Thursday, September 12, 2013

Randolph Looping 9/11/13

Working title: Broke all the rules, played all the fools

Peaks: Mt. Randolph, Mt. Crescent

Trails: Pasture Path, Ledge Trail, Crescent Ridge Trail, Mt. Crescent Trail, Boothman Spring Cutoff, Cook Path, Ice Gulch Path, roadwalk, The Short Circuit

Mileage/time: 12.9 miles, 3664 feet of gain, book time of 8:12, actual time of 8:52

The Wednesday Sleep Deprivation Special (WSDS) was in full effect this week, as I'd possibly foolishly agreed to take my friend Amie and her friend Maria on a hike. I made some suggestions, all selfish redlining loops, and let them hash it out. Wednesday was the only day that our schedules lined up, and so it was. I got out of work, quickly went home, then motored across town to pick up my companions for the day. Once rousted, we headed north, under overcast skies. The clouds/fog soon lifted, and the sun came out, laying the groundwork for a hot and humid day.

Eventually arriving in Randolph, I found the trailhead, on the first try too, and we set about getting ready. Having never explored the Randolph trails before, I was pleasantly surprised. While only a short distance from Route 2, the trails have a remote feel to them, and noise from the road was infrequent. We shortly set off down the Pasture Path.

Not exactly living up to its name, as there was no pasture to speak of, the path pleasantly undulated through the woods, occasionally passing by houses, crossing roads, and passing more than a few trail junctions. What I wouldn't give to own a piece of property around here, pastoral doesn't cut it. Signs of the coming autumn were abound, colorfully setting themselves apart from the surrounding landscape.

After only about an hour of hiking, where I turned into a dripping, sweaty mess, we arrived first at the Eyrie viewpoint, and then Lookout Ledge. Some very hazy views, looking directly into King Ravine on Mt. Adams, and general east to west views along the Northern Presidential ridge.

Next up came the elevation. We'd only climbed a few hundred feet in the miles to Lookout Ledge, and now we would be amply rewarded with it, as we trekked on towards Mt. Randolph, the first of the three bumps along the ridge. The Crescent Ridge Trail wasn't overly gentle, nor was it incredibly rough or steep. Up over damp, slick, rocks, with occasional sections of soft footbed, and some mud here and there. The air sat heavily, sometimes being broken by a passing breeze, and the heat built as we climbed. We took a short break at the viewless summit of Mt. Randolph, and carried on towards our eventual highpoint for the day, Mt. Crescent.

Dropping off the other side, we encountered another climb to near the North peak of Mt. Randolph, before dropping again as we neared Mt. Crescent. Another stiff climb presented itself, and we shortly found ourselves at the north viewpoint, just short of the summit. There were close views of the Pilot/Pliny Range, the best I've seen from any point thus far.

Starr King, Waumbek, and South Weeks

Middle and North Weeks, Cabot, the Bulge, the Horn, and Unknown Pond Peak
Passing over the viewless summit of Mt. Crescent, we descended, steeply at times, on the Crescent Ridge Trail. Once we reached Mt. Crescent Trail, the hiking became easy, on a soft footbed, with only occasional rocks. Breezing through this section, we took another break at the junction with Boothman Spring Cutoff, for our day was to get a lot more interesting. Crossing a wide old road (Jimtown Logging Road), we reached the junction with Cook Path, and started up. Regaining about 900 feet of elevation that we'd already lost kind of sucked, and all the streambeds we came by were either completely dry, or just damp. Thankfully, we came across a slightly running stream, with cold clear water, that I stopped and filtered from. After reaching the height of land on the trail, we undulated toward the head of Ice Gulch.

The White Mountain Guide describes Ice Gulch Path thusly: "Caution: the trip through the gulch itself is one of the most difficult and strenuous trail segments in the White Mountains, involving nearly constant scrambling over wet, slippery rocks, with deep holes between them, and it may take much more time than the standard formula allows.". From the top, the trail drops down a steep dirt section, then you're on rocks for the remainder. There are many narrow sections, and the rocks were indeed slick in spots. Moss rules in the upper reaches, carpeting everything. Also, the gulch is like a natural air conditioning system. It was at least 20 degrees cooler than what we had been hiking through, and at times I could see my breath. I didn't see any ice, but it was sure to be lurking the dark chasms between boulders.

We heard thunder in the distance as we descended through the gulch. Boulder to boulder we went, with cool air enveloping us, progress being slow. Amie fell into a moss covered hole, her arms preventing her from going further. We met two people who were ascending, and they had a dog with them, which was surprising to me, as the guide states, "The trail is emphatically not suited for dogs". Emphatic or not, the dog appeared to be enjoying itself, as were its companions. The trail continued to wind in and amongst the boulders, with sporadic views up to the walls of the ravine.

Thunder rumbled closer, as we reached a large open talus field, nearing the base of the ravine. The boulders here were larger still, though less mossy, and thankfully dry. Looking back, built up thunderheads were now looming to the west, and the thunder became closer, and louder. We hurried as best we could, and as safely as was possible, wanting to be out of the boulders before any rain came.

The rocks lessened, the thunder roared close by, and we reached Fairy Spring, a mossy dribble coming out of the ravine. Ice cold water issued from it, and I would have loved to stick around, but I threw my camera into my pack, and donned the pack cover, just as it started to rain.

The rain didn't come lightly either. There was a brief building sound as the line of rain came through the ravine, and then it started to pour. What timing! We ended up taking the Peboamauk Loop, and I caught a glimpse of the falls, through my water covered glasses, that just means I have to come back. I couldn't really see very well, though well enough to keep moving. Thunder roared distantly, then more closely, and lightning illuminated the darkened scene. The most puckering moment came when lightning flashed close by, and was instantaneously followed by probably the loudest crack of thunder I've ever heard. We just kept moving, glad to not be on a ridgeline, but still slightly nervous at what was happening around us. The rain continued, unabated, rising and falling in intensity, until it finally petered out.

We continued, soggily, down the Ice Gulch Path, crossing several logging roads (probably some of the same) along the way. Thunder continued in the distance, to the east and west, as we popped out in the back of a field, and followed its edge past a house and barn to Randolph Hill Road. Dark clouds continued to gather to the west as we walked the 0.2 miles to the Short Circuit Trail, which would lead us 0.1 miles to the car. Happy to be back, we changed into mostly dry clothes, and started off just as the next line of storms hit. I've never seen such a light show, and the rain was heavy up through Pinkham Notch, and down into Conway. The rain mixed with hail as we came through Glen, and we stopped at the Moat for dinner and beer.

I told both my companions to keep me entertained on the drive back, but with the exception of the end and the beginning of the drive, they basically failed. No worries though, as I had enough energy to make it happen, without dozing, after being up for 30 hours. I dropped them off, and then dropped myself off at home, just before the line of storms hit Portland. 12 hours of sleep later, and I'm almost as good as new... something tells me I'll still manage to sleep well tonight.

Thanks to Amie and Maria for a fantastic day out. You wanted adventure, and you got it!

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