Waking up, walking up Waumbek

Mount Waumbek (4,006 feet). Jefferson, NH. 2023-04-16 (Sunday.)

Via Starr-King Trail. 7 miles round-trip.

72 dF at the trailhead, 62 dF back at the car. Winds were non-existent. Sun and clouds to start, opening up a little as the afternoon progressed. 

Trailhead: 1430. Summit: 1700. Car: 1830. 

Weird warm weather walking 

Usually, I blame myself for the act of not getting out of bed. Today, I blame work, and Suzanne Vega. Yes, she of Tom’s Diner fame. I’d gotten off work Saturday morning feeling completely flogged. Even half a day’s worth of sleep felt like it did nothing. Even going out for a quick half-hour run mid-afternoon didn’t really energize me. And of course, Nashua opened it’s new Performing Arts Center recently; Vega’s was the third act to grace its stage since the ribbon-cutting, and I wasn’t going to miss that. It was a wonderful night. Her voice was angelic, and she told stories about Lou Reed. I have no regrets, even though I was running on fumes by the time I hit the sack. 

Being out late made it hard to get out of bed this morning, so I ended up punting on my hopes to hike Madison today. Instead, I opted for the easier and quicker Waumbek. I wasn’t thrilled by some of the other trail reports, with postholes, crummy snow, and whatnot. Heading out to Starr-King’s neighbor seemed to make more sense, especially with a late start. When all was said and done, I wasn’t disappointed. 

I’m not going to lie. The weather is about as ordinary as a three dollar bill right now. The last few days have sported temperatures much more commonly seen in summer. Wednesday, we had the AC cranked. But the memories of a night at work still haunts, when the mercury was in outright dangerously cold territory. So for now, I’ll deal with the weird warmth. Not the least, but the sunshine was heavenly.

Turning time

The miles this time seemed just a little bit shorter than normal. Looking back, it seems like I was making the familiar turns through Twin Mountain and into Jefferson not long after I got out the door. Maybe it’s the dairy farm, but something about that area induces a unique calm that I don’t find anywhere else. For sure, the lazy clouds drifting across a deep blue sky didn’t hurt… neither did the unseasonably warm weather. 

There’s a pang of upset when your crocuses and snowdrops wither that’s curiously assuaged by the appearance of succeeding flowers. My violets are out, as are my hyacinths. They emphasize that the warmer months are coming soon. And so I was hopeful that the trails ahead of me weren’t going to be a mess. 

At the trailhead… well, I’ll describe what I saw on the drive up by saying “there still wasn’t any snow.” The northern Presidentials have a moderate coating, but it’s obvious that won’t last. I saw some here and there on the other peaks along the way, but mostly in the shady spots. Overwhelmingly, it’s clear that even microspikes aren’t going to be necessary for much longer. 

It’s not very strenuous unless you hustle, as I seem to do. 

Hardly half a mile up, I was re-thinking my attire, with sweat dripping off my brow. As I parked my car, I’d noted the temp on the dash said 72, and indeed, it felt like it. I found a large rock to sit on, and unzipped the legs from my pants. (Let me tell you how awesome convertible pants are!) Now much more comfortable in shorts, I continued onward. Not just tee-shirt weather in April, it felt like at least mid-June. The lower part of the trail was a mess in places — it’s certainly mud season — but there were conveniently located rocks almost everywhere. 

At almost exactly 3,000 feet, the trail turned into an icy monorail. Microspikes went on, and I continued forth. Given the mud, the ice was actually well received, and I made good headway. It’s just soft enough that you get good traction without slipping backward a whole lot. Things turned into a hard-packed granular snow around 800 feet higher up. Nicely, around the time the trees transitioned from hardwoods to conifers, the air got a few degrees cooler. Even after I’d adjusted my wardrobe, I’d been sweating buckets up until then. So this too was well received. Best part? Not a posthole in sight the whole way!

Low heights, moderate views, high happiness. 

Views from the fireplace on Starr-King were magnificent. Owing to the late start, the sun was maybe a little too far to the west, making the mountains toward the western Pemigewasset a bit tougher to make out clearly. The Presidential Range, though, was boldly defined. It’s never the finest view because of the trees, but I got to see plenty; the Willey range was particularly visible. Modulate your expectations, and you still have a great time up there. 

The traverse was uneventful, but serene. By the time I was very near the summit, I’d passed the last of my fellow hikers on the mountain. For the rest of the afternoon, the mountain was all mine. It hadn’t been particularly crowded, to be true, and I’d met an adoring fan of my writing, which was quite nice. But it gave me some extra space to do a bit of head-cleaning. On the way down, I slowed a bit, enjoying the now-golden light as it passed through the hardwoods. The gentle slope of the hillside. Woodpeckers doing their thing, and the occasional peeps of little furry forest creatures. Waumbek never seems to fail. 

As always, stay safe out there.

Nuts and Bolts: Park at the end of Starr-King Road, where you’ll find the trailhead. The road is steep, and you might not be able to drive up if it’s muddy. If that’s the case, just before Starr-King Road, you’ll see a small parking area nearby. As I write this, the drive up to the trailhead proper is clean and clear. It’s a Class VI road, though, and a couple spots are in need of grading. If your car has low clearance, be forewarned. It’s not worth sacrificing the underside of your car for those few hundred yards. 

Blazes are yellow and abundant. The trail, however, is in excellent condition as I write this. What few blow-downs there are didn’t get in the way even slightly. As always, heartfelt thanks go out to the Randolph Mountain Club for their outstanding work! Please consider joining the club, and support their mission to maintain the trails in the area of the northern Presidential range. 

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