Thursday, February 28, 2013

Waterville Wanderings 2/28/13

Working title: "Throwing in the proverbial towel"

Peaks: None

Trails: Livermore Trail/Road

Mileage/time: ~7 miles, ~1000 feet of gain, book time of 4:00, actual time of 4:15

It's been a good winter season, really beyond all expectation, but the time has come to accept the reality of the situation. There is no longer any way for me to finish my Winter 48 this season. Time has reared its ugly head, with 19 more calender days left, 9 of which I can hike on, the prospect is dim. This isn't to say that it's not possible, but my body has been protesting for the last couple weeks, and I think that I would be putting my health in jeopardy if I were to make a run at it. Long story short, my body is telling me I need a break, and soon. I can look at it this way, next season is going to be a guaranteed win.

Unfortunately, Mike was unable to join me today, as he came down with something that succeeded in knocking him on his ass. The original plan was to do the Tripyramids, to avoid Mike having to repeat them for March. I decided to go for it without him, as it's been a while since I've had a solo hike, however, my plans were stymied in a hurry. Originally, I was going to do an out and back via Pine Bend Brook, but the Kanc was in rough shape when I was coming across this morning, and the pullout was not even plowed. So I drove around to Waterville Valley, to launch my hike from the Livermore Trailhead. What I did not know then, was that this approach gets decidedly less traffic in the winter than the Kanc approaches.

At 7:15, I set off up the road, following a faint snowshoe trough on the left edge of the roadway, as to not mess up the surface for the cross country skiers. Initially, I was dealing with about 4-5 inches of new snow, and the snow was dense, making for slow going. The only tracks on the road were from one lone cross country skier, who I exchanged pleasantries with on his return trip. I found it to be a nice opportunity to photograph a fresh snowfall.

Where the cross country trail system turns off the Livermore Road is where things started to get interesting for me. Up to then, I was dealing with a maximum of 6-8 inches of fresh snow on a firm base. Since there was no defined trough from previous hikers, I was constantly in search of a firm base to walk on. Needless to say, I never found it. The snow was dense, and now I was contending with 12-18 inches of denseness, all by my lonesome. If it had been powdery, it would have been more manageable, but with a consistency I can liken to thick oatmeal, it was a lot of work.

Just beyond the logging camp clearing, probably 0.2 miles from the northern junction with the Mt. Tripyramid Trail, I gave up. I considered several factors, and it was not an easily made decision. First, I was alone. Second, it had taken me about 3 hours to go about 3.5 miles. Third, and not least, the steeps would slow me up considerably more with the snow depth the way it was, and I could probably expect more higher up. Those factors, plus an impending Presidential Traverse on Saturday, led me to turn around. I wanted the peaks, but all they would have done is shoot me. The return trip proved to be nearly as difficult, as the sun had warmed the day, and the snow was turning mushy, balling up under my snowshoes, and clumping on the ends of my poles.

So, here it is, the brutal truth. No Winter 48 this year, not without ruining myself. I can't help but sigh, not only in disappointment, but somewhat in relief. It will be easier these next couple of weeks, knowing that I don't have the finish looming over me, and I can take a more relaxed attitude with it.

Here's some pictures from today, it sure turned out to be a nice one.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Winter in Baxter 2/21-2/24

Working title: "We'll be back, next time with shovels"

Peaks: None

Trails/roads used: Williams Pond Road, BSP Tote Road, Marston Trail

Trip mileage: ~34 miles (~12 pulling a sled), ~4500 feet of total elevation gain

As with most things, you can't always get what you want, but you sure can try. Here's an account of the valiant efforts of four strong hikers, facing winter in Baxter State Park.

This trip was a couple of weeks in the making, and would be my first hike with the Meetup group, Random Group of Hikers. It would be Michael and Monica (the Organizers for the group), Alex (an AMC trip leader), and myself, feeling inexperienced by comparison. I've done winter hiking, but never into Baxter, and never overnight, especially for three nights! It was down to the wire, but I managed to get everything I needed, and then some, and had it all ready to go when Michael called me on Wednesday afternoon. I met up with the group in South Portland, we made a stop for lunch, and a stop at EMS (of course), and then started for Millinocket. We stayed Wednesday night at the Pamola Motor Lodge, where the snowmobiles in the parking lot outnumbered the cars. After a delicious dinner at Millinocket House of Pizza (excellent calzones), we retreated to our rooms for last minute packing, and sleep.

Early Thursday morning, we arose, readied our sleds, and made our way to the AT Diner in "downtown" Millinocket. The food hit the spot, and proved to be good fuel for the trek into the park. The trip in had been in question up until a day or so before, as we weren't sure if we would use the 6 mile approach from Williams Pond Road (off Telos Road, off the Golden Road, off the summer access road to Baxter), or the 12-14 mile approach from Abol Bridge. Thankfully, we received word that we could use the Williams Pond approach, and were told to bring a shovel in case we got plowed in. Fair enough, a shovel is well worth shaving off 6-8 miles towing a sled! A light snow was falling as we drove up the Golden Road, being passed by a couple giant logging trucks, hauling giant logs out of the woods. Telos Road was easily found, and we soon found the plowed area at the end of Williams Pond Road. Things were looking good!

The beginning of Williams Pond Road
Road walks are always uninspiring, to me anyway, but this one wasn't terrible... just kind of boring. There was winter wonderland all around, as we followed a snowmobile track, which conveniently lead us straight into the park.

Having a sled in tow was quite a bit of work, even on mild uphill sections, and it's something I look forward to doing again. After what felt like forever, but what was likely a couple of hours, we reached the end of Williams Pond Road, and hooked onto a cross country ski trail. Crossing the BSP boundary, we wound down through the woods, and popped out at the back of the walk in sites at Nesowadnehunk Field, right where I surmised we would come out. The lightly falling snow played over the landscape, and clouds obscured any views we may have had. Across the bridge, and past the ranger cabin, lay Camp Cozy, our home away from home.

We immediately started a fire in the tiny wood stove, set up our bunks, and sat around for a while warming up. The cabin certainly lived up to its name, as we were able to keep it nice and toasty, some might even say hot, for most of our stay. We all sacked out fairly early, after preparing our packs for the following day.

Friday morning dawned. I was very warm throughout the night, and never even bothered zipping up my sleeping bag, but I was quite comfortable and well rested. Breakfast was cooked up, lunch was prepared, and we all rolled out the door a bit before 8, to hike the ~3.5 miles to the Marston trailhead.

Camp Cozy, aptly named

Looking toward Coe and OJI from Nesowadnehunk

Enough snow for you?
The walk on the Tote Road was a bit more interesting than the walk in on Williams Pond Road. Not only was the Tote Road more winding, but it wasn't snowing, so there were some views along the way. This isn't to say that the walk wasn't boring, monotonous, and something to be dreaded on the return trip.

OJI, with Coe in the clouds

Doubletop from Marston trailhead
After about an hour and twenty minutes of undulating road walking, with a few inches of fresh snow covering a packed snowmobile track, we arrived, mercifully, at the Marston trailhead. Thin clouds hovered around 3400 feet, as the summit of Doubletop was just in the clouds, but peeks of blue sky could be seen. We checked the register at the bottom of the unbroken trail, and my jaw dropped. The last party to sign in was on 1/20, more than a month ago! This was going to take some work. Thankfully, I'd readied my trail breaking legs last week on the Wildcats, so I was pumped and ready to go.

I took the lead out of the parking lot, and started up the trail through about four inches of fluffy powder on top of a firm base.

No mathematics was involved, no switching lead after so many steps, just break trail up front until you get tired, then step aside. Thankfully, the snow was light, and we weren't sinking in a lot at first, so the first 1.3 miles to the southern junction with the Mt. Coe Trail went fairly well. Our troubles were just beginning. The next section works a sidehill that climbs towards an unnamed pond, in a small bowl beneath the South Brother/North Brother col. There are some nice open woods through here, and the veiled sun warmed up the day. Snow depths increased to 6+ inches, and at one point, I heard a deep thump high up on the slope. When I asked what it was, Michael said it was snow slabs high up on the slope settling, due to our trail breaking... avalanche conditions!

The snow settling, caused me to be unsettled through this section, though the angle of our slope was fairly low, we still had to be alert to what was happening above us. I was happy to arrive at the pond, with views up the bowl, clouds ringing the top.

From here, the steeps began, and our progress slowed. The snow was deeper still, upwards of a foot, and increased steadily as we made our way up the ridge toward the col. While breaking trail out in front was hard work, being in with the rest of the group wasn't easy either. I'd say it was almost as difficult, as the further unconsolidated snow being churned up by the person in front of you, was very soft, and our snowshoes struggled to find purchase.

Breaking out the steeps
There's a blaze down there!
Long story short, it was a lot of work, and it took a long time to work our way to the col. Blue skies had opened up as we climbed the ridge, and it turned into a beautiful, bright afternoon. Once we were there, the snow was still super deep, and even on the flats, the going was slow. When we reached the junction, the sign was nowhere to be found, but we took a break anyway, and discussed our options.

North Brother from the col
After eating and hydrating, the decision was made to make an attempt on North Brother, 0.8 miles away. Here's where our pace became slowed dramatically, not to say it had been fast up to this point. The Marston Trail from the junction was thick, and difficult to follow in spots, not to mention the ever deepening snow around us and clinging to the trees. Spruce traps, and sinking in up to your thighs and hips with each step was the norm. We wallowed, seemingly swimming at times, and managed (according to Michael's GPS) about 0.2 miles an hour through this area. Exhausted, we threw in the towel, about 0.2 miles (as the crow flies, probably about 0.4 trail miles), and 250 vertical feet from the summit. It was disappointing, but it was about 5pm, the sun was low in the sky, and we probably had at least another hour of climbing ahead of us. It had taken us more than 7 hours to go ~4.1 miles. We resolved to return the next day, with shovels, and dig our way to the summit if necessary.

View from high on North Brother

South Brother
Dejected, we wound our way back along the trough we had made through the woods, and began to descend the ridge. Partway down, the headlamps came out, but we had some nice colors and partial undercast.

The skies cleared completely on our descent, the moon was out in a nearly full state, and it was very bright once we reached the pond, having just risen over the col. Moonlight lit up the woods as we went, and once back to the road, we turned off the headlamps, and had a very peaceful, if not somewhat reflective walk back to the cabin. The moon lit up the slides on Doubletop, and highlighted the landscapes around us as we walked. We were all pretty spent. A fire was kindled immediately, and we bustled around, changing clothes and hanging up things to dry. Dinner was made, and bed was quick to follow.

Saturday was a repeat of Friday, with the long slog back down the road to the trailhead. The day started sunny at the cabin, with impressive views over the field to Strickland Mountain.

Conditions did not stay that way, and as we left the campground, clouds rolled in, and the winds picked up. Unfortunately, Michael's knee began to pain him within the first 1/4 of a mile from the trailhead lot, and we decided to abort. I know myself and Monica could have made the summit, but I can only imagine what my legs would have felt like for the walk out the next day. We slowly wandered back to Nesowadnehunk, meeting many snowmobiles along the way, and spent the afternoon and evening laying about the cabin, chatting, and eating, and being generally warm.

It snowed lightly through the late evening and night, and was still snowing when we arose Sunday morning, with about an inch or so new accumulation. We ate and packed our things for the return down Williams Pond Road. Once our preperations had been made, the cabin swept out, wood boxes refilled, and the last check for missing items made, we departed. Up the hill to the west of the stream, following the fresh snowmobile tracks the rangers had made that morning, then down to meet the end of Williams Pond Road. Here, Alex put his skis on, and I barely saw him for the next couple of hours, until we got to the cars.

Light snow fell the entire way, but we made the trip in fairly quick time, barely stopping, trying to make up for the lack of exercise the previous day. Once we got everything into the cars, we made stops at McDonald's in Millinocket for Michael and Alex... I was tempted, but I did not break... and to get gas. Then it was on to Dysart's Truck Stop for a proper meal. This is where we parted ways. My drive back was interesting, as I ran into heavy snow at some points along the highway, and smooth sailing in others. By the time I got back to Portland, it wasn't doing much, and the streets were fairly clear... so much for the 8-12 inches they called for. Also, there was a parking ban, which led me to dropping my stuff off, and having a 1/4 mile walk back to my house. Good times.

All in all, even as a "0-fer", this was an awesome trip, with three awesome people, who I hope to hike with again soon. Thanks to Michael, Monica, and Alex, for your company, and for all the knowledge you dropped on me! It'll take a while yet to process all of it.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Wildcats and Carter Dome 2/14/13

Working title: "It's like concrete!"

Peaks: Wildcat D, Wildcat A, Carter Dome

Trails: Lost Pond Trail, Wildcat Ridge Trail, Carter-Moriah Trail, Carter Dome Trail, Nineteen Mile Brook Trail

Mileage/time: 12 miles, 5000 feet of gain, book time of 8:32, actual time of 13:05

This trip has been long discussed, and long delayed. My first ascent of Carter Dome in December 2010, was in full winter conditions, but it was on the 10th, so no winter peak there. The next attempt was when I did the Wildcats in March 2011, and crusty snow, snowshoes that sucked, and boots that wouldn't cooperate, made for a Wildcats only day. The most recent attempt involved Middle and South Carter, but not everyone in the party was willing to push on, so it was a Carters only day. Now, we were duty bound to make it happen, and I'd also get in a bit of shameless redlining. I'm helping Mike work on his 48 in a single winter season, and the Wildcats were repeats for me (same as the Carters were last month). He's helping me finish my winter list, so it's the least I can do!

The morning started off typically, up at 2-ish, and out the door to coffee up and hit the road. Good thing I wasn't far away, because I forgot my wallet at home! I texted Mike to say I'd be late... lo and behold, I was actually on time, my judgement of time and space has been severely affected lately. We spotted his truck at Nineteen Mile Brook, and drove back up the road to the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center. After final preparations, we crossed the road, and set off down Lost Pond Trail. We were happy to find the trail broken out, as it was a concern going into this hike, that trails might not have been traveled. This trail was pretty level, and was a decent warm up for what I knew would be a steep climb to come. I've heard there are fantastic views from the pond, but it was still pretty dark when we were there, so another time.

Reaching the Wildcat Ridge Trail junction, I took a moment to de-layer, and then we started up. This is yet another trail that doesn't muck about, right from the junction, it starts climbing, and steeply. We were happy to find it broken out, but the going was still fairly slow, as there was ice underneath in spots, and some blowdowns to contend with. Some fantastic views of cloud shrouded ravines began to present themselves, as the sun rose in the east.

Working our way slowly upward, we reached a nice view ledge. Mike said something along the lines of "uh... dude?", and that's when I realized we might be in for a bit of fun. Sure enough, the trail was unbroken beyond this point. Like Yvon Chouinard said, "When everything goes wrong, that's when adventure starts.". The snow was powdery, and deep, more than a foot in places. Ice continued to lurk underneath, and the deep snow continued to slow our forward progress. The only way I can describe it, is to think about swimming uphill. That's what it felt like at times, and it was hard work. There were several exposed sections, one with ladder blocks bolted to the rock, and of course, they were pretty much all ice. Some scrambling, slipping, and sliding later, we finally reached the wooded bump known as Wildcat E... though we weren't exactly sure which one was which, there are a bunch of bumps up there! We could hear snow guns, and the chairlift running, and shortly reached the top of the ski area, more than 4 hours after we started... talk about slow going. Quickly now, back on broken trail, up to the observation deck on Wildcat D.

Gulf of Slides

Adams and Madison

Looking up the ridge to Wildcats C and B

The Ravines
Here on the deck, we took a break, had some food, and relaxed for a bit in the sun. The winds were fairly calm, and the skies were clear and blue. Glad to be on a packed out trail, we started our way up the ridge to our eventual destination, Wildcat A. The trail undulates, working its way up and down several significant bumps, but only two peaks along the way are named, C peak and B peak... though it was difficult to tell when you were there, as there were no markings. 

A typical section of Wildcat Ridge Trail

The Baldfaces from near Wildcat C

Kearsarge North and the Doubleheads from near Wildcat B
This section definitely seemed to fly, especially in comparison to what we'd been through to get this far. Sooner than later, we popped out on Wildcat A, the summit sign, and the slight bushwhack to the "true" summit. Then we enjoyed the views down into and across Carter Notch to Carter Dome.

Carter Dome from Wildcat A

Slide and the Ramparts on south face of Carter Dome

Some other Carters from Wildcat A
Now for some more fun. Apparently, whomever had hiked out here from Wildcat D, turned themselves around, and went back that way. More trail breaking! This section had me worried, as the switchbacking, sidehill aspect, and conditions the last time around had me wanting to die. No worries this time around, as a foot to foot and a half of fresh snow made it a joy to descend, and there was little ice to contend with. There was a large blowdown across the trail nearly halfway down into the notch, which we worked our way around. Shortly after this, we ran into a packed out track, coming up from the right, and continuing up to the left. As far as we could tell, the person or persons that broke this out missed the turn where we came out and just kept going straight, then turned around and went back down. It was a pleasant surprise to run into, and we weren't going to complain. At the junction with Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, we ran into a group of high school kids who had done an overnight at Carter Notch Hut. Then it was time for a break, and we hung out on the ice of one of the Carter Lakes, and relaxed in the sun. 

We had asked the group if they noticed whether or not Carter-Moriah Trail was unbroken, they hadn't. Of course, it wasn't, so we had a steep, 1.2 mile slog to contend with on already tired legs. The south facing aspect of this trail made things more difficult, as the warmth of the day, and the sun, had made for softening conditions, and heavier snow. Upward we slogged, one step equaling at least two, the snow getting increasingly heavy. Soon we reached the spur to Pulpit Rock, and took in the views.

The trail moderates from here, but still gains a bunch of elevation. Though it's only 1.2 miles from the junction in Carter Notch to the summit, the trail gains 1540 feet! Finally, after what seemed like forever, we broke out onto the summit of Carter Dome. It doesn't have any views directly from the summit, but the viewpoint to the north provides excellent views of the Presidentials and the rest of the Carter Range. 

The sun was getting low in the sky, so we didn't linger long. The trail from the summit to the north wasn't broken out either, what should have been a quick descent to Zeta Pass was a slow slog through at least a foot of snow, with some deeper drifts, on a sidehill to boot!

Mercifully, when we arrived at Zeta Pass, we found Carter-Moriah, and Carter Dome trails both broken out. After so much fun trail breaking, we were both relieved to know we'd have an easy trip down. Down Carter Dome Trail we went, Mike broke out his headlamp about halfway down, I managed to get by without it nearly until the junction. My snowshoes again reared their ugly heads, and the pain in my feet began to make itself acutely known. I need a stiffer boot is what it boils down to, every time I hike with these particular snowshoes, they create pressure points that eventually manifest pain at some point. 

Nineteen Mile Brook went quickly by, even though my pace was slow due to the pain. A long time after we started, we popped out into the parking lot, and Mike's waiting truck. It might have been a long day, but it was successful on all fronts, and we finally picked off that pesky Carter Dome! That leaves 14 more peaks to finish my Winter 48.

Next week, a trip to Baxter, and a couple more 100 Highest peaks. The following week, Presidential Traverse! Can't wait.