70-90 with higher gusts in the afternoon, and wind chills of 30-40 below zero, we decided the traverse might not be a good idea. Owl's Head was floated as an alternative, as was Isolation... then Mike mentioned the Davis Path. I ran some numbers, and it looked like a doable day hike, mostly sheltered, and fairly gentle. Initially I didn't include the spur trails to the summits along the way, as the forecast called for summits in the clouds, so I quoted Mike 17 miles, and 5200 feet of gain, and a plan was in place.

There was a lot for me to do on Wednesday, so I got out of work at 6am, and stayed up all day, getting stuff done and preparing. By 6pm, I was done, brain not functioning, and I passed out, setting my alarm for 2:30 so I could finish final preparations. Alarm goes off, dressed, prepped, and out the door by 3:40. I figured since I needed to pick up something for breakfast, and get gas, it would give me more than enough time to make it to the Rocky Branch trailhead before 6. It was mostly clear on my drive up, with passing clouds, and a bright, nearly full moon lighting the road. I ended up arriving at 5:20, so I got my boots on, and settled in for a bit of a wait. The wait was short-lived, as Mike pulled in just after 5:30, hoping I was early. He got himself ready, threw his stuff in my backseat, and we were off to the Davis Path trailhead.

Mike was ready to go before I was, and ended up pacing around the empty lot waiting for my slow-ass to finish getting ready. We started down the trail at 6:15 by headlamp, shortly crossing a suspension bridge across the Saco River. The lower section of Davis Path was easy to follow in the dark, and there was no snow, interesting for it being almost December. We climbed gradually at first, then more moderately, as light slowly bled into the sky above. It's hard to imagine that this trail used to be a bridle path, where horses were ridden up to the summit of Mt. Washington. There are sections where I can see it being feasible, others not at all. The first rays of sunlight broke out onto some ledges near the spur to Mt. Crawford, and with the weather cooperating (clear skies overhead and manageable winds), we decided to hit the summit spurs along the way. As we climbed, there was a light dusting of snow, just enough to make things interesting.

Carrigain from Davis Path

Tremont and the Sandwich Range from Davis Path

Golden morning light

The views from Mt. Crawford were impressive, revealing some of our targets for the rest of the day, a socked in Mt. Washington, and many places I've been before. The winds were rolling steady out of the northwest, and it was certainly cold, but neither of us were uncomfortable. About the time my facial hair started to freeze up, we got down off the summit, and made our way back to Davis Path.

Crawford Notch from Mt. Crawford

Carrigain and Nancy

Giant Stairs

From here, the trail begins its rolling jaunt up the Montalban Ridge towards Mt. Washington. It dropped to a small col, and climbed up an easterly shoulder of Crawford Dome, with an open ledgy section along the way, before dropping again as it neared the base of Mt. Resolution. The trail then goes nearly level for a while, as it works its way along the west side of Resolution. This was a common theme for the day, as the Davis Path never passes over any of the summits, but skirts them to the east or west.

We reached the Stairs Col Trail junction, and had some views up to the impressive Giant Stairs. Heading to the west side of the ridge, we soon reached the spur, and climbed up to the summit. The true summit is in the woods, but the viewpoint from the top of the "stairs" was fantastic.

Sandwich Range from Stairs

Kearsarge North et al from Stairs

There are a couple of designated camping sites just off the summit, would be a cool place to spend the night. From here, the trail runs for a good 4 miles, undulating, working its way along the ridgeline, seemingly coming upon false summits all along the way. Eventually, we could see a summit through the trees that wasn't false, and we reached the spur. The Mt. Davis Spur was pretty steep and rough, and while we made it up and down with bare boots, it was tricky with some icy sections. The views and the wind were incredible.

North to Isolation and Boott Spur from Davis

Franklin and Monroe from Davis

Carrigain and Nancy Range from Davis

After a rickety descent, we started the short hike over to Isolation, or so we thought. Probably about 0.3 from the summit spur, the trail disappeared into a mass of downed trees. We started climbing over and ducking under them trying to find the trail on the other side... all we found were more downed trees. Enter the impromptu bushwhack. Mike went left, and I went right, we zig-zagged a bit before just aiming for the highpoint and pushing through. It was thick, it was nasty, but it was a hell of a lot of fun. We popped out of the scrub onto the summit of Isolation.

The beginning of blowdown hell

Leaving the summit, we got back onto Davis Path, and headed north. We ran into some blowdowns I'd read a report about not far from the junction of Isolation East, but they were fairly passable. Once on Isolation East, the trail doesn't really do much, just keeps you on mostly the same contour for quite a ways. There were some blowdowns that we were able to navigate, and some icy stretches. We put on Microspikes about 0.8 from the junction with Rocky Branch Trail, and agreed that we should have put them on sooner. We made it to Rocky Branch Shelter as the light was beginning to fade, and snow started lightly falling from the sky.

Sentinels watching over Rocky Branch Shelter #2
Here is where we took our longest break of the day. It was really nice, a light snow, fading light, knowing you're still almost 4 miles from the road. I've started hikes by headlamp, but have never finished one by headlamp, here's a first. Right from the shelter, headlamps lit our way. The crossings that I remember were partially ice bridged, but I found myself getting a bit of tunnel vision while hiking along, following Mikes silhouette, with snowflakes flying in my face. Snow began to pick up its intensity as we descended, and I could hear the wind roaring overhead at times. I was thankful for a couple chances to stop and adjust my microspikes, and I asked Mike to turn off his headlamp for a second. We enjoyed our surroundings without headlamps for a minute, it was pretty awesome, an ethereal scene of open woods and a sense of the slope we were on emerged from the blackness. Uneventfully down we went, and just as we questioned whether or not we should be hearing vehicles by now, we popped out at the trailhead and Mikes waiting truck.

We then drove around, picked up my car at the other end, and went to the Cabin Fever Restaurant, where we enjoyed some coffee and apple pie. A great way to end a long hike, on a cold and blustery day. Thanks Mike for joining me on this extra long trek!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tripyramids 11/23/12

Working subtitle: "Fuck your Black Friday, I'm going hiking"

Peaks: North Tripyramid, Middle Tripyramid

Trails: Livermore Trail (from the Kanc), Mt. Tripyramid Trail, Pine Bend Brook Trail

Mileage/time: 10.9 miles, 3300 feet of gain, book time of 7:09, actual time of 6:18

Sitting here (rather half laying) today, looking back on this hike, my body doesn't like me. Since I first hiked with Mike back in September, we've been talking about doing the North Slide on the Tripyramids, the second most difficult regular hiking trail in the White Mountains. The most difficult being Huntington Ravine, which we slayed our first time out. Finally, after waiting out shitty weather, and a bunch of waffling on my part, we finally had a solid window to make an attempt.

I've been up the slide before, a bit more than two years ago. Now, there's something to be said for experience, and likewise, there's something to be said for being properly equipped. Those were two things I was NOT when I was first on this trail. Having hiked 119 peaks since then, and to put it mildly, having seen some shit, I was more than ready to tackle this again. Last time, the biggest factor, was the dusting of snow, and the light snow that kept falling from the sky. It made for a harrowing ascent of the slide, sticking mostly to the edges, hauling ourselves up by tree branches. This time would prove to be different.

Mike decided on an 8am meet time at Pine Bend Brook, the gentleman Wayne who we met on the Hancocks a few weeks back, was going to be joining us. He was there before I was! Mike arrived, and since he was the last, we piled into his truck for the short ride up to the Livermore trailhead across from Lily Pond.

Mt. Kancamagus (?) from the road
At 8:17am, we started rolling up the Livermore Trail. I set the pace at first, knowing that both Mike and Wayne were faster than myself. I soon relinquished the lead, and settled for bringing up the rear the rest of the day. In fact, they began referring to me, as old man... and they're both 20 years older than I am. That just means I need to work harder. The northern part of Livermore Trail is pretty nice, and seems to be really lightly used in comparison to the southern, Waterville Valley end. That doesn't mean it wasn't easy to follow, though in the flats through Livermore Pass, I can see how high grasses could obscure the trail, as blazing is infrequent and faded. There were some extremely eroded sections on the climb up to the pass, not to mention some big blowdowns and some clusters blocking the trail. The south side was smooth sailing for the most part, as the trail widened out as it passed through birch glades, becoming more of a road, as it is on the Waterville end.

We quickly reached the northern end of the Mt. Tripyramid Trail, and made the turn, hitting the Sandwich Range Wilderness boundary at 10. Up to this point, we'd been dealing with dry (frozen) trail, some minor mud, and blowdowns. The section I was most worried about, the base of the slide, was coming up. After a small section of gravely outwash, the slide began, and as I feared, there was a healthy glaze of ice!

The icy base of the slide
We worked our way up the slope to the left, and were able to avoid all the ice on this lower portion. Wayne and myself kept in the open and just went up following the slide, Mike on the other hand, was on the actual trail which avoids the bit Wayne and I were on. He joked later that I was off trail and had to go redline it again, to which my retort was, I've already done it.

Compared to last time, this climb was a breeze. Views opened up the higher we climbed, the slabs were dry and grippy, with only minimal (and very avoidable) ice in some isolated cracks. In all honesty, it went by too quickly, and before we knew it, we were at the top of the slide, and headed back into the woods to hit the summit.

I finally found the "viewpoint" on North Tripyramid, after being up here twice before. It wasn't bad, a short little herd path just behind the summit rock to the left. The views were pretty obstructed, but they ranged from Washington to the north to Passaconway to the east. We didn't linger here for long, and made our way quickly over to Middle Tripyramid, where the views are better, and we took a break for lunch.

West from Middle Tripyramid (Camel's Hump is in the center on the horizon)

Chocorua and Passaconaway from Middle Tripyramid
From here, I stopped taking pictures. I've been on Pine Bend before, and it was pretty uneventful. Got some nice views over to the slide from near the Scaur Ridge Trail junction, and then dropped off the ridge. The steepness got the better of my knees. I was slow on the way up, as my calves and knees weren't cooperating, I blame the 17.5 mile day on Wednesday. Either way, I grit my teeth, and worked through the pain, keeping up with Wayne and Mike. After dropping down into the drainage, the trail smoothed out a lot, and the pain lessened a bit. It went a hell of a lot faster than I remember from back in June, but that was at the end of a 17.5 mile day too, it's amazing what distance will do for your sense of time.

We popped out on the Kanc at 2:33, just after my predicted end time of 2:30. After a brief rest, we decided to drive to Lincoln and get coffee. Wayne followed Mike and I, as I dropped him at his truck, then continued on to the coffee shop. There, we hashed out plans for next Thursday (it's looking like a full Franconia Ridge Traverse if the weather holds), and reminisced about the day. I soon took my leave, and wound my way back along the Kanc. The sunset was brilliant, and I stopped at one of the overlooks to take some pictures. Thanks to Mike and Wayne for an awesome day!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mt. Nancy (3927 ft.) and Carrigain Notch 11/21/12

Peak: Mt. Nancy

Trails: Nancy Pond Trail, herd path, Carrigain Notch Trail, Signal Ridge Trail, Sawyer River Road, Rt. 302

Mileage/time: 17.5 miles, ~4000 ft. of gain, book time of 10:45, actual time of 7:52

The original plan for today called for hitting Mt. Nancy and Vose Spur for the 100 Highest list. As you can see, only one happened, but not for lack of trying. With the shortness of the days, I gave myself until noon to get to the start of the bushwhack for Vose Spur, leaving myself plenty of time to get back on trail before it got dark. In retrospect, it probably could have been done, but the older I get, the more erring on the side of caution serves me well. I'm getting ahead of myself.

At the crack of 6:30, I started up the Nancy Pond Trail. It was chilly, but I soon took off my shell, and was hiking in just a heavyweight, grid-backed base layer for the rest of the day. The early part of the trail was very gradual, serving as a good warm up, and it was nice to get away from the road noise and the sounds of the world. The trail followed old roads in the early parts, then turned off them and began climbing more steeply up to the first on trail objective for the day, Nancy Cascade. It was all a frozen mess, but it was still beautiful to see. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a shot of the whole thing, as there was a giant tree down right in front of it!

From the base of the cascade, the trail really starts to climb. Up steep switchbacks, the trail wends it way up next to the cascade, offering some more views of it, and some views over to the Montalban Ridge, most prominently, the Giant Stairs. There were more than 2 dozen blowdowns of varying types along this stretch, it sure made for interesting travel.

The trail moderates as it works it way towards its namesake, Nancy Pond. It wasn't really much to look at from the trail, but it's a nice high altitude backcountry pond. It's neighbor, Norcross Pond, was magnificent. The views across to the Bonds/Twins (the view from the outlet is better than the view from the east end of the pond), the view up to Anderson, just the way it's situated... it's damn near perfect.

Nancy Pond

Bonds/Guyot/Twins over Norcross Pond

Mt. Anderson over Norcross Pond

Reaching the west end of Norcross Pond, I noticed a small no camping sign nailed to a tree, this was my hint to turn to my right and start looking around. It was pretty obvious, step over the tree and follow the path into the woods. There was a fork, at which there were remnants of a fire pit with charred logs, I took the left fork and began the climb to Nancy. The herd path was more of a trail than some official trails I've been on. In places, it was pretty brushy, but the footbed was always discernable. Where the path leads out onto the slide, there's another path that goes to the right, I took this way figuring I'd check out the slide on the way down. The path avoids the slide and brings you out near the top of it. Here's where things get really steep, like "reach out and touch the trail in front of you" steep in places.

The beginning

The steepness

Dig the angular rock
The path haphazardly made an attempt at switchbacking (a very steep attempt), realized that was futile, gave it the beans, and went vertical. It was fairly short lived, and it soon mellowed out, as it wandered towards the summit. The summit was marked with a sign, but had no cairn or canister. The views to the north and east were impressive.

Bemis, Montalban Ridge, and Evans Notch peaks from Nancy

Wildcats/Carters from Nancy

Looking up the Dry River valley to Washington from Nancy
I soaked in the views for a few minutes, then started down, I had a timetable to keep! I ended up blowing by the bottom of the slide on my way down, next time for sure. There were some views through the trees of Anderson, Lowell, Vose Spur and Carrigain, but it wasn't worth taking a picture of. The view from the outlet of Norcross Pond, across to the Bonds, Twins, and some of Zealand ridge, with Franconia Ridge poking out, is amazing. I took a short break here and had a snack while I admired.

Now it was time to lose some of that elevation that I'd gained. The Nancy Pond Trail descends westward into the wilderness, never steeply, on a pretty smooth footbed (by White Mountain standards), fairly free of rock and root. I encountered some more blowdowns here and there, but they weren't all that bad. There was one cluster down across the trail, at a point where the trail jogged right, it was good thing I was paying attention! At one of the stream crossings, upon reaching the other side, the top of a blowdown obscures the trail, and a herd path turns right up to a bootleg campsite. I had to push through the top of the blowdown to continue onward. There was one very weird section just before the Carrigain Notch Trail, it was all 10 foot tall evergreens, tightly spaced on both sides of the trail, almost like a hallway effect. One cluster had me climbing up onto it, about 4 feet in the air, because there was no viable workaround in the thick evergreens.

I took a break after reaching the Carrigain Notch Trail, it was 11:10, and there was elevation gain ahead. Doubts crossed my mind, would I make it to the start of the bushwhack in enough time? As it turned out, no, I arrived at the big rock around 12:20. I'm not disappointed at all, especially with how my feet and legs feel right now, that extra ~2 miles and ~1400 feet of gain wouldn't have done me any favors. This way, I figure, it's an excuse to do Vose Spur this winter, and bushwhack to Carrigain for my Winter 48!

Carrigain Notch Trail was nice, though it was eroded heavily on its northern end, but conditions improved quickly thereafter. Unfortunately, on my climb, there were maneuvers happening in the skies above, disrupting my wilderness experience. Up through the height of land on easy grades, and down the other side. It's a really nice section of trail, you should probably just do it. There are two dry crossings that saw significant flow during Irene last year, and these could pose a navigational challenge. Rule of thumb, just go straight across.

I didn't recognize Signal Ridge Trail at all, almost until the end, when I looked down the slope from one of the relocations, and saw the old trail. It's amazing what more than two years will do for your memory. It only took an hour to get from the big rock, to Sawyer River Road, and with only one car in the trailhead lot, it was time for a 3 mile road walk! I passed by some of the remains of the town of Livermore, as I'd only driven down this road, not walked it. Pretty neat how nature has retaken the land. I managed not to get hit on 302, and arrived blissfully at my car at 2:22.

So while I didn't complete the goal for the day, I'm still eternally happy with the result. 11.2 miles of new trail redlined, and #72/100!