Friday, November 16, 2012

Saddleback and the Horn 11/16/12

Peaks: Saddleback (4120 ft.) and Saddleback, The Horn (4041 ft.)

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.

The... Tarn

Saddleback false summit, The Horn, and Crockers/Redington beyond

South view from Saddleback

Abraham from Saddleback

Sugarloaf and Spaulding from Saddleback
Now it was Gary's turn. We didn't know him, he didn't know us, but Xar had been entrusted with his remains. At approximately 10:45 on November 16, 2012, Gary's ashes were given to the winds on Saddleback Mountain, may he be at rest.

RIP Gary
After a short period on the summit, we began our descent into the deep col between Saddleback and the Horn. From the false summit, we got our first glimpse at the col, and I spied ice.

The Horn

The Col
Our descent was rickety at best, trying to avoid the ice along the way. Eventually, it became too much, and we had to put on the spikes. They didn't exactly make it easier, as I found myself slipping here and there, the coating of ice was so thin in spots. We didn't have them on for long, as we were back to mostly rock when we hit the middle of the col. The climb up to the Horn started gradually, then steepened up significantly, with a metal ladder in one spot.

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...

The Horn


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
I didn't stay long, not liking the fact that my hiking partner was down in the col somewhere. I had to catch up. While still managing to maintain safe footing, I booked it back down to the col and started the re-climb of Saddleback. Not far from the false summit, I saw her up ahead, relief. She looked at me incredulously, "did you put on your spikes?". I just chuckled, "nope". It was a lot easier coming back up, the sun was at the right angle to highlight the ice, making for better judgement. Back on Saddleback, and now the descent.

Washington and the Carter Range on the horizon
We descended to the top of the quad, and I took a break, to eat and hydrate. Here we saw a guy coming from the Kennebago Steeps area, pleasantries were exchanged, but we weren't sure where he was going. The descent began in earnest as we started down Tri-Color ski trail. I told her I was envisioning myself skiing down this trail, as I'd done many times before... it sure would have been faster! This trail had a bit more snow cover (maybe a half inch in spots), but that snow hid some ice that had me slipping and sliding at times along the way, cursing of course.

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.

1 comment:

  1. I tried to comment once already but I think blogger hates me a bit. Oh well. Basically what I said was, thanks for the great hike, and for driving, and for selecting a fabulous peak & appropriate route. Sorry to abandon you so close to the Horn. Will definitely have to go back up there via the AT in non-icy conditions! Great work on ticking two more off your list. And thanks also for being patient with me and Gary. Looking forward to next time!