Sunday, December 15, 2013

Low's Bald Spot, Black Mountain, and the winter wilderness

Bitter cold temperatures defined this week, as meteorological winter (the three coldest months of the year) boisterously made it known that it's here to party for a while. The storm that's just winding down outside my windows is further proof (as if any were needed), there are huge snowbanks on the streets, where none existed yesterday, and the back half of my car is buried in a drift. I say, good. If it's going to be cold, there might as well be snow on the ground!

Date of hike: 12/11/13

Peak: Low's Bald Spot - 2875'

Trails: Old Jackson Road, Madison Gulf Trail, Low's Bald Spot spur

Mileage/time: 4.5 miles, 1134' of gain, book time of 2:47, actual time of 2:01

The WSDS (Wednesday Sleep Deprivation Special) was in full effect, though I ended up not going super crazy, and kept my hiking to a minimum. This would give me a chance to not only have my ski boots remolded (they were causing some pain), but to test out the capabilities of my new camera, a Sony Alpha 7. I'm going to carry around two lenses for the time being, until I can truly get a handle on what the camera can do, a Canon FD 24mm f/2.8, and a Canon FD 50mm f/1.4. So far, so good!

From the viewpoint on Rt. 302/16 in Intervale
When I arrived at Pinkham, I was shocked to find the lot fairly empty. No one had signed in since the previous day, though a couple was heading up Tuckerman Ravine Trail as I branched off. The winds were blustery, though even with temperatures in the teens, I felt comfortable as I rolled along in a base layer and a fleece. Old Jackson Road can be described thusly... it's an old road. I followed an old set of tracks, in a couple of inches of snow, over some ice. I barebooted until an iceflow made me put on spikes, a rather "none shall pass" sort of spot. The sun came and went, making for interesting lighting. Quickly, I reached the Mount Washington Auto Road, where a couple of MWOBS vehicles (complete with chains) were parked.

Crossing the road, and into the Great Gulf Wilderness, I shortly came to the spur trail to Low's Bald Spot. A couple of tricky little ledge scrambles led me up to the flat summit area. The views that I did have were muted at best, thanks to lightly falling snow, but nonetheless impressive. That just means I'll have to come back!

View north from Low's Bald Spot

East view to the Carter Range

It was cold and windy on top, so my visit was short. Back into the trees, and back whence I came. The further south I went, the sunnier it got, though clouds streamed by on the winds. I signed myself out, and went to Ragged Mountain Equipment for my boot remolding, then to the Moat for beers. Home before the sun was down!

Date of hike: 12/13/13

Peak: Black Mountain (Jackson) Middle Peak - 2757'

Trails: Carter Notch Road, Melloon Road, Black Mountain Ski Trail, East Pasture Ski Trail, Bald Land Trail, East Branch Road, East Branch Trail, Wild River Trail, Wildcat River Trail, FR 233

Mileage/time: 17.7 miles, 3448' of gain, book time of 10:35, actual time of 8:07

Thursday, I went skiing with some of my co-workers, and had a blast in the super cold and windy conditions. Friday morning (the 13th), I didn't want to get out of bed. I kept putting it off, and putting it off, eventually getting up at about 6. The sun was almost up as I left, but that led me to finally stop and take a picture of the rusty water tower, on ME 113 in Baldwin.

I've been eyeing this loop in particular the last couple of weeks, hoping the cold temperatures would freeze up the muddy areas these particular trails are supposed to have. I waffled over whether to do the roadwalk at the beginning or the end, and ended up being able to get up to the Bog Brook trailhead easily. The clear skies of my drive, had given way to clouds over the mountains, and it was slightly warmer, a balmy 16 degrees. My road-walking passed uneventfully, and I was soon on the Black Mountain Ski Trail, which I'll definitely be skiing this winter. I followed two sets of tracks, one of which was towing a sled, all the way up to the Black Mountain Cabin.

Black Mountain Ski Trail
I neglected to take a picture of the cabin (fie, and shame), instead following a set of old tracks up to the summit spur. The wind was howling, snow and cloud obscured near and distant vistas alike. My stay was abrupt, and I ducked back down the spur. I had questioned continuing on, during my climb, but a check of the time revealed that I was flying, considering my late start. Down the East Pasture Ski Trail, now very much committed.

Off the trail, to the right (descending), I noticed a herd path and tracks, so I followed them. The path leads to a small clearing, with an old gravestone in it, that of Nathaniel Kimball (1747-1827). For more information on this, please read John "1HappyHiker" Compton's report on his recent trip(s) to Black Mountain, and some pictures of the views you can have from Black Mountain (on a good day).


Marshy area off East Pasture Ski Trail

Grave of Nathaniel Kimball
I continued onward, passing an old orchard, and a view up to the Doubleheads, before hitting Bald Land Trail (for the second time in as many months). Up and over, into the valley of the East Branch of the Saco River, an extremely secluded area of the WMNF.

Access has been impinged by the closing of Slippery Brook Road, but also the closing of East Branch Road, which both suffered damage from Hurricane Irene in 2011. The southern, 3.9 mile section of East Branch Trail (to Slippery Brook Road), was proposed to be decommissioned by the USFS, also in 2011. Irene did their job for them, it would seem. Just in from the trailhead, the trail comes to a T, the southern section leads right, not blocked off or brushed in at all, and the northern section leads left. For a trail that hasn't seen much traffic or maintenance since, it was surprisingly easy to follow, for the most part.

East Branch Trail

East Branch Trail
Some interesting small crossings presented themselves, and while ice bridges have started to form, they're untrustworthy at best. I found this out by punching through. Also, I forgot my poles in my car... smart. The trail turns away from the river and begins to climb, where it merely undulated before, and became increasingly more brushed in, with a few downed trees thrown in. Wind was all I could hear, roaring like a freight train above, and occasionally blasting through the trees. Mt. Washington recorded gusts of 85+ during this time! The trail crosses an old logging road near the height of land, with a decent view over to (what I believe is) West Baldface. Passing (mercifully) into the Wild River Wilderness, I soon came to the Wild River Trail, and the start of the outward leg of my trip.

Two sketchy river crossings, and some obscure bits of trail later, I passed by No Ketchum Pond and through the campsites at the site of the former Perkins Notch Shelter. Some limited views were had, up towards the main ridge of the Carter Range.

The remaining miles were a blur, my mind concentrating all its efforts on keeping me warm and moving. Temperatures started to nosedive the closer I got to Wildcat River Trail, and the sun crept lower and lower. I put on more layers and kept going. It was a relief, when I reached FR 233, 1.2 miles from the car. Wanting to avoid the trail approaches, and their river crossings, I took the road, where I met the only person I'd see all day, a pleasant lady crosscountry skiing. Color drained from the sky, and the stars came out.

I got back to the car, took off my pack, and hopped in. The thermometer in my car read 6 degrees. Winter sure is here! I apparently can drive with my mountaineering boots on, and did just that on the way into Conway, heat blasting and heated seat heating. Hot food had, it felt good to get out of my layers, I then settled in for the drive home.

A successful, if not a bit cold, couple of days in the mountains!

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Next Act

"There is immeasurably more left inside than what comes out in words." ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I'd say that all has been quiet since my last posting, but it definitely hasn't. I'd also say that I've been slacking, but that hasn't really been the case either. Up until the last few years, goals haven't been my strong suite, and I set two whoppers for this year. For whatever reason, I haven't been able to figure out when I decided to do them, but there we have it. The two goals were these: 1000 hiking miles for the year (I've been keeping a spreadsheet), and getting to the psychological halfway point (mileage) in my redlining journey.

One of those goals is now complete, and then some. On 11/21, almost a full 6 weeks ahead of goal, and somewhere in the middle of the Guinea Pond Trail, I reached the halfway point (720.2 miles) of my WMG Redlining journey. Since then, I've added another 15 miles to that total. Now in the throes of a push to get that seemingly elusive 1000 miles, today happened (rain), and I stayed home.

Since my last writing (11/1), here are some numbers (haha, maths):

Miles: 123.9
Elevation gain: 24037'
Peaks: 6
# of solo days: 8 out of 9
Times above 4000': 0
Miles left to do: 80.7

I'm finding myself wanting to be alone, more and more, as time goes on. It's not that I don't enjoy company, it's that I haven't wanted any. To say I do some of my best hiking (and picture taking) alone, is generally an understatement. I don't want anyone that I've hiked with (or those that might want to) to get the impression that I won't hike with them. It's really a matter of circumstances lately, schedules have to align, and I haven't been especially outgoing when it comes to seeking out people to hike with. If you want to hike, just ask! I'll probably be amenable to the idea.

The fact that I'm not hiking to popular destinations probably doesn't help matters. I'm not so much done with the 4000-footers, but I've realized that there's much more to the White Mountains than just the high peaks. This redlining experience has brought me to the highest of heights, and the lowest (swampiest) of lows. It's challenged me like nothing else, and given me a new appreciation for the area and its varied history. I'm head over heels, my love for it knows no bounds, and it's been repaid a thousand-fold.

For the remainder of this year, it's going to be a bit of a struggle. First and foremost, I need to figure a way to truncate my trip reports, and make them less cumbersome to do after the end of a long day (or the next day). Secondly, I have to do them in the first place! Thirdly, mileage, mileage, mileage. Nine hiking days undocumented (by words at least), that's a backlog that I don't have the time or energy to overcome. I will, however, share a picture or two from each of these days, that I'm particularly happy with.

Some angular boulders along Middle Sister Trail 11/2

Old buckets along Thoreau Falls Trail 11/8

Shoal Pond Trail 11/8

Reflecting on Province Pond Trail 11/14

Crystallized on East Pond Trail 11/16

Proper reflection on Lovequist Loop 11/16

Mt. Whiteface over Flat Mountain Pond 11/20

Section of rail on Flat Mountain Pond Trail 11/20

Morning colors near the Maine/NH border on Rt.25 11/21

Ice on Black Mountain Pond Trail 11/21

Guinea Pond Trail 11/21

Morning colors on Long Lake in Harrison, ME 11/29

Lenticular cloud over Wild River 11/29

Crystalline goodness on Albany Brook Trail 11/29

South Baldface over Mountain Pond 11/30

Evans Notch from Eastman Mountain 11/30

Awesome clouds from Slippery Brook Road 11/30

Weeks Brook Trail 12/4

The Sandwich Range from Kearsarge North 12/4

Carter Notch over the Doubleheads 12/4
With a bit of luck, I'll be able to document what's next. To help matters, a new camera was ordered today! I'll be headed to Baxter between Christmas and New Years, to attempt winter ascents of Katahdin and Hamlin... my skis may well be used, stay tuned for that. Going forward, expect a slightly different, more streamlined and truncated style of trip report, that I hope will not only be a pleasure (and easy) to put together, but a pleasure for you all to read.

Until then, cheers to you all, and stay safe out there!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Blueberry Mountain and Speckled Mountain 10/30/13

Working title: Beast-mode in Evans Notch

Peaks: Blueberry Mountain, Speckled Mountain

Trails: Bickford Brook Trail, Blueberry Ridge Trail, Blueberry Mountain Loop

Mileage/time: ~9 miles, ~2954 feet of gain, book time of 6:00, actual time of 3:38

The weather was the determining factor for this hike, rather the forecast for my usual hiking days was looking terrible. So the WSDS (Wednesday Sleep Deprivation Special) went into effect. I got out of work at 6 am, packed my things, and had breakfast with my buddy Wendell at the Bayou Kitchen in Portland. I then took off, and made slow progress into the mountains, where I arrived at a deserted trailhead lot. I wouldn't see another soul during my hike.

It was chilly, and partly cloudy as I started up, in a long sleeve base layer, with an orange t-shirt over it, just for safety. My start time was 9:41. Now I've driven past Brickett Place on ME 113 so many times it's not even funny, and after a decade or more, I was finally hiking out of it. In contrast to other areas of the Whites, there was still some foliage to be had on the lower portion of Bickford Brook Trail, and a deep cover of downed leaves covered the trail. It starts out moderately steep in the first few tenths, and then moderates as it turns right onto an old jeep road that enters from the left. This old road climbs all the way to within a stones throw of the summit of Speckled Mountain, and used to service the fire tower that once stood on it.

Soon, I crossed into the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness, and the junction with the Blueberry Ridge Trail. Already sweating, I stowed my hat and gloves, before I commenced my ascent. I decided against redlining out the Bickford Slides Loop, saving it for another day. Sometimes it pays to save small sections, sometimes it doesn't... like the case of the Guyot Shelter Spur. Crossing just above the Lower Slide, Blueberry Ridge Trail got a bit steep in spots, and there was some ice on the rocks, all avoidable. Some excellent views started to open up to the west, and the lenticular clouds I'd seen forming on my drive in, were still stacking up. I sure know how to pick 'em!

I passed the junction with the White Cairn Trail, and soon was at the Blueberry Mountain Loop (signed alternately as the Lookout Loop, and Outlook Loop), which I took for great effect.

Reaching the other end of the loop, I backtracked about 0.1 miles to redline out the missed section of Blueberry Ridge Trail... no stragglers! Climbing back up, I continued along, up and down, through really pretty sections of woods, alternating with open ledges, which had commanding views for their height. The lenticulars continued to build over the Royces and over the Wild River Wilderness.

Pretty quickly, I reached the upper junction with Bickford Brook Trail, and had a mere 0.5 miles to the summit of Speckled. The trail passes through a fairly flat, open area on the ridge, before diving back into the woods and climbing to the highpoint. Concrete footings are all that remains of the fire tower that once stood on the summit, and the views are far reaching. The whole of the Baldface/Royce Range, the Carter/Moriah Range, the Mahoosucs, and beyond were visible. The Presidentials remained in the clouds, but I could see white on their lower slopes. Temperatures on the summit were easily in the 20's, and though the wind wasn't strong, it was biting.

I descended slightly to the junction with Red Rock and Cold Brook trails, again leaving no straggling sections, and after making a call to Mike, to see if he was around that afternoon, I began my descent, apparently in earnest. I jogged occasionally, enjoying the wintery temperatures, the dusting of snow up higher, and the leafy bits down low.

I must have been flying, because before I knew it, I was back at my car. The time was 1:19. All that, on no sleep, and having worked the night before. Here I was wanting to be done in 5 hours! As I headed towards Conway, my phone got a signal and Mike called. He was around, so I stopped in and chilled out with him for a while, before heading home.

Looking forward to more solo beast-mode action on Saturday!