Sunday, December 15, 2013

Low's Bald Spot, Black Mountain, and the winter wilderness

Bitter cold temperatures defined this week, as meteorological winter (the three coldest months of the year) boisterously made it known that it's here to party for a while. The storm that's just winding down outside my windows is further proof (as if any were needed), there are huge snowbanks on the streets, where none existed yesterday, and the back half of my car is buried in a drift. I say, good. If it's going to be cold, there might as well be snow on the ground!

Date of hike: 12/11/13

Peak: Low's Bald Spot - 2875'

Trails: Old Jackson Road, Madison Gulf Trail, Low's Bald Spot spur

Mileage/time: 4.5 miles, 1134' of gain, book time of 2:47, actual time of 2:01

The WSDS (Wednesday Sleep Deprivation Special) was in full effect, though I ended up not going super crazy, and kept my hiking to a minimum. This would give me a chance to not only have my ski boots remolded (they were causing some pain), but to test out the capabilities of my new camera, a Sony Alpha 7. I'm going to carry around two lenses for the time being, until I can truly get a handle on what the camera can do, a Canon FD 24mm f/2.8, and a Canon FD 50mm f/1.4. So far, so good!

From the viewpoint on Rt. 302/16 in Intervale
When I arrived at Pinkham, I was shocked to find the lot fairly empty. No one had signed in since the previous day, though a couple was heading up Tuckerman Ravine Trail as I branched off. The winds were blustery, though even with temperatures in the teens, I felt comfortable as I rolled along in a base layer and a fleece. Old Jackson Road can be described thusly... it's an old road. I followed an old set of tracks, in a couple of inches of snow, over some ice. I barebooted until an iceflow made me put on spikes, a rather "none shall pass" sort of spot. The sun came and went, making for interesting lighting. Quickly, I reached the Mount Washington Auto Road, where a couple of MWOBS vehicles (complete with chains) were parked.

Crossing the road, and into the Great Gulf Wilderness, I shortly came to the spur trail to Low's Bald Spot. A couple of tricky little ledge scrambles led me up to the flat summit area. The views that I did have were muted at best, thanks to lightly falling snow, but nonetheless impressive. That just means I'll have to come back!

View north from Low's Bald Spot

East view to the Carter Range

It was cold and windy on top, so my visit was short. Back into the trees, and back whence I came. The further south I went, the sunnier it got, though clouds streamed by on the winds. I signed myself out, and went to Ragged Mountain Equipment for my boot remolding, then to the Moat for beers. Home before the sun was down!

Date of hike: 12/13/13

Peak: Black Mountain (Jackson) Middle Peak - 2757'

Trails: Carter Notch Road, Melloon Road, Black Mountain Ski Trail, East Pasture Ski Trail, Bald Land Trail, East Branch Road, East Branch Trail, Wild River Trail, Wildcat River Trail, FR 233

Mileage/time: 17.7 miles, 3448' of gain, book time of 10:35, actual time of 8:07

Thursday, I went skiing with some of my co-workers, and had a blast in the super cold and windy conditions. Friday morning (the 13th), I didn't want to get out of bed. I kept putting it off, and putting it off, eventually getting up at about 6. The sun was almost up as I left, but that led me to finally stop and take a picture of the rusty water tower, on ME 113 in Baldwin.

I've been eyeing this loop in particular the last couple of weeks, hoping the cold temperatures would freeze up the muddy areas these particular trails are supposed to have. I waffled over whether to do the roadwalk at the beginning or the end, and ended up being able to get up to the Bog Brook trailhead easily. The clear skies of my drive, had given way to clouds over the mountains, and it was slightly warmer, a balmy 16 degrees. My road-walking passed uneventfully, and I was soon on the Black Mountain Ski Trail, which I'll definitely be skiing this winter. I followed two sets of tracks, one of which was towing a sled, all the way up to the Black Mountain Cabin.

Black Mountain Ski Trail
I neglected to take a picture of the cabin (fie, and shame), instead following a set of old tracks up to the summit spur. The wind was howling, snow and cloud obscured near and distant vistas alike. My stay was abrupt, and I ducked back down the spur. I had questioned continuing on, during my climb, but a check of the time revealed that I was flying, considering my late start. Down the East Pasture Ski Trail, now very much committed.

Off the trail, to the right (descending), I noticed a herd path and tracks, so I followed them. The path leads to a small clearing, with an old gravestone in it, that of Nathaniel Kimball (1747-1827). For more information on this, please read John "1HappyHiker" Compton's report on his recent trip(s) to Black Mountain, and some pictures of the views you can have from Black Mountain (on a good day).


Marshy area off East Pasture Ski Trail

Grave of Nathaniel Kimball
I continued onward, passing an old orchard, and a view up to the Doubleheads, before hitting Bald Land Trail (for the second time in as many months). Up and over, into the valley of the East Branch of the Saco River, an extremely secluded area of the WMNF.

Access has been impinged by the closing of Slippery Brook Road, but also the closing of East Branch Road, which both suffered damage from Hurricane Irene in 2011. The southern, 3.9 mile section of East Branch Trail (to Slippery Brook Road), was proposed to be decommissioned by the USFS, also in 2011. Irene did their job for them, it would seem. Just in from the trailhead, the trail comes to a T, the southern section leads right, not blocked off or brushed in at all, and the northern section leads left. For a trail that hasn't seen much traffic or maintenance since, it was surprisingly easy to follow, for the most part.

East Branch Trail

East Branch Trail
Some interesting small crossings presented themselves, and while ice bridges have started to form, they're untrustworthy at best. I found this out by punching through. Also, I forgot my poles in my car... smart. The trail turns away from the river and begins to climb, where it merely undulated before, and became increasingly more brushed in, with a few downed trees thrown in. Wind was all I could hear, roaring like a freight train above, and occasionally blasting through the trees. Mt. Washington recorded gusts of 85+ during this time! The trail crosses an old logging road near the height of land, with a decent view over to (what I believe is) West Baldface. Passing (mercifully) into the Wild River Wilderness, I soon came to the Wild River Trail, and the start of the outward leg of my trip.

Two sketchy river crossings, and some obscure bits of trail later, I passed by No Ketchum Pond and through the campsites at the site of the former Perkins Notch Shelter. Some limited views were had, up towards the main ridge of the Carter Range.

The remaining miles were a blur, my mind concentrating all its efforts on keeping me warm and moving. Temperatures started to nosedive the closer I got to Wildcat River Trail, and the sun crept lower and lower. I put on more layers and kept going. It was a relief, when I reached FR 233, 1.2 miles from the car. Wanting to avoid the trail approaches, and their river crossings, I took the road, where I met the only person I'd see all day, a pleasant lady crosscountry skiing. Color drained from the sky, and the stars came out.

I got back to the car, took off my pack, and hopped in. The thermometer in my car read 6 degrees. Winter sure is here! I apparently can drive with my mountaineering boots on, and did just that on the way into Conway, heat blasting and heated seat heating. Hot food had, it felt good to get out of my layers, I then settled in for the drive home.

A successful, if not a bit cold, couple of days in the mountains!

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