Friday, March 22, 2013

Sandwich Dome 3/21/13

Working title: In which a photographer has to use his words

Peaks: Jennings Peak, Sandwich Dome, Noon Peak

Trails: Drakes Brook Trail, Sandwich Mountain Trail, Jennings Peak Spur

Mileage/time: 8.7 miles, 3000 feet of gain, book time of 5:52, actual time of 8:05

So much to say, with no illustration. Be prepared, this could get interesting. This was my first hike organizing for the Meetup group, Random Group of Hikers. I'd be lying if I wasn't a bit nervous, leading a group of people, three of whom I'd never met. Thankfully, Mike was going to be there, and with him being a guide in training, I'd have backup. That made me feel better about it. Wednesday night, I imbibed, perhaps a bit too much for the sleep deprived state I was in. I really need to stop with the whole, work my week, get out Wednesday morning, go do some activity all day, thing... it's exhausting. Needless to say, I was mighty groggy when the alarm went off at 4am. The snooze was used a couple times, then I finally got up, prepared myself, and was out the door at 5.

Just as I pulled in to get coffee, 10 minutes from my house, I realized I'd forgotten an important piece of gear... my camera! I knew if I went back to get it, I'd probably be late for my own event, and that would just be rude. I debated about using my cell phone to take pictures, but decided not to, poor quality pictures be damned. I pulled into the trailhead at about 7:30, and saw that there was very little parking available, room for about 5 cars, without blocking the plowed road to the power substation next door. I wedged my car in, and started preperations. I got one boot on by the time Chris and Theresa pulled in, introductions were made, and then we all set about getting ready. Mike was late, to the point that I called him, to razz him about it. Traffic was the cause, and he pulled in shortly before 8. Tish, the fifth member of our party, showed up just after, joking about being the last one there and living closest to the trailhead.

We all introduced ourselves, and having geared up, set off up the Drakes Brook Trail. Both trails leading from the trailhead had not been touched since the recent storm, though I saw remnants of the old snowshoe track at times throughout the day. The trail started off on an old road, and then part of the Waterville Valley cross country ski trail system, before ducking into the woods. The fresh snow was probably 4 to 5 inches deep, laying softly, and Mike took the lead breaking it out. The grades were easy at the start, and an order developed as we climbed, Mike in front, Chris behind him, myself in the middle, and the two ladies, Tish and Theresa. I spent most of the climb trying to pack out the spots Mike and Chris missed, since I had the largest pair of snowshoes in the group. It gave me a good workout at the very least! We settled into a pretty good pace, stopping here and there, only light conversation flowing in the first miles. We soon reached the ridge, and the junction of Sandwich Mountain Trail, which we would be returning to later in the day.

Snow depth increased on the ridge, to 6 to 8 inches, but the going was still pretty easy, and the grades continued to be moderate. Reaching the Jennings Peak spur, we decided as a group to get the peak while we were there, instead of on the way down. A short, but steep path lead up to the peak, and we encountered some blowdowns, and some ice on the steeps. The peak was fantastic, with good views up to the ridge of Sandwich Dome and Black Mountain, south to the Squam Lakes, and down the Acteon Ridge. Another viewpoint afforded good views to the northeast, towards the Tripyramids. The day was turning out to be near perfect, with very light winds, bright sunshine, and decent hiking temperatures, I'd say in the 20's.

After a snack break on Jennings, soaking up the sun, we moved onward towards Sandwich. Back down at the junction, our trail breaking started anew. The trees became more laden with snow the higher we climbed, and the snow depths increased, pushing us further into the canopy. Branches in the face, it's just what happens in winter. It still beats full on bushwhacking, though it feels like it at times. We passed the junctions of the untraveled Smarts Brook and Algonquin trails, and soon came upon the summit.

Sandwich Mountain summit pano, courtesy of Mike Cherim
The views were astounding, and I was cursing my camera, sitting at home on my bed. The main summit viewpoint took in a vast array of peaks, from Moosilauke to the northwest, to Chocorua and the other Sandwich Range high peaks to the east. There was also another viewpoint that looked over the Squam Lakes to the south. I was able to pick out a lot of features that aren't really visible (or visible in their entirety) from many other angles, notably the Arrow Slide on North Hancock, the Sleepers, Mad River Notch, and the South Tripyramid Slide. We hung out eating, and chatting on the summit for quite a while, I wasn't exactly keeping track of the time. I shared a flask of dark rum that I'd brought with me, in celebration. Once we'd all had our fill, we started down, no longer breaking trail for the time being.

We made awesome time back past all the junctions, until the Drakes Brook Trail reappeared, and we had to start breaking trail again. It's definitely not so bad breaking trail on descent, gravity does a lot of the work for you. The upper sections of Sandwich Mountain Trail felt a lot like the Mt. Osceola Trail, near East Osceola, beautiful woods. We passed uneventfully over Noon Peak, though there were some small view points along the way, and dropped steeply into the woods. This was the most fun part of the day, snowshoe skiing on unbroken trail! Some of us had better luck than others, but for the most part, we had a great time coming down the steep sections, hooting and hollering most of the way. The snow at lower elevations had softened significantly in places, and cover was looking pretty thin as we neared the trailhead.

Back at the cars, we decided to go get some beers and some eats, at Mad River Tavern in Campton. Some big, celebratory glasses of Switchback Ale, food, and laughs were had. I thank all four of you for making my first group leadership experience, not only a success, but a joy. The next hike is in the planning stages, for release soon. The day was a good day in other ways too. Not only is Sandwich on the 100 Highest list, but both it, and Jennings are on the 52 With A View list. That, and all the trails we traveled were new to me, so more redlining!

Note to self: Bring the camera next time. Also, 6 beers the night before = hard to wake up.

For now, I'm looking forward to tomorrow... it's time to go backcountry skiing!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Owl's Head 3/15/13

Working title: The end of a season

Peak: Owl's Head

Trails: Lincoln Woods Trail, Black Pond Trail, Black Pond bushwhack, Lincoln Brook Trail, Brutus bushwhack, Owl's Head Path

Mileage/time: ~17 miles, ~3100 feet of gain, book time of 10:05, actual time of 10:10

I started out this winter season, with a daunting task in front of me. While I did not finish up the winter 4000 footers list, I at least got all but 8 of them. Many things got in the way, weather, my fickle (at times) body, and just life in general. The plan was to start on December 21st, but I managed to not meet up with Mike and Wayne, at the correct location anyway, and with no cell service, I bailed home. A few days later, a planned Osceolas/Tecumseh traverse ended in failure, thanks to a lung issue, that hasn't surfaced since. Since then, with few exceptions, we've been out on the trails on one, if not two days a week. Sure, things get in the way, that's life, but I'm confident when I say that the goal was doable. So, here's to this season, and here's to finishing in the next.

After Cabot on Wednesday, I was beaten, sleep deprived, and out of it... so I slept. Thursday was spent doing not much of anything, in preparation for the long slog out to Owl's Head. I spoke briefly with my friend Keith, who told me that he'd be doing Owl's Head as well, I looked forward to seeing him there. Mike was tired, and wanted to start later than the usual "it's going to be dark for hours" start time, and I was more than alright with that. With less than 6 hours of restless sleep, I got up, and got myself on the road. Coming through Kancamagus Pass was its interesting snowy, somewhat icy self, but the Subaru handled it with ease, and I pulled into Lincoln Woods about 6:45. What shocked me, was that Mike wasn't there! However, Keith and his hiking partner Priscilla were there. I chatted with them until Mike, and to my surprise, Inna arrived.

Keith told me that he had seen a conditions report from the previous day, and that he wasn't bringing snowshoes. My feet, if they were able to utter sounds of joy, would have done so. I'm beginning to look at, and reference, my snowshoes as medieval torture devices. They're just evil, and hurt the hell out of my feet. They do work though, so that's their saving grace. Keith and Priscilla took off before we did, Keith all the while, telling me that we'd catch up to them. We started out shortly thereafter, crossing the suspension bridge over the East Branch of the Pemigewasset.

The Lincoln Woods Trail, was its usual, flat, straight, boring self. The weather, on the other hand, was good. The skies brightened by the minute, and there was a distinct chill in the air, but the trail was well packed and solid... there was even bare ground in spots!

Just because the trail is boring, didn't mean there was nothing to see. There were some nice views from the washed out section along the river, and some nice ice in a small cascade next to the trail.

After about 40 minutes of walking, we turned on to the Black Pond Trail, a new trail to me. Mike and Inna put on spikes a short ways up the trail, but I was determined to stick to my bare boots until traction became necessary. Upon nearing the pond, we had a great view up to the southern horn of Owl's Head.

Beyond the pond, we started into what would be the first of our two bushwhacks for the day. Following the tracks of others made it easier, but the bushwhack was far more trail-like than some trails I've been on. The woods were open, and while the packed track meandered, it brought us right to the Lincoln Brook Trail in short order. Now we had two crossings to deal with, before we'd reach the start of the bushwhack, on the southwest corner of the mountain.

The first crossing was a solid snow bridge, with only one small section to rock hop. The second crossing proved to be more tricky. Due to the sound of the rushing water, my companions did not hear me when I yelled to them that I had found a way across, downstream from the actual crossing. I made it across using two downed trees, and some conveniently placed ice. My compatriots weren't so lucky. They tried upstream, where Mike got across, but Inna could not. I followed the trail up to where the start of the bushwhack was, and waited for a minute. Then I could no longer hear their voices, so I started up the trail towards the normal summer route, and began to hear their voices. I bushwhacked into the woods back to the river, and eventually found them, having crossed safely, about 0.1 miles above the crossing. We returned to the turnoff for the bushwhack and started up.

This was where all our elevation gain was! I can't say that it was as steep as the herd path up Mt. Nancy, but it was pretty steep in places. The bushwhack brings you up away from the river onto an old skidder road, which deposits you into a steep gully. There was a feeder stream up in the gully, and the sound of it was lovely.

Mike had forged on ahead, and I stuck with Inna, we wouldn't see him again until the summit. Just as the track moderated, approaching the summit ridge, we ran into Keith and Priscilla on the way down. You're faster than you give yourself credit for my friend! We wished them well, and continued upward, running into a solo hiker and a group of two. Views poked out here and there, through the trees, and the sky was crystal clear. Meandering around, we finally found Mike, sitting on a blowdown, that the bootleg summit sign used to adorn. We relaxed, and took in the spectacle of 360 degree trees.

After a short break, we headed down. There were a couple of trees I thought about clambering up to get some better views, but erred on the side of caution instead. I did manage a framed shot of Bondcliff with some lenticular clouds from the summit ridge.

Our descent was uneventful, and we soon found ourselves back on Lincoln Brook Trail. Now to get everyone across at the same place! While we were successful, I managed to dunk a boot when the ice I was standing on decided to just give way with no warning. A scraped leg is better than falling in. My companions became worried as we walked out, because I became quiet. Really, I was just lost in thought, thinking back on the winter season, and trying to make sense of it all. No worries guys, I was all set!

We got back to Lincoln Woods in one piece, and in daylight, and made our way into Lincoln for dinner. The Thai place we stopped at was alright, but busy, and understaffed... oh, and expensive.

So, Winter 2012/2013 is in the books for me, and here's how it shaped up:

Peaks done this winter: 30
New peaks: 25
Peaks remaining: 8
Mileage (including attempts): 175.3
Elevation gain: 58,600 feet

Now, this guy has a lot of other things to concentrate on, since calender winter will no longer be upon us as of my next hike. Skiing is the major one, neglected as its been this winter, and I plan on getting out Wednesday at the very least. Thursday I'll be back at the hiking, hitting Sandwich Mountain with Random Group of Hikers (my first time leading a group!). Then Saturday, I'll be heading up to Tuckerman Ravine with Samantha to try my hand at skinning up and skiing down.

Here's to spring, and to all those who completed their winter lists, and single season attempts!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cabot 3/13/13

Working title: Entering the single digits

Peak: Mt. Cabot

Trails: York Pond Trail, Bunnell Notch Trail, Kilkenny Ridge Trail

Mileage/time: 9.6 miles, 3100 feet of gain, book time of 6:20, actual time of 8:10

Thankfully, the above reference to single digits doesn't involve temperatures, for once. It does, however, signal the home stretch for my winter 4000 footers list. Even though I won't be able to finish this year, I'm comforted by the fact that next season will be easy by comparison. Depending on how the last available day for me to hike goes, I'll either have 8 peaks, or 5 peaks remaining. Though, in all honesty, I'm looking forward to non-winter conditions, more comfortable footwear, and a lighter pack.

It had been a while since I "maximized" a short weekend, hiking after I get out of work on a Wednesday morning. I was feeling pretty tired when I got out at 6am, managed to make it until I got coffee in me, and wound my way north to Berlin. Along the way, I realized my mistake in route selection. Long story short, Route 35 is a fine way to take in the summer, but frost heaves and my car don't make for a comfortable ride. I'm sure that went a long way towards keeping me alert. Sooner than later, I turned onto York Pond Road, which was in decent shape, overly sanded, slushy in spots, and soft once on the dirt portion. When I pulled into the trailhead, I was shocked, SHOCKED, that no one was there yet. Quickly changing out of my work clothes, I started getting ready. Mike and Inna pulled in shortly thereafter, and I informed them both that they weren't seeing me at my best.

We waited around a bit for the fourth member of our party, who got lost trying to find the trailhead, and didn't make it before we left. Starting out in snowshoes, we headed towards the turn onto Bunnell Notch Trail. The snow was soft, thanks to the warmth and rain, and I was sinking in at times, being the heaviest of our party. It was a comfortable stroll up the road portion of the trails, in base layers. Inna and Mike were talking, but unless we stopped, the sound of our snowshoes crunching in the soft snow, drowned out most of their conversation. Turning off the road, we climbed up into the beautiful woods lining Bunnell Notch.

The Kilkenny is a place that I have a lot of love for. The feeling of remoteness I get here, trumps most of the places I've been, and it didn't disappoint in the winter season. I recognized areas from my last trip up here, and it's still amazing to me what a couple feet of snow can do for a landscape. Streamlets ran across the trail at times, slicing deeply through the snowpack. Spring is definitely on the way.

Climbing higher, the gentle walls of the notch closed in from either side, and the woods became denser as we reached the flat floor. This area is generally very wet, and it was nice to not be sinking in mud this time around. When we reached the Kilkenny Ridge junction, it didn't appear that the trail up to North Terrace had been traveled this winter. The sun even tried to come out a couple of times, and there were traces of blue sky here and there.

We continued our leisurely pace up out of the notch, and climbed up the shoulder of Cabot, the dropping temperature stiffening the trail beneath our snowshoes, making them crunch harshly. Not that I could hear anyway. Soon, we realized we were climbing into a cloud. Thankfully, the views were somewhat clear from Bunnell Rock.

Where the west shoulder of Cabot should be

Towards Willard Basin from Bunnell Rock

We soon entered the clouds that were shrouding the upper elevations, and some light rime was starting to form on the trees, thanks again to the dropping temperatures. Stopping at the cabin briefly, we continued on past it towards the summit. Sadly, the firetower viewpoint was clouded in, but then we entered the woods along the summit ridge, which are always a treat in my opinion.

The packed trail meandered a bit off the actual trail, but it got the job done, popping out on the summit from the east instead of the south. We went to the stick, the actual summit of Cabot, and took pictures for proof.

Mike and Inna at the summit
Since there was nothing to see there, we retreated to the relative comforts of the cabin. It felt colder inside than it was outside, and the cabin itself has seen better days. Looks like everyone and their grandmother came in and out with spikes, as the area in front of the door is getting all chewed up. We ate and chatted, and soon geared back up and started our descent. I wanted to be comfortable, as my ongoing love/hate relationship with my boots and snowshoes, so I opted for spikes to descend with. Indeed, it was comfortable, and fast, though as we reached the floor of the notch, I started to posthole. I got irritated, and it showed a bit, as I was getting mentally tired. My body was willing and ready for whatever, but my mind was reeling. I just needed to get off the mountain.

After I donned my yellow foot destroyers, we continued our descent, which went smoothly as far as I could tell. The sun even started to come out! I made sure to document the awesomeness of the trees.

Cabot, the Bulge, and the Horn

Reaching the cars, we got out of our gear, and saddled up for the ride into Gorham, there was a Chinese buffet to be had! Dinner and great conversation was had, and we eventually parted ways. On my way home, I stopped at one point in Fryeburg, out away from the town. Maybe it was sleep deprivation, but I have never seen the stars as I saw them last night. It was the capstone on a fantastic day.

Sadly, when I got home, there was no heat, and we couldn't reach the landlord. So instead of a hot shower and bed, I got bed. I still woke up feeling like a million bucks.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Moriah 3/9/13

Working title: Best. Weather. Of. The. Winter.

Peak: Mt. Moriah

Trails: Stony Brook Trail, Carter-Moriah Trail, Mt. Moriah Spur

Mileage/time: 10.1 miles, 3400 feet of gain, book time of 6:47, actual time of 8:13

An epic winter hiking season is now nearing its end, that isn't to say there isn't plenty of fun still to be had in the snow. While I'll be unable to complete my goal of finishing my winter New Hampshire 4000 Footers, I've made a healthy dent. Starting the season with 15 peaks down, and 33 to go, was a bit daunting. The weather hasn't always cooperated either, as expected. From a whiteout on the Presidentials last week, to pouring rain on a Cabot attempt, to a crisp near zero day on the Twins, this winter has thrown everything it had at us. Logistics has been the other roadblock. All in all, this has been one of the busiest, and most memorable times of my entire life, and I'm thankful for being able to get out there and do it, and for all the people I've met and shared the experience with. I have two more hiking days available before it's no longer calender winter, then I can turn my ambitions elsewhere (see skiing, and other various non-winter lists). Cabot is scheduled for Wednesday, then Friday is up in the air. If the weather is good, Mike and I will attempt another Presidential Traverse!

Speaking of traverses, I was pining the whole day long. After Thursdays attempt, and hearing the forecast, I'll admit I played a bit of devil's advocate, and tried to convince Mike to cancel, and give it another go. He was professional about it, didn't cancel the Meetup hike to Moriah, and in retrospect, I'm glad he didn't. Though I'm still, halfheartedly, lamenting the fact that I wasn't on the Presidential ridge.

When I pulled into the Stony Brook trailhead, both Mike and Samantha were already there. Seriously! Samantha had an excuse, she lives in Conway, Mike on the other hand, no excuse. He's had the nasty habit recently, of being earlier than me, making me look bad... unacceptable. We geared up, then sat in the cars chatting, until the rest of our group of 6 pulled in. I had hiked with Li before, but never with Donna, Cynthia, or Samantha (though Mike and I met her on Moosilauke in January). Final preparations were made, and we all started up the trail at 8:20.

4 lovely ladies... and Mike
Everyone seemed to warm up pretty quickly, and soon we made a stop to de-layer. I ended up in just a thin base layer top (no worries, I kept my pants on) all the way to the summit, and never even thought of taking my shell out of the pack. What great temperatures! We kept a good pace up through the hardwoods, there were beautiful snow scenes all around, as the snow had yet to start melting from the trees, and fantastic azure skies above.

I wonder how many times throughout the day, that the word posthole was uttered. Everyone in the group was wearing snowshoes, except for Samantha. Honestly, she did a great job not postholing, but I still poked fun at her most of the day, and nearly got a pole in my thigh a couple times, for my trouble.

We soon reached the Moriah/Imp col, where the signage was nearly completely buried. Did I mention that I love winter? This was the part of the hike I was looking forward to, passing over the ledge complex on the south ridge of Moriah. When I was last here in May 2011, we were in the fog for the entire climb, though we had an undercast on the summit. The ledges on this day did not disappoint, with views all around, and great snowshoeing conditions.

Pilot/Pliny Ranges

Southeast ridge, with Baldface/Meader ridge beyond

Middle Moriah and Shelburne Moriah
We continued our way up, passing back into the woods at many points along the way, me knocking snow off the trees in front to ease our passage. How the parties before us didn't knock down all the snow, I'll never know. Reaching the turn toward Moriah, where the sign was again buried, we saw that the ledge scramble that is usually the most challenging part of a Moriah ascent, was filled in, and was nothing more than a snow slope. We all made it up to the summit, where we took a nice break in the sun, soaking in our surroundings.

Presidentials from Moriah

North to the Mahoosucs over Middle Moriah

The Carter Range from Moriah
After a leisurely time on the summit, we packed up, and descended back the way we came. The sun had been working on the snow, softening it, leading to it melting out of the trees. It never got so intense that it felt like it was raining, but it was damp at times while we were still on the ridge. Back down Stony Brook, conditions remained much the same as when we ascended, though the track was softer. We ended up back at the parking lot at 4:33.

We all regrouped at Margarita Grille in Glen, which was packed when we arrived, and the parking lot was a muddy minefield! Great conversation, dinner and drinks were had, and we eventually all parted ways. Mike and Samantha were headed up Mount Washington today (Sunday), and I have to work tonight, so I was unable to join them.

Now for another few nights of work, then I can finish my "winter" season in style. There's 10 peaks left, and it remains to be seen how many will be left when it's all said and done. I must order/get skins for my skis, as I'll be taking a trip up to and possibly into Tuckerman Ravine on the 23rd with Samantha, at least for a run down the Sherburne Ski Trail, and I'd like to be able to skin up instead of carrying my skis. This hiker has neglected skiing this winter, and that's a problem!