Thursday, September 26, 2013

Autumnal Appalachia Ambulations 9/25/13

Working title: Who needs sleep when it's fall?!?

Peak: None

Trails: The Link, Lowe's Path, King Ravine Trail, Chemin des Dames, Airline, Upper Bruin, Valley Way, Valley Way Tentsite Spur, Lower Bruin, Watson Path, The Brookside, Kelton Trail, Howker Ridge Trail, Sylvan Way, Maple Walk

Mileage/time: 10.2 miles, 3687 feet of gain, book time of 6:58, actual time of 5:15

Over the course of the last couple of years, and verified by the various lists I'm keeping track of (see: doing), the fall is my weakest hiking season. I can't possibly fathom why! Apropos to this, I've resolved to keep up the hiking pace through the fall, not allowing myself to be distracted. Also, the twin goals of getting to the halfway point in redlining the WMG, and completing 1000 trail miles before years end, are still in play. That leaves Wednesdays, the crux of my week, the pivot point that lies between sleep, and not sleep. Let the WSDS (Wednesday Sleep Deprivation Special) begin!

I had intended on doing a redlining loop in Shelburne, but while looking at the maps, a loop in the northern Presidentials stuck out. Mere hours before setting out, I eschewed my previous plan, and readied myself. 6am came, and out of work I strolled. There's something still not quite right with my right ankle, and I remained mindful of that, as I sat and had breakfast, and on my drive north. Always be prepared to cut your day short, or deviate from plan, if things aren't right.

Arriving at Appalachia, I taped my heels, and did up my ankle with an ace bandage. It was overcast, with a chill in the air, as I turned off of Airline onto the Link. This trail has a bad reputation, as the section between Castle Trail and Cap Ridge Trail is (apparently) incredibly rough, rooty, and slippery. The sections that I've been on thus far, from Airline to Lowe's Path, are really very nice.

Fall color is definitely in full swing, with yellows and oranges lining the corridor. There were red leaves on the ground, but none on the trees above me. My addled brain couldn't comprehend it, so I kept moving.

Some steeper, sidehill sections (that's really all The Link is, sidehill), and many junctions later, I reached Lowe's Path. Two more miles of The Link was down! A short 0.1 miles later, I turned onto King Ravine Trail. In the initial stages, the trail climbed up into the ravine on easy grades, with excellent footing, dropping down several times to cross small brooks emanating from on high. Some picturesque trailside scenes presented themselves, before the trail steepened and came to Mossy Fall (of which I've seen mossier).

Canyon Fall

"Not so" Mossy Fall

The ubiquitous yellow danger sign soon appeared, and I was in the alpine zone. Boulder scrambling was the name of the game from here, and it was super fun up onto the floor of the ravine, the walls closing in on either side. A chilly breeze blew through, and the cloud ceiling was low, obscuring the ridgeline.

The floor of King Ravine is littered with huge boulders, shed from the heights, that sit in a jumble at the base of the headwall. Reaching the junction with Chemin des Dames (literally the ladies path), I paused. I had given myself a few options, but only one was readily apparent. Given the conditions, I chose to not finish redlining the King Ravine Trail, or go up Great Gully Trail... I chose the ladies path. I never intended to summit anything today as it was, and the cloud hung low. These trails will be there to be redlined another day. Excuses, and an admission that I secretly have lady parts.

The reality of the situation is this: no trail out of King Ravine is easy. Chemin des Dames may only be 0.4 miles long, but it gains 762 feet in that distance, and does so with much boulder scrambling. Add to that, a bit of moisture on those rocks, and you have a recipe for fun. The trail starts up a talus slide, reminiscent of the Fan in Huntington Ravine, then ducks back into the scrub, still scrambling steeply up boulders.

Out of the mist appeared a giant boulder, composed mostly of quartz! Then a fun little spot, where I had to take off my pack, and scramble through a little boulder cave to continue along the trail. Beautiful mosses and lichens rule this scrub area, high on the east wall of the ravine.

Out of the scrub for good, following cairns steeply upslope. Crags appeared out of the fog, the sentinels of Durand Ridge, looming like fortresses.

I shortly topped out on the Airline, at 4462 feet. So I didn't hike a 4000 footer, but I did get above it. Now to descend. I ducked down Airline to Upper Bruin, another of the trails to be redlined this day. This short trail is a remnant of the original trail from Randolph to Mt. Adams, and connects Airline to Valley Way, a short distance above the Valley Way Tentsite.

For the sake of redlining, and even though it's not on the list, I checked out the Valley Way Tentsite, which was deserted on this Wednesday afternoon. After checking out this section of my friend Mike's adopted Valley Way, I turned off down Lower Bruin, which would bring me to Duck Fall, Watson Path, and The Brookside. This trail was decidedly lesser used, and had a steep scrambly bit just above the Watson Path junction.

I checked out Duck Fall and Salmacis Cascade further down The Brookside, and recalled them vividly from my first ascent of Madison and Adams, back in 2010.

Duck Fall

Salmacis Cascade

Undulating along the Brookside, I came to the Kelton Trail. This trail went by quickly, as the footing was fantastic, and the grades were easy to manage. It passes over several viewpoints, notably the Upper Inlook, the Overlook, and Kelton Crag. From views out to Randolph, Jefferson, and back up to the shrouded northern Presidentials, these viewpoints didn't disappoint.

Kelton Trail

Randolph from Upper Inlook

Looking up the Snyder Brook Valley

Pine Mountain and the Mahoosucs from the Overlook

Rock Tripe

Looking up at Howker Ridge from Kelton Crag
Almost as soon as it started, it was over, and I found myself on Howker Ridge Trail near Coosauk Fall. A short distance later, and I turned again onto Sylvan Way. My ankle was a bit sore at this point, and I was looking to be done. Instead of continuing on the full length of the trail, another 3/4 of a mile, back to the Link, I decided to redline Maple Walk back to Valley Way, and out to the car. This saved me about a mile and a half of easy hiking. I'll be back for it! Gordon Fall was looking especially nice as I crossed by it.

Out of my sweaty clothes and into something comfortable. I checked to see if Mike was around, and headed for the Moat. They were pretty dead, which is what I like to see, and I had a couple of beers and dinner while Mike was on his way back from Rumney. I stopped by and hung out there for a bit afterwards, and then made my way home to my waiting bed. A great day to get out and get at it while the foliage does its thing!

The Willeys 9/21/13

Working title: Oompa Loompa

Peaks: Mt. Avalon, Mt. Field, Mt. Willey, Mt. Tom

Trails: Avalon Trail, Cascade Loop, Mt. Avalon Spur, Willey Range Trail, A-Z Trail, Mt. Tom Spur

Mileage/time: 10.2 miles, 3825 feet of gain, book time of 6:59, actual time of 8:33

It's been a long while, June 1, 2012 to be exact, since I'd been on the Willey Range. When I thought of long forgotten peaks, these ones came to the forefront. As if doing a Pemi Loop on Thursday wasn't enough, I figured why not add to my tally for the week. I must be insane.

A late start was in order, as I was meeting up with Cynthia (from the Facebook 4000 footer group) and her friend Nick, who were driving up from Massachusetts, and were both (self proclaimed) not morning people. I arrived around 9:30, found a parking spot across from Crawford Depot, and started to get ready. Shortly thereafter, they pulled in, and started to do the same. I must be slow, because they were both ready in a flash, and went across the road to use the facilities. I set about wrapping my right ankle, for the sake of safety, the last thing I needed was to roll it! Finally prepared, I joined them, and we started across the railroad tracks, hitting the trail at 9:47.

Originally, I thought there would be no redlining on this hike, and I was soon proved wrong! I convinced them to take the 0.1 mile Cascade Loop, to take a look at Pearl and Beecher Cascades.

Pearl Cascade

Beecher Cascade
After rejoining the Avalon Trail, the relentless climbing began. I'd been up this trail twice before, once coming down from Field in November 2010, and once going up in January 2011. Even with a light pack, it didn't take me long to start in with the sweating. Surprisingly, my legs felt good, and my ankle wasn't in too much pain. Cynthia and Nick provided all the entertainment I'd need for the day, bantering back and forth, insulting each other, a lot of it was pretty classic. Cynthia managed to get the Oompa Loompa song stuck in my head, and it pretty much stayed there all day.

Some stop and go hiking got us up to the junction with A-Z Trail fairly quickly, we then took a left to continue on Avalon, and our first summit of the day. Fall colors are starting to pop!

Some more steepness and some huffing and puffing, brought us to the Avalon Spur, and up we went. It was nice to be able to hang out here for more than a few seconds, as the temperatures were comfortable, and the sun was brightly shining.

Now the climb to the ridge commenced. It wasn't as steep as I remember it, but there were still some sections to keep you honest before you get there. Once on the ridge, it was only 100 yards to the summit of Field. There's a blowdown path just before the summit that provides some filtered views to the west, out over the Pemi.

West view from near Field

Cherry Mountain, Mt. Deception, and the Mount Washington Hotel
We then began the trudge over to Willey. This is one of my favorite areas on this hike, as the trail hugs the western side of the ridgeline, and passes through several blowdown patches. Some great views can be had just by staying on trail, and looking around, especially to the south and west.

Some mild steepness later, and we were on the viewless summit of Willey, as clouds streamed in from the west. Dropping down to the east, the views didn't disappoint.

A short break in the sun, and we were again on the move, retracing our steps back to Mt. Field. The winds were picking up, and the high clouds that had been blowing in were starting to lower and get darker. We took another break at the Field summit cairn, before heading down the Willey Range Trail towards our last target, Mt. Tom. With the exception of a minor bump, it's all downhill to the junction of the A-Z Trail.

We now turned our attention to the last big climb of the day, the Mt. Tom Spur. The winds continued to ramp up, gusting and pushing us around when in the open. There are some good views from a blowdown patch just below the summit of Tom, and some more restricted views nearer the summit itself.

Not sticking around long, we started our descent. The A-Z Trail drops pretty steeply in its first mile, before mellowing out, and making a stream crossing, just prior to its junction with Avalon Trail. It was here that I thought I felt a rain drop. I had, and they continued to fall from the sky. It made the rocks slick, and slowed our progress, but it wasn't that bad in the trees. It was full on raining by the time we popped out of the woods, blowing around through the notch. We retreated to our cars, said our goodbyes, and went our seperate ways. I ended up going over to Mike's place and hanging out with him and Stefanie for a while, before heading back to Portland.

Thanks Cynthia and Nick for an awesome day, and congratulations for knocking another three 4000 footers off your respective lists!

Friday, September 20, 2013

A No-Frills Pemi Loop 9/19/13

Working title: A moonset, a sunrise, a sunset, a moonrise

Peaks: Mt. Flume, Mt. Liberty, Little Haystack, Mt. Lincoln, Mt. Lafayette, Mt. Garfield, South Twin, Mt. Bond, Bondcliff

Trails: Lincoln Woods Trail, Osseo Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Garfield Ridge Trail, Garfield Ridge Shelter Spur, Frost Trail, Twinway, Bondcliff Trail

Mileage/time: 31.9 miles, 10234 feet of gain, book time of 21:09, actual time of 18:13

Goals. I have them. If once defeated, you can rest assured that I'll be back to try again, and again if necessary. In June, the Pemi Loop eluded me, as my body resisted, and I was left with a long valley walk out from Galehead Hut. This day, my body resisted, but my mind willed it to keep going. Ahead of myself as usual.

I'd been eyeing the weather all week (my version of the week), and when Wednesday came around, the forecast held... I couldn't NOT go for it. To make matters worse (better), it coincided with a nearly full moon. Don't mind if I do! I made my arrangements, stayed up until the extremely late hour of 2pm, and then went to bed. Up again at 10pm to further prepare, then out the door. While driving through Westbrook to get coffee, I saw an unusual sight, and turned around. That sight was an open business (seeing as it was 11pm), and I stopped in. That business is (Dynamite) Don's Lunch, run by my former supervisor Jim. I chatted with him, had a burger (a pre-hike burger? Unheard of!), then got my coffee and headed north.

I pulled into a nearly deserted Lincoln Woods, and set about getting ready. The moon was basically full, and cast its silvery light over everything. Crossing the suspension bridge, I decided to try and get a picture. It was 1:09am. Waiting until the bridge stopped bouncing, I set the camera on the railing, focused, and took a 30 second exposure at f/4. The result was this.

Next up was the flatness. I was able to walk the first bit of Lincoln Woods Trail without my headlamp, up to the new reroute, and all was peaceful in the moonlight. It was chilly, and I had a hat and gloves on, though that would soon change. Turning up the Osseo, I soon shed the gloves, and rolled up my sleeves, there was work to be done. Sadly, all my attempts at night photography pretty much failed, I had the focus wrong for the most part. The views from the Downlook were fantastic, as the moon bathed the Pemi in its ethereal glow. The ladders ensued, then the final climb to Flume, which I reached at 3:45am. That time would prove to be significant.

Thanks to a biting wind, I got chilled on my short summit stay, and soon moved on toward Liberty. The hike through the col passed quickly, and I was soon on top. The wind was stronger here, but the views continued to be excellent. A thin ribbon of color had now appeared on the eastern horizon, a sure sign of the coming day. I again lingered a while, trying to soak it all in. To say it was amazing doesn't do it justice.

Continuing on by headlamp, I pressed toward Little Haystack, eager to get above treeline. The two mile stretch passed in what felt like no time, and I found myself on the peak around 5:45, the colors continuing to brighten.

Just before hitting treeline, I pocketed my headlamp, donned my shell jacket, and battened down the hatches, the wind was biting and gusty from the west. I checked my phone, and saw a message from my friend Tim, and it just so happened that he was doing a clockwise loop too! I sent him a message telling him where I was, and that he would probably catch up to me. Little did I know, that he started when I was on Flume. What I witnessed as I trekked across the ridge was beyond compare. The moon setting to the west, while the sun rose in the east. If I wanted a different perspective, all I had to to was look to my right or my left. It was absolutely unforgettable.

As I neared Lafayette, I saw a group on top, probably from the hut (I assume, because they weren't there when I got there), enjoying the sunrise. Once I reached the summit, I ran into my first hiker of the day, who had left Garfield Shelter at 4am to be there. I descended to North Lafayette and took a short break, before tackling the crux of the hike... the Garfield Ridge, which I'll now refer to as the Meat Grinder.

To be fair, I really like this trail. It's steep, gnarly, and ranks right up there with my favorite ridge walks in the Whites. This is a far cry from my first impression of it, when I hiked it in June. There are a lot, and I do mean a LOT of PUDS (pointless ups and downs), which is a misnomer, as they're only pointless if they go nowhere. I made much better time through here, and before I knew it, I was at Garfield Pond, and the steep climb up to the summit of Garfield. Fall colors are only just starting to pop!

The climb didn't disappoint, and my legs were feeling it by the time I reached the top. The reward was crystal clear views and warm sunshine. I took a seat, leaning up against the fire tower foundation, and basked for about 30 minutes. It was absolutely worth it.

Dropping down, I made it to the Garfield Ridge Shelter Spur. I set about filtering some water, and while it was doing its gravity thing, I redlined the spur trail. I spent a few minutes chatting with the caretaker, before heading back to retrieve my water. While I was packing up, a group came down from the shelter. I offered my filter to them, as they would have spent an eternity pumping water. Come to find out, it was Zaharra and crew from one of the Facebook hiking groups, it was nice to meet you guys!

I sallied forth, on the next part of the crux... yes, it continues. The entire 6.6 mile length of the Garfield Ridge is rough on the body, always up to go down, and vice-versa. Continuing to make decent time, I passed by several friendly groups, all were very surprised when they found out that I'd started just after 1am. There were some views to be had along the way, as the trail undulated between and around minor peaks.

I finally arrived at Galehead Hut around noon, much later than I anticipated. Apparently, talking to people slows me down, a LOT. No worries though, as I was breaking, a Tim appeared around the corner! He'd caught up, just as I thought, even though I had a solid 2 1/2 hour head start. It would prove to be nice, not only to have good company, but motivation to keep going, for the rest of the loop. After our break in the sun, it was time for the last big climb of the day, the ugly, 0.8 mile, 1152 foot, slog up to South Twin. I started to cramp a couple of times along the way, and stopped several times to let my muscles recover. This was only the second time I've made this climb, and it was just as rough as I remember it being, albeit less wet, but it got the job done as I soon limped up to the summit of South Twin, and continued cloudless views.

A short break later, we were on the move again, towards our last two objectives for the day, two of the three Bonds. Being a no-frills loop, and having already skipped Galehead, we may as well skip West Bond, and keep up the forward momentum. Uphill sections became my nemesis, as minor grades made my legs scream at me. I tried as best I could to keep it slow and steady on the ups, but it was a struggle. We took another short break at the "this doesn't suck" south summit of Guyot, and chatted with some WMNF rangers.

Passing by the Guyot Shelter Spur (which I still need to redline!) and the spur to West Bond, we headed up Bond. One foot in front of the other, keep moving, "pain is weakness leaving the body", these were the thoughts rolling through my head. It worked, as we shortly came up to the summit. Particularly prominent, were the old logging roads, especially on the Hancocks, but also on Carrigain, and (you're a) Nancy.

As not to stiffen up, we took only a short break, and then descended towards Bondcliff. We had another chance encounter, with another Facebook group member, Erik, during our descent, it was nice to finally meet you! Reaching the low point, the last major elevation gain of the day commenced. It won't go down as the easiest climb up to Bondcliff that I've had, but it will go down as having the best views. Some summit shots, and a final break, and we were ready for some downhill.

The guy we ran into at the summit with his dog told us that the upper crossing on Bondcliff Trail was running well, and we decided to stop there to fill up. Down, down, down to the brook, where we filtered delicious cold water. Tim even went so far as to dump out the water he got from Galehead, saying it tasted nasty. I didn't get any from there, so I can't speak to that... the water from Garfield Ridge is great.

Down we continued, not really talking much on this section, just pedal to the metal. On a leaf covered rock step, I slipped and went down. I felt a pop in my right ankle, a lot of instantaneous pain, and finally came to rest on my ass. Needless to say, the remaining miles were done gingerly, and footing became my number one priority. What is with me this summer?!?! I rolled the same ankle exactly once after that, and was greeted with a significant amount of pain. Awesome.

Mercifully, we reached the end of descent, and the relative flatness of the old Wilderness Trail. We put our heads down, as it was still about 5 miles to Lincoln Woods, and we were sure to reach the trailhead without headlamps. Banter resumed, we were both pretty damn proud of ourselves, and the end was in sight. The light faded, and we passed out of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, past a few junctions, and completed the loop portion when we hit Osseo Trail. A handful of minutes later, we hit the newly rerouted section, and had easy walking all the way to the suspension bridge. Done!

Tim had a couple of beers in his car, of which I graciously accepted one... earned it! We then parted ways. I should have taken a nap there in the lot, but wanted to get home. The moon was in my face, very bright, all the way across the Kanc back to Conway. Though I did get sleepy, I wasn't nodding off at the wheel, and made it home in fine shape. Getting out of the car wasn't much fun, nor was getting up the stairs, but falling into bed was fantastic.

Take that Pemi Loop! Maybe I'll do a fancier version next time, though I don't think it will be much more fancy.