Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Recollections: 2014 in retrospect

Working title: It's been quiet around here lately

"It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end." 
~ Ernest Hemingway

Just because it's been quiet, doesn't mean I haven't been up to anything. It may not come through in the finished product, but writing doesn't come easily to me. My process is haphazard, I get easily distracted, and the writing comes in fits and starts, never all at once... needless to say, it's very time consuming. I'm not one of these writers that can get home after a hike and regurgitate my day in an hour or less, upload pictures (another time-sink), and be done with it. I'm too much of a perfectionist to think anything good would come out of it if I did! As much as I enjoy sharing my experiences, I've gotten to wondering if it's more for my own amusement (torture, record keeping?) than anything else. It would seem that a majority of people (a crude generalization perhaps) these days would rather see a picture or two, than read the details. It's a world of instant gratification. Why should I toil over a thing if it's just going to get lost in the shuffle? Until I can figure a proper answer to that question, these yarns will continue to be spun.

Since my last writing more than a month ago, things in the mountains progressed towards winter, then just as quickly regressed. I got in some early season ski touring, along with one epic and one not so epic resort day. The snowshoes have come out to play a couple of times, but mostly bare boots have sufficed. This skier hopes that the early melt out means that there will be NO January thaw, and that great conditions will prevail through the rest of the season.

My goal for the year was to get to the 75% mark in redlining the White Mountain Guide, which I sailed past on Halloween. Much like last year, I continued to soldier on, figuring I'd go for 80%. An oversight the other day (not figuring out how much mileage I'd actually need) now has me at 79.9%, 2 miles exactly from the goal. There was tentatively a W.S.D.S. (Wednesday Sleep Deprivation Special) in order today, but seeing as it's Wednesday, I obviously stayed home. I'm happy with how the year went, and look forward to tackling more of everything in the next!

So without further adieu, here's 2014 by the numbers:

# of individual hikes: 84 *
# of hiking days: 78
# of solo days: 23
Named peaks: 117
4000-footers: 38
Days of backpacking: 19
Days of ski touring: 9
Miles: 856.4 **
Elevation gain: 248,338' **
Average per hike: 10.2 miles, 2956' of gain **
New redlining miles: 402.2

And the most important statistic of all...

Injuries: 0 (zero, zip, zilch, nada, nil!)

*    Individual hikes include multiple hikes in a day, backpacking trips count as one
**  Not including 4 days ski touring on/around Mt. Washington, I can't properly account for them

The impending completion of the largest goal I have yet to set for myself, has left me contemplative. While I look forward to the finish, it's bittersweet thinking about it. With only ~290 miles left to go, it's almost assured that I'll finish up next year, though I almost don't want it to be over. It makes me wonder if I hurried, if I didn't take enough time to savor what was before me. Part of me wants to keep it at arms length, just out of reach, for as long as I can. The OCD part of me wants to see the spreadsheet filled in. An internal tug-o-war. Anyone who knows me can see how this one is going to work itself out.

Instead of doing a best hikes of the year list like I did last year, I figured I'd do a list of my 10 most memorable moments. They may not have all come under the greatest of circumstances, but they were all worthy of remembering.

(not really in any particular order)

10.) Solo ski touring on Cannon

During my March vacation, I got around to investigating a down-mountain classic on the north slopes of Cannon Mountain, the old Tucker Brook Ski Trail. During the skin up, I could barely contain my excitement, as the trail looked excellent. After hitting the summit, I skied back down through the tough upper section, and in the lower elevation hardwoods, I found heaven. Soft untracked powder graced the edges, and my skis only pointed me toward more of it. I'll be back for more, I'll be back for laps.

Tucker Brook Ski Trail

9.) Crossing Edmands Col on a windy winter day

Closing in on the summit of Jefferson after ascending via Lowes Path and Randolph Path, Mike and I came upon the venturi that is Edmands Col. We had witnessed clouds being blasted over the summit of Madison as we drove in that morning, and it was a scary sight to behold. Being in it was another experience entirely. Mount Washington recorded wind speeds sustained in the high 60's, gusting into the 80's, during our transit. Sculpted snow lay all around us, and I was humbled by the beauty of the fury that often envelopes the Presidential Range in winter. We skittered across the ice in the col, being buffeted by the wind, which threatened to blow us over. I stopped and leaned back into it.

Climbing out of Edmands Col, Jefferson summit clearing

8.) Rockwhacking J.Q. Adams

Following a fantastic ascent up Madison Gulf Trail, Jake and I set our sights on John Quincy Adams, one of the five "Adams Family" peaks, lording over Star Lake and Madison Spring Hut. We originally aimed for a ridge, but instead just went straight up. Some borderline rock climbing moves needed to be made in spots, and it was an absolute blast. Nearly there, I turned to look out at Madison, and the unique angle struck me. Madison never looked more impressive.

All class

7.) Sugarloaf sunset

A backpacking trip not planned by me, led to an impromptu camp-out just off the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain. The clouds had been moody all day, we even got hailed on at one point, and they had begun wrapping around the summit as we set up our tents. They never got completely around, and we were treated to an amazing light show, as the sun dipped ever closer to the horizon. Second only to my companions, it made the whole trip worth it.


6.) Garfield Ridge - East Peak

The day I did my longest hike of the year (30 miles, for 2.9 miles of new trail), I tacked on two "bushwhacks", to the two peaks on Garfield Ridge between Galehead and Garfield. Both are officially unnamed, though both appear on the New Hampshire 100 Highest list, which I've apparently decided I'm pursuing. Much to my surprise, the East Peak (signed Mt. Pam) has an amazing view, down the long Franconia Brook valley, and up Garfield Ridge to Garfield and Lafayette. I could have stayed here for hours, if I didn't have miles to go. Perhaps another day.

Mt. Pam isn't too shabby

5.) Whitewall glades

Being a year of skills development (or so it would seem), bushwhacking of course came into play. Mike and I made a sometimes treacherous ascent of Whitewall Mountain via a slide on the west side, to the vast south ledges, before hitting the actual summit. Our descent was to the north, and we passed through some amazing birch glades on our way to our next destination. Gently sloping and open, with a ferny understory, a light mist hung in the woods, accentuating the colors. Certainly one of the more idyllic places I've ever been, ever.

A treat

4.) Smarts Mountain Tentsite

On day two of a four day A.T. backpack (from Hanover to Glencliff), Mike and I ended up climbing Smarts in the waning light of the day, only to find the cabin occupied by idiots and no water (where we'd been assured there was some). We dropped back and punted, ending up at the designated tentsite, which sports a decent view to the east and south. The stars were brilliant that night, and I decided to try my hand at astrophotography. Sunrise the next morning wasn't horrible either.

The Milky Way

3.) Shelter fever

Getting drenched on the first day of a four day backpack into the Dry River valley, and having the rain continue on through the next day, Mike and I were left with time to dry out. I woke up sometime during that first night, listening to the rain pound on the roof of the shelter, the river roaring close by. Turning on my headlamp, the first thing I saw was a particular piece of writing on one of the logs, among the sea of other writings and carvings. It summed up the trip to that point, with perfect sarcasm.


2.) Missing out

If you really want to get behind the "leave no stragglers" mantra, you need to do your research beforehand. While hiking the Wild River Trail on an unseasonably nice October afternoon, heading to Perkins Notch for the night, my friend Will and I came upon the Spruce Brook Tentsite... or at least the sign for it. I didn't think anything of it. After getting rained off the ridge the next day and bailing home, I checked the spreadsheet... there's a 0.1 mile long spur trail to Spruce Brook Tentsite.

Railroad remnants on Wild River Trail near Spruce Brook Tentsite

1.) Acceptance

Maybe I'm guilty of cherry-picking days to hike, we all do it. I mean, who doesn't like nice weather? That being said, I finally got over hiking in the rain. Sure it can be unpleasant at times, and dangerous at others, but it provides an altogether different sensory experience. The pitter-patter of drops in the woods, increasing and decreasing in frequency with the intensity of the rain, starting with a rushing sound, and fading to a stop. The air feels heavier, like the moisture could just burst out of it. Oh, and you're wet, and you don't care. Showers prevailed on a mild mid-November day, and just before I began my climb toward Mt. Paugus, I found myself not cursing the dampness that surrounded me, but taking it for what it was worth. I'd say it's worth a whole lot.

Along Bee Line Cutoff

So with that, 2014 is at a close. Let's raise a glass to what was, and one to what will be. 2015 already has plenty in store, and it hasn't even begun yet. I'm crossing my fingers (and you should be too) that snow returns to the mountains, and leaves a deep base with which to play in as spring gets closer. A plan is being formulated, and time off has been requested, for a thru-hike of the Long Trail in late September and early October with two of my favorite people. Until then, there will be some winter redlining, and when that aforementioned snow arrives, much skiing.

Until next year...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Transitions 11/12-11/15/14

Working title: WHOA!

“When you’re young you prefer the vulgar months, the fullness of the seasons. As you grow older you learn to like the in-between times, the months that can’t make up their minds. Perhaps it’s a way of admitting that things can’t ever bear the same certainty again.” ~ Julian Barnes

Seeing as change is the only real constant, it was fitting that these four days featured all sorts of it. With few exceptions, leaves are off the trees throughout the Whites, obscuring the trails and creating a slippery nuisance of their own. It would appear that "stick season" is (hopefully) destined to be short-lived, and with a little luck, the snow should soon be piling up at all elevations. There. Will. Be. Skiing.

Wednesday 11/12: Chocorua 'B' trails

Peak: Mt. Paugus - South Peak (3080')

Trails: Champney Brook Trail, Bolles Trail, Bee Line Cutoff, Bee Line Trail (Paugus Branch), Old Paugus Trail, Bee Line Trail (Chocorua Branch), Brook Trail, Liberty Trail, West Side Trail, Piper Trail, Champney Falls Loop

Mileage/time: 16.0 miles, 5416' of gain, book time of 10:40, actual time of 7:46

New redlining miles: 9.2

In desperate need of a solo day I put together this "sort of" loop, to satisfy not only the need for big solo miles/gain, but new trails of course. Ashley was planning a solo day as well, and it looked like we would cross paths at the junction of Bee Line and Old Paugus trails. Game on!

A super early start (and two trips back to my house for things I forgot!) got me on trail just after 7, clouds hanging low, drizzle falling lightly, and fairly warm temperatures. The Bolles Trail is really great, crossing the height of land between Mt. Paugus and Mt. Chocorua at easy grades, passing the remains of a logging camp and the former Paugus Mill.

Finishing off this section down to Bickford Trail, I turned around and went up Bee Line Cutoff to the Paugus branch of Bee Line. Here's where the real climbing started! Though slightly obscure at the start, the trail became more defined, and got gaining in short order (1100' in 0.9 miles!). Climbing into the fog, I got to the junction quickly (and was a sweaty mess), where I checked my phone. Ashley and I had been updating each other throughout our hikes, and since she wasn't there yet, I decided to head toward Paugus to meet up with her. Just before the summit, there she was... so I ran up, tagged the summit, and returned to hike down with her to the junction. Both our days were going well, though the humidity and the warmth made it difficult to regulate temperature.

After a snack and me mentioning bears on Bickford Trail (where Ashley was headed, I'm horrible), we parted ways. Down steeply on the Bee Line back to Bolles, I took a nice spill after stepping on a wet log, very much reminiscent of a cartoon fall, and just as amusing! The other side of Bee Line was a joy, climbing up to Brook Trail at easy to moderate grades, a far cry from its more westerly twin. Back into the fog, I decided against hitting Chocorua, and the ledges on the upper Brook Trail only reinforced my decision. Besides, why ruin a perfectly good view record (currently 4 for 4 on Chocorua)!

Around the summit on the West Side Trail, I got to business on Champney Brook Trail, making a fast descent to the falls. While not running well, the falls are still impressive in their own right. Down the remaining sections, I ran into two women who I scared the hell out of, making it out to my car just before 3.

Driving toward Conway, I got in touch with Ashley and met up with her and her sister at the Muddy Moose, where I met Whitney for the first time! An early dinner, beers, and a chance meeting with Mike and Brett solidified a hike the next day... though we didn't yet know where.

Bolles Trail

Near the height-of-land on Bolles Trail

Prayer flags just off trail

Stove door at an old logging camp

Bee Line Cutoff scenery

The upper Paugus branch of the Bee Line Trail

Contortion required on Old Paugus Trail

Nearing the south peak of Mt. Paugus

Around the rock

A typical section of the Chocorua branch of Bee Line

Ledges on Brook Trail

Brook Trail

Cascade above Champney Falls

Champney Falls

Thursday 11/13: Speckled looping

Peaks: Speckled Mountain (2906'), Durgin Mountain (2404'), Butters Mountain (2246'), Red Rock Mountain (2141')

Trails: Cold Brook Trail, Red Rock Trail, Miles Notch Trail

Mileage/time: 13.0 miles, 4320' of gain, book time of 8:40, actual time of 7:52

New redlining miles: ~6.8

After some decision-making Wednesday night, we told Mike (and also Brett) to meet us at Sunrise Shack for 6am. Well 6am came, and Ashley and I were 10 minutes late to the restaurant... but no Mike or Brett. Coffee in hand, we waited a bit, until I sent a text to Mike saying we hadn't been joking about 6am. He had read it as 8, and told us to order! Brett showed up shortly thereafter, followed by Mike. A classic start to the day!

A rough ride commenced, up over Hurricane Mountain Road into Chatham, then out Deer Hill Road into Stoneham. We stopped at the abandoned base lodge for the old Evergreen Valley Ski Area, we'll be back to check it out further this winter. Finding the Miles Notch/Great Brook trailhead wasn't bad, and we went back to the Cold Brook Trail to start out. Relying on memory (and not having the guide with me), the start was ambiguous... the trail sign is at the road, but you can drive up more than a mile to a pullout before a washout (ROUGH). A friendly hunter ("Mike, he's got a gun, RUN!" ~ Brett) directed us where to park, but we now know that we had to start at the trail sign for the whole trail to count. Blasphemy.

The lower Cold Brook Trail is a mess, logged all to hell, and not marked at all as far as I could tell. Following the most obvious route, we eventually came to the WMNF boundary, and the trail became more like a trail. Passing the junction for Evergreen Link, we started climbing more steadily, soon breaking out onto the first in a series of fantastic ledges on the south ridge of Speckled. Over a couple of subsidiary bumps and passed a small tarn, we got up to the summit of Speckled, and were almost instantly set upon by a pair of Gray Jays. Great views all around, and cute (needy) birds provided much entertainment.

Next up was the long east ridge of Speckled traversed by the Red Rock Trail. You may recall my trip across this ridge (HERE if you don't) this past spring, in the clouds, so I was excited to have some views along the way. Also, the Red Rock Trail is one of my personal favorite low elevation ridge walks in the Whites. The highlights are the picturesque little cols, the summit ledges of Red Rock, and the ledges and cliffs accessed by a short herd path near the summit. There are few better perches, and it must be amazing in the fall foliage.

Our descent on Miles Notch was made tedious by downed leaves (damn the leaves!), and an unnecessary ~400' climb over a small ridge with little more than a mile to go. We still made it out without headlamps, and bounced up the rough road to Mike's truck. Beers and dinner at Delaney's, before further relaxation and sleep, another hike was upon us for Friday!

Cold Brook Trail

South to Pleasant Mountain

The long ridge we'll be traversing in the foreground


Icing up

I'll call it Speckled Tarn

The Baldfaces from Cold Brook Trail

The Kearsarge Group and the Sandwich Range

Cold Brook Trail

Gray Jay photobomb

Gray Jays want morsels

The Royces and Moriahs

Carters and Mt. Washington

One of many pleasant cols on Red Rock Trail

Smooth going

Gorgeous white mosses

A giant at the Great Brook junction

Eye in the rock

Out to Kezar Lake from near Red Rock

Red Rock cliffs

Miles Notch

Great woods descending Miles Notch Trail

Friday 11/14: Shelburne stragglers

Peaks: Crow's Nest (1287'), Mt. Cabot (1512'), Mt. Ingalls (2242')

Trails: White Trail, Orange (Wiggin) Trail, Blue Trail, Red Trail, Yellow Trail, Scudder Trail, Mt. Cabot Connector

Mileage/gain: 11.2 miles, 3308' of gain, book time of 7:15, actual time of "I'm pretty sure we beat it"

New redlining miles: 7.8

Awaking early, there was a surprise on the ground... SNOW! Ashley's wish for the leaves to become a non-factor had come true! Grabbing coffee, we headed to Gorham to meet up with Whitney and Chris (Superwoman and Superman), for some of the colorful trails in Shelburne. Finding the trailhead for the White Trail was somewhat of an adventure in itself (with no guide of course), but we got there and got going, snow crunching underfoot. This was the area to be hiking in on this day.

Our route was circuitous: Up the White Trail, back down to Orange Trail, up the Orange Trail to the Blue Trail, down to the Yellow and Red trails, up the Blue Trail to Mt. Cabot, down the Red Trail to the Yellow Trail, Yellow Trail to Scudder Trail, Scudder Trail over Mt. Ingalls to Rays Pond, and an up and back on the Cabot-Ingalls Connector on the way down. Ridiculously confusing, helped by signage at junctions that were set back in the woods, real awesome.

Flagging in all the colors of the rainbow (blazes too) was very prevalent on these trails, as they are much disrupted by logging. The snow helped, and I don't think they would have been anywhere near as attractive without it. We had some decent views from Crow's Nest, several directional views from near Mt. Cabot, and very good ledge views on the upper Scudder Trail. Snow squalls moved through off and on, punctuated with sunshine and cold winds.

It was great to finally meet and hike with Whitney and Chris, after following their various exploits for so long. Maybe one of these years I'll be in good enough shape to keep up with the two of you!

An early finish meant more relaxation time. Ashley cooked up a great dinner, and beers were had before a solid sleep. Thanks for putting me up (putting up with me?)!

Early morning surprise

Contrast as we start out

The unsigned start of the White Trail

White Trail

White Trail

An alright view from Crow's Nest

Rippled reflection

Yeah, it's there somehwere

A colorful junction

Mt. Success


Red Trail

View toward Gorham

East to Evans Notch

Scudder Trail

The Moriahs in a squall

Rays Pond

The gang at Rays Pond

Coming down the Scudder Trail

Saturday 11/15: Mt. Anderson

Peak: Mt. Anderson (3740')

Trails: Nancy Pond Trail, bushwhack

Mileage/time: ~9.6 miles, ~3000' of gain, book time doesn't matter, actual time of 9:56

Way overestimating how long breakfast and getting changed was going to take, I got up super early and was at Priscilla's just a few minutes after they opened. A great breakfast, and a quick drive got me to Signal Ridge trailhead a full hour before my companions were to arrive. Oh well, I'm pretty good at entertaining myself. Andrew and the Marshmallow Man showed up on time, and we shuttled over to Nancy Pond Trail. The original plan called for adding on Lowell as well, but as you can see, that didn't end up happening.

The Marshmallow Man decided to start out quick in the morning cold, but my legs weren't having any of it, so Andrew and I got him to slow down. Don't want to burn too bright before a bushwhack! Up past the cascades (frozen is the only way I've ever seen them) and the switchbacks snow fell lightly, but as we approached Nancy Pond, the sun came out and warmed us up. Just beyond the wilderness boundary, we jumped into the woods, happy for the mostly frozen ground in this swampy area between Nancy and Norcross ponds.

As far as bushwhacks go, this one was fairly straightforward. Setting an almost due west compass bearing (Andrew had his GPS), we fought through pencil woods, finding the path of least resistance. I was definitely happy to have the full coverage of pants, gloves, and shell... and even still I came out with many scrapes and bruises. We didn't run into many blowdowns along our route, but the woods were not accomodating, and with few exceptions were universally thick. One open area had us swimming through chest high snow covered spruce, in a small sunny bowl to the east of the summit. Putting the Marshmallow Man in the lead the last few hundred feet to the top was a mistake, as some serious contortionist moves were needed to get over and under some obstacles. We made it the 0.9 miles to the canister (tracked by Andrews GPS) in 2 hours 20 minutes. Rough going. Just beyond the summit was our (my) quarry, a view... and what a huge one it is. Up close and personal looks at Lowell, Vose Spur and Carrigain, with the massive expanse of the Pemi lowlands, and the Bonds, Franconias, Twins, Zealand Ridge, and Hale. Just around the corner was another ledge with a view To Tremont, and the eastern Sandwich Range.

Descending roughly the way we came, with some skirting around the contortionist nightmare, we picked up our tracks again and followed them out. Andrew got really into exclaiming "WHOA!!!" when slipping or running into branches, or anything really. It got hilarious real quicklike. Getting back to Nancy Pond, we dropped packs and took a short break. Here I noticed my packs top pocket and both my hip belt pockets were open. Coincidentally, the only missing item was the one I needed most (since the sun had just set), my headlamp. Starting down, I made haste to get down to Nancy Cascade before it got too dark for me to see without my companions assistance. I made it in time as the purple hues deepened to the east, and then descended by the light of others lamps. The stars were very bright once the light was fully out of the sky, and the open woods along the lower section of trail made for prime viewing.

I dropped Andrew and the Marshmallow Man back at his car, and wished them well on their drive back to Boston. Rolling through Conway, I stopped and picked up a new headlamp, no tax, and some discounts helped out!

Nancy Pond Trail

Remnants of Lucy Mill

Nancy Cascade



Nancy Pond

Our target from Nancy Pond

Pencil woods at the start

Mildly open

Nope, kind of thick

And thicker

The north flank of Anderson

Swimming in the bowl

Don't worry, we'd already opened it

Lowell in front of the Sandwich Range

Carrigain and Vose Spur, large and in charge

The Franconias and Bonds

The Twins, Zealand, and Hale

Tremont and the eastern Sandwich Range

Parting shot

Nancy Pond Trail

Stairs and Resolution in the purple

What a great weekend, watching the changes, and enjoying not only solitude, but great company throughout!

Weekend totals: 

Miles: 49.6
Gain: 16044'
New redlining: 23.8