Working title: I'm not being a Negative Nancy, I'm Realist Randy
Peaks: North Twin, South Twin, Mt. Guyot, Zealand Mountain, Mt. Hale
Trails: North Twin Trail, North Twin Spur, Twinway, Lend-A-Hand Trail, Hale Brook Trail
Mileage/time: 17 miles, 5723 feet of gain, book time of 11:19, actual time of 11:14 (for me)
"That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history" ~ Aldous Huxley
Believe me, I'm one of them, but I'm trying. I've been very mindful of this quote recently, and it's helped keep me focused on making solid life decisions, instead of giving in to what feels comfortable, and giving in to what feels right.
So instead of doing something about my Wednesday conundrum, I decided I'd hike. Jes had posted that she was hiking a Hale/Zealand/Twins loop with her son and a girl named Heather (from Maine!), involving the old Firewardens Trail. I thought they were going up the abandoned trail, so I planned on meeting up with them on South Twin, and joining them for their descent. There was some misunderstanding, as they were planning on going down the Firewardens, but I'll get to that.
I don't think I've ever started this big of a hike (or what turned into this big of a hike) so late in the day. Work ran until 6 Wednesday morning, I had breakfast with my friend and co-worker Heather (different Heather), ran some errands, and got myself on the road. Battling traffic the whole way, I pulled into the full lot at the North Twin trailhead around 10:35, and parked on the side of the road. Changing, I mustered up all the energy I had, as I had a goal. Reach the summit of South Twin in 3 hours from the lot. The time was 10:56.
The lower portion of the trail follows along the river, and is pleasant, with a soft footbed. There was a Time Warner Cable truck parked in the lot, and not far from the trailhead, I saw its driver coming down the trail. I asked him if he was installing cable on the summit so we could watch the Bruins game, he chuckled and went on his way. I took the bypass for the first two crossings, and saw the start of the Hale Firewardens Trail, hoping (erroneously) that my group had found it earlier in the morning. There were some nice on trail, and trailside scenes to behold along this section.
Reaching the third crossing, I managed to rock hop it, only getting the very bottom of my shoes wet, and then came the relentless climb up the ridge to North Twin. It really isn't that bad, never incredibly steep, and has some flatter sections to give the legs a break. But there are a couple of sections that are a slog, no real getting around it, you're climbing a mountain! There were a couple of blowdowns to be stepped over and ducked under, but nothing major.
After passing a large AMC group on the way down, I made a break towards the summit. Views opened up to the east, with the Presidentials looming over Mt. Hale, and the (you're a) Nancy Range peaks over Zealand.
Upon reaching the view spur and the true summit, I ran into a backpacker (I didn't get his name), and a guy from Boston named Jamie enjoying the views.
Jamie, and one other person I passed on the North Twin Spur indicated that my group was ahead of me, leading me to believe that they had missed the turn for the Firewardens Trail. That spurred me on to reach the summit even more quickly. Just as I broke treeline, I recognized Jes, then saw her son, and Heather (who I'd only seen a picture of). I rock hopped up to the summit and tagged it before joining up with them. The time was 1:36. 2 hours and 40 minutes, for 5.6 miles and 3453 feet of gain, versus book time of 4:31... all after having worked the previous night, and not sleeping. Killed it! I won't lie, I was beaming. Now I turned to the group. We hung around on the summit for a while, chatting, and providing some amusement for the two backpackers on the summit, on day three of their five day journey in and around the Pemi.
We soon set off down the Twinway towards Mt. Guyot, with laughter and inappropriate comments filling the air. This section of the Twinway is beautiful, and I was happy that the group pace was slow, giving me time to enjoy it, and look around. No pictures would do it justice. After a while of descending, we began to climb moderately, breaking treeline again just before the Bondcliff Trail junction.
The Bonds called to me, but I'll be back, hopefully next week. We then took in the views from the true summit of Guyot, which is not at the big cairn on Bondcliff Trail, as I previously believed.
Ducking back into the trees on the other side of Guyot, we soon ran into a Spruce Grouse on the trail, and I was designated as the blocker. I managed to get a picture of it, but the closer I got, the more it ran away... I can't imagine why. Oh the limitations of having only prime lenses.
Fowl dealt with (it ran off into the brush), we descended into the Zealand-Guyot col, and went up the other side. I remember it being steeper for some reason, then realized that it was because I was coming from the Bonds the other two times I'd been on this section, perspective is a funny thing. Soon we found ourselves at the spur trail, and then at the true summit of Zealand, with its wonderful sign.
We soon stopped on the ledge just above the ladder on the Twinway, and took a break. There were some decent views from here, north to Hale, and more filtered views south towards the Carrigain Notch area.
Working our way across the ridge, past wildflowers in bloom, we reached Zeacliff, and its spectacular outlook. It's easily one of my top ten places in the White Mountains.
Descending to the hut on rock and root, we got a chance to refill our water, and eat a bit before heading up to Hale. Dinner was being served, and unfortunately, one of the Croo was less than polite to Jes' son Greg, who was just trying to buy a candy bar. He was wearing a blue sequined mini-skirt, so there's that.
I finally got a chance to hike the Lend-A-Hand Trail without snow on it, and while it was wet and sometimes muddy, it was much more of a joy to be on. Though for the third time, it was at the end of a long day. Along the way, there is a nice ledgy area, where the waxing moon was in full view, high above the Zealand Ridge.
The light faded as we climbed, and the sun was down by the time we hit Hale. In the remaining light, I checked out the entrance to the Firewardens Trail, which was brushy at the start, with a recognizable trough of a footbed. About 40 yards in, I reached a T, there seemed to be trails going to left and the right, I'm unsure which was the actual trail (I'm leaning to the right), and will have to come up from the bottom sometime to find out. We layered up, as it was getting cold fast in the twilight, and got out headlamps. Greg's headlamp didn't have any batteries in it, and for some reason, I didn't have spares... where did they get to?!? Jes called her friend Tere who lives nearby, to see if she could pick us up at Hale Brook Trailhead, instead of us trying to descend, and likely getting lost on the Firewardens. A ride secured, we started down.
Rather uneventfully, we made our way, Greg following between myself and Jes, trying to match my footsteps. After a couple blowdowns, and two easy stream crossings, the trail started to flatten out, and we were shortly greeted by Tere, who had bought bottles of water for each of us. How nice of her! She shuttled us to the North Twin Trailhead, and we all made our preparations to leave. Saying our goodbyes, now began the hardest part of my day, staying awake for the drive. It wasn't easy, though I had some caffeinated help, but I made it home in one piece, and promptly crashed, hard. I feel good today, but definitely worn down, it's going to be an early night tonight.
Thanks to Jes, Heather, and Greg for having me along today, and thanks for the fantastic company. Also congratulations to Jes for putting #'s 38-40 in the books, and for Greg getting #'s 17-20. Keep up the awesome work! Also, a thousand thanks to Tere for helping us out in our time of need!