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!

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