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!

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