Sunday, April 28, 2013

Franconia Ridge Traverse 4/27/13

Working title: Impromptu bushwhacks are the most fun bushwhacks

Peaks: North Lafayette, Mt. Lafayette, North Lincoln, Mt. Lincoln, Little Haystack, Mt. Liberty, Mt. Flume

Trails: Skookumchuck Trail, Garfield Ridge Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Flume Slide (not the trail), bushwhack, Flume Slide Trail, Liberty Spring Trail, Whitehouse Trail, bike path

Mileage/time: ~14.6 miles, ~5300 feet of gain, book time of 9:55, actual time of 12:06

Where do I even begin? The day brought us everything: clear skies, bright sunshine, snow-free trails to start, a stable monorail once the snow appeared, and basically snow-free conditions above treeline. What more could we ask for? Let me backtrack, and all will be revealed.

It's been some weeks since I've woken up this early for a hike, 4am is never the right hour. With everything and the kitchen sink in my pack (still prepared for full winter conditions), I loaded up, and headed north. While on 113 in Baldwin, I saw an amazing sunrise scene, and quickly pulled over.

I arrived early, as usual, and set about getting ready. Allison and Mike soon arrived, and Brenda pulled in soon after that. Our group had assembled! We then piled into Brenda's car, and headed to the Skookumchuck Trailhead. After final preparations, we started up the trail at 7:50. The Skookumchuck Trail was pretty awesome, only one crossing, moderate grades, and beautiful woods throughout. The sun was shining, the temperature was comfortable, and that, of course, turned me into a sweaty mess. At one point, we stopped to admire a pile of feathers strewn about just next to the trail. Something primal, possibly ugly, and downright natural had happened here, I couldn't help but to gaze in wonderment for a moment.

We hiked on, sometimes talking, sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other. Snow soon appeared, but the classic spring monorail was supportive in the cooler morning temperatures, and there was no need for traction. There was a lot of moose sign along the trail, including a spot right on the trail where said moose looked to have bedded down. A sign on the trail signaled our entry into the Alpine Zone, and the beginning of our views for the day. Shortly afterwards, we reached the end of the Skookumchuck Trail, and were greeted with a snow-free trail, and vast, if somewhat hazy, views.

Garfield Ridge Trail heading north, not today

Garfield, the Twins, and the Presidentials in back

The lumbering mass of Owl's Head
I needed to stop and patch my feet, as my new-ish boots were giving me issues. Will I ever find hiking footwear (other than trail runners), that don't cause me significant pain? Soon, we continued southward, while I tried to eat and hike... not as easy as it might sound. I finally finished my wrap, about 0.2 miles from Lafayette. Multitasking, I have it. We soon came up to the summit of Lafayette, where we saw our first of many people on the ridge.

Lincoln from Lafayette

The Bonds from Lafayette
We didn't linger long, and set out for Lincoln. This was a far cry from my last time on this ridge, all the way back in January. For one, we had views, and for two, it was warm. What a difference a couple of months makes. Lincoln provided us with continued excellent views, though we decided to have lunch on Little Haystack. Pushing onward!

At one point, the trail moves to the east side of the ridge, going around a large rock outcrop. So what do I do? I climb to the top. At the end of the outcrop was a vertical wall, something I might have down-climbed if I didn't have poles and a heavy pack, but erring on the side of caution, I returned to the trail. Little Haystack appeared quickly, and the associated crowds ensued. We sat to the south of the summit, watching group after group coming up Falling Waters Trail. One group even brought a ukulele. Our last two targets were in front of us, and after our break (and chocolate covered strawberries that Brenda carried up!), we headed south.

The relatively snow-free, above treeline ridge portion of our hike was over, and it was back to gnarly spring conditions of suck. The Franconia Ridge Trail between Little Haystack and Liberty Spring Trail doesn't get much play in winter, and was therefore less consolidated. This lead to some postholing, and generally slow going between the peaks. Sooner than later, we reached the summit of Liberty, and were greeted by a couple members of one of our Facebook groups, Alison, Rebecca, and her husband Mark.


Bonds from Liberty


A couple more groups arrived, two of which had come up the Flume Slide Trail, which we had been thinking about descending. They said it was an icy mess, with water running underneath... and they didn't have traction! The trail between Liberty and Flume gets a lot more play, and was hard packed, and easier to hike on.

Fairly quickly, we reached the summit of Flume, and took a break. It was now that we discussed our options. I climbed down to a rocky little promontory, looking down the slide itself, it was impressive.

The fissured summit "cone" of Flume

We had decided to at least check out the Flume Slide Trail for descent, instead of climbing back up and over Liberty to descend. The trail skirts the very top of the slide, and that gave Mike an idea. The plan was this, descend the slide (which as far as the eye could see, was bare), and then bushwhack to the Flume Slide Trail for the rest of our descent.

Most of the upper part of the slide, was a loose, unconsolidated nightmare of various sized rocks. With each step, rocks moved under our feet, settling, and sometimes sliding downslope. We slowly picked our way down the slide, switchbacking, and calling out if a rock was dislodged. ROCK!

After about 1000 feet of descent on rock, we encountered snow, and it was deep. Not only that, it became undermined by running water. The other three members of my group weigh less than me, this lead to me postholing up to my knees in many spots. At one point, I went in over my waist, water flowing beneath me. Some ninja moves later, and I was able to extract myself, but by that point, I was done with the slide. A miserable few hundred feet of bushwhacking later, and Mike found the trail.

Exhausted, we made our way down the Flume Slide Trail, running into Dan McGinness (of DMOutdoors), on his way to do a moonlight traverse. Hope you had an awesome night! Once we made the bike path, Mike didn't like the look of the Whitehouse Trail, so we took the bike path back to a point where we made a short bushwhack back to the parking lot.

Mike and Allison took off, and I drove Brenda to her car, where we parted ways. I made the drive home, but was so sore and exhausted, that I tripped on the first step up to my porch, and ate it on the stairs. Once I got upstairs, I was informed that there was no hot water... again! What a kick in the pants after such a long day.

Since I won't be hiking again until at least the 2nd, I'm going to be playing MSAP... and staying away from trails with snow on them (and therefore, the 4k's). I'm done with winter, I'm done with heavy packs, and I'm done with hiking poles. It's light packs and trail runners from here on out!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Red Lines 4/25/13

Working title: Change is the only constant

In the spirit of the Mountain Wanderer himself, Steve Smith, I figured I'd give his ASAP (April Snow Avoidance) program a try! I also had some redlining to work on, so I'll break this up into sections for each of the five separate hikes. I had only planned on doing three, but ended up doing a couple very worthwhile extras.

Hike #1: Boulder Loop

Trail: Boulder Loop Trail, unnamed spur trail

Mileage/time: 3.2 miles, ~1150 feet of gain, book time of 2:10, actual time of 1:45

I've read about this popular trail, and have seen the sign for it at the end of Passaconaway Road a thousand times. Now it was time to make it happen. I chatted with Mike after I woke up, since his hike to the Moats got cancelled, and he decided to stick around his area and get stuff done. That and he doesn't find any appeal in redlining... can't say I blame him. I parked in the lot for the Albany Covered Bridge, as Passaconaway Road is still closed for the season, put on my new trail runners (Sportiva Raptors), and made a short road walk to the trailhead.

Shortly after starting up the trail, it splits, and I decided to take the loop clockwise, which would be a running theme for the rest of the day. The blazing on this trail is somewhat faded, and it made for interesting trail finding it spots, especially with the leaves from last fall obscuring the footbed.

The western portion of the loop brings you up along the base of the ledges, that you'll soon be on top of, and some care is required to stay on the trail, as it hooks left at one point. I ended up not hooking left, and found some nice lichens and mosses at the base of the ledge.

After backtracking, the trail really starts to climb, sometimes slabbing, sometimes straight up the slope. I followed a slightly beaten path out to some lower ledges, for some great views down to the Swift River.

A nice little trailside cairn

From the first ledge, the trail descends slightly, and enters some areas of fir. I found some remnants of winter, covered in soft duff, such that it just looked like the forest floor, until it cracked under my weight.

After a short, steep climb, I reached a junction, where the sign said there were views... imagine that?!? I wandered out onto the ledges, and was greatly rewarded.

Sandwich Range


Reindeer Moss
I took a break, and basked in the views and the sunshine. I even went so far as to zip off my pant legs, and they ended up staying in my pack for the rest of the day. Hooray for shorts weather! The eastern portion of the loop drops steeply off from the junction, and leads you down through beautiful open hardwoods, back to the loop split. It was nice enough that I even jogged for a portion of it, making good time. Of course, I rolled both of my ankles on the descent, but walked it off... typical. I ran into a woman and four kids heading up just before I hit the trailhead. What a fantastic little loop, I can see why it's so popular. On to the next!

Hike #2: Forest Discovery Loop

Trails: Forest Discovery Trail, Forest Discovery Loop

Mileage/time: 1.4 miles, ~150 feet of gain, book time of 0:45, actual time of 0:20

This was another trail that I'd seen the sign for many a time on my way across the Kanc. After reading the trailhead sign, I started up, and at the split, I went clockwise. I started to jog, then picked up the pace, and ran, even on the uphill sections. My jogging/running didn't last incredibly long, but it felt good. Now to work on endurance. The trail leads through many different forest ecosystems, from old growth hardwoods, young softwoods, and a riparian zone. The whole trail is crushed gravel, and wide, with benches placed along the way, making for easy going. There were a couple nice viewpoints along the way, along with some vestiges of winter. A nice little loop to get off my list!



I thought about stopping on my way through Lincoln, at the Mountain Wanderer, to visit Steve Smith, and possibly see if he was free to come with me for an excursion. The sign in the window said that he was on vacation through Friday, another time Steve!

Hike #3: Georgiana Falls

Trail: Georgiana Falls Path

Mileage/time: 2.4 miles, 742 feet of gain, book time 1:34, actual time of 1:15

While sitting in my car in Lincoln, I got out the map, and made a plan for my afternoon. Georgiana Falls Path was on my way to the other destinations I had in mind, so it was a no-brainer. I located the trailhead after a fashion (it's off of Hanson Farm Road off Route 3), and started up. The trail crosses under I-93, and then begins its climb along the north side of Harvard Brook, the sounds of the highway fading into memory as the sound of rushing water overtakes the soundscape. Words cannot even describe my experience here. I'm not even sure where the falls started, but around every corner, the falling water was even more spectacular than before. The trail was steep and rough, not to mention difficult to follow in spots. I'm pretty sure I made it to the end of the trail, but I think I'll be coming back here again. I hope my pictures do it justice.

Hike #4: Mt. Pemigewasset "Traverse/Loop"

Trails: Indian Head Trail, Mt. Pemigewasset Trail, roadwalk

Mileage/time: ~4.6 miles, 1600 feet of gain, book time of 3:05, actual time of 2:03

I was planning on just doing an up and back to this peak on Indian Head Trail, but after looking at the map, I saw that it would be pretty easy to go up one side, down the other, and have a fairly short (~1 mile) all downhill roadwalk. I refilled my water, picked up a whoopie pie for the summit, and set off up the Indian Head Trail. After running into several groups on their way down, I had most of the climb to myself. There was quite a bit of mud, but a lot of it was avoidable through rock hops. I was amped up and charging, not really feeling the effects of the mileage I'd done earlier in the day. It only took me 50 minutes to reach the summit, the last 0.4 miles were on a stable snow and ice "monorail".


Liberty and Flume

Osceolas and Scar Ridge
After checking out the various viewpoints on the summit ledges, and relaxing for a few minutes in the sun, I took off down the Mt. Pemigewasset Trail. 52WAV peak #23 was in the books!  The first 0.4 miles featured a monorail, with a good helping of soft snow on top making for good traction, and not requiring spikes. After that, was mud, again avoided through rock hopping. In what felt like no time at all, I popped out on the bike path, and shortly was at the Flume Visitors Center parking lot. The roadwalk went quickly as well, and I soon found myself back at the car... where I finally ate the whoopie pie. So much for a summit snack!

Hike #5: Bald Mountain/Artist's Bluff Loop

Trails: Loop Trail, Veterans Trail, Bald Mountain Spur, Artist's Bluff Spur

Mileage/time: 1.6 miles, 679 feet of gain, book time of 1:09, actual time of 1:07

This was another loop I'd read about, that was quite popular, and it allowed me to get a another view of the Franconia Ridge, where I'd be spending my Saturday. I parked and started up the Loop Trail, which of course split... and I took it clockwise. The trail parallels the road for some time as it climbs, then pulls away from it at the upper trailhead, and climbs steeply to a small col where the spur takes off for Bald Mountain. There were several, steep, fun, scrambles near the top, and the views... fantastic.

Garfield and North Twin

Lafayette and Eagle Cliff

Bald Mountain only lacks views to the north, and I could not get a proper westerly shot thanks to the sun. Back down the spur trail to the col, I continued along the trail. There are several small ledges along the way, but they pale in comparison to the main attraction, Artist's Bluff.

Well played crow, well played
The loop from this point follows some great rock stairs, steeply back down to the split.


Mileage: 13.2
Elevation Gain: 4221'
Time: Don't care, killed it!

Now, I've done "hit and runs" before, but never quite on this scale. Sure, I hit a couple of minor peaks, but the views and scenes from the non-peak areas were just as good, if not better. There was an interpretive display along the Forest Discovery Trail that I ran past, I'm pretty sure the heading of the display read "change is the only constant", at least that's what I saw. The day was a big change of pace, and I think I'll be repeating this kind of adventure again in the future.