Peaks: Eastman Mountain, South Baldface, North Baldface, Eagle Crag, Mt. Meader, West Royce, East Royce
Trails: Baldface Circle Trail, Emerald Pool Spur, Slippery Brook Trail, Eastman Mountain Trail, Baldface Knob Trail, Meader Ridge Trail, Basin Rim Trail, Royce Trail, Royce Connector, East Royce Trail
Mileage/time: 17.8 miles, 7036 feet of gain, book time of 12:24, actual time of 11:06
Excitement. The feeling was palpable before this hike, one I've looked forward to for some time now. Waking up at 4:30 didn't do me any favors, but there we have it. I organized this hike with the Meetup group, Random Group of Hikers. Right off the bat, things went south. I coffee'd up, and was rolling through Gorham, when I realized that I forgot my camera. Waffling for a second, I turned around. Lateness be damned, I was NOT going to do this hike sans camera. I called Mike to inform him that I was going to be late. All in all, I lost 40 minutes of drive time, and by the time I reached Gorham again, it was 5:30... and I planned on being there by 6. Some imprudent speed, and blind luck, landed me at the trailhead at 6:20, even before Mike!
Now we played the waiting game. Jesse was there before I was, and Maher pulled in shortly after I did (I blew past him back down 113). We chatted with a guy and his daughter who were cooking their breakfast in the parking lot, and soon Mike pulled in. Inna and Marta were supposed to join us as well, but poor directions, and zero cell phone reception, left them not finding the right trailhead. I later learned that they had found the East Royce Trailhead, with my spotted car, and ended up hiking East Royce and Blueberry. Waiting around as long as I thought prudent, and we set off up the Baldface Circle Trail at 7:48.
The first 0.7 miles of the trail are super easy, running nearly flat to the loop split, and the spur to Emerald Pool, which we took. It's a popular swimming spot in the warm months, and the water is as advertised, emerald colored. Which I couldn't capture for the life of me.
Upon returning to the junction, we took a left on to the southern part of the loop, which we were only on for a short time. Next up was the stiff climb up to the Eastman/Baldface Knob col, on the Slippery Brook Trail. We ran into some minor muddy patches, and a generally relentless grade, gaining 1850 feet in the 2.4 mile stretch. The woods were generally open, it got warm in the sun, and I turned into a sweaty mess. I guess my body is still attuned to winter, the heat disagrees with it.
Taking a break at the junction, I removed my pant legs, and would be a far more comfortable animal for the remainder of the day. But boy are my legs white! Trying not to blind my companions, we started up the Eastman Mountain Trail, for the first of seven summits on the day. Up through pretty woods, we soon arrived at the ledgy summit area, and got a peek at what was ahead of us for the day.
|South towards the Sandwich Range|
|South Baldface looming large|
|Evans Notch, East Royce to the left of center|
|Eastman and the Kearsarge Group|
|Awesome bench at the junction|
|Washington over the Wildcat Ridge|
|North Baldface, in view|
|Carter Range over the Wild River Valley|
|Follow the ridge, that's where we're going|
Once we dropped into the woods, the fun began. Meader Ridge Trail had a myriad number of blowdowns, of all varieties, forcing us to crawl/climb under, over, and around them. They never really slowed our progress, but they were a pain, and there were a lot of them. There was some patchy snow here and there too, in the shadier spots. Just so you don't think that it was blowdown hell, there were a bunch of nice sections, and some views along the way.
|Closer to the goal|
We took the view spur to the top of Mt. Meader, where a group of six backpackers were hanging out, and I got a crappy picture, which I won't bother to share. Beyond here, the trail was less blowdown ridden, as it dropped steeply down to Rim Junction. We stopped at a clear running stream, and I finally got to use my gravity filter to get some extra water. It was good that we stopped here, because the only other water sources that we passed (one before, and one after) didn't look appetizing. The water here was cold and tasty.
There was talk about taking a break on a view ledge that I knew existed, looking out over the Basin, down to Basin Pond. After going through the junction, about 0.5 miles up the Basin Rim Trail, I realized my mistake... the ledge was slightly down the Basin Trail, back at the junction. I really needed to take a break, but Mike was gone. Yelling to him a few times yielded nothing, and when I finally heard him shout back, my body was fighting me. When we all caught up with him, we all took a break, ate and drank. Pushing on, Maher shortly hit the wall too, and needed a break. We ended up putting him up front, and having him keep what pace he could for the rest of the day.
Pushing on slowly towards West Royce, the false summits presented themselves, and I made false promises, like "last one...". One thing I had been looking forward to, was finding the remains of the fire tower that once stood on West Royce. I must have been delirious the last time I was here, because they were plainly visible from the trail, where it jogs right just before the summit. We checked out the remains, and then tagged the summit of West Royce, with its restricted views to the northeast and southeast.
Now was a slow descent down to the col between the Royces, with some more nice blowdowns to contend with, and we passed inconspicuously into Maine. You wind down to the north of West Royce, then turn east across the col, then turn north around the east side of East Royce. It's disorienting when you're on the trail. Maher was feeling up to it, so we pushed it, the last 0.5 steep miles up to the summit of East Royce, to finish the range traverse!
|Looking back at all we conquered, Eastman on the left of the frame|
The 1.5 miles down to the cars passed uneventfully, though it was steep going. Jesse rode back to the lot with Mike and I, as Maher figured out which way he was going to head home. Mike and I decided on food, though when we pulled up to the Moat, it was super busy... so we decided on Thai.
It was an exhausting day, but one that I'll be repeating for sure. For me, it was two more 52 With a View peaks (halfway done at 26!), and 9 more miles of redlining done, on one of the most spectacular ranges in the Whites. Thanks to Mike, Maher, and Jesse for an awesome day in the mountains, and congratulations for slaying it!