Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Return of the Red-liner 5/3/14

Working title: Trail descriptions read before 4 hours of questionable sleep, aren't always as they appear

Following nearly two months of NOT actually hiking, it was high time for some miles. Contrary to my want for backcountry skiing, I went in search of trails without snow, or with minimal snow. The MSAP (May Snow Avoidance Program) is back in effect! Results were mixed, as will soon be revealed.

Hike #1: Eagle Mountain

Peak: Eagle Mountain

Trails: Eagle Mountain Path, herd path

Mileage/time: ~1.9 miles, ~600' of gain, book time of 1:12, actual time of 0:48

A late night, and an alarm set for 4am, is a recipe for much lethargy. All that aside, I managed to get up and out fairly quickly. I soon found myself in Jackson, finishing my coffee behind the historic Eagle Mountain House. The trail to the top is a mere 0.9 miles long, but posed a bit of a challenge, with some slippery leaves, especially on the steeper upper section. Great views were had from just below the summit, and by following a herd path to the north, some very obscured directional views toward Carter Notch were had. On my way down, I was surprised to see two others on the trail with their dog, as it was still the 6 o'clock hour. Good to know I'm not the only early riser.

Eagle Mountain Path

Kearsarge North looming over Eagle Mountain House

Carter Notch obfuscation

The Moats and Attitash

Hike #2: Hutmen's/Hall's Ledge loop

Peak: None

Trails: Hutmen's Trail, herd path, unnamed trail, Carter Notch Road, Hall's Ledge Trail, Rt. 16

Mileage/time: ~9 miles, ~2131' of gain, book time of 5:35, actual time of 3:28

Motoring further up Rt. 16, I parked on the shoulder at a very familiar trail sign. I've passed it countless times, and now was the time to hike it... sort of. The sign makes mention of cooperative maintenance by OH Association, does anyone know what that is? Winding past a house, and making a couple of obscure turns, the trail starts to climb fairly steeply up the western slope of Spruce Mountain, following a fairly roaring brook. The sun had just crested over the ridge ahead, and lit up the still barren woods. Once the trail started to level out, some snow appeared, but I'd wager that its days are numbered. A faint herd path forked left, and led out to an old apple orchard with intact stone walls.

I reached a junction with a wide cross-country trail, signed from where I came, but not signed where I needed to go. Here's where my four hours of sleep, and questionable reading of the guide book, took its toll. Instead of going left on the cross-country trail, I went right, then took a left on an obvious, but unsigned trail. While brushed in a bit, and completely unmarked, the trail was very obvious and easy to follow. Not to mention, the footing was pretty good! After passing what appeared to be the remains of a cabin, complete with many empty beer bottles, I emerged on Carter Notch Road, to find no signage, and pavement. Whoops!

Walking the road, I had a conversation with an elderly gentleman who was out walking as well, and he wasn't sure where Hutmen's was supposed to come out. No sooner did I turn the corner, that the signage appeared. Tempted to go up to finish it off, I decided to just come back to check it off later. Reaching the end of Carter Notch Road, the confusion returned. Hall's Ledge Trail is not signed on this end, and it ended up being a crapshoot, just following cross-country trails upward and roughly west. There was a neat old cellar hole here, with some artifacts laid about on a pile of stones in the middle. My "navigation" paid dividends, as signage soon confirmed that I was on the right track. A sweeping vista opened up, followed by a picnic table with a superb, if somewhat restricted, view of Mt. Washington.

From here, the cross-country junk ended, and a proper trail threaded down through the spruce. Some patches of snow lay here and there, as the trail descended gently. Soon I came into an area that I HAD remembered reading about in the book. The working forest revealed itself, crisscrossed with skidder paths, downed trees, and recently sawed stumps. Following the trail became somewhat difficult, constantly on the lookout for blazes, a defined treadway, and pieces of pink flagging. Leaving the logging area, the trail dropped steeply down to 16, signs of spring starting to poke through last years fallen leaves. Cars streamed north past me on my road walk, many probably on their way to Pinkham, for some turns in the ravine.

Hutmen's Trail

Hutmen's Trail

Orchard views

Greening up

Cellar hole artifacts

Sweeping vista near Hall's Ledge

Picnic table view of Washington

Working forest

Poking through

Eastern roundleaf yellow violet (viola rotundifolia) in bloom

Hike #3: Lila's Ledge/Brad's Bluff loop

Peak: None

Trails: Crew Cut Trail, Liebeskinds Loop, George's Gorge Trail, roadwalk

Mileage/time: 3.7 miles, 1423' of gain, book time of 2:35, actual time of 2:22

Driving further north, I passed by Pinkham Notch Visitors Center, the overflow lots full, and cars lining the west side of the road. Pulling into the nearly deserted Wildcat parking lot, I walked back down the road a piece to start on the Crew Cut Trail. While the guide describes these paths as having "pleasant walking", that's not exactly what I found. This end of Crew Cut gets pretty steep, after it passes a boggy area, and winds its way up below the rock face of Lila's Ledge. Snow became a problem as I neared the spur trail. Light traction would have been ineffectual, as there wasn't really any ice, and snowshoes would have been overkill. The spring monorail was in force, and made its presence known throughout the loop, though in a very fractured, inconsistent, and crumbling way.

Awesome views presented themselves from both Lila's Ledge and Brad's Bluff, but the vexing trail conditions were only just beginning. To finish these trails, I had to do some short out and back sections on George's Gorge and Crew Cut. The George's Gorge one was almost completely snow covered, and I punched through many times into deep water and/or mud. Expletives flowed. I'll have to come back to check out more of the gorge itself, since present conditions kept me from getting close enough for exploration or pictures. Descending back to the road, decisions had to be made.

Rock tripe on a ledge

Washington and the ravines from Lila's Ledge

Mono, mono, monorail

South through the notch from Brad's Bluff

Passing some rock faces on George's Gorge Trail

Hike #4: Church Path

Peak: None

Trail: Church Path

Mileage/time: 1 mile, 79' of gain, book time of 0:30, actual time of 0:16

Driving north through some showers, I amended my general plan, in which there were many options. I figured at the very least, I'd pick off this straggler of a trail. Parking on the side of the road leading to the Randolph town water supply, I walked up to the end of the road where the RMC trail sign was, and went back to my car, following the trail into the woods. The guide mileage agrees with the sign (0.5 miles), but not with my map. How can one know which is right if they're both different?! The path winds behind some houses, and brings you out into the cemetery and pops out behind the church. That's that, quick and easy! Some rain started to fall as I got back to the car, and I pondered whether to go for five, or stick with four. If you know me, or know people with slightly masochistic sensibilities, you can see where this is headed.

Randolph Church

Through to the cemetery

Church Path

Drops

Hike #5: Cherry Ponds

Peak: None

Trails: Colonel Whipple Trail, Rampart Path, Little Cherry Pond Trail, Shore Path

Mileage/time: 6.9 miles, 317' of gain, book time of 3:38, actual time of 2:21

Foregoing some shorter options along the way, I passed into Jefferson, and headed toward the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge. I've seen many a stunning picture from Cherry Pond, and decided it was time to check it out for myself. Map in lap, I found the trailhead on Whipple Road, and started up the trail past the gate. It was almost immediately wet, and definitely swampy. This would persist the entire length of Colonel Whipple Trail, with bog bridges in spots, some of them underwater. So helpful. Some of this area reminded me of the Pemi lowlands, spruce forest, with some thick new fir undergrowth... just a lot wetter.

Upon reaching Rampart Path, it started to rain, lightly at first, then heavier. Rain turned to hail, and the air temperature dropped significantly, the only time I was cold all day. Stunning views presented themselves of the Presidentials over Cherry Pond, but I turned away to duck back into the woods across the railroad tracks, heading toward Little Cherry Pond. As I neared the pond, I thought I was hallucinating, because I could hear music. When I came out to the viewing platform at the end of the trail, I did hear it, someone unseen, blasting Journey. I guess I won't stop believing.

I continued down the tracks to the Shore Path, and took in the views, before backtracking, and heading back into the swamp. Come to find out, I only red-lined the Little Cherry Pond Trail, as the other three I took, aren't in the guide for some reason. Oh well, it's just another excuse to come back for the other piece of connecting trail!

Rain shower on Cherry Mountain

After the hail at Little Cherry Pond

Presidential Range over Cherry Pond

Pliny Range over Cherry Pond

Cumulative numbers for the day: 22.2 miles, 4549' of gain
New red-lining miles: 9.7

All in all, the day was super productive. While the weather and trail conditions didn't always cooperate, they made it much more interesting than if it had been a cloudless, windless, precipitationless (not a word) day. I returned to Portland, where I was fed some properly hot Indian food, beer and wine. A perfect way to end a long day.

Here's to the warm season!

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