Sunday, January 26, 2014

Winter Tripyramids 1/25/14

Working title: "Hardy" or "Hearty"

Peaks: North Tripyramid, Middle Tripyramid

Trails: Pine Bend Brook Trail, Mt. Tripyramid Trail

Mileage/time: 9.6 miles, 3483' of gain, book time of 6:33, actual time of 6:50

A couple of bitter cold days passed by, and with the temperatures at elevation forecast to be in the low teens, I figured I'd go back to tackle these beasts. I'd originally planned to go up and back on Sabbaday Brook Trail (my new nemesis), but some late breaking news about the crossings led me to take the other way. During my drive, the morning dawned, but clouds hung to the north.

I met up with Sandi, Leslie, and Banjo (the dog), at 8, on time, but what I consider late. Gearing up, we started up. Pine Bend Brook Trail is one that I've only descended, before today, and I found it to be an enjoyable ascent. Though it was cold down low, in the single digits at the start, we were protected from the wind until we hit the ridge. Most of our crossings were frozen, and the ice was putting on a show.

Beyond the wilderness boundary (mmm, Sandwich), we were caught by the gentleman we saw pull up as we started, a nice guy named Randall. We adopted him, and he hiked with us for the rest of the day. Climbing more steeply, the trail enters the base of a small ravine, and makes for the ridge. Along the way, were some openings, that allowed for some filtered views.


Framed Presidents
More steeps, and some ice followed, with spikes adequate for traction. Then came the wind. We had been protected thus far, but once we reached the main ridge, we were at its mercy, for most of our hike along it. Everyone else had been switching layers on and off, but I'd been comfortable in mine, even stopped (which is weird). That's when I got called "hardy" or "hearty", I can't be sure which. I did end up putting on my outer mittens, but that was all it took, pretty toasty considering the temps. Maybe that jump in the ocean did something? We soon reached the summit of North Tripyramid, where it was windy, and snowing lightly, obscuring our views.

A very brief break, and we stayed on the ridge toward Middle Tripyramid. Banjo wasn't happy when we stopped for any length of time, and I think the cold and wind got to him. He was better once we were off the ridge. Middle Tripyramid came up quickly, and the views were more obscured than before. Our summit stay was again, very short.

South Tripyramid from near Middle
We beat a fairly hasty retreat, back over North Tripyramid, and down. Spreading out a bit, on the steeps, mostly to keep moving, we regrouped in the ravine. The rest of the descent went very quickly, conversations flowed, and I removed a pesky blowdown (that I'd broken the tip of my saw off in on the way up).

Getting back to the cars, a half inch of snow had accumulated, and was picking up. We all met back up at the Woodstock Station, and had some celebratory beers and eats. Here's to new friends and old, thanks to all four of you (gotta get Banjo in there) for a great day! Then began what turned into a three hour drive home for me. It snowed fairly heavily almost my entire drive back, and the going was super slow. That's what can happen when you're hiking in the mountains.

These make numbers 42 and 43, for the Winter 48... only 5 to go!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tuckerman Ravine and the Sherburne Ski Trail 1/22/14

Working title: Earn your turns!

Trails: Tuckerman Ravine Trail, Sherburne Ski Trail

Mileage/gain: ~4.5 miles, 1879' of gain

The lung debacle of yesterday, gave way to a plan, and some generally less strenuous physical activities. Originally, we'd planned to hit Adams and Jefferson, but the bitter cold, and the winds forecast for the day, kept us lower and more protected. Some backcountry skiing was called for. I slept well last night, and was refreshed and ready to go. I met up with Mike at his place, and we soon headed up to Pinkham, to meet up with his friend John, who we were originally supposed to hike with.

Blue skies were showing, the winds were fresh, and the mercury hung in the single digits below zero. Good thing we'd be working up a sweat! Skinning is, by far, my preferred mode of winter uphill travel. It's not effortless by any means, but it's easier than snowshoeing (at least I think so). Ice already forming on my beard, we signed in, and set off up the trail. Mike took a moment to warm up to the whole skinning thing, but after a fashion, he really enjoyed himself! John kept up well, and probably would have beaten us to the base of the ravine, if we hadn't been holding him back.

We soon had views up to the mountain, clad in purest white. The scene reminded me of my first ascent of Mt. Washington, almost three years ago, except the temperatures were about 40 degrees warmer. Today was definitely NOT a summit day.

Hoar frost

View into Ravine of Raymond Cataract
The grade on the upper part of Tuckerman Ravine Trail, is significantly less steep than the lower, and our pace quickened. We chatted with one hiker, who passed us on the way up and back from the bowl, and saw two rangers descending on snowmobiles. Soon, we reached the shelters at Hermit Lake. Mike and I took off our skis and skins, while John readied himself for a climb of Left Gully. Spindrift could be seen at the top of the ravine walls, and while it was warm (ish) in the sun, the warmth I felt, belied the below zero temperatures. The scene surrounding us was more than worth the skin up.

South Gullies on Boott Spur

Tuckerman Ravine headwall

Lion Head
After a short break, we were ready. We wished John luck in his climb, and set off for the start of the Sherburne. The John Sherburne Ski Trail (affectionately called the Sherbie) snakes down to Pinkham roughly parallel to Tuckerman Ravine Trail. It was cut in 1934, as a direct ski route from the bowl to Pinkham (skiing down Tuckerman Ravine Trail is strictly verboten), and hasn't changed much since then. The trail has many steep, swooping turns, and gets progressively steeper as you descend. 

Initially, we both had some trouble. My left ski boot wouldn't lock into ski mode, and one of Mike's bindings wasn't locked in place. Troubles fixed, we made our way down, with many stops in between, to admire the scenery around us, and to give our legs a break. There was some nice powder on the sides, and some obstacles poking out of the snow, least of which were some errant rocks. The waterbars were particularly interesting, as on my last trip, they were filled in. Needless to say, I enjoyed every, single, turn. 

Far too quickly, as with any good thing, the run was over. If it weren't for the sub-zero temperatures, we would have gone for another lap. Instead, we ended up heading back into Conway for lunch. Afterward, I headed to the viewpoint on Rt. 302/16, where the Presidentials were bathed in late afternoon light, under bluebird skies.

Thanks again to Mike and John for a great few hours in the cold!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cave Mountain and some winter redlining 1/21/14

Working title: Respiratory Refuse

Peak: Cave Mountain

Trails: Mt. Langdon Trail, Cave Mountain Path, bushwhack

Mileage/time: ~6 miles, 2263' of gain, book time of 4:10, actual time of 3:20

The cold I came down with just after New Years, sure did a number on my lungs. They haven't been the same! Today, I had grand plans... to revisit the Tripyramids. But my general feeling of not-so-well-being led to plan readjustments. I needed to redline the rest of the Mt. Langdon Trail, so I figured I'd hit Mt. Parker. That's not exactly what happened.

From the trailhead on River Street in Bartlett, where there's only room for a car or two, the trail climbs on a wide old logging road. The temperatures were in the single digits, but the sun was out, and I warmed up quickly. Right off the bat, my lungs didn't cooperate, and I found myself struggling for breath. Undeterred, I hung a left on Cave Mountain Path, and climbed up to its namesake cave and the south facing ledges above it.

The tracks I'd been following disappeared, and I took off for an impromptu bushwhack to the true summit of Cave Mountain. It's wooded, and viewless, but it was RIGHT there (about 0.1). Descending the way I came, I kept on heading up the Mt. Langdon Trail. Many old roads crossed the trail in the lower section, and ski tracks adorned most of them. Soon reaching the wilderness boundary, and crossing the only major stream on the route, the trail starts climbing more in earnest. It's never really steep, but it let me know that I was on the ragged edge.

I had apparently forgotten to turn my phone off, because just as I reached the high point on the trail (~2100'), it rang. It was Mike, so I answered it. After a short chat, I told him I'd call him when I was heading into town. Reaching the Mt. Parker Trail junction, the broken trail ended. Rather than break trail in my questionable physical condition, I decided to turn tail and descend. What I had hiked, was what I set out to redline in the first place! I'll get back to Mt. Parker with my camera eventually.

My descent was quick, as my spikes bit into any ice there was, and snow balled up under my feet. Reaching my car, beard frozen, I changed and set off for Conway. I hit the Moat for lunch, and did a bit of crying in my before noon beers. When I was done, I stopped by Mike's, and we discussed a plan for tomorrow (originally we were going to do Jefferson and Adams... but not with those wind-chills!), which will feature some skinning up to Tuckerman Ravine, and some skiing. We'll see how the lungs react to that!

Friday, January 17, 2014

2013: Year in Review

After some serious decompression, I'm now getting around to making sense of the year that was. Following in the footsteps of several other bloggers, I'm going to do a little top 10... originality be damned. Back in late July, I gave myself two goals, get to the halfway point in my redlining journey, and do 1000 trail miles. The redlining goal was reached on 11/21, somewhere on the Guinea Pond Trail, and I've since added another ~25 miles of new trails to my total, bringing me below 700 miles to go. The 1000 miles, on the other hand, was right down to the wire, being barely passed, on the last day of the year.

Here's 2013, by the numbers.

# of hikes: 100
Hiking days: 84
# of solo days: 34
Named peaks: 174
4000-footers: 83
Hikes with no peaks: 29
New redlining miles: 347.1
Miles: 1,000.1
Elevation gain: 300,760'
Average, per hike: 10 miles, 3008' of gain

Now, without further adieu, here are my top 10 hikes for 2013.

#10: Bradbury Mountain, 12/31/13

I'd be remiss, if I said that this little 485' "mountain" in Pownal, ME didn't hold some special place in my year. Upon my return from Baxter on the 30th, I was 4.7 miles short of my 1000 mile goal... so this was a close, logical choice, to finish the remainder. I ended up doing a 4.8 mile "loop", zig-zagging around, up, and down, the mountain. As a friend put it, a fine capstone.

#9: Porter and Cascade, Adirondacks, 8/11/13

My first hike in the Adirondacks, a day after the wedding of my friends Jeremy and Jenna. Chosen as a short hike on my way home, I ended up en-route, hiking to Porter Mountain first... figuring that since my grandfathers name was Porter, that my first peak, and subsequent peaks, should be for him. It will take me some years to complete this list, but in his name, it will all be worth it.

#8: Mt. Randolph, Mt. Crescent, Ice Gulch, 9/11/13

This was my first foray on the RMC trails to the north of Route 2, and what a route I picked! A sweltering, late summer day, with hazy views from the peaks, and a challenging scramble down through Ice Gulch, racing a thunderstorm. The natural air conditioning of the gulch was awesome (so were the mosses), and the thunderstorm that rolled over the top of us was frightening to say the least. A standout for sure!

#7: North Brother attempt, 2/22/13

Having no idea what I was getting myself into, I signed up to go to Baxter, in the winter! A busy winter season (up to that point), was the best preparation that I could ask for, but still fell short of what was required. The four of us made a valiant attempt at the summit, but with unbroken snow, and drifts up to our necks, we were forced to turn around as the sun set, nearly 8 hours after leaving the summer trailhead. This was one of the most challenging hikes of the year, by a big margin.

#6: A random redlining hike, 4/25/13

In the interest of avoiding snow, I decided to drive, and hit some new trails, some out and backs, and some loops. I ended up doing days similar to this, several more times throughout the year, but this was the genesis. Five separate hikes were done, bringing me to some fantastic view ledges, a great waterfall, and a couple of small peaks, as I worked my way from east to west, and from south to north. The stats for the day were equivalent or greater than most 4K hikes! This day also signaled a change in my camera gear, which I've continued to this day, the use of my collection of late-70's Canon glass.

#5: Baldface/Royce Range Traverse, 5/18/13

A Meetup hike (that I organized) of epic proportions, and a traverse that was as glorious and as difficult as I imagined it would be. Though lacking the fame of the 4000-footers, this rugged range to the east, on the Maine/New Hampshire border, is simply a must do for any White Mountain hiker. Wild ridgelines, dark woods, and huge views from the peaks. Well worth a repeat!

#4: Sandwich Dome, 11/21/13

Reaching the halfway point of my redlining journey was significant for me, and the day was downright perfect for it. Cold and clear, somewhat icy, and only a few 1/10th's of a mile on trails I'd been on before. I also remembered my camera this time! It was a great reminder of just how much I have left to do. Motivation!

#3: Northern Presidentials, 10/3-10/6/13

Getting to spend three nights, among the highest peaks in the Northeast, was among my most treasured experiences of the year. While the weather wasn't perfect, I didn't get rained on, and the people I met were among the best I've ever come across. When a plan comes together, and isn't followed (really at all), the outcome can be surprising.

#2: Solo "classic" Presidential Traverse, 7/4/13

Since doing my first traverse (in two days) back in 2011, I've wanted to get to the point of being able to it in one day. In this regard, 2013 was a year full of "beast mode" hikes, pushing the limits. What started out with a beautiful sunrise, as I climbed into the clouds, left me cold and in the clouds for the northern half of the range. Once past Washington, the clouds lifted, the temperatures soared, and I managed to accomplish my goal of a sub-12 hour traverse, including breaks. Injuring my left ankle coming off of Jefferson was the worst part of the day, but as Yvon Chouinard famously said... "The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong - that's when adventure starts."

#1: No-frills Pemi Loop, 9/18/13

Speaking of pushing the limits, this pushed beyond. My longest hike to date (31.9 miles), besting my previous long day by 3.2 miles, and nudging into the realm of 5 digit elevation gain. The weather was perfect, and my very alpine (1:09am) start time proved to be worth the sleep deprivation. The defining moment for me, was watching the sun rise to my right, and the moon set to my left. Hiking along by moonlight alone was pretty awesome too. Having my friend Tim catch up with me at Galehead was the icing on the cake. I injured my right ankle on our descent from Bondcliff, and I'm still paying for it now, but the pain was well worth the experience. This is another one I'm going to repeat.

In no way, am I discounting any of the other hikes I've done this year. They were all special in one way or another. These were simply the standouts, the ones that made all the others worth it.

2014 is another year, and I have some plans, some of which have already come to pass. Firstly, I did a polar bear dip, on January 8th... it was 5 degrees, and the water was a balmy 40! I was just getting sick when I did it, and needless to say, it didn't help matters. Secondly, I tried out indoor rock climbing... what a blast! With a bit of luck, I'll be able to get out to Colorado to visit my cousins, with the aim of skiing, and hiking my first 14'er. A coworker of mine wants me to do a marathon with her (in October), so I agreed... training starts at the end of the month. There's going to be a LOT of trail-running in my future. In addition, I want to finish my NE67 (8 peaks remain), chip away at the NE100, and keep up the redlining, with a tentative goal of finishing in 2015.

So that's that, 2013 is a wrap (and has been for more than 2 weeks). 2014 is mine!

Baxter Blast 12/27-12/30/13

Working title: Magnificent Miscreants

Way back in October, shortly after I returned from my last foray into Baxter, I got the email I'd been waiting for. A winter assault on Katahdin was in the works! There would seven of us, Michael and Monica (from my last winter trip), my friends John and Brenda, and two wildcards, Larry and Peg. This is our story of magnificence.

Friday 12/27:

Trails: Abol Stream Trail, Nesowadnehunk Tote Road, Roaring Brook Road

Mileage/elevation: ~13 miles, ~900' of gain

The rest of the group spent the night in Millinocket on Thursday, but I was unable to join them. This led to me getting up at 3am, in order to make it up to the AT Cafe by 7:30. Long story short, the driving sucked! Pulling up to the AT Cafe, I witnessed a man in shorts... it could only be Michael. Who else wears shorts in the winter?! Exchanging greetings with the group inside, we set about eating and chatting. From the get-go, I liked the wildcards, and the phrase "it's going to be a long four days", was uttered several times.

We had a chance encounter with Dan McGinness (of DMOutdoors) and his brother Bill, who were headed into Nesowadnehunk for an attempt on North Brother. It was nice to run into you guys! Foodening complete, we headed out of town, onto the Golden Road, a veritable logging highway that stretches all the way to the Canadian border. Pulling into the parking lot, just before Abol Bridge, we set about preparing ourselves, and our sleds, for the trek into the park. Unlike the warmer months, the roads in Baxter are not maintained for winter travel, perhaps to weed out all non-hackers. This left roughly 13 miles of trail and road, between us, and our first destination, the Roaring Brook bunkhouse.

Everyone else had donned snowshoes, but I had to be different. As we crossed the road, I stepped into my skis, and we set off. The first couple of miles would be on the Abol Stream Trail, as we crossed the park boundary, passed Abol Pond, eventually reaching the Nesowadnehunk Tote Road. Clouds prevailed for the most part, though the sun broke through occasionally. The general lack of scenery kept me focused, trying to keep a rhythm, one foot in front of the other. The pain began somewhere between reaching the road, and the summer gatehouse. At first it was my heels, then it worked its way to my arches, then to my toes. Super. We took a break at the gatehouse, where I threw my skis into the sled, and put on snowshoes. Maybe I should have just sucked it up and gone with it, but in retrospect, I'm glad I didn't.

Katahdin in the clouds, as we rounded the corner by the gatehouse

Now began 8 miles of torturous ups and downs, with more of the same around every corner. My ski boots never got any more comfortable, as we trudged onward. We were passed by Ranger Rob Tice, who was going to attempt to get his snowmobile up to Chimney Pond. I say attempt, as he apparently hadn't been able to get one up there yet this season. Fingers were crossed, all around, as failure would mean a very difficult second day for us. He half jokingly said, that if we found his snowmobile overturned on the trail the next morning, that we turn it upright, and that he might well be under it! The group spread out along the road, as the miles slowly ticked by. Shortly before sunset, we mercifully rounded the corner at the top of the hill above Roaring Brook, and trudged down to the bunkhouse.

Welcome to the middle of nowhere, bub

Late afternoon light on Roaring Brook Road
Gear was hauled inside, water retrieved, and bunks set up. We settled in for dinner, and warmed ourselves by the woodstove. I was just relieved to be out of my boots! Little did I know, that this night would feature the most sleep of the trip... I should be used to sleep deprivation by now!

Saturday 12/28:

Trails: Chimney Pond Trail, Saddle Trail

Mileage/elevation: ~5.3 miles, ~2600' of gain

We awoke to clouds, and a few inches of fresh snow. Packing our gear back up, and loading it back on the sleds, we got started up to Chimney Pond. I decided I'd ski up, and that proved to be a generally good idea, except on the really steep sections above Basin Pond. If I hadn't been towing the sled, I probably would have had less trouble, but the extra weight made for some interesting maneuvering. The winds were whipping as we climbed, and the crossing of Basin Pond was made quickly, bracing against the cold violence from above. After arriving at the Chimney Pond bunkhouse, we had lunch, and decided as a group to break trail up to treeline, to save ourselves some work the next day.

Drifts and cornices along Chimney Pond Trail
Heading up the unbroken Saddle Trail, we took turns up front. I feel the need to mention, that John is an absolute animal! To think, this is the same man who broke his ankle, in June! As we climbed higher, the snow became deeper and deeper. It was light and powdery, a blessing and a curse, all at the same time. Reaching the point where the trail opens up at the base of Saddle Slide, we turned around and headed back to the bunkhouse. Our work for the day was done.


Once down at the pond, we ventured across to get water for the night. While the pond itself is the water source, the only place you can get water from it in the winter, is on the far side! It was fun? Nah, it was super cold and windy, not exactly the most enjoyable water gathering experience. Back at the bunkhouse, we got to making dinner, and generally killing time. Some games were played, stories swapped, and many laughs had, probably much to the chagrin of the other three guests. Eventually we all set off for bed, but it was to be a restless night for us all.

Sunday 12/29:

Trails: Saddle Trail, Chimney Pond Trail

Mileage/elevation: ~7.7 miles, ~2300' of gain

Up well before the sun, not that we'd see it. We readied ourselves for the onslaught. None of us had slept well at all, the bunkhouse was too hot, if you can imagine that! Once out the door, some of the group went back across the pond for more water, and I got creative.

Thankful for our pre-broken trail, we started up, spreading out some as we approached the cloud-topped walls of the Great (South) Basin. Beyond where we'd stopped was more deep, unconsolidated snow, and the trail breaking continued anew.

We were passed by the (opportunistic) French-Canadian couple that was staying in the bunkhouse, and they made their way to the top of the Saddle. Instead of heading directly up the slide, where the trail goes, we angled left, around the rock outcrop at the top, avoiding possible avalanche conditions. Steep snowshoeing! Two to three steps, break, repeat, all the way to the top. Some views could be had to the east, along Hamlin Ridge, and the flanks of Pamola. By the time we reached the top of the Saddle, it had begun snowing, and the views disappeared into the white.

Regrouping, we made our assault. In a bad case of deja vu, I quickly became able to see exactly nothing. Heavy riming conditions existed on the Tableland, and the right side of our bodies quickly became encased, along with my glasses. What followed was a blur of white, and what looked like cairns looming out of the white, most of which turned out to just be rocks. I followed behind Larry for most of the way, and was thankful for his guidance in the whiteness. After what felt like an eternity, we crested the summit, and the famous sign loomed, covered in at least 6-8 inches of rime. We had done it!

The first group to summit Baxter Peak in the 2013/2014 winter season!
Chipping away at the ice, we got our summit shots, and retreated. Michael led the way, navigating by GPS, back to where he had left his ice axe, to mark where we had come up. Now came discussion of whether or not to hit Hamlin. Everyone else in the group was up for it, but the lack of sleep, general fatigue, and lack of vision, had done a number on me... I was simply out of gas. I was the lone voice of dissent, and as a group, we descended. That just means we have to come back... like we needed an excuse!

After a short snowshoe descent, it was time for some glissading. Of course, someone found a spruce trap, and that someone happened to be Larry. In circumstances like these, there's only one thing you can do... document their issues.

Pictures first. Help second.
Some more glissading action, and a nice snowshoe back down to Chimney Pond (with some childish writing in the snow to boot), we arrived back at the bunkhouse around 11... early! We talked to Rob, and asked if we could head down to Roaring Brook, instead of staying another night. He said the bunkhouse down there was empty, and gave us the green light to get a head start on our exit. Back at the bunkhouse, we warmed up and packed up. Another group came in, thankful they wouldn't have to spend the night in a lean-to, as the temperatures were forecast to plummet to -30 the next day. One of the guys even had the same ski boots as me, and that spurred me to ski down to Roaring Brook. Another one of them referred to skiing down, even with skins on, as the "snowplow of doom". Comforting.

The ski down was very much stop and go, as the sled was wildly out of control behind me. I'm thankful that it didn't hook a tree! I nearly took John out, but was able to work around him and his sled, at speed. Pretty sure the both of us nearly soiled ourselves! Many "uh oh" moments were had, the sled dumped my gear no less than 5 times, and flipped itself over a few times as well. This was by far, the most interesting ski descent I've ever had, in my nearly 30 years of skiing. Good times.

Back down at Roaring Brook, we hung clothing to dry, and settled in for the night. Brenda, John, Peg, and myself played cards, well into the evening. John broke out the whiskey, and some of us imbibed, celebrating our not being shut out this year, even if it was by the skin of our teeth!

Monday 12/30:

Trails: Roaring Brook Road, Nesowadnehunk Tote Road, Abol Stream Trail

Mileage/elevation: ~13 miles, ~200' of gain

With 4 to 8 inches of snow forecast for the night, we were somewhat apprehensive about our trek out. However, we awoke to a mere dusting, and a muted sunrise. Packing up, we cleaned up the cabin, and readied the sleds for the slog out. There was no way I was wearing my ski boots, as my feet were in some pain from them. We set out, the cars our destination. I won't say it went quickly, but it went. Katahdin even revealed itself, for a couple of fleeting moments. The hike out wasn't without pain, but was much easier than the hike in. Never did I think, that the sound of logging trucks would be welcome, but they were. Civilization!

A front moving through, drop those temps!

South Peak peeking out from near the gatehouse

We'll be back!
I managed to get my car somewhat stuck in the parking lot, but a bit of reverse, then gun it, got me out. We then cruised back through Millinocket, where we stopped at a gas station diner in Medway. The food was great, and we ended up making them 86 three items from the menu... that's how we do.


Peaks: 1 (better than none!)
Miles: ~39
Elevation gain: ~6000'

Thanks to all six of you, for a most memorable trip, it won't be soon forgotten. Let's go back for Hamlin next year!