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!