Sunday, July 28, 2013

In and around the Wild River Wilderness 7/26/13

Working title: Foggy ridges and gorgeous valleys

Peaks: Carter Dome, South Carter, Middle Carter, North Carter

Trails: Wild River Trail, Black Angel Trail, Carter-Moriah Trail, Carter Dome Trail, Imp Shelter Spur, Moriah Brook Trail, Highwater Trail

Mileage/time: 20.9 miles, 5614 feet of gain, book time of 13:17, actual time of 10:50

Now that I've managed a couple of proper nights of sleep, I can now attempt to spin this yarn. I'd been planning on hiking with Jake Levinsky, a guy I'd met through a Facebook hiking group, and then met in person at his father's store in Windham. Come to find out, we graduated from the same high school, and knows my brother. Small world, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I picked up Jake at 4am. Yes, you read that right, 4am. It was raining lightly, and by looking at the radar, it appeared the heavy rain would be skirting to the east of where we'd be hiking. We bombed north, pulled onto Wild River Road, and made it to the campground, 6 miles in. Some cars were in the hiker lot, but it was otherwise quiet, the campers were still sleeping.

At 6am on the dot, we started off down the Wild River Trail, which much like its name suggests, follows the Wild River. I'd had a loop like this in mind for quite some time, and was excited to check out some new areas. That, and there was the opportunity for a large amount of redlining, 15.9 miles to be exact. It was going to be a good day. It was cloudy when we departed, and the temperature was very comfortable. Wild River Trail follows an old railroad grade for a while, a remnant of the logging this area suffered through. There were sections of deep erosion along the grade, but they were easily worked around. Just beyond where we would come out at the end of the day, a riverside scene opened up. A mass of trees, pushed up against the bank, presented itself. It was impressive.

A bit further along, we came to the junction with the Black Angel Trail, and started up it. I recall making a comment to myself when I first hiked to Carter Dome, and saw the sign for this trail. It was something along the lines of, remind me never to take that trail! It was really a joy to be on. Passing the wilderness boundary, the trail climbs easily for the first miles, with downed trees to work over and around, and dark, brooding forest, interspersed with open birch glades, to hike through. Unfortunately, my camera couldn't capture the spectacle. My usual troubles, shooting at 1/30 of a second shutter speeds, handheld, limited my picture taking along this trail. It just means I'll have to come back.

The trail soon steepened, and became more rocky, as we neared the ridge. Some limited views were had, out over the Wild River Valley toward the Baldfaces and Maine. After a couple sections of fun scrambling, we climbed into the clouds, coming out onto Carter-Moriah Trail, where we ran into our first people of the day. I think they were surprised to see someone coming up the trail!

Pushing on another 0.4 miles, we reached the broad, flat summit of Carter Dome, in the fog. No views to be had today. A couple of people that had been staying at the hut passed through, northbound. I put on some layers, and took a minute to look at my heels, which had been bothering me. The tape I'd put on them had come off, and was useless. Jake had some tape that he'd let me try out, it's called Leukotape, and after this hike, I'm officially a convert. It held up incredibly well, and the usual heel rubbing with these shoes became a non-issue! Now to find somewhere (other than the internets) to buy some.

Deciding to skip Mt. Hight, due to the lack of views, we cruised on down to Zeta Pass, and kept on toward South Carter. This was the first time I'd been on any of these summits without some amount of snow on the ground, and there were some nice stone staircases along the way. The rain held off as well, staying well to our east for the most part. We did get drizzled on here and there, but it never really amounted to anything. I won't bore you with summit shots from the three Carters, the stick on South Carter had no view, the Middle Carter summit was marked by some faded writing on a tree (likewise, no view), and the North Carter summit (which was a strange sandy clearing) was marked by its name drawn in the sand. There were some nice sections of bog bridging between the peaks, and open areas where there should have been views. But there you have it.

From North Carter, the trail loses a lot of elevation (about 1400 feet!), and quickly. Descending over steep ledge, after steep ledge. It was a lot of fun, and I don't envy a thru hiker with a heavy pack ascending or descending this section. We got a quick view out to the north as we were descending, but it disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared.

We soon reached the spur for the Imp Campsite, and since we needed water (and I needed its 0.2 mile length for redlining), we took it. There was a lone section hiker hanging out on the porch of the shelter, and several other groups and individuals arrived while we were there. Everyone we saw and talked to was headed southbound. Apparently southbound thru/section hiking has becoming a phenomenon this year! After leaving the campsite, we headed north again, towards the Moriah Brook junction, where we'd decide whether or not to continue on to Moriah. There were a couple fleeting views along the way.

One of the guys at the shelter said the ledges were dry, so we had that going for us. Once at the junction, it started to rain... and the decision was made to just bail down Moriah Brook instead of adding another 3 miles to our day. This was the right choice, and the trail repaid us by being awesome. In the upper reaches, there were sections of deep mud, rotting bog bridging, and brush encroaching on the trail, but it was absolutely gorgeous.

It rained off and on while we descended, never heavily, and it felt fantastic. We got to see the beginnings of Moriah Brook up high on the trail, and watched as it got bigger and bigger, the further down we went. I lost count of how many crossings there were, the trail zigzagged back and forth across the brook, but they were all easy hops on moss covered rocks. There were many attractive unnamed cascades and falls along the brook, and we stopped on many occasions to bushwhack down to the bank for viewing purposes. There was one place where we stopped, heard voices, saw and smelled smoke from a campfire across the brook, but never saw the parties responsible. It looked like a great place to camp!

Beautiful sections continued, with a soft footbed, a truly special wilderness trail. We soon came upon a beaver pond directly alongside the trail, with fresh beaver activity visible on the island created by the dam. Well played beavers, well played.

We were in the home stretch, as the trail pulled away from the brook, and we soon came to the junction with the Highwater Trail. The two trails coincide for a short stretch, then split, just before reaching the suspension bridge over the Wild River. I've never encountered a more bouncy bridge in my life, we couldn't both walk on it at the same time!

Back on the Wild River Trail, we made quick time back to the car, where Jake had beers... that were still cold! What a great way to end the hike!

Now comes two goals for the rest of the year. I've been keeping track of mileage and elevation gain for the year thus far, and my first goal revolves around that. I'd like to be over 1000 trail miles by the end of the year, and with 533.5 under my belt so far, I see it as a doable thing. The other goal involves redlining, of which there are 1440.4 miles to do. I've done 561.2 miles so far, and I'd like to be halfway done by years end, so that leaves 159 miles of redlining to do to reach the goal. That means that fully one third of my remaining miles for the year needs to be on new trails. Challenge accepted!!!

Next week, with any luck, I'll be hiking in Baxter. Then the following week, I'll be hiking in New York for the first time, before my friend Jeremy's wedding. It's going to be a lot of fun!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Yet another Franconia Ridge Traverse 7/21/13

Working title: An end and a beginning

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

Trails: Lincoln Woods Trail, Osseo Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Greenleaf Trail, Old Bridle Path

Mileage/time: 14.5 miles, 5693 feet of gain, book time of 10:06, actual time of 9:52

I'm slacking, seriously. I don't often go this long after a hike, without writing about it. Such is my busy existence as of late. I'm lucky if I have enough time to do normal people things (laundry, grocery shop, cook, etc.)!

This would be the first time that I've been on a hike with someone finishing one of their lists, and I was honored to be there. The only list I've finished thus far (the NH 4000-footers), was a solo excursion, where I had my final peak all to myself in the pouring rain. It was anticlimactic at best. But this story isn't about me.

My friend Heather had a plan to finish on Mt. Lafayette (consequently my first 4000-footer in New Hampshire), by doing a south to north Franconia Ridge Traverse. Initially, I couldn't make it, due to scheduling conflicts at work, but the week before, I worked it out and was able to take the time off. Happiness abound! We decided to carpool, and planned to meet in Buxton that morning. She woke up a bit late, and I spaced out as to where we were meeting, driving some miles in the opposite direction. All in all, we ended up arriving at just about the same time. She coordinated some car spotting while I drove, and after meeting up with some others in Fryeburg, we pulled into Lincoln Woods not long after our scheduled start time of 6:30.

We met up with part of the group for the day, which consisted of eleven of us (Dave, Mike, Jess, Scott, Kate, Bob, Stella, Roberta, and Tim), and just after 7, we set off across the bridge. Lincoln Woods was its usual self, muddy in spots, flat, and boring. Smaller groups formed, as we got to know each other a bit. I stuck to the back, wanting to take in the scenery, and because Heather had told me I was the sweeper. I think it was something to do with me telling her about my last time on the ridge, and how I had made it from Lincoln Woods to Lafayette in just over 5 hours. Oops!

I didn't end up taking any pictures on the way up, as nothing presented itself, and I seem to have an aversion to taking pictures of people, not to mention having pictures taken of me. There was a different piece of photographic equipment slung over my shoulder, my trusty Voigtlander Bessa R, loaded up with some epic film (Fuji Velvia 50), and sporting a 15mm wide angle lens. Sadly, I won't have results for some weeks, as it had to be sent out for processing. The Osseo was in good shape, and we paused at the "downlook" for our first views of the day.

The Osseo ladders came and went, and soon we were on the ridge, headed toward Flume, a nice breeze blowing through the trees. We soon popped out on the summit, where we regrouped and took a short break, enjoying the scenery and the cool breeze. A welcome change from the heat and humidity of the last few weeks.

Pushing on, we headed toward Liberty. I really like going south to north on this ridge, it just feels easier, even if it has more elevation gain than going the opposite direction. Shortly, there was sky poking through the trees, and we came out on Liberty. The clouds hung low, with Lafayette in and out of them, but we were in the clear, and the views continued to be dramatic.

After another short break, we carried on. We were to meet up with another group, coming up Falling Waters Trail to Little Haystack, and from the sounds of it, we were behind schedule. Tim had two-way radios, and we tried to contact the other group, but the ridgelines appeared to be blocking the signal, as we got garbled, uninteligible responses. To me, this is the crux of the traverse, the slog up to Little Haystack. It's not the steepest, but it is unrelenting once you pass through the col. Thankfully, it goes by fast, as the footbed lends itself to quick movement. We came out above treeline just short of Little Haystack, seeing a conga-line of hikers ascending the top section of Falling Waters, and a mass of bodies on top.

After meeting up with the second group, we traipsed along the ridge towards Heather's peak #47, Mt. Lincoln. Even though this is my fourth time on the ridge this year, and likely not the last, it's still an amazing place to be. This was the most comfortable of my times here this year, not too cold, not too hot, not too humid, and not blowing snow! Cresting the summit of Lincoln, Heather had but one peak remaining, and it was in sight!

Not lingering long, we pushed on. Between the peaks, there were gliders flying around, buzzing the ridge, and riding thermals. It was pretty amazing to watch, as the wings would bend as the plane hit a thermal, and would then shoot upwards. Must, take, glider, ride!

As we neared the summit, we made Heather wait just down from it, as we made a hiking pole tunnel for her to come through as she came to the final summit of her journey. Around 1:45, she came through the tunnel and completed her New Hampshire 4000-footers among a throng of other hikers. Congratulations were in order! After pictures and a break, the group split up, with many descending to the hut, and others just chilling around the summit.

After regrouping at the hut, we spread out again along the trail, heading down to Franconia Notch. We arrived just before 5, and then set about trying to figure out how we were getting back to Lincoln Woods! In the end, we squeezed, literally, into Dave's Focus hatchback. After retrieving cars, a bunch of us headed into Woodstock for dinner. Good conversation and food was had, before we all parted ways. The sunset was amazing, and Heather and I stopped along the Kanc for a photo op.

So there we have it, a finish! Congratulations to Heather, and here's to the many more summits and trails in your future.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Sugarloaves and Cherry Mountain 7/18/13

Working title: Woke last night to the sound of thunder

It's a sad state of affairs, when you take the "week" off from hiking, and it turns into nearly 14 days without. I was itching to get out, and I had big plans for today. As with anything, you have to be flexible, but I'll get to that. Wednesday was the usual, I'm now calling it The Sleep Deprivation Special. I had some breakfast, and went to play disc golf with some co-workers in the heat. The first round wasn't so great, bad putting, and dunking a disc in a mucky pond (then myself), made for a bit of frustration... and shooting a 6 over par! The second round was fantastic, getting birdies on the first four holes, then shooting a strong back nine to finish at 7 under par! My best round... well, ever! Sleep came early, as the sun zapped me pretty well on the open course.

Around 10 o'clock, I was woken out of a sound sleep. Light flashed through one window, then the other, and thunder rumbled. I lay awake and watched the flashes, alternating between the windows on either side of my room, and listened to the rain and thunder pounding outside. As it ended, I drifted back.

Up at 2am... joy, it's like this last winter all over again! My plan for the day was big, and sitting here now, I'm glad it didn't come to fruition. My ankle was well rested, and I thought it was up for anything, so I set off to do a loop of the Hancocks and Carrigain, a blistering 32 mile epic. I arrived at the Signal Ridge trailhead, geared up, and set off up the road just before 5. I had heard a crack off in the distance, up the road, as I was getting ready, and was eager to check it out. That was until I got a look at the Sawyer River. It was running high and fast, and on this day of many crossings, it didn't bode well. I ran back to the car, intending on driving up to the Sawyer River trailhead, two miles up the road, to check it out. I didn't quite make it, as a small fir tree decided to fall in the road, and I couldn't move it myself. Mother nature made my decision for me, this loop wasn't going down today. I then decided to knock some peaks and trails off some lists.

Hike #1: The Sugarloaves

Peaks: North Sugarloaf, Middle Sugarloaf

Trails: Sugarloaf Trail, Trestle Trail

Mileage/time: 4 miles, 1306 feet of gain, book time of 2:40, actual time of 2:03

I tooled up towards Twin Mountain, pulled onto Zealand Road, and parked at the lot before the bridge over the Zealand River. It too was running high, and a sign at the trailhead said that the bridge on the Trestle Trail was out, and the crossing could be difficult at high water. I figured I'd check it out when I got done with the peaks, and I started up the Sugarloaf Trail. Sadly, it was too dim for pictures, and I was plagued by 1/30 of a second shutter speeds for the better part of the day. It's not easy when you're shooting handheld! The trail was really nice on the way up, alternating between easy and moderate grades, with some minor mud and standing water along the way. There were several nice sections with rock steps, and some recent cribbing work done in a wet area. I shortly arrived at what I'll refer to as "Loaves Col", in a lightly blowing mist, and the trail split. I took the right branch first to North Sugarloaf, and the trail dropped slightly to the west, before rising steeply. It crosses what appears to be an active slide area, as there was fresh detritus on the trail, having been sloughed off from above. Beyond some slick ledge areas, the trail breaks out at the summit, and some cloud veiled views opened up to the east and south.

I picked my way carefully down the ledge sections, slipping here and there, and got back uneventfully to Loaves Col. Breezing through the junction, I started the climb towards Middle Sugarloaf. The sun broke through the clouds to the east, and its rays cut through the dark, misty woods. It pays to be the early bird!

A bit more climbing, and I hit a ladder. Some people don't like them, but I'd rather have the ladder than trying to scramble up or bushwhack around an otherwise impassable rock face!

A few steps further on, and I broke out onto the ledges on Middle Sugarloaf. The sun was out in full force, just beginning to heat up the day, and a light breeze kept things comfortable. The ledges were expansive, wrapping around the summit, providing nearly 360 degree views, though not from one spot. Clouds were beginning to lift out of the Zealand Valley, the Twins, though the Presidentials were still socked in.

While roaming around the ledges, I sampled some of the mountains wares, in the form of some just ripened blueberries, delicious! I soon retreated back to Loaves Col, and headed down to check out the Trestle Trail. Along the way, I got shots of some things that I missed on the way up, thanks to the dim.

The Trestle Trail leaves the Sugarloaf Trail about 0.2 miles from the trailhead, and follows the river west, before climbing up the bank away from it. After crossing a grassy road a couple of times, it dumped me out at the crossing, where the bridge supports were still apparent. I looked up and down, trying to find a decent place to cross, but the river was running too fast and high for me to do so safely. Not being sure where the trail comes back out to Zealand Road, I'll just have to come back and do the other 0.4 mile section on a low water day. I headed back to the trailhead, and just before hitting the road, a very excited dog ran back and forth past me a couple times, and its human appeared. We exchanged greetings, and went our separate ways. I had another couple peaks in mind!

Hike #2: Cherry Mountain

Peaks: Owl's Head, Mt. Martha

Trails: Owl's Head Trail, Martha's Mile

Mileage/time: 6.4 miles, 2701 feet of gain, book time of 4:33, actual time of 3:40

A couple more peaks, and a couple of new trails... don't mind if I do. The day had heated up substantially, and I was looking for some bang for the buck. Instead of leaving part of the Cherry Mountain Trail unhiked, which would happen no matter which way I sliced it, I decided on the Owl's Head Trail. I pulled into the trailhead on 115, stepped out of the car, and the bugs were on me. No good. I doused myself with chemicals, shouldered my pack, and set off up the trail. I was initially heartened to see that this is an RMC (Randolph Mountain Club) maintained trail, and a part of the Cohos Trail, but I was soon grievously disappointed. The first mile or so of the trail is in rough shape. Not only is it very grown in, at least in spots, but it's extremely muddy. It's just a mess, and I was quickly frustrated, nearly turning around. That and the bugs were horrendous, any exposed skin was subject to their wrath, and the bug spray... it does nothing! I tried to move quickly, running when I could to keep ahead of them. All that got me was free protein, some of it inhaled (don't inhale protein kids), and wet feet for the rest of the hike.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all doom and gloom, there were nice sections, interspersed with suck.

The heat started to get to me, and I kept stopping, my calves burning, and my heart racing. It's crazy how easily fitness is lost. it just means I'll just have to work harder the next couple weeks to get myself back to where I was. Soon, I began to see blue sky down low in the trees, but it was false hope, I was merely gaining the ridgeline. Short, steep, switchbacks ruled for a while, damp from the nights thunderstorms.

Every stitch of clothing I was wearing was wet, either from sweat or from pushing through the grown in sections of trail. It was uncomfortable at best, and though I had dry clothes, they would have instantly been soaked through. Screw you heat and humidity! It's days like this that I pray for an early winter. I finally saw light at the end of the tunnel, and popped out on the summit ledges of Owl's Head, with views east to the Presidentials (which were still clouded in), west towards Whitefield, and south towards Crawford Notch.

Next up was Martha's Mile, which conveniently is only 0.8 miles long. Incongruous! It drops steeply down a couple rock faces, then mellows out considerably, with a soft footbed, all the way to the top of Mt. Martha. Martha only features directional views towards the Presidentials, which had cleared a bit by the time I got to the top.

I really didn't want to go back the way I came, and deal with the suck that lay on the last mile of trail, but I didn't want to hitch or walk several miles back on 115 in the heat. So I came to terms with what I needed to do, dug deep, and sallied forth. I kept waiting for the mud and junk to appear, and thought I'd been hallucinating or something, but shortly after I filtered some water, it appeared. My feet were already wet and nasty, so I just trudged right through. Here's a picture of the trail near the trailhead... and yes, that is the trail!

I popped back out at the trailhead, and was instantly swarmed by bugs. I had mentally thrown in the towel on my way up the mountain, and this was the final straw. I got my shoes off, found a tick and flicked it off my sock, and swatted at flies and mosquitos. Finally, I got into the car, and left that godforsaken trailhead.

Beer, there was want for it, so I headed for the Moat. Along the way, I saw that Samantha hadn't gone hiking and was around, so I called her, and she said she'd come down and meet me for a beer! We chatted, and caught up, and just before she left, I finally ordered lunch. The bartender is good to me. I ate, and had more beer, then got myself homeward. Along the way, nearing Gorham, I pulled over for a shot.

There was a more spectacular scene on the 4th that I neglected to stop for... shame upon shame. All in all, it was a good day to get back out on the trails, and here's hoping for no more injuries!