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.

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