Trails: Hudson Highway ski trail, Tri-Color ski trail, unnamed AT connector, Appalachian Trail, Grey Ghost ski trail
Mileage/time: ~8 miles, ~3000 ft. of gain, book time of 5:30, actual time of 5:15
Today was a day of firsts, only two of them though. I thought about what I believed to be the third one, then realized it had happened before... and I even talked about it today, talk about being on point! The first first (that's probably not proper English), involved me hiking with Xar for the first time since since August... too long really. The second involved hiking with a dead guy. His name was Gary, neither Xar or I knew him, but she had accepted the task of spreading his ashes at the summit of Saddleback.
After an early start, a drive to some town I'd never been to before to collect Xar (played with her roommates friendly cat while she finished getting ready), and a drive into the hills, we were ready to begin. We took a moment in the lodge to prepare, and an employee seemed especially concerned that we were going up to the peak. "There's ice up there you know", she said. No! Really? Ice on a mountain as it gets toward winter? I've never heard anything so insane in my life. Not once. Not ever. Sarcasm aside (I kept my thoughts to myself), we told her we were prepared, and started up the ski slopes at 9:05.
There was a more direct way, but Gary was heavy, so we took the easier route, the Hudson Highway ski trail. This trail meanders a bit in the beginning, taking us away from the summit for a time, then hooking left and starting the climb towards the ridge. It's never steep, though some ice flows, and what I can only describe as pebbles suspended in ice, made for interesting footing at times. Views were immediate and brilliant, not exactly a crystal clear day, but close enough. I generally kept my eyes on the ground or the sky, the little details of early winter astound me.
We continued up past the double chairlift, and onto the Tri-Color ski trail, which is a bit steeper, but still with halfway decent footing. There's not much to say about this portion, it came and went, same with the descent. Hiking up ski trails is pretty boring for the most part. Soon we reached the top of the quad chairlift, and easily found the spur trail (faded yellow blazes on the rocks), and followed it up into the alpine zone. Views continued to open up, and we reached the AT at a signpost, that bears no sign. Taking a left on the AT we reached a frozen alpine tarn, which we marveled at. From there, it was a short 10 minute hike to the true summit, which we reached at 10:43.
|Saddleback false summit, The Horn, and Crockers/Redington beyond|
|South view from Saddleback|
|Abraham from Saddleback|
|Sugarloaf and Spaulding from Saddleback|
Xar reached the limits of her comfort on ice shortly after this section, as we were confronted by a steep ice covered slab with no reasonable way to get up or around it. I managed to swing myself up using some trees, and she threw in the towel. I don't blame her at all, she's not working on any list, and didn't want to risk it. She insisted that I get to the peak, and that she'd take a break, and start back, waiting for me on Saddleback if I hadn't caught up to her before then.
|A bit of ice...|
Unfortunately, the icy slab was the last of the major ice I had to deal with between there and the Horn, I already told Xar if she wanted to come back for the peak, she should drag me along. Along beautifully striated slabs, I climbed, reaching the summit at 12:15. The views from here are breathtaking, easily one of my favorite views from any peak I've climbed.
|Saddleback from the Horn|
|Abraham from the Horn|
|Sugarloaf and Spaulding from the Horn|
|Redington/Crockers from the Horn|
|Washington and the Carter Range on the horizon|
Down, down, down, back to the lodge. We arrived at about 2:20, making good time despite the conditions. Thanks Xar for joining me for this one, and thanks for doing an awesome thing for Gary.
I'll leave you with a poorly executed picture of pebbles suspended in ice.
Also, this leaves me with 10 peaks left to complete the New England 4000 footers list, and 29 peaks left to complete the New England 100 Highest! Closer all the time.