Trip Report: Temple Mountain

A long walk in the woods.

Temple Mountain, Temple, NH. 2018-21-05. (Monday)

Via Wapack and Beebe trails. 

Approx 7 miles. 3 hours. 

75 dF, with negligible winds. Mostly sunny

It was a nice day. I’d spent a day hiking Owl’s Head, then ran a half marathon a couple days later. I’m planning on hiking the Twins and the Bonds later this week. So I wanted to be outside without completely courting a nasty overuse injury. Doing the Temple Mountain portion of the Wapack Trail felt like a smart idea.

For those unfamiliar, the trail runs north-south, from Mt Watatic in Ashburnham, MA to North Pack Monadnock in Greenfield, NH — about 21.5 miles in total. High point is Pack Monadnock at 2,290 feet. It’s not a strenuous hike, but it has some very scenic outlooks, and for an afternoon picnic hike, you can’t go wrong. Indeed, with only modest effort, you can find yourself with a wonderful feeling of isolation and quietude.

I followed the Wapack trail out. Crossed over the “summit” of Temple mountain (know that it’s tough to visually figure out the high point), then Holt peak, before turning around at Burton peak. On the way back, made a slight detour onto the Beebe trail for the last 3/4 of a mile or so. Much of the trail crosses private lands, and for a significant portion, old stone walls edged the trail.

I’m glad I made the trip. I saw some things that I’ve never seen on a trail before. Certainly, the number of cairns was best described as “abundant” and their construction was creative, and occasionally, almost artistic. This is one where the pictures tell the story better than I can.

Temple-Cairn-20180521
Balancing cairn.
Cairn-Troika-20180521
These were pointless as navigation aids — the ledge was a dead-end, but wow, they looked cool.
Monadnock-20180521
Monadnock.
Painted-Trillium-20180521
Painted trillium.
Rhododendron-canadense-20180521
Azaleas in bloom. (Rhododendron canadense)
Pack-Monadnock-20180521
Pack Monadnock, with remnants from the Temple Mountain ski area in the foreground.

 

Trip Report: Owl’s Head Mountain

Long. Slow. Oddly, interesting! 

Owl’s Head Mountain, Lincoln, NH. 2018-17-05. (Thursday)

Via Lincoln Brook Trail, Franconia Brook Trail, Owl’s Head Path, bushwhacks. Approx 18 miles. 

50 dF +/- at the trailhead, 60 dF at summit, 70 dF +/- back at the car, with negligible winds.

Overcast becoming mostly sunny by afternoon. 

Trailhead: 0740; Summit; 1420; back at car: 1900. (11.3 hours.)

In retrospect, I’m confused as to why this one ends up last on many hikers’ lists. It’s true that the approach is a very long, mainly featureless walk; nearly perfectly flat, almost bolt-straight across (seemingly) endlessly repeated sections, and with an elevation gain so negligible as to be effectively level. On paper, at least, this is truly a boring hike. Heck, it’s not even got an official trail to the summit!

I knew that I wanted an “accessible” peak for my last — Cannon, with its tram fit the bill. So it could have become #47 but something told me to do it sooner. Besides, I want to do all the “western” peaks as a set. Off I went.

On one hand, yes, the Lincoln Brook trail is pretty featureless, and the day the AMC allows mountain biking, I foresee dancing in the streets by many hikers put off by this otherwise easy walk in the woods. However, its strength is the fact that it’s almost outright paved. One can make very quick time getting to the other end. And so I did.

It wasn’t lost on me that I’d taken this approach to Bondcliff many weeks ago, when a solid blanket of snow covered everything. So I savored the change. Oh wow, the things I finally saw. If you’re into the small views as well as the expansive, just hike to the wilderness boundary and keep your eyes downward. Trust me. History awaits.

After an hour, I crossed the footbridge over the raging Franconia Brook, and the fun began.

Most importantly, as I reached Franconia Brook trail, I met Patrick, also planning to summit Owl’s Head. This turned out to be a huge win for the both of us as will come clear. Partly as a product of continued shallow elevation gain, we made good time, despite the usual “austere” conditions in the wilderness area. And really, the trail was quite decent, considering. Although we saw no blazes for the most part, navigating was never all that hard.

The “brook” crossings, on the other hand, were a horse of a different colour. As it’s still early in the season, “brook” could easily be replaced with “raging torrent” and remain perfectly accurate. Our earlier luck in finding each other manifested in pressing on through five crossings on the way up. Water was typically between knee and thigh deep, painfully cold, and the fords were around 10-20 feet wide. A more sane person would probably have turned back instead of doffing his shoes and rolling up his trousers, but no-one ever called me sane and got away with it!

At last done with the water crossings, we arrived at the cairns marking the beginning of the Owl’s Head path. Gazing up… yeah, that was a bad idea. The opening salvo launched by the mountain was a rock slide. That became a more consolidated high angle dirt/rock/tree root extravaganza. In about an hour, we gained almost 1,500 feet in elevation. I noted we’d have a crazy time going back down this mess. But everything has its end point, and eventually the slope eased and the crest came into view. It was about this time that a third person joined our group for a short bit.

Owl’s Head very famously has had two summits, and the AMC recognizes both. We emerged from the path into a clearing that formed the first, false summit. Turning north, we did some light bushwhacking to the actual, about a quarter mile away. A fallen tree initially blocked us from seeing the summit cairn, but we found it quickly. Some pictures, and then we turned back. Our new companion was wrapping up his Grid, and he was a wealth of information on how to more easily get back. By his guidance, we bushwhacked down the southern end of the mountain and crossed the brook, at which point, he raced onward, finishing his own hike.

Patrick and I followed Franconia Brook trail until the bushwhack toward Black Pond trail. At the pond, we stopped briefly so I could take on some water. Gazing out across the pond at the peaks beyond, draped in the golden hues of the late afternoon sun, was restorative. This on its own would make a perfect afternoon hike.

At last, we were back on the Lincoln Brook trail, making good time. Along the way, we spied some marsh violets, and some painted and red trillium. As stirring as the views are when you look up, the views when you look down are equally rewarding. The suspension bridge was crossed, and we returned to our cars.

I won’t mince words: it was a hard day of hiking. As long as our feet remained dry, nothing about the day was anything other than straight forward. But even with bushwhacking around two crossings, we still crossed brooks eight times, and honestly, each of them was sketchy to some degree. It was fun: certainly type 2. I don’t think at any point we were in danger for our lives, but it’s not something I’d recommend to just anyone. That being said, I was treated to magnificent scenery, pretty flowers, endless bird song, and a fantastic, if unexpected, companion with whom to share the day.

Lincoln-Woods-Suspension-Bridge-20180517
Suspension bridge at the start of the trail.
Franconia-Brook-Footbridge-20180517
Footbridge leading to the Pemmigewasset Wilderness
Footbridge-Over-Franconia-Brook-20180405
…And what I crossed at the same point in early April.
Franconia-Brook-20180517
Franconia Brook
Franconia-Brook-Into-E-Br-Pemi-20180405
…And again in early April.
West-Bond-20180517
Looking toward the Bonds.
Lincoln-Woods-Rail-Bed-20180517
Long, straight, flat. With hints of the former logging railroad bed.
Owls-Head-Crossing-20180517
One of several ice-cold crossings.
Owls-Head-Path-Cairn-20180517
Cairns marking the start of the Owl’s Head Path.
Owls-Head-Path-20180517
The path to the summit.
Franconia-Ridge-20180517
In the upper reaches, a rewarding view.
Summit-Cairn-20180517
The summit cairn, in all its glory.
Black-Pond-20180517
Black Pond, with gorgeous views.
Marsh-Violet-20180517
Marsh Violets.
Painted-Trillium-20180517
Painted Trillium.
Red-Trillium-20180517
Red Trillium.

Gear: Insoles

De feet can defeat de feat! 

I’d been having minor issues with foot pain recently. So after speaking with my doc about this, he suggested replacing the insoles in my boots with a more padded one. Feet can be weird. Something that’s being affected in one part of your foot can manifest as pain somewhere completely different. When you think about it, no matter how much weight you shave from your pack, if your feet don’t work properly, you’re not going to hike. This is where an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.

I track the mileage on my running shoes. A common rule of thumb is that they should be swapped out after 350-450 miles, and my own personal experience bears this out reliably. So the idea of wearing out footwear that still “looks fine” isn’t new to me. Indeed, I’d already calculated that my current hiking boots (Lowa Camino GTX) have a little over 200 miles on them since starting the 48. I’m expecting them to be around 400 miles by the time I’m done.

That being said, it was a bit surprising what those 200 miles had done to the factory insoles. The parts that should have been soft and cushioning were pretty beat up. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see they were toast.

I’m not going to recommend a specific style or brand, because my feet are mine, and yours are yours, and what works for me might be horrendous for you. I will suggest you visit a shoe store rather than just accept whatever your local discount store has on the rack. There are a lot of brands and models out there. You want to pull them out of the packaging and get your feet on them if you’re going to make any kind of choice that’s going to make sense.

So check your footwear, including the insoles, periodically. Even if the uppers look fine (and let’s face it, the trail isn’t a fashion runway, so “looks fine” can have a different meaning to hikers) you need to look at the sides of the soles and take stock of the cushioning, as well as looking at the soles themselves. And you should probably be quicker to swap out your insoles than you think. They’re the first thing your foot hits after your sock, so they take more of a beating than you realize.

 

Shakeout Hike: Pack and North Pack Monadnock

Pack and North Pack Monadnock, via the Wapack Trail. Temple, NH. 

75 dF, mostly sunny, light breeze. 

3.7 miles; approximately 1 hour 45 minutes one-way. 

Pack and North Pack with a new Pack.

Last week’s trip to Eisenhower had a lingering effect. I’d fallen into a spruce trap and tweaked something in my foot. Not being one to slow down for something as trifling as a sports injury, I decided it would be in my best interest to run a 5k a couple days later. (I tied my personal best pace, which was nice.) Looking down, later, I thought “yeah, that’s a bit puffy” and finally had the revolutionary idea that laying low might be in order. Fortunately, recovery has been swift. Today, I decided to have a low-key outing. The four walls have been closing in, the weather is amazing, enough is enough. Outside with me!

Coincidentally, a new piece of gear showed up on the front stoop: a Granite Gear Lutsen 35 backpack! I’d started out with my battered and tattered Kelty Redwing daypack that I’d gotten years ago. It fits like a dream but weighs a ton, and really, is more appropriate for low-key afternoon hikes in the summertime. I upgraded to a Kelty Redwing 50 with a modern suspension and attendant bells and whistles for the last 20 peaks or so, and that’s been doing really well. But it’s getting warmer, and I can shed some gear. The new pack is a tad smaller, but a pound and a half lighter. So obviously, my gear closet needs to expand, right? Done!

A shakeout hike on Pack with the new pack was in order, obviously. The weather agreed, so off I went.

The state has opened the auto road. With it, there is a bevy of cones in the parking lot, and although it’s a weekday with negligible traffic, the cones must be obeyed.

The Wapack Trail up Pack Monadnock is in fine shape. It’s largely dry, and what few wet or muddy areas exist are easily avoided on rocks and roots. I ascended the fire tower, and the very friendly watchman welcomed me up. The views are pretty nice, although only a handful of feet higher than I’ve already seen them. What was really appreciated was having the guided tour, explaining the things out in the distance. Stratton VT was easily visible, Mt Washington was a very indistinct ghost of an outline, Boston could be vaguely seen as a bump on the horizon. So visibility was perhaps in the 40-ish mile range. New Boston was easily spotted, as were the radomes at MIT’s Haystack Observatory in Groton, MA.

Leaving the tower, I pressed on to North Pack. The trail gets a bit more interesting, if a bit less rocky. There have been some blow-downs on the north slope of Pack, and consequently a bit of artful dodging is needed. But it’s not a big deal. The trail is otherwise in fine shape, and apart from a large-ish mud puddle nearer to North Pack, it’s pretty dry.

It wasn’t that long before I reached the summit, at a whopping 2,276 feet, marked by a huge cairn and a wooden sign literally bolted to the rock. Views were slightly blocked by trees, but not so much that I couldn’t see distant mountains here and there. If I were an eight year old, it would be disappointing, but for me today, it was certainly better than some “views” I’ve had in the Whites after spending a lot more effort getting there. (Galehead, I’m looking at you!)

On the way back, I stopped briefly at the “Joanne Bass Bross Memorial Scenic Outlook.” This is part of 501 acres of land donated to The Nature Conservancy to link up Miller State Park with the Wapack National Wildlife Refuge — 2,700 acres of land are protected. Which is cool. The outlook is mainly to the east, but points to either side can be spied — I saw Boston to the right.

The trail between the two peaks is much faster going than the trail going from Pack to the parking lot. Not just that I was getting a bit tired, but at least anecdotally, it felt rockier on the second half than the first. But at last, I was back at the car. I didn’t get in a trip to the Whites today, but I do feel accomplished. And happy to have finally gotten outside.

About the pack… it’s pretty nice. I can’t say I had the same sense of wondering what I’d left behind that I’d experienced with the Kelty (the first few hikes, it felt like that pack was made of helium). However, it does sit “just right” on my back, and I’m willing to attribute the lack of “float” to the fact that the pack conforms to the curvature of my back almost perfectly. Weight sits on the hips as it should, and there’s so much adjustment that I could make it mine in a few short minutes. No pack is going to have such perfect ventilation that your back won’t feel like a swamp on a hot day, but this one does a decent job of keeping the ick factor tamped down. It’s noticeably narrower and shorter — something I really appreciated when navigating around the blow-downs. And while it’s probably more in the category of “introductory” ultra lightweight packs, I’m amazed that it can do everything it does while remaining as light as it is. It’s a very welcome addition to my gear closet.

PM-Toad-20180514

A toad out enjoying the sun on a warm rock. 

PM-Stone-Wall-20180514

Stone wall in between the two peaks… an artifact from an earlier time reaching out across the years. 

PM-Mona-20180514

Monadnock, through the haze. 

NPM-Cairn-20180514

North Pack Monadnock! 

Training Hike: Mt Monadnock

It was a nice day to get outside. Conditions were seasonably warm and sunny, with a light, cooling breeze that felt good. The parking lot showed enough cars for us to know we certainly wouldn’t be alone, but not so crowded as to suggest the trail would be mobbed.

We hit the White Dot trailhead at around 10:00, and made our way up. In contrast to recent trips, this is the first time I’ve seen the mountain this season without any snow cover. I’m sure if I’d looked around in the darkest corners, I might have found a patch here or there, but on the whole, I didn’t see any. The runoff has subsided for the most part — the well known chutes are dry, and while there’s some mud on the approach, the rocky ledges are clean and clear.

At the top, we had fine views, with perhaps 30 miles of visibility. Clouds and haze on the horizon prevented seeing Boston or Mt Washington. A wind of about 3-5 MPH kept the black flies at bay.

On the way down, we opted for the White Cross. The upper part is still draining a lot of water, but apart from a few muddy patches here and there, the footing was almost completely dry. Down in the lower reaches, there was a bit more mud, but nothing that would slow us down. It’s fairly easy to avoid it all without straying off trail.

It’s black fly season, and they’re out in force. Some bug spray will do anyone some good. Ticks are also out, so everyone is duly cautioned to be vigilant. Lyme disease is no fun. But aside from that, the mountain is its usual enjoyable outing.

Trip Report: Mt Eisenhower

I Hiked Ike! 

Mt Eisenhower, Bretton Woods, NH. Cinco de Mayo, 2018-05-05. (Saturday)

Via Edmands Path, Mt Eisenhower Loop. Approx 6 miles. 

50 dF +/- at the trailhead, 45 dF at summit, with 20-25 MPH winds gusting to 35.

Partly sunny becoming mostly sunny by afternoon. 

Trailhead: 0950; Summit; 1340; back at car: 1550. (6 hours.)

It was, in fact, a great day to be outside. The Higher Summits Forecast called for clement weather, and the 100 MPH winds from the overnight becoming more temperate as the day progressed. Nevertheless, they still called for 30-40 MPH. I’d gotten a late start, so lowered my expectations for the day. Initially hoping to bag Monroe as well, I gave up on that pretty early on. All I could hear on the way up was the wind in the trees, and the clouds were screaming across the sky; it was evident from the beginning what it was going to be like up there, and I wasn’t looking for a repeat of Bondcliff, where I got pancaked by a gust I’m still estimating to be in the 50s.

The trail down low was fine, if a bit muddy. But I bare booted the first third of the mountain with no issues. Reaching the first water crossing (Abenaki Brook), I scouted around until I found a bridge. The stones as they were presented no viable option for leaping across, so although the smaller (and lower) tree trunk looked a bit thin, I gave it a go. It turned out fine, and the thicker trunk was close enough that it served as a handrail. Success!

Eisenhower-Bridge-20180505

Those tree trunks make a great bridge!

Eisenhower-Brook-20180505
I need to get… where?

Now on the other side of the brook, I pressed ahead. There were occasional wet spots, and a few bits of outright mud. A little dodging here and there, and when that failed, sucking it up and getting muddy.

The second third of the trail was icy crust that spanned the width of the trail. On with the K-10s, and up I continued. There were parts when the ice gave way here and there, and I’d find myself up to my thigh in a hole. But for the most part, the trail was good enough that the going was unremarkable.

I wouldn’t remain that lucky for the last third. The ice turned to snow, and the monorail was even narrower than on recent mountains. It became folly to think I could find reliable footing, and when I became fed up with the surprise post holes, I transitioned to the snowshoes. I’m wondering if I’ve gone hiking in the Whites in the past few months without them. Something tells me I’ll have them with me well into June. What was that Mark Twain said?

At the point where the trail traverses the cone of the mountain, it got tedious. The trail seriously narrowed, the crusty snow was decidedly bumpy and pock-marked with post holes and spruce traps. To make matters worse, it was “bilevel” in the sense that my left foot, had I walked normally, would have been at least a foot below the right. Oh, and the tree branches were persistently trying to push me off the mountain. It was demoralizing. And uphill. In the snow.

But at the end of that traverse, bare rock, and lots of it. I made a mistake in reading the signs below the summit, and went the long way around, on the AT bit, but that was rectified eventually. For my mistakes in navigation, I did get a stellar view of Pierce, which was lovely. It would have been nicer having this visibility on Tuesday, but whatever. I’ll take it.

Eisenhower-Monroe-Col-20180505
Looking over to Monroe

The trail even a few dozen feet below the summit was windy. The summit itself was an outright wind tunnel, and I found the gusts shoving me around a bit less than I’d wanted. It made me glad that I’d made my peace with skipping Monroe when I was nearer my car than the summit. I’m fairly sure the hour or so spent crossing the col wouldn’t have been as enjoyable as I’d have liked. Taking pictures when you’re being tossed about is not fun.

Eisenhower-Monroe-Washington-20180505
Washington, from Eisenhower summit

I did get some great views of Washington, and I can imagine the guys in the observatory were cheering the fact that they had a view. Really, without the wind, this would have been the most perfect day in the world.

Eisenhower-Pierce-20180505
Looking back at Pierce — the conditions I didn’t get last week.

And so, it was time to head down. I made quick time, and indeed, the traverse hurt less on the downhill than the uphill. That’s not saying it was great, but it was less demoralizing. I’m really curious what that trail segment is like in the middle of summer. Given that Eisenhower has some fantastic views, no laboriously long approach to enjoy them (I’m looking at you, Bondcliff!) and it’s a relatively short and easy hike, I can see no reason why I’d not re-examine this question in a couple months.

Ever since I studied ceramics in graduate school, I’ve kept an eye out for geology. One of the amazing things about this area is that you can see how these mountains were created if you just look around a little. And so it was with no small amount of interest that I gazed upon this interesting bit of rock. When I look at things like this, I’m struck by nothing so much as the sense of enormous amounts of time and physical forces. Wow!

Eisenhower-Stone-20180505
Time, and a lot of pressure.

The trail down was fairly straightforward. If anything, it was easier than most. Perhaps it’s because of a lack of a long, drawn-out approach, but there it is. It was a good day to be outside. My big goal was thwarted by the wind, but at the same time, “I Hiked Ike” has a neat ring to it, and I don’t know how I’d have written as clever a tag line as that had I included Monroe. (“Ike-Monroe in 18” just seems wrong.) There it is.

Trip Report: Mt Webster, Mt Jackson, Mt Pierce

Troika! (And the first of the Presidentials.) 

Mt Webster, Mt Jackson, Mt Pierce, Crawford Notch, NH. May Day, 2018-05-01. (Tuesday)

Via Webster-Jackson trail, Webster Branch, Webster Ridge trail, Crawford Path. Approx 9.4 miles. 

38 dF +/- at the trailhead, 45 dF at Mt Jackson summit, with 10-12 MPH winds.

Heavy, wet fog. A brief parting of the clouds at mid afternoon, then mainly cloudy for the rest of the trip.  

Left Highland Center: 0905; Trailhead: 0915; Mt Webster Summit: 1145; Mt Jackson Summit: 1300; Mitzpah Spring Hut: 1415; Mt Pierce Summit; 1530; back at car: 1700. (Approx. 9 hours, including a bit of time spent at the hut.)

There was a lot of Type 2 fun. Certainly not a walk in the park, but despite mild adversity, still a good and very fulfilling day out. Weather-wise, if this hike had happened 2 months ago, when it was colder by about 20 degrees, I’d have turned around after Webster. But it happened on the first of May, so I soldiered on. Waterproof-breathable fabrics are a gift from the gods. On leaving Highland Center, I was hopeful that the weather forecasts I’d read, all of which were basically in alignment, would come to pass. This being the heart of New England weather, of course things didn’t go that way.

After hiking down 302 to the Webster-Jackson trailhead, I began up in earnest. The crossing at the Silver Cascade was fantastic: a large tree spanned the gap, with excellent footing. I front pointed up the other side in short order.

Silver-Cascade-Webster-20180501

There was still a lot of snow on the trails, and for the most part, there was something of a monorail, even if it was only “narrow gauge”. Being mindful of my steps, I was able to avoid the worst kind of postholing, but it took a lot of mental effort, and after awhile, I swapped the K-10s for my snowshoes. I’d find out before long that it was a smart move.  The snow up top was wet, mushy, mashed potatoes, and a few times, my snowshoes became skis on steep downhills. I’ll joke with anyone about “spring snow at its finest”, but this was spring snow at its worst.

AT-Blaze-20180501

I’m fairly certain that the trail crews paint blazes at eye level for humans, not wood sprites. But the increased amount of leaf litter suggests the snow is indeed going away. Spring is here, right?

After awhile, I was at the junction of the Jackson Branch and the Webster Cliff Trail (AT). Yep, the views were stellar.

Web-Jax-Cliff-Jct-20180501

The fog was really heavy and wet, and before long, I was feeling it. My pack cover was deployed, and it was starting to feel like a slog. But I was still nominally warm, so I pressed ahead. There were two peaks to go, and the weather was an inconvenience, not a problem at that point. I crossed Jackson, took a selfie for mom, and just kept the momentum going. Crossing the alpine garden in the col, the clouds parted, and I looked back to see the peak I’d left only a short bit ago.

Jax-From-Alpine-Bog-20180501

I’d have loved to look down on the alpine garden from the summit, but I contented myself with looking up at the summit from the garden.

Washington-From-Alpine-Bog-20180501

And turning the other way, got the thinnest sliver of a glimpse at Washington.

After some more hiking, I arrived at the Mitzpah Spring Hut. Surprisingly, it was actually open! I could sit for a spell and dry out a little. Tom, the caretaker, was there for self-serve hikers, although it was just him until I showed up. I had a look around, and it’s an impressive building. Built to withstand 200 MPH winds, it’ll sleep 60 in very comfortable accommodations.

It’s worth noting that the storm damage around the hut is phenomenal. I asked about connectivity, and he said “yeah, we used to have cell coverage, but then the storm came. So we lost coverage, but we got a view.” And yeah, you could see the carnage everywhere.

Not 50 feet from the hut, heading to Pierce, the trail had a lot of blow-downs to manage. I made swift work of some of it with my saw and carried on. I didn’t realize how much I’d cooled off in the hut, so clearing some of the damage got me warmed back up rather nicely.

Mitzpah-Spring-Hut-20180501

Finally, I arrived at the summit of Mt Pierce. Tom had mentioned the trail to the summit was somewhat strenuous, and yeah, it certainly wasn’t flat ground. Keeping with the day’s theme, it wasn’t all that scenic, either, unless you’re into lunar landscapes and that kind of thing. This was a day to focus on the mosses and the lichens, the rocks and the other things at one’s feet that we often ignore. And be thankful for the cairns.

Pierce-Summit-1-20180501

A cairn leading to a path.

Pierce-Summit-2-20180501

A path leading to another cairn.

Pierce-Summit-3-20180501

A footbridge, and another cairn. Really, that was the summit.

I know for sure that in more clement weather, this is a spectacular mountain with limitless views. There was something that might have been the top of the summit cairn — a rock poking up out of the snow — but I’ll have to come back in the summer to confirm. My GPS said I’d crossed the summit, which is good enough for now.

I made fantastic time on the way down. Crawford Path was in fine shape below tree line, and once the grade started to level out, I doffed the snowshoes and bare-booted the rest of the way with no problems. I made a quick stop to take in Gibbs Falls, and then continued on. Finally, I heard the noise of the highway, and the Highland Center came into view. Passing by a bronze marker describing Crawford Path as the oldest footpath in America, and then the trailhead. Crossed 302, and I was done. Without realizing what I’d done that morning, I’d parked my car by the stone steps, which was the ultimate in convenience.

It was a trying day out. Although I never felt like I crossed the threshold into “trouble” territory, across the ridge, I was pretty damp if not outright wet, and occasionally I was feeling colder than I’d have liked. I was, though, in decent spirits, and at various points, even laughing about the weather. Looking back, there are some trips that have already started to blend into others, but this one will forever stand out. Fun, in that “so there I was…” category.

Trip Report: Mt Tom, Mt Field, Mt Willey

A trifecta of summits

Mt Tom, Mt Field, Mt Willey, Crawford Notch, NH. 2018-04-28. (Saturday)

Via Mt Willard Trail, Avalon Trail, A-Z Trail, Willey Range Trail, Kedron Flume Trail. Approx 8.4 miles.

50 dF +/- at the trailhead, 58 dF at Mt Field summit, with negligible winds.

Mix of clouds and sun. 

Trailhead: 1015; Mt Tom Summit: 1240; Mt Field Summit: 1410; Mt Willey Summit; 1530; back at car: 1930. (Approx. 9.25 hours.)

“In the future, I’ll remember to…” 

I’d had a late start to the morning, not arriving at the trailhead until mid-morning. At the first major water crossing, I had a “thought provoking experience” sufficient to include “so, what are you going to do on the way back?” I should have known then. But I made my way down the trail, and all seemed good. Before long, I was on the summit of Mt Tom. The weather was great, even though the snow on the trail was awful. Spring conditions, wet “mashed potatoes” for snow cover, but I made decent headway.

The three summits were treed-in, but there were outlooks here and there. The views were spectacular; somewhat fogged-in to start, but as the sun rose and burned that fog off, the day just kept getting better.

Finally, Willey. I’d kept bumping into a small group of women and their son, and they were friendly, so we kept conversation going. At Willey, we enjoyed a short time eating snacks, and feeding a grey jay that was happy taking food from our hands. Wow! But the question remained: how to get back. Going back the way we came offered the chance to bag Avalon, but it meant the sketchy water crossings would be revisited. Oh wait! we can hike the Kedron Flume trail to 302, and then hike up the road to the AMC Highland Center. OK, this is it, we’re doing it.

On the charity of others, #1:

Three in the group of five didn’t have Microspikes. It was that kind of day out where the snow was slippery beyond words, and the shady spots had ice galore. So besides the fact that these people were crazy nice and fun with conversation, I wasn’t going to ditch them, because the way down was going to be interesting, no matter how they sliced it. Unquestionably, there was no small amount of work to get where they were, but that also meant the reciprocal.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about cognitive traps, logical fallacies, and other pitfalls in critical decision making. So their safety on the way down was on my mind. I was wearing crampons, so my footing was assured; hell, I could have run down the mountain had I wanted to. But to me, it wasn’t a question as to whether to leave them in my dust, and this was even after I ran some mental risk assessment scenarios. A call to a rescue agency wasn’t in the cards if I had a say. I mean, that’s just silly.

It was slow going. The ladders were iced over and so nearly entirely useless. Many places, mild bushwhacking was needed to get past an icy section. But it was steady going — if not a bit treacherous in places. By around 1900, I was starting to get antsy; we had perhaps three headlamps between us. (I was, as always, loaded for bear.) Mental scenarios started to take in needs for lighting the way and how I’d attack that problem. We did get past Kedron Flume much easier than I’d have guessed, which was nice. And at last, the woman scouting the way shouted that dry ground was ahead, and then the trail signs that showed we were near the end. Finally, we were at the Crawford State Park hut. And it was still (barely) light out. At least one of my mental scenarios didn’t have to be put into action. It was a lot of inventiveness to get there, but we were safe.

On the charity of others, #2: 

On the road, walking back to the Highland Center, a trail angel stopped and gave us all a lift. It was cramped in her car, but we all fit. She was on Twin Mountain Fire, well versed in hiking, and so saw us, and recognized what needed to be done. “It would have been a long walk back” were her words. But it was nice seeing someone else who was as adamant that people have a good time in life, and was charitable with her time and resources. Awesome.

 

So it was a “flawed” day out — things weren’t perfect. But then again, if you think about fun, it’s a rare “garden variety” party that gets remembered, even though they’re massive fun. The trip that has a small bit that goes somewhat sideways? Maybe not as fun in the moment, but years later, you remember it, and think what a good time you had. And really, that was it for me. Yeah, there were parts of the trail that sucked. Icy, wet, slippery leaves, whatever. But the company was great, and for all their being upbeat, it kept things manageable.

I’ve noticed that some people tend to think they’re unable to bring something to the table. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s all about attitude. And if someone has a good attitude, I’m happy to tramp around almost anywhere outside with them. And that was exactly what we had today. Maybe suboptimal trail conditions, but a lot of good attitude.

I hadn’t quite planned out the day in terms of reading up on the Kedron Flume trail, and next time, I really will be doing more of this. I have a sense that had I known, we’d probably have gone back via Mt Avalon, and faced the water crossing. In hindsight, it was the lesser of two evils, and one that was all of around an easy downhill hour’s hike from the car. But in terms of what you get out of a given “safe” misadventure, this one wasn’t bad. It was a hard day, but despite the challenges, I think I’ll be looking back at this one favorably.

 

T-F-W-Train-Depot-2018-04-28

The trailhead isn’t necessarily obvious: start out near the Crawford Notch train station. You’ll see the sign from there. 

T-F-W-MT-Washington-20180428

If it’s any measure of the weather, you could see “the rockpile” from the summit.

T-F-W-Willey-Summit-20180428

A tiny summit cairn on Willey — that was about it, except for a Grey Jay that was happy eating food from out hands.

T-F-W-Grey-Jay-20180428

…and there he is! Don’t ever equate “bird brains” with low intelligence, because this guy knew how to get a full belly. 

T-F-W-Webster-Cliff-20180428

The huge cliffs of Mt Webster. A stunning foreground to a stunning background. 

T-F-W-Willey-Ladders-20180428

The ladders, all iced up for the next few weeks.

T-F-W-Willey-Blaze-20180428

I see these from time to time; a dead-letter-box of sorts, where people exclaim whatever thoughts are on their minds. As effective as a blaze. 

Training Hike: Grand Monadnock

A beautiful day.

Mt Monadnock, Jaffrey, NH. 2018-04-26. (Thursday)

Via White Dot trail, and White Cross trail. Approx 4 miles.

Mix of clouds and sun. Winds at the summit were in the 20-30 MPH range.

3 hours. 

It was a nice day out. The snows are in major retreat all over — basically, this means the snowy areas are limited to the shady spots on the higher elevations. Microspikes are fine, but you can totally bare-boot it. I did.

It’s nice seeing the water-formed rocks showing off how they came to be. Normally, I see the rocks in their dry condition. The dirt part of the trail I can entirely pass on seeing in its muddy form, though. And there’s no small amount of mud.

White Dot was fairly pedestrian on the way up. Any ice was easily skirted. Above the junction of the White Cross, things got a little hairy, but only for short stretches. My guess is that by next week, things will be in warm-weather mode, or damn near it.

White Cross was… wet. Photos will show “placid ponds” but no, those are the trail. And stepping stones where you want them? Yeah… no. Crossing without getting your boots wet is an exercise. Doable, for the most part, but will take some thinking and planning. The remainder of the trail is fairly pedestrian.

The parking lot showed a lot more cars than in months past… a lot more people out hiking. Saw a couple regulars on the trail, which was nice. In short, a nice afternoon to be on the mountain. White-Cross-2-20180426White-Cross-3-20180426White-Cross-4-20180426White-Cross-20180426

Trip Report: Mt Galehead

A beautiful day of incongruities. 

Mt Galehead, Bethlehem, NH. 2018-04-24. (Tuesday)

Via Gale River trail, the Garfield Ridge trail, and the Frost trail, plus Gale River Loop road. Approx 13.4 miles.

60 dF +/- at the trailhead, 65 dF at the summit, with negligible winds.

Mix of clouds and sun. 

Gale River Loop Road: 0910; Trailhead: 0945; Galehead Hut: 1300; Summit: 1330; back at car: 1700. (Approx. 7 hours.)

This was a day that I’d have been upset to have missed. The weather was spectacular, and while the trail on the lower half was messy, and while the snow on the steep upper bits was unconsolidated and slick, it was still a great day out. I had the mountain to myself. Ah, solitude.

To be true, the water crossings (and there were many, as the mountain sheds the snow) were at times very thought provoking. Indeed, the Gale River is roaring, and in the next weeks, I’m not sure how some bits will be crossed safely. The numerous streams make for some damp tramping, and to that end, Gore-Tex boots are my friend.

I’d started out wearing K-10s on my feet, and they did well for the first few miles. But as the elevation rose and the snow got a bit deeper, I found myself breaking through the crust, and that gets annoying quickly. Snowshoes deployed, and I made better headway. (They’re very certainly on the list of gear upgrades that have been game changers.)

After a couple hours, I was well and truly warm, and converted my pants to shorts. Wow, what a feeling, to be free from layers of heavy clothes, and so early in the season. This was indeed a gift. Fresh air, copious sunshine, and very warm temperatures… wow! Occasionally, I’d get a refreshingly cool breeze out of a shady spot, and that was nice.

For hours and miles, the Gale and its brooks and streams were a constant audible companion, bubbling over rocks and logs, making their way to the sea. Occasional songbirds filled the air. Once in awhile, a jet plane overhead, going somewhere important. But throughout, the peace and calm of the woods.

Finally, I reached the Garfield Ridge trail, and excitement for the summit took hold. The trail ran aside the slope for a bit, and the unconsolidated snow made for some slippery travel. I was unquestionably going up, and looking ahead, the breaks in the trees showed more and more of a deep blue sky. And then, the Galehead hut was visible, and on its other side, epic views of the Twins, and in the distance, Mt Flume, where I stood a couple weeks ago.

Onto Frost trail, a short spur to the tree-covered (viewless) Galehead summit. There was a small stand of dead birches early on, in a “col” like area. Not sure what happened, and maybe that answer will need another trip in the summer, where I can actually see the ground. Up a very steep trail, and then on a bit more, to the summit. There was supposed to be a cairn and a sign, but I was able to sink the full length of my trekking poles into the snow in various places, so I’m imagining I stood over the summit by a couple feet. There is still substantial snow on those peaks…

Turning back, I stopped again at the hut for some refreshment, and then bid it farewell. I slid down a fair bit of the trail on the way down, as the warm weather loosened the snow. At the crossings of the Gale River, the way back felt a bit more treacherous. I can’t quantify if there was a greater flow, or an ice bridge was a bit more unstable, but it felt like I was spending more time figuring out a way across than before.

Back down the muddy part of the trail, I took a few moments to saw up some blow-downs and move them to the side. There weren’t many, in contrast to some of the other trails I’ve done (Carter, I’m looking at you!) and it felt like just a few swift licks with a saw was all that was needed. Most of the forest seems to have been left alone in that regard.

It was a beautiful day to be outside. Warmth, sun, a remarkable reduction in layers. There’s something wonderful about standing in snowshoes on top of a snowy mountain wearing shorts and a tee-shirt. Only a few insects. It was a perfect day on a lovely mountain.

Galehead-Gale-River-20180424
Gale River
Galehead-Hut-Close-20180424
AMC’s Galehead Hut
Galehead-Flume-20180424
Mt Flume in the distant right
Galehead-Frost-Sign-20180424
I’m certain this sign wasn’t posted at ground level
Galehead-X-Summit-20180424
X marks the summit!
Galehead-Hut-20180424
Galehead hut from the summit outlook, with North Twin in the distance