Wednesday, July 16, 2014

July in the White Mountains. 16-07-2014 to 20-07-2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I met Brooks (Biji) at Mr. Pizza in Gorham at 6:00 PM where we broke bread, quaffed beer, and swapped stories. Brooks had reserved an upscale campsite at the White Birches Camping Park in nearby Shelburne. The wooded site, carpeted in pine needles, was large enough to host a troop of scouts. It was located on a hillside in their "Topknot" area along a dead-end road. It was well away from the highway and was very peaceful.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

We spotted my car at the Stony Brook trail-head then double-backed to the Carter-Moriah trail-head in Gorham. There's only room for a handful of cars at the dead-end. Later we learned there's a clearing, under a power-line, on the west side of the road about a 100 yards before the dead-end.

The trail ascends over Mount Surprise and provides a few views of Madison and Adams across the notch. Atop Moriah, Brooks' 46th 4K peak, we were joined by several other hikers. We continued along the Carter-Moriah trail over South Ledges to the Stony Brook trail. This proved to be the most scenic part of our day with gorgeous views to the south and east plus beautiful alpine flora including Sheep Laurel.

Sheep Laurel.
The section over South Ledges reminded me of Giant's Zander Scott trail in the Adirondacks. The trail crossed Stony Brook above a lovely pool then led us along a fairly smooth path to the trail-head. We headed back to the White Birches to clean up then returned to Mr. Pizza to replace lost calories. The evening was spent around a campfire and swapping more stories.

Spectacular scenery along the Carter-Moriah trail.
See all photos.

Friday, July 18, 2014

We woke up with the birds because we had to strike camp and meet Tom (Boghollow) at the Glen Ellis trail-head at 7:30 AM. We rolled in with 5 minutes to spare and greeted Tom who had already arrived. Tom and I drove off to the Rocky Branch trail-head, parked his truck, then shuttled back to Glen Ellis where Brooks had graciously completed and paid for my parking pass. We set out along the Glen Boulder trail with high expectations of grand alpine views and we were not disappointed.

Upon reaching treeline we were welcomed by a fresh cool breeze and awe-inspiring vistas. It was Tom's first hike above treeline in the Whites and he was impressed with its grandeur. He, as well as Brooks and I, were equally impressed with the intense cooling effect of the constant wind. It was just this side of tolerable in sweat-soaked T-shirts but not enough to don something more substantial (and lock in the sweat).

Tom and Brooks pause to admire the scenery.
We had hoped to save a few steps by rock-hopping across the alpine lawn to the Davis path but ended up walking the trail to the junction.  We turned south on the Davis path and began an initially gentle then precipitous descent to Mount Isolation. The views to the west, of the Southern Presidential Range, were outstanding. We agreed that Brooks had chosen this leg of the hike well; the return from Isolation to Rocky Branch, the trade-route, was viewless.

We paused for a break at the Isolation-Davis trail-junction. Along the way to Isolation we met a hiker who informed Brooks that our return route, via Rocky Branch, was closed. Brooks had queried two reliable sources before setting out and they did not mention a closed route. We chose to ignore the stranger's beta which proved to be the right decision. Later, during our return, we discovered the portion of Rocky Branch we needed was indeed open whereas the balance was closed.

We cheered Brooks as he approached Isolation's summit, his 47th peak. He has left Carrigain for last and plans to return in August. Isolation offered excellent views of the entire arc of the Southern Presidentials, and Oakes Gulf, leading to the summit of Washington.

From Eisenhower to Washington and on to Boott Spur.
Isolation's summit also harbored fearless Gray Jays who readily landed on our outstretched palms to feed on raisins and peanuts. It was a memorable treat for us all and we eventually attracted several of them. It got to the point where I couldn't point to a faraway summit without having one attempt to land on my hand!

The far from timid Gray Jay.
Tom share's a treat with Isolation's welcoming committee.
Upon our return to the Davis-Isolation trail-junction, we passed a lone hiker heading to Isolation. We greeted one another briefly and continued to the junction where we stopped to wait for Brooks. It crossed our minds that the individual was approaching Isolation late in the day. Brooks arrived several minutes later and informed us we had just passed Jason Beaupre. He had started out to establish a new record for hiking the NH48 but, unfortunately, his support team fell apart. As a result, he was now  attempting a personal record. What Jason had left on his itinerary made my head spin. I hope he succeeded in setting a personal best!

The balance of the hike was a woods-walk and offered few views. I was especially happy we had not used this 'trade-route' for an out-and-back to Isolation! We considered shortening our route slightly by bushwhacking from the Isolation trail to the Rocky Branch trail. When we arrived at the jump-off point, the second-to-last brook crossing, Tom ventured into the woods and concluded the effort wasn't worth our while. We hiked the extra distance, crossing and re-crossing the brook, and arrived at a herd-path that appeared to lead back to the jump-off point. We'll never know where the path emerged precisely but the time to hike the extra distance was a mere 20 minutes; I don't believe the bushwhack would've been a tremendous time-saver. However, in the event of high-water, the bushwhack eliminates two potentially dangerous crossings.

Crossing Rocky Branch brook.
The portion of the Rocky Branch trail leading to the height-of-land near Engine Hill is effectively a brook. Flanked by tall grass, we rock-hopped up the very wet trail and met an elderly hiker. He asked us to inform his family that he was heading out to greet them. We met them, a couple and their young son, at the height-of-land and relayed his message. At the same spot we also met an elderly couple from Colorado. She had hiked most of the NH48 back in the Fifties and was returning to complete them. She said she thought some of the peaks may have changed their names but Brook informed her that there were only 46 4k peaks in the Fifties. Two more were added, resulting from a more accurate survey, and the "changed names" were probably "new names".

We chatted with the two groups for awhile and eventually Grandpa arrived and greeted them. Everyone was heading to the Rocky Branch shelter to camp and then hike to Isolation the following day. The youngest of the group was treated to M&M's whenever he replied positively to the question "Do you have a good attitude?" Naturally, we all chimed in that we also had a good attitude and were treated to M&M's. Two more hikers joined the fray on the narrow trail and signaled time for us to leave. The balance of the descent was uneventful except for the discovery of a message "Meet at car" formed with small pebbles on a large boulder.

After shuttling back to Glen Ellis, we all drove to Bartlett where we said goodbye to Brooks. Tom and I continued to his campsite, at Jigger Johnson campground, where he was a most gracious host and grilled Chicken Spiedies on a campfire. Tom's excellent home-brew IPA rounded out the meal and the evening.

See all photos.

Saturday, July 19, 2014
Tripyramids, Whiteface and Passaconaway

Despite an early start, we found ourselves scrambling to make the 7:30 AM rendezvous at the Pine Bend trail-head. We arrived a few minutes early and waited for the arrival of Geoff (Kyler) and Ken (Kensquest). They arrived after having spotted Ken's truck at the Oliverian Brook trail-head so we were all set to go. Ken initially hung back but then probably snuck in a 'Lance Armstrong transfusion' and proceeded to lead the group at a spirited pace for the balance of the day. We arrived at the Pine Bend-Scaur Ridge junction 1.25 hours after leaving the trail-head. We covered a distance of 3.2 miles and 2000 feet ascent in just over an hour and that set the tone for the day. I don't know what Ken ate for breakfast but it really put the "Quest" in Kensquest!

Rest-stop after a speedy ascent of North Tripyramid.
We paused on North Tripyramid for a snack and to sample its limited views. All three peaks of the Tripyramids are wooded but there are lookouts to be found. The conditions were very hazy so we mostly saw outlines of distant ranges. The fun began during the descent from South Tripyramid to the Kate Sleeper junction.

I read about the two slides on the southern face of the Tripyramids. There appears to be a preference to ascend one (North Slide) and descend the other (South Slide) based on their ability to provide good footing. I found the South Slide, what little of it we hiked, to be fun if you avoided the "ball bearings". Many of the boulders are peppered with pea-sized gravel and landing hard on this loose material would be a very bad idea. The ball bearings are also found on slopes and readily give way to a descending footstep; I learned this from experience.

Descending the upper section of the South Slide.
The Kate Sleeper trail is a 2.5 mile stretch rising and falling over the two Sleepers and several intervening hillocks. It had a very remote feeling to it that was enhanced by passing through a quarter-mile of jaw-dropping blowdown. The trail-crew that cleared the devastation deserve a medal!
One-quarter mile of devastation along the Kate Sleeper trail.
Whiteface is one of those summits that can be passed in the blink of an eye. Lying along the wooded Rollins trail, a cairn and slender vertical marker (looks like a mezuzah!) mark its summit. We stopped for a break and socialized with the many other hikers continuing to Passaconaway. The wooded Rollins trail runs along the precipitously steep edge of a 1500 foot depression called "The Bowl". Lookouts along the way gave us excellent views of the Bowl and our final objective, Passaconaway.

Passaconaway and The Bowl from the Rollins trail.
After pausing at a lookout to respond to a survey held by a local trail-improvement society, we made the final ascent to the summit of Passaconaway. The sight of its diminutive cairn reminded me of the undersized Stonehenge stage-prop in the film "This is Spinal Tap". We spent at least a half-hour on Passaconaway.

Passaconaway and its undersized "Spinal Tap" cairn.
Geoff descended a side-trail to a lookout and then Tom went looking for him. When neither returned, Ken and I joked that they had gone to the "Lookout of No Return". We began the descent to the lookout but quickly met them ascending. They reported the descent was far more than they had anticipated but they had continued because it was certain to be "Just around the next bend!" Reunited on the summit, we began the final descent to Oliverian Brook but not before one final sanity-check.

Passaconaway has a trail that loops around its summit and has two junctions (three if you count the spur to the 'Lookout of No Return'). We met one couple (who had passed us earlier) staring at their map, thoroughly befuddled by why they were where they shouldn't be. Tom offered his assistance and then spent some time orienting them. They had another nine miles to go, to Chocorua, so time was of the essence.

We met others, who we had passed earlier, who were ascending via our descent route! Apparently, they overshot the first junction on the west side, curved around the summit, and ascended via the east side. During our own ascent we had paused and scratched our heads at a signless intersection. All this to say that if you don't pay attention to the terrain, and the signage, you can can easily hike in circles or end up somewhere other than planned.

While descending, we passed the eastern junction of the 'summit loop' and began descending the trail. In my mind, I thought we were already on the Passaconaway Cut-Off trail, heading northeast to the Oliverian Brook trail. Within short order we started to pass a junction whose sign indicated a meeting of the Walden and Cut-off trails and we were on Walden. In addition, the terrain was rising to our right when it should've been falling away. Huh? I stopped to pull out my low-resolution map to orient myself. Everyone consulted a map and agreed we shouldn't be following the Walden trail. We turned left and that was the last bit of navigation for the day.

The rest of the hike consisted of a brisk descent along the Cut-off and a beautiful walk along the broad Oliverian Brook trail. We emerged at the trail-head, 8.25 hours after leaving Pine Bend and looking forward to a cold drink. Ken shuttled us back to Pine Bend and then left for home in western New York. Tome, Geoff, and I returned to Jigger Johnson to clean up and devour the Michigans Tom prepared on the campfire. Several cold brews later we retired to our tents and slept like logs.

See all photos.

Sunday, July 20, 2014
Tecumseh and departure

After breakfast, Geoff departed for home while Tom and I set out for Tecumseh. Light showers fell during the drive to the Price Chopper in Lincoln where I parked my car. Let's just say that the worst part of Tripoli road lies along the first few miles of paved road! Tom chose to steer his pickup well clear of a washed out section filled with deep, shock-busting potholes. The remaining miles of dirt were much kinder provided you avoided the rocks jutting out of the roadbed (spray-painted orange for visibility). Tripoli road is lined with many primitive campsites (fee) which appeared to be populated by organized groups.

Showers continued during our hike but very little found its way through the forest's dense canopy. The trail to the summit is unremarkable except for the last few hundred yards which rises steeply to Tecumseh's partially open summit. The showers had stopped but the views were hamstrung by the low-lying clouds. Most of the hikers we met on the summit had arrived from Waterville Valley. We spent a mere 15 minutes on Tecumseh and then returned to the trail-head. Back in Lincoln, we made tentative plans to return in mid-August and visit a few more peaks.
Summit of Tecumseh.
I took the time to follow Brooks' advice and headed to the Mountain Wanderer bookstore. I selected a half-dozen guidebooks ranging from alpine ecology to animal tracks plus Brooks' recommendation "The 4000 Footers". I had the opportunity to meet Steve Smith, the store owner and co-author of "The 4000 Footers". When I introduced myself, Steve recognized my name and that got the conversation rolling. Personable and knowledgeable, Steve answered all my questions including the ones about how to properly pronounce local place names like Tripoli (Triple-Eye), Willey (Will-lee), Coos (Ko-aws), and Kancamagus (Kank-a-MAW-gus or just Kank). Moosilauke seemed to be an even split between excluding and including the trailing "e". I'll never pass for a New Englander but at least I won't hurt the locals' ears with mispronunciations!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Nippletop Dial Porter and Cascade 2014-07-12

Transportation problems but the kibosh on a two-day trip to New Hampshire so I turned to the Adirondacks to add a few peaks to my Summer 46er round. Looking at the remaining six mountains, I tried to piece together an interesting combination but couldn't formulate anything that didn't need shuttling. I settled for two separate hikes, the first to Nippletop and Dial and the second to Porter and Cascade.

Nippletop and Dial
13.5 miles, 4500 feet, 4h 45m

I arrived at St-Huberts shortly after 7:00 AM and was able to park in a shaded spot. I signed in at the AMR Gate at 7:30 AM and headed up the Lake Road on a mild (60 F, 15 C) and sunny morning.

Along the Lake Road, I paused at the small dam where water is drawn from the brook and transported via pipe for use elsewhere. Staring into the clear water, my attention was drawn to the carcass of a drowned frog. It was a reminder that even the cleanest-looking water can harbor unpalatable surprises. It also made me wonder what caused the frog's demise.

A little frog in your beverage, sir?
Unlike last summer, I've effectively stopped exercising. Running, squats, lunges, etc are all historical relics of the past; now I'm just a 'weekend warrior'. I don't know if it's coincidence but my right knee, typically a big complainer during descents, is now silent like its left counterpart. I'm enjoying the absence of pain but I now begin each hike with some concern about whether a week of no exercise will take its toll during a weekend's hike.

Whenever possible, I prefer to get most of a hike's ascent done in the cool of the morning when I'm fresh. Accordingly, I chose to hike to Nippletop first and then cruise along the ridge, over Dial and Bear Den, to Noonmark's shoulder. I usually take the Gill Brook Cutoff trail but this time I followed Gill Brook. I hadn't hiked it in ages (15 years?) and its soft path, cascades and waterfalls were a treat.

Waterfall along Gill Brook.
Once again I played the game of "How fresh is this footprint?" Initially the marks were faint, such as a barely discernible tread pattern on rock, but eventually they became more distinct such as dark wet or muddy tread-marks; it all meant I was getting close to my quarry. Eventually I caught up to the source of the clues, passed him, and had to find something else to occupy my mind. Over the course of the hike I met about a dozen hikers and, except for one, all were coming from the direction of my destination.

The croaking of a bullfrog greeted me as I approached the ponds in Elk Pass. I inspected the designated campsite and it seemed a little damp but was fairly flat and had a fire-ring. About 50 yards away from the designated site, I saw a tent pitched about ten feet from the trail. I heard stirring with the tent and called out "Hey folks, don't let the ranger catch you camping here." The tent replied "There's a camping disk here." I chuckled. The tent replied yet again "Well, I'll be leaving very soon."

My interest in learning if a designated campsite can truly be ten feet from the trail vanished as I prepared myself for the steep climb out of Elk Pass. I ate a handful of dates, put on cycling gloves, deployed my poles, and began the first step of many to ascend 'higher than Colvin'.

A combination of Joe Cedar's ascent philosophy (maintain a steady vertical ascent) and my own ("CFM", Constant Forward Motion; stopping doesn't bring your destination any closer; if tired, just slow down) brought me to the junction in about a half-hour. Two-tenths of a mile later, I stood alone in cooling breezes atop Nippletop. Albeit a little hazy, the views of the Great Range were impressive. Along the way back to the junction I paused to snap a few photos of the impressive slides raking Dix's south-western face.

The hike from Nippletop to Dial was a pleasant stroll on a soft path dappled by sunlight filtering through the canopy. Aside from a few persistent deer flies, I was not bothered by black flies or mosquitoes. The route reminded me of a recent hike to Abraham and Ellen in Vermont, albeit with more ups and downs. A steep eroded section signalled the final rise to Dial. Upon its summit I met three hikers, two of which I had met earlier on the Lake Road. I paused to munch on a Clif bar while soaking up the sun and the slightly different perspective of the Great Range. In retrospect, I think Dial's view of the Range may be slightly better than Nippletop's.

Dial's view of the Great Range.
Beyond Dial, the trail begins its long descent to Bear Den but not before surmounting a few intervening bumps. Beyond viewless Bear Den, the trail drops into a col before rising for one last time over Noonmark's shoulder. The col offers water but I wouldn't drink it untreated. I had brought 1.25 liters and I got my last swig upon returning to the Lake Road.

I realize the fire that devastated the shoulder was a tragedy but the silver lining is the vantage point it created to appreciate the lower Great Range. Now that the alders have grown in, even the path leading to the shoulder's summit is an interesting variation from the usual High Peaks fare. After one last look around, I began the 1500 foot descent to the Lake Road. I emerged at the road at the precise moment an AMR bus stopped to drop off a few hikers (AMR members and guests only).

The remaining distance to the gate was covered with a brisk walk and a jog. I signed out at 12:15 PM and hurried back to my car to prepare for the next hike of the day.

Porter and Cascade
5.7 miles, 2350 feet, 2h 45m

I walked across the highway to the Roaring Brook trail-head and filtered a liter of water from the brook. By now both trail-heads were filled to capacity and cars were parked along the highway's shoulder. After changing into dry clothes I drove to the Cascade trail-head. Along the way I stopped at Stewart's and chugged a quart of fat-free milk. Looking back, it might have been the cause for the subsequent sluggishness I felt as my stomach set to the task of digesting four cups of milk. Anyway, it sure tasted good at the time.

As expected, route 73 was lined with cars near the immensely popular Cascade trail-head. By a stroke of amazing luck, I found a free spot two spaces from the trail-head's entrance! I dumped a few items I didn't need (filter, spare socks, rain jacket) and, at 1:05 PM, signed the trail-register.

Cascade is a fun destination because it offers excellent views from its summit yet is the easiest of the 4K peaks. As such, it attracts a wide variety of people, many of whom are experiencing their first hike to a High Peak. People-watching is all part of the enjoyment of hiking Cascade and Porter. From toddlers to seniors, all of humanity, capable of walking, can be seen on the trail to Cascade. If you're looking for solitude, Cascade on a summer weekend isn't it.

The majority of hikers I met were descending from the summit. If you have a morbid fear of dogs, be advised that most dogs I saw were unleashed. However, perhaps due to the combination of heat and exertion (or training) none of the dogs showed an exuberant interest in others and generally kept to themselves. 

Looking for a handy scapegoat, I blamed the quart of milk for causing my lethargy. Being a 'weekend warrior' couldn't have anything to do with it, of course. "CFM" kept me moving but I knew I was off my normal pace when I arrived at the junction some ten minutes later than usual. I felt better, and my pace improved, on the way to Porter. Surprisingly, its summit was thinly populated. I spent only enough time to take a few photos and then double-backed towards Cascade.

Cascade's summit was alive with the energy of people completing their first High Peak. Smiles, hugs, high-fives, and group-photos heralded the joy of a good hike. If anyone had an unhappy time ascending the trail, they weren't evident on the summit. Toddlers wandered shirtless in the sun; an image that captures a sense of care-free innocence. Naturally, a few wandered a little too close to precipitous drops and were herded by alarmed parents. Several ravens kept everyone enthralled by their aerial acrobatics and added to the wonder of the moment.

Carefree on Cascade.
The summit steward was kept busy explaining her purpose, fielding numerous questions, and operating many cameras. During my brief stay, the most popular question was "Which one is Marcy?" The best anecdote was by a fellow who explained they had already started up the trail to Pitchoff before they realized it wasn't leading them to Cascade. A beginner's error but kudos to him for quickly developing the ability to read the terrain. 

I called my wife from the summit and left her a message explaining my hike was effectively over and I was safe and sound. After a quick and uneventful descent, I signed out at 3:50 PM and proceeded to clean up before the commute home. Only two more peaks remain, Big Slide and Colden, to complete my Summer round and I've yet to invent a hike that incorporates both of them.

Hike stats: 19.2 miles, 6850 feet, 7h 30m

See all photos (12).

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Abraham and Ellen, Gap-2-Gap 2014-07-05

On Saturday, July 5th, Brian (Pathgrinder) and I hiked Mount Abraham and Ellen, in the Green Mountains, from Lincoln Gap to Appalachian Gap. It was a sunny, cool and breezy day without any pesky insects to distract us from the many views along the 12 mile route.

It was my first trip to this area and I was impressed with the view from the parking area at App Gap (and the twisty road). The steep drive to the trail-head at Lincoln Gap was equally interesting and reminded me of route 108 through Smuggler's Notch. Owing to the Independence Day weekend, the trail-heads were fairly busy. However, we only met about a dozen hikers along our route.

The climb from Lincoln Gap, to Abraham, proved to be far more gradual than the steep descent to App Gap. From Abraham we could make out peaks in the Adirondacks and in the White Mountains. Ellen's summit is wooded but there's a clearing, with a ski-lift, a few yards away. 

Stark's Nest was pleasant spot to pause and appreciate the narrow ski runs of Mad River Glen. We checked out Dean's Cave and that was fun for the ten seconds that it takes to pass through it. The hike took us 5h 20m to complete and Ellen was my last Vermont 4K peak.

See all photos.

Appalachian Gap trail-head parking.

Brian atop Abraham.

Sugarbush ski-resort.

Orange Hawkweed a.k.a. Devil's Paintbrush

Upper entrance to Dean's Cave.