Saturday, August 31, 2013

Just sweating it out in Jackson 8/30/13

Working title: I'm behind... again... a lot...

Really, I need to get back into the habit of writing things out the day after a hike, versus the following week. It's detrimental to progress! Not to mention that it puts me under the gun to get it all out before the next adventure begins. I've become more cognizant of my limits this summer, especially during times of high humidity, and poor air quality. This proved to be one of those days, where throwing in the towel was the right decision.

Hike #1: Iron Mountain

Peak: Iron Mountain

Trails: Iron Mountain Trail, Iron Mine Spur

Mileage/time: 3.6 miles, 1410 feet of gain, book time of 2:30, actual time of 2:45

My original intent was to head to the northern Presidentials, and get in a bunch of redlining, but the steady mist and general dreariness of the predawn hours made me think better of it. July 4th definitely had me rethinking being on northern Presidential rocks in wet conditions. Maybe it's that I don't trust myself not to fall, but whatever it may be, led me to can the idea. Wisely so, as the Presidentials didn't emerge from the clouds, so far as I could see, all day. The best part of redlining, is always (with few exceptions) having a backup plan.

Not exactly knowing where the Iron Mountain trailhead was, I took a likely road (really the only likely road) off 16 in Jackson, and soon was greeted by a road sign that confirmed I was at the right place. Iron Mountain Road climbed steeply for a ways, and I had a nice moose encounter whilst my car struggled up the grade. I soon reached a spot where there were two white signs, one on the right reading "Parking", and the other on the left, reading "Trail". Not exactly WMNF standards, but this had to be it. It was a bit foggy to begin with, but it cleared out just as I started out, and I've got to say, the trailhead area was gorgeous. If you want picturesque views, with near zero effort, just go to the trailhead, and head up the trail into the field.

While following the trail through the field, my feet were instantly soaked, by the still wet grass. Super. Next was about 0.8 miles of steady climbing that left me soaked in sweat, and breathing heavily. I was greatly dismayed by this ridiculous display that my body was putting on, and I cursed it at some length. The trail itself wasn't bad, though there were some severely eroded sections, and the rocks were slick from the rains. I reached a couple of outlooks just before the summit, and took in some impressive views, especially north towards Pinkham Notch.

Shortly, I reached the summit, and the remains of the fire tower that once stood tall on the peak. I found a USGS Reference Mark, but not the Benchmark. There really isn't much of view over the trees from the actual summit, so I continued on along the trail. Bear in mind that the trail isn't blazed at all, as far as I could tell, and beyond the summit, the trail was only haphazardly marked with small cairns, consisting of four or five rocks. That being said, it was still relatively easy to follow. After scrubbing some elevation, a spur trail departed right, and I took it, to some impressive view ledges on the south side of the peak. Things were a bit undercast on this side, and who doesn't love an undercast?

Returning to the trail proper, I continued on downward, towards the remains of the iron mine that once existed on the southern slope of the mountain. HERE is a link to Karl Searl's excellent post on the history of Iron Mountain, which I had read quite some time ago. I found the old mine shaft, filled with water, the forest encroaching around it, and a couple of large tailing piles. Pictures don't do it justice.

Reaching what appeared to be the end of the trail, seeing as it didn't go any further, I picked my way back up the slippery ledges and rocks, to the summit. This area felt incredibly remote, though only a few miles off of Route 16. I'd call it a hidden gem. The hike down was as uneventful as it could have been, trying not to fall, and generally being lethargic and slow. Did I mention that I'm on the verge of full on hating summer? Please give me the autumn, the cooler temperatures, the lower humidity, and improved air quality.

Arriving back at the car, a sweaty mess, I assessed my options. There were some other peaks, and new trails to explore in Jackson, so I made a decision or two, and navigated to my next destination.

Hike #2: The Doubleheads

Peaks: North Doublehead, South Doublehead

Trails: Doublehead Ski Trail, Old Path, New Path, South Doublehead View Spur

Mileage/time: 3.8 miles, 1791 feet of gain, book time of 2:50, actual time of 2:41

With some navigating prowess, I managed to find the trailhead lot for the Doublehead Ski Trail. I enjoy having a good sense of direction, and possibly in this respect alone, not being my fathers son. Changing shirts and putting on a fresh pair of socks, I started up the trail. I honestly cannot wait for winter, because I'm going to be on this trail like stink on... well, you get the drift. I'll be sure to do some laps here and on the nearby Black Mountain Ski Trail. Provided we get a bunch of snow this season, I'll be one happy skier/hiker. The trail is wide, and gentle, by hiking trail standards, and travels through pretty woods.

Before long, I reached the junction with Old Path, and took it. I'll come back for the other 1.2 miles of the ski trail when I'm on my skis. Old Path started climbing more steeply, with a couple of blowdowns thrown in for good measure, and my breathing, heart-rate, and sweat production spiked several times. It's somewhat humbling, and at the same time scary, when you can do insane mileage and elevation gain one week, then get your ass handed to you on much smaller hikes. Among other things, it's a problem. I soon neared the col between the peaks, where an eerie fog was in the process of dissipating.

Taking a left at the junction, the trail climbed a steep 0.3 miles to the summit of North Doublehead, and the cabin, which can be rented out through the Forest Service. I ran into two ladies from Maine along the way, and chatted with them at length about all things hiking. Being the first people I'd seen all day, I was probably more talkative and animated than usual, that and I was spent, so the rest was good. The views from North Doublehead weren't bad, though I'd read that the views from South were better. Views can be had by following a herd path behind the cabin, out to a set of ledges, overlooking Mountain Pond to the east, and to the north towards peaks in Evans Notch.

Not lingering, I made my way back down to the col, and then up the other side, again, with a couple of blowdowns to deal with. A short spur lead down to some ledges near South Doublehead, and the unobstructed views were fantastic. Views ranged from the U-shaped profile of Carter Notch, Black Mountain and the village of Jackson, Iron Mountain and the southern Montalban Ridge, and the Sandwich Range off in the distance.

I went to the true summit, marked by a double cairn, and directed the couple I found there to the view ledges further down. From the summit, there was a unique view towards the Moats and Conway, North Doublehead, and to the south side of the Baldface-Royce Range.

Descending back to the junction, I turned left and dropped down New Path. All in all, the trail is a loose, eroding mess, easily followed, but a mess. That, and it's very steep in the upper 0.6 miles or so. Gingerly, I made my way, and was soon out on Dundee Road, for a pleasant downhill walk back to the car.

I was, however, done hiking for the day. The warmth of the day, and the humidity, zapped my strength and energy, and left me wanting only food and beer. The Moat provided that in spades, and I finally learned the name of the bartender who always happens to be working when I stop in on weekday afternoons. Nice to finally make your acquaintance Allie (Ally?), however your name might be spelled.

Now, I'm setting my sights on a short backpacking trip, on the southern Montalban Ridge, starting tomorrow (9/5). While the distance and elevation gain are within my day hike parameters, there are a couple of shelters along the way, and my friend Will and I are planning on making a two-nighter out of it. It will be good to get away from civilization for a couple of days. There will be a (timely) report when I return. I'm also working on a bit of a retrospective about the last year, and the form this blog has taken on. It's been interesting, and will surely continue to be so!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Longest Out and Back 8/24/13

Working title: The sour taste of defeat, trumps glory

Peak: Mt. Carrigain

Trails: Pemi East Side Trail, Pine Island Trail, Wilderness Trail, Carrigain Notch Trail, Desolation Trail

Mileage/time: 23.8 miles, 4338 feet of gain, book time of 14:07, actual time of 10:12

Since the long day last week, taking the scenic route to and from the Hancocks, I've been thinking about Carrigain. The phrase, "it was right there", kept echoing in my head. This trip, was therefore, inevitable. Originally, I had envisioned hitting Carrigain from Lincoln Woods, but including a loop in the middle, checking out Shoal Pond Trail, and Thoreau Falls Trail in the process. But let's start from the beginning.

Too little sleep, far too little sleep. I was up, so I might as well make it happen. Coffee in hand, driving the Kanc, with the eastern sky showing some nice colors. Even though I was getting a later start than I planned, this made it worth it.

Lincoln Woods soon came up around the corner, and there were several groups in the lot, getting ready for their days. I readied myself, and went the opposite way of the groups leaving at the same time, down the Pemi East Side Trail. Here's to uncrowded trails, on a Saturday, and new territory! Believe me, I thought of doing a Pemi Loop, or a Presidential Traverse, but the chance of having time to myself in the depths of the Pemi had its own allure. It was chilly, and I actually started out in a winter weight base layer, hat, and light gloves.

The Pemi East Side Trail was originally a logging road, built in the 1940's by the Parker-Young Company, and up to the wilderness boundary, it retains its roadlike character. I took the side trip on the Pine Island Trail, intending on hitting the missed section of Pemi East Side on the way back. There was a lot of storm damage on this trail from Irene, and it had been closed for a while, pending relocations, but is now open along its whole length.

Perhaps I should have considered taking this trail on the way back, as morning lighting conditions were less than ideal. It's still a very attractive trail, hugging the river, through some attractive woods. Rejoining the East Side Trail, I continued up to Franconia Brook Tentsites. Folks were just starting to mill about, and a few fires were going. Crossing the Wilderness Boundary at the gate, I found myself alone with the woods. The trail narrowed, and wound through the forest on the old roadbed. While railroad grade walking isn't bad, I enjoyed the more varied nature of the East Side Trail, versus the Lincoln Woods and Bondcliff Trails. Some relocations brought me upslope occasionally, though for the most part, the trail stuck close to the river.

Reaching the end of a relocated section, I came upon a pile of remains, from the former suspension bridge that spanned the East Branch, connecting what is now the Bondcliff Trail (formerly the Wilderness Trail on the west side of the river), with the Wilderness Trail. My only question, why is the debris here, almost a mile from where the bridge used to be?

Minutes later, I arrived at the very fresh in my memory, three way junction with the Cedar Brook and Wilderness trails. Turning left and descending, I took a few minutes to check out the site of the old suspension bridge, where I found cables, and some seasonally challenged trees on the opposite bank.

Next up, the gorgeous Wilderness Trail, sometimes in shadow, sometimes bathed in low angle sunshine. Early mornings have their perks. When I reached North Fork junction, I had to take a picture. The splitting of the old rail grades is striking to me. Definitely a cool spot, deep in the wilderness.

North Fork Junction

The miles continued to fly by, as I soon hit the crossing of the East Branch, and glimpsed the mass of Carrigain, the tower taunting me from on high. There would be no eluding me this time, as I rolled into Stillwater Junction, for the second time in as many weeks. I sat down for a brief snack, as the East Branch babbled a short distance away. All was quiet, I vowed to take a longer break here on my return.

Now the fun began. A quick jaunt down Carrigain Notch Trail, brought me to the Desolation Trail junction, and the start of the "real" hiking. It starts out innocuous enough, with easy grades and some rotten bog bridging to contend with. Then comes the elevation gain, 2464 feet to be exact, a solid 1600 feet of which comes in the last mile. The trail begins to follow a very straight, narrow old road, with a consistently steep grade. Once the road peters out, the incline increases, more rocks appear, and there are views at your back, through the trees.

I wouldn't say there are scrambles on this trail, but it is some of the most consistently steep terrain I've been on in the Whites. Large, angular, boulders are the name of the game here, but they are spaced as such, that you don't often need to use your hands. A few of the rocks were loose, and that was a bit sketchy, with solid drops below. Not exactly a "no fall zone", but you wouldn't want to.

After several steep pitches, the trail moderated, and swung around below the summit, before throwing in one final steep bit. A temptress to the last. The view from the top of the trail, at the wilderness boundary, is fantastic, the north slope of the mountain dropping precipitously into the Pemi.

I tagged the USGS benchmark under the tower, then climbed the steps to soak in the views and the sun. A couple and a solo dude were hanging out up top, taking it all in.

Presidentials and Carter Range

Signal Ridge

The (Mmm) Sandwich Range

The Bonds and Garfield
I spent about 45 minutes on the summit, sitting in the sun, eating, taking pictures. While I had already done 12 miles for the day, there were still nearly that many left to go. Just as I was leaving the summit, a girl with the Forest Service arrived, and I took off, back down the Desolation Trail. Surprisingly, I've been on less steep trails, that made my knees hurt more, if that makes any sense. It's not to say that the descent was easy, but I never lamented my decision to leave the poles in the car. I ran into a couple heading up, about a half mile from the crossing of the Carrigain Branch, and they asked how hard it was. Telling them my thoughts, they continued on in good spirits. Of the two trails ascending to Carrigain, this one is definitely my favorite.

Crossing back over the Carrigain Branch, I hoofed it back to Stillwater Junction, where I hung out for an indeterminate amount of time next to the East Branch. Such a remote locale, formerly profaned, now a haven for solitude seekers. Backpacking in this area needs to happen.

I honestly had to tear myself away, I could have sat there all afternoon. When I'd reached Carrigain, I decided against hitting Shoal Pond Trail and Thoreau Falls Trail, mostly because I wanted to have ample time to explore them. Shouldering my pack, I headed off whence I came, through open woods, past relics of bygone years, and through green tunnels, until I popped back out beyond the wilderness boundary, and the relative civilization of the Franconia Brook Tentsite.

North Fork Junction in a different light

Redlining out the section of the Pemi East Side Trail I had skipped in the morning, I arrived back at a crowded Lincoln Woods, and got out of my gear and into more comfortable attire. I drove through Lincoln and into Woodstock, where I stopped by Truant's Tavern for lunch and beers. They had Switchback on tap, which endears me to them. I even managed to get back to Portland with a little daylight left, though it won't be long before that's a thing of the past.

This was a great way to do Carrigain, and I look forward to doing it again by a long distance route, perhaps next time from Zealand Road. Only time will tell.