Saturday, August 30, 2014

The long valleys of the Sandwich Range 8/29/14

Working title: It's just right there!

New red-lining miles: 10.9

Keeping up the red-lining blitz, I finally netted plans to hike with my friend and fellow redliner Ashley. This one was a mutually beneficial hike for the both of us, here's to mostly new trails!

Hike #1: Church Pond

Trail: Church Pond Loop

Mileage/time: 2.2 miles, 124' of gain, book time of 1:10, actual time of 0:54

Waking early (4:30) and arriving early, as is my wont, I awaited Ashley's arrival at Sabbaday Brook. The current construction on the Kanc slowed her up, so we started out a bit later than anticipated. Driving back through, we pulled into Passaconaway Campground, and found the small trailhead for Church Pond Loop. The trail being called a loop is a falsehood, though it did used to be, the Forest Service having decommissioned the eastern half of the loop back in 2012. Not bothering with packs for this short hike, we set off. Nearly right away, the trail crosses (fords) the Swift River, which was anything but swift on this day. Taking off our shoes, we waded across in calf deep water... on the return, we just walked through. The trail itself was great, mostly flat, with a soft carpet of fir needles to walk on. Ending in a grove of red pines above the pond, and a bootleg campsite, we took a short herd path down to the shore, where a view of the area we were about to hike in greeted us. Back across the river, we hopped back in the car to head across the street... literally.

A view from Church Pond

Hike #2: The Long Valleys

Peaks: Mt. Whiteface (4019'), East Sleeper (3855'), West Sleeper (3881'), South Tripyramid (4080'), Middle Tripyramid (4120'), North Tripyramid (4160')

Trails: Downes Brook Trail, Kate Sleeper Trail, Rollins Trail, East Sleeper Spur, herd path, Mt. Tripyramid Trail, Sabbaday Brook Trail

Mileage/time: 16.6 miles, 4717' of gain, book time of 10:39, actual time of 8:47

Over to the Downes Brook trailhead, there were a couple of cars, and we hoped they were all hiking Potash or Hedgehog. Heading up, we began the first of two valley walks for the day. The weather was perfect, not too hot, not too cool, with the sun coming and going. Also perfect, was the current dry spell, which led to stream crossings being relatively low. This is a big deal on the two valley trails, as Downes Brook has ten (yes ten!) crossings, and Sabbaday Brook has seven, all challenging in high water.

Downes Brook Trail offered up very pleasant walking, and was only moderately steep as it neared the top. Footing was generally fantastic, with very little in the way of rock and root, making for easy hiking, and a quick pace. Partway up, we ran into a nice gentleman who lost the trail briefly, and was correcting as we passed by. Near the top, the constant sound of the brook went subterranean, and we emerged at the mossy junction with Kate Sleeper Trail.

A representative section of Downes Brook Trail

Downes Brook

Fall foliage? Already?!

Blowdowns across the brook

Taking a break for some food at the junction, the silence was nearly deafening. No wind, and barely the sound of water percolating toward Downes Brook, made for an idyllic scene. Back on our feet, the red-lining continued. First, we headed up the eastern section of Kate Sleeper, to the junction with Rollins Trail... and because it was right there, went and tagged the viewless summit of Mt. Whiteface. Back down to the junction, we carried on to the west. The last time I'd been on Kate Sleeper Trail was in June of 2012, before Hurricane "Superstorm" Sandy came through and decimated a large swath of the trail near East Sleeper. An incredible amount of work was required to saw a path through this blowdown field! Bonking slightly on the steep ascent to the spur trail, we made our way to the summit of East Sleeper (a New England 100 Highest peak), where the 360 degree trees were quite inviting.

Unknown flower in a boggy area just off of Kate Sleeper Trail

The exciting summit of Mt. Whiteface

Path through the blowdowns

Blowdown hell

Whorled Aster (Aster acuminatus)

360 degree trees

Following another brief food break, we sallied forth. The rest of Kate Sleeper Trail was very smooth sailing, and we checked out the herd path to West Sleeper (a New Hampshire 100 Highest peak), also because it was right there! Crossing the eastern leg of the South Tripyramid Slide, we got our first views of the day, an especially dramatic look across the valley to Sandwich Dome, then started the climb of the upper part of the slide proper. A welcome breeze was at our backs, as it got warm quickly in the sun. Into the woods again, we hit the wooded summit of South Tripyramid (a Trailwrights 72 peak), another in our now four summit strong string of viewless peaks!

Sandwich Dome

Looking over the Lost Pass area out to the Lakes Region

South Tripyramid Slide

Heading north along the ridge, we ran into a guy and his dog, running along, asking if the last Tripyramid was in the direction he was heading. Saying it was, we continued toward Middle, where we got our first summit (or near summit) views of the day, a good look out across the long valleys to Passaconaway and Chocorua. Steeply down, we reached the junction with Sabbaday Brook Trail, our exit, but not before hitting North Tripyramid... because it was right there! Being passed once again by the guy and his dog, we soon hit the summit, where his companion was waiting for him. Wishing them well, we checked out the north viewpoint, before scooting back to the junction ourselves.

Middle Peak, with Washington peeking to the right

Chocorua and Passaconaway, with Pleasant Mountain in Maine in the background

The Osceolas

A fungus among us!

North view to the Presidentials from North Tripyramid

Now on Sabbaday Brook Trail, we descended moderately for a short stretch, then plummeted into the valley on steep rock slabs. Not something to ascend or descend in the wet! Passing a framed outlook over the shoulder of the Fool Killer to Chocorua, the grade eased, and at the first water crossing, we took a break and filled up. The rest of the hike out was great, if not long feeling and somewhat blowdown filled, with smooth footing between questionable stream crossings, all being somewhat problematic due to storm damage and blowdowns. Past the wilderness boundary, we soon came upon the massive tourist attraction that is Sabbaday Falls, and the wide gravel path that leads to it. Skirting around and between the touristas, we made it out to Ashley's waiting Jeep. A solid sub-9 hour loop... killed it!

Chocorua over the shoulder of the Fool Killer

Sabbaday Brook Trail

The Peeled Birch


Ashley descending along with Sabbaday Brook

A small cascade emptying into the main brook

The construction crews had done a lot of work on the Kanc during the day, and most of the previously dirt sections, were now paved. Ashley dropped me at my car, and we agreed to meet back up in Conway for some dinner, since it was after 6pm, and we were both rather hungry. During my drive into town, I was waylaid briefly at the Albany Covered Bridge, as a hapless tourist with a bike on this roof rack, had to remove it, as he couldn't get through the other side of the bridge! Dinner and beer commenced at the Black Cap Grille, and we parted ways, with a plan in place for another hike. I stopped by my brother's house on my way back, and hung out with him for a bit, before heading home and getting some much needed sleep.

Thanks to Ashley for a great day in the Sandwich Range, and congratulations on knocking off a couple peaks (on lists you may or may not be doing!) and on getting to 31.7%!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Puzzle Mountain 8/22/14

Working title: I find your lack of navigational awareness disturbing

Peaks: Puzzle Mountain - Southwest Peak (3080'), Puzzle Mountain - Southeast Peak (3120')

Trails: Grafton Loop Trail, herd path, Woodsum Spur Trail

Mileage/time: 7.2 miles, 3003' of gain, book time of 5:08, actual time of 5:26

In addition to the various lists I'm keeping track of (or working on, depending on how you look at it), there's a personal list of peaks to climb, whether they're on an official list or not. This was one of the many.

With an early-ish start, and some delicious breakfast sandwiches, Shanna and I arrived near Grafton Notch around 9:30. A few cars were parked at the trailhead, all but one had out of state plates. Starting out, the trail winds up through a young hardwood forest, at easy grades, occasionally crossing logging roads of various vintages. All was quiet, and we hoped it would stay that way.

Much of the eastern half of the Grafton Loop Trail is on private land, and the upper slopes and summits of Puzzle Mountain are enclosed within the Stewart Family Preserve. Upon reaching the boundary of the preserve, the forest abruptly changes to predominantly spruce, and the trail becomes more rootbound and rocky. Fern-topped boulders were strewn about alongside the trail, and there were mosses for days. Some scattered open ledges provided views, which I'm sure are much more spectacular on a clear day, but low clouds obscured any distant views.

Reaching the lower junction with the Woodsum Spur, we continued on. The trail continues up on striated ledges, with some decent scrambling thrown in. Along the way, a short signed spur path leads to some large boulders that form a small cave. There was some flagging in here, and it looks like some work is being done to allow it to hook back into the Grafton Loop Trail. I had to give Shanna grief (in a playful way of course), as she kept trying to go down drainages, and paths that were not the trail. Before long, the trail reaches the southwest summit of Puzzle, with its 360 degree views. Clouds continued to rule, but the views were still pretty vast, and the temperatures were comfortable for lounging on the rocks.

Looking northwest toward Grafton Notch

Dramatic clouds over Sunday River ski area

Sunday River Whitecap

Break over, we found our way down off the summit, following a couple of cairns into the woods. Undulating a bit, we climbed up across the shoulder of the north peak of Puzzle (the true summit at 3133'), and intersected with the other end of Woodsum Spur. Taking it, the trail took on a different character. Soft mosses were underfoot, there was some mud, and you got a general feeling that it doesn't receive much traffic. In one of the muddy areas, there was a very distinct print of a bear. Rising again, the trail reached the southeast summit of Puzzle, where we found a vista, in the clouds. Dropping down below the cloud deck, the trail passes over many more sections of open ledge, before descending into the woods again, and climbing to reach the Grafton Loop Trail again. There were a couple of trees along the way that seemed to be experiencing what I'll call "seasonal discombobulation disorder" (or SDD for short), where they didn't seem to realize that it was still summer!

Descending now, we ran into a couple on their way up, and near the trailhead, a pair of ladies walking their dog. The hike down was very pleasant, as the grade lent itself to smooth walking. Shanna even got me, trying to send her down something that was plainly not the trail! Back to the car, we headed into Bethel for lunch. Stopping by the Good Food Store on Rt. 26, we procured some sandwiches and beverages, which we enjoyed outside on a picnic table. I definitely recommend a stop here, and if not for the sandwiches, try the BBQ, which is sold out of the trailer in the parking lot. After a stop at the indoor flea market in Oxford (where Shanna found herself a small table for her kitchen), the clouds which had silently menaced most of the day, finally let forth a torrent of rain.

Another great day on the trails, another personal peak visited, and a return visit assured.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Wonalancet Meanderings 8/21/14

Working title: Ursine encounters of the first kind

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

Trails: Kelley Trail, Lawrence Trail, Old Paugus Trail, Bolles Trail, Brook Trail, Bickford Trail, Brook Path, Gordon Path, roadwalks

Mileage/time: 17.2 miles, 4076' of gain, book time of 10:40, actual time of 7:41

New red-lining miles: 14.6

Since I started hiking again, I've gotten into the habit of setting a small (or big) goal or two for the year. This year has me in the throes of a red-lining battle, trying to get myself to 75% complete with the AMC White Mountain Guide. Running the numbers, with 18 weeks remaining in the year, I'll need to hike an average of 10.2 NEW miles per week. This will be compounded by a week and a half long trip to Montana smack dab in the middle of September (not a bad thing), the impending winter, and the sobering (though expected) fact that there are just less trails to choose from! All this means, is that my hike plans will just have to get more efficient.

With a long day planned, I got up early, and hit the road. I wasn't expecting much in the way of sunrise action, but I was pleasantly surprised when some color started to appear. Needless to say, I stopped a couple of times along the way.

Chocorua Lake reflection

Mt. Chocorua over Chocorua Lake

Whiteface, Passaconaway, and Paugus from Chocorua Lake

Sandwich Dome on the right, just before sunrise

Whiteface and Passaconaway

Some bumps on 113A later, I soon pulled in to Ferncroft, which was empty. While I prepared, one other vehicle pulled in, its occupant heading up to do Whiteface and Passaconaway. Wishing him well, I set off.

The classic Ferncroft view

Thistle in the field

Heading into the woods, I came to the beginning of three trails, Old Mast Road, Kelley Trail, and Gordon Path. Taking a right, Old Mast Road and Kelley Trail coincide for about a quarter mile, before splitting. Since I've done the Old Mast Road, it's a foregone conclusion that I'd take the trail untraveled. The lower part of Kelley Trail was great, with easy grades, a soft footbed, and remnants of last years leaf litter. The upper part was much steeper, more rocky, and fairly moss covered. It leads up through a small ravine that was ephemerally an outlet of a meltwater lake, that once filled the Albany Intervale to the north, at the end of the last ice age. When an ice dam blocked the eastern outlet (today's Swift River), the lake drained through Paugus Pass, carving out some interesting rock formations.

Nice trail structure!

Reaching Paugus Pass, I took a left on Lawrence Trail, and red-lined out the 0.3 mile section between Kelley Trail and Old Mast Road. Quickly returning, I started the climb up to Mt. Paugus. Lawrence Trail used to be a lot more challenging, but in 2006 and 2008, major work was done by the WODC to mitigate the hazards of a very steep, eroded section of trail. The trail now does most of its climbing on switchbacks, a relative luxury (and rarity) in the Whites. Some sweating, and a few stops along the way, I soon came out to the south summit of Mt. Paugus. A few steps down a brushy herd path to the south (marked by a piece of flagging), brought me out to vast ledges, with great views south and west.

Lawrence Trail

Passaconaway and Square Ledge from Lawrence Trail

Whiteface, Wonalancet Hedgehog, Nanamocomuck, Square Ledge and Passaconaway

Southwest view

South view

I took a long (for me) break to soak in the scenery, and give my feet a rest, before returning to the summit, and descending on the Old Paugus Trail. Checking out and off trail ledge, I got a view of Chocorua off to the east, before heading down rather steeply at times. Passing through several areas of blowdowns, which have been mostly cleared out, I started to reach junctions with trails I hoped to finish up later in the day. The lower part of Old Paugus Trail winds through open hardwoods, on a soft footbed, until it finally reaches the Bolles Trail.


Solid axe work

Some blowdowns

A conveniently placed bridge

Lower Old Paugus Trail

What followed my reaching this junction, perhaps only a red-liner (or someone with OCD) can properly understand. Heading south on Bolles Trail, it soon intersected with Brook Trail, which I took down to the trailhead lot. Heading back up the trail, which is pretty much a road at this point, I took a right on Brook Trail, and started to climb. After about 0.9 miles, the Bickford Trail hooked left. So I went all the way down and around, and back up, so I wouldn't leave a 0.7 mile segment of this trail hanging. The goal is to get ALL the segments, so when it's feasible, I do it!

Mostly descending on Bickford Trail, I came back to Bolles Trail, just above where I'd come on to it from Old Paugus Trail. Back up Old Paugus briefly, I headed toward 113A, to finish off Bickford Trail. Here's the point I started experiencing footwear issues. The new trail runners were great in the Kilkenny, but I needed to mess with the lacing a bit, and I had also swapped in a set of Superfeet insoles. There was my mistake. My heels started hurting, and sadly, most of the rest of the hike was fairly painful.

Bickford Trail doesn't appear to see much use, as there was much leaf litter from the previous fall, still on the trail in an un-compacted state. When I reached the height of land and started to descend, I heard rustling off to my left and behind me. Looking back, I saw not one, but TWO bears, lumbering down the slope, perpendicular to the trail. I kept moving, looking back every so often. If they caught my scent, they didn't care, and kept on their bearing (all pun intended). Like a smart guy, I didn't stop and try to get a picture of them. Having never seen bears in the woods before, this was an unexpected treat!

Some old erosion on Bickford Trail

Bickford Trail

Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora)

The trail passes along the edge of a field in someones backyard, then crosses directly through a camp, before coming out on the road. A conveniently placed rock gave me a place to sit, and look at my map. There was a 1.2 mile roadwalk ahead of me, to get to the eastern end of Brook Path, so I shortly started down the road. There was no signage indicating where it was, and I ended up overshooting it by about 0.3 miles, before realizing my mistake. Reaching the unmarked dirt road, I did see a sign, about 10 yards in... I hadn't craned my neck enough apparently.

Brook Path was a very easy 2 mile walk alongside the Wonalancet River, with very easy grades, and bridged crossings. It passes by what appears to have been an old mill building, complete with a huge pipe coming into it from upriver. It also passes by the very picturesque Wonalancet Falls.

Brook Path

Wonalancet Falls

Coming back out to the road, I had a decision to make. The remaining trails I'd hoped to knock off (Big Rock Cave, Whitin Brook, and Cabin) were across the road, beckoning. My feet were saying no, another 7.5 miles and 2200' of gain didn't seem like a great idea. That, and it had been drizzling off and on since I had gotten on Brook Path (really though, the rain is a non-issue). Turning left on the road, I made my way a quarter mile to the west, and was soon on Gordon Path.

The rule of thumb with this trail, is to follow the driveway in, and before you reach the last house, hang a left along the trees at the edge of the field... this will be the trail. It meanders, much as I had been doing all day, climbing and crossing a small ridge, before dropping down to some old roads, and ending up back at the Ferncroft lot. The lot had filled up quite a bit during the day, and there were a dozen other vehicles now, in addition to my own.

Shoes off (thankfully), and shirt changed, I headed home. Another successful day in the mountains was at a close. It may not have been all I wanted it to be, but one can't complain about another 14+ miles!