Hiking Journal, Summer 1989/Winter 1990
Franconia Notch, Sometime in June…
Day trip with Bob Bailey. A simple, 9-to-5 grunt up and down the mountain. Up the Bridle Path to Greenleaf Hut, then on to Lafayette. Over to Lincoln, and down Falling Waters. It was the first hike of the season. I was very conscious of my newly-mended left leg, and favoring it heavily. The way up was easy, but the trip down Falling Waters just wouldn’t end — my right knee was dead tired from working overtime. This trip was not really “in line” with the rest of my trips for the year, mostly because it was before the divorce action, and a day trip, and before any of my workouts to strengthen the left leg. In fact, it might have been the dismal experience walking downhill that got me started on my bike-riding exercises.
Aug 19, 20: Kinsman Notch (Lost River Road) to The Basin
Kinsman Ridge Trail. Drove up from Danvers Friday night, late. Slept alone under the stars on Moosilauke side of road, up the trail about 0.1 mile, where I knew there was a stream and a flat stretch to sleep on. Made oatmeal and instant coffee for breakfast — the oatmeal is skippable, the coffee is not. Arrange pack, hit the road at 8:00 am or so, and up the trail.
Met a crew of three at start of day. One was a through-hiker, the other two his buddies. They’d spent time in the “armed forces” together, traded boot-camp stories. Steep climb for first mile, then some seemingly innocuous ups and downs. One nice view looking east, about 1.5 hours from road, sitting atop a large rock. Ups and downs got more intense, especially up and then down Mt. Wolf. The white AT blazes were missing for miles at a time, it seemed. Not much to see on the trail. Stopped for lunch at a brook just before reaching Eliza Brook shelter. Changed to new shorts; last pair ripped climbing a steep rock. The morning’s hike was hot and steamy and my butt itched (crotch-rot).
Reach Eliza Brook shelter at about 2:30 or 3:00. A middle-aged couple was there, planning to spend the night. Trail map showed about five miles of nasty terrain between here and Kinsman Shelter, but it was too early to quit. I pushed on, following Eliza Brook for first 1.5 miles up hill. Couple from Eliza Shelter passed me going uphill, sans packs. Crossed over brook, up a steep ravine. Emerged at a plateau, with a swampy pond, around 5 PM. Incredible, but depressing view of the western slopes of South Kinsman, which I must now ascend. Classic climb; starts out moderately steep, and just gets steeper. At what looks like 2/3 point, I met the shelter-couple again, going downward, who informed me that it keeps getting steeper, still! This is some of the most strenuous hiking I’ve seen in the Whites! I finally reached the summit of South Kinsman at about 6:30 PM, after trashing the second pair of shorts. Enjoyed the incredible view, looking west from the summit. Changed into my (long) Levis. Sun was getting low, so I couldn’t hang around as long as I would have liked.
At this point, I figured I was a mere 45 minutes or so from the shelter. Having “been there” last year, I thought I knew where I was. I began the descent briskly. After about 30-40 minutes of descent, I was expecting to find the short spur from the Kinsman Ridge trail down to the shelter. I not only didn’t find it, but looking backward, the view looked totally unfamiliar. And looking downward, no sign of Kinsman Pond. This was bad news; the sun was setting. When the trail began climbing again — with what looked like another summit ahead of me — I got panicky. Surely, I must have missed my spur trail. I backtracked for about 15 minutes; no spur. Returned to my original direction and decided that I just had to trust those white blazes. I climbed that damned summit ahead (having no choice) and then, a few minutes later, realized what had happenned. Last year, the summit I’d been to was North Kinsman, which was that second summit I had just passed. The saddle between South and North Kinsman was what threw me off. So, it all ended well: I arrived at the shelter around 8:15, just before nightfall, with the last rays of dusk to guide me. Shelter was getting full, but the people there happily made room for me. I had walked about 11 miles, with a full 35 pounds or so on my back (including my 3-man “High Adventure” dome tent, which must weight 8 or 10 pounds, and which I never got to use…)
Brian (the through-hiker) and his two buddies were there. There was another crew of three, from Raynham MA, up for a weekend hike, with all the luxuries of home: Southern Comfort, Jack Daniels, lantern-candles for the shelter, weed to smoke, Jiffy-Pop (popcorn) for desert. A roaring campfire, good company. Bruce and Bob were two of the names I remembered from the Raynham group. Brian was quite talkative about his trip; not at all withdrawn, like the through-hiker that I met at the shelter last year.
Woke up to a White Mountain Drizzle. Not a hard rain, but enough to soak you. Gave up on any thoughts of walking up over Canon Mountain. The others were descending via Fishing Jimmy trail, and I followed along. Quick stop at Lonesome Lake hut. Then a crossover trail, back to Cascade Trail, and down to the Basin. Took about 3, maybe 3.5 hours to go the 4.2 miles downhill. Quite footsore by the time I hit the basin, at about 12:30 or so. Did about 15.2 miles total for the two days.
One of Brian’s two buddies had a Toyota pickup parked at the Basin. Six of us climbed into it; Brian and friends up in cab, me and Zoey and Moutain Man in pickup. The latter two apparently are through-hikers who know Brian and who had spent the night on one of the tent platforms at Kinsman Pond. Chilly drive through drizzle into Woodstock, but very lucky to have any ride at all. All six of us stopped into a pizza joint (on Loon Mtn. Road), and gorged on some very respectable pizza. Brian’s friend dropped the gang off at a laundromat, and then drove me out to my car up on Lost River Road.
What did I learn? I must get my pack lighter. Forget that 3-man tent, carry less food. Crotch-rot is a problem. Raingear was worth having, especially on Sunday. Don’t wear cheap shorts. Forget the oatmeal. New stove is great, but has no “low” setting.
August 26, 27: Carter-Moriah Ridge
Left Danvers very late Friday. Stopped at Pinkham Notch camp, thinking I’d take a bunk if it was cheap. No dice: gonna cost $27. Forget it. Drive north, stop at first trailhead. Ms. Forest Ranger (US Forestry Service) swoops in on me, having me figured for one of those people that breaks into cars at trailheads. The only crime I admitted to was wanting to spend the night there, but I was already somewhat agin it, having seen lots of trash scattered about, and no likely spot to pitch a tent. Mrs Ranger said it was an RUA anyway, and don’t even think about staying there…
She did suggest a place: up the Dolly Copp Road a bit, well past the camp-grounds. There I went. Picked the first unoccupied turnoff. Heated up my Dinty Moore stew using the car as windbreaker. Stew tasted wonderful. Tried to do up some Jiffy-Pop, but it burned. Bummer. Too late to set up the tent. Tried to sleep in the car, gave up after fifteeen minutes. Slept under the stars, about 6 inches from the front bumper of the car. A bit paranoid; the car and I are both visible from Dolly Copp Road, and there was traffic on that road right up till 1 or 2 AM. Windy, cool night. At times the sky was so clear that the Milky Way looked thick enough to cut. Then it would cloud over until hardly a star was visible. During one of the clear spells I saw a shooting star.
Nevertheless, survived the night. Got up around 5:30 AM, decided to splurge for breakfast. Did no cooking; stuffed the bag in its sack, rolled up the mat, and took off, heading for Gorham, about 6 miles up the road. Wonderful breakfast in town, then drove back down to Nineteen Mile Brook Trailhead. Arranged the pack, hit the Trail by 7:30. Not bad. No tent this time, only a tarp. Far less food. Pack weighs 26 pounds and feels wonderfully light. Weather is clear, cool and windy.
Trail was beautifully graded, easy walk up to Carter-Moriah trail. No need to carry water; follows the brook almost all the way. After about 2 miles of walking, the map showed that this would be the last water for a long while. While I was filling the canteen and pouring in lemonade mix, a couple passed by. The woman asked if I was really filling my canteen from that stream, and I answered yes. She then told me of all the dangers of doing so, but she failed to change my mind. They also told me the view from the top of Mt. Hight was wonderful, but my map indicated that it would not be on my way. When the trail reached the ridge, I could also see that Mt. Hight would be a goodly challenge — another 500 feet up at least. I figured there would be good views where I was going, and decided to skip it.
Trail was really quite mellow over all three Carters. South Carter peak had no view, but Middle Carter and North Carter had wonderful views in all directions. I was particularly impressed with the view North and East, which I’d never seen before. Looking West one had a wonderful view of the entire Presidential Range. Stopped once or twice for snacks; had a sandwich on the way up to Middle Carter. It’s windy and cold on the ridge, but the air is clear and the views phenomenal. Crotch-rot is still with me, but I now have Cruex to deal with it, and it’s fairly effective. (The tough part is finding a private spot of woods in which to apply the Cruex. It’s amazing how I can walk for hours and not see a soul, and how folks appear out of nowhere when the Cruex comes out.)
Going down the north face of North Carter was the only really rough hike of the day. It tired me out and made the last 1.5 miles to Imp Shelter less fun than they should have been. Most of the day’s hiking had been pretty mellow; ups and downs, yes, but somehow not nearly as rough as Kinsman Ridge the week before. (The lighter pack could have a lot to do with it…)
Reached Imp Shelter around 3 PM, having hiked about 8.2 miles for the day. Amazing how that one-mile-per-hour rule always works for me when climbing in the Whites! Met Jonathan, Todd and Lisa at the shelter. A fourth hiker arrived a bit later, whose name I never did catch. Others eventually arrived to fill up some of the tent platforms, but stayed clear of the four or five of us at the shelter. Beautiful shelter; looks like it could hold 20 adults (or 30 boy sprouts) in a pinch. A nice view looking westward is had by walking a few yards down the mountain.
Jonathan is a through-hiker, having started at Katahdin (!) about three weeks ago. Friendly, bearded, a high-school English teacher by trade. Todd and Lisa are unmarried but hopelessly in love. They are on a six-week walk to wherever; they had planned to go as far as the Delaware Water Gap, but at five miles per day, they already knew they weren’t going to make it. Much talk of Bagwams, Zen and philosophy around the campfire, and AT-related issues between me and Jonathan, who (like Brian last week) seems friendly and quite willing to talk. (I suppose not all through-hikers are the silent, withdrawn type.) Todd and Lisa appear to be very religious, and vegetarians, to boot. They observed a moment of silence, holding hands, before they dove into their supper meal (broccoli soup, I think. No wonder they can’t make more than five miles a day!) Lisa hung out dressed head to toe in a bright blue Gore-Tex outfit. She also did weird Tae-Kwon-Do exercises up in the mezzanine of the hut. Todd seems a bit less flaky; talked about recent experiences in the Navy.
Dinner for me was Ramen noodle soup, plus a sandwich. The soup makes a fantastic trail meal; hot and very filling: wall-to-wall noodles. In return for a promise of white gas (fuel), Lisa made hot chocolate for all of us. We had to kill the fire before going to bed, because the westerly wind blew the smoke directly into the shelter.
Next morning, up by 5:30 or 6:00 again. Made a cup of coffee. Poured out most of my remaining fuel into Todd’s fuel container. Then packed up and hit the trail , at about 7:15. My earliest start ever, I think. Easy walk, moderate grade downhill for first 1.5 miles or so. Still windy, but warmer than yesterday. Then an easy walk uphill to (almost) the summit of Mt. Moriah, for the best view yet — easily 270 degrees of view, with only the north view obstructed. The summit itself was off a short spur, which I decided to skip. On the first part of the descent, in a flat region, I came upon a grouse. Quite tame. Looks like a brown chicken, sort of. Bob tells me they’re quite edible. Turning downhill on the Rattle River trail. Moderate steep descent for first mile, nothing too outrageous. Sang GD tunes to pass the time. Then the trail became quite easy and graded, following a loud stream. Passed by the Rattle River Shelter. Booking down the trail now, making time. Made one false turn, where I mistakenly lost the AT to follow a snowmobile trail. Fortunately, I only wasted about 5-10 minutes on that one.
Hit the road at about 1 PM. Did over 8 miles in about 5.5 hours — the bottom of half of Rattle River trail was a piece of cake. The hitch back to Gorham on Rte. 2 was a bit depressing; it took about 45 minutes to get a ride. First ride was from a guy in an old VW beetle convertible, with Alaska plates. He took me as far as Gorham. The second ride took about 60 seconds to catch; another hiker heading south on Rte 16 took me all the way back to Nineteen Mile Brook trailhead.
Another successful, very satisfying hike. Having a lighter pack made all the difference in the world. I must have missed the tough part of this trail; with the exception of the north side of North Carter, I found it all to be rather mellow, by White Mountain standards. The Ramen Soup mix is a big hit. So is the instant-lemonade mix for the canteen — now you can get extra calories with each gulp of precious water! Saw my first wildlife: a grouse. A mystery is emerging, too: why do my feet hurt the most on the flat walking — or is it because that’s what I always get at the end of the day… Mystery number two: why are we sharing the AT with snowmoblies ? Does the ATC know about this?
Sept. 2,3: Crawford Notch to Garfield Summit to Rte. 3
Trying to fill in the last large gap in my coverage of the AT in New Hampshire. I figured this would take over two days, so it was a natural for the Labor Day weekend. (Although I did pass up a weekend of Hobie-camping to do this…)
Started off by making a couple of wise decisions. The first was to wait until 4 AM Saturday to drive north. This avoided the traffic, and also avoided a night of torrential rain in the Whites. Second smart move was to do the hitchiking before the walk in the woods. Pulled the car into the Garfield trailhead, where I planned to emerge from the woods (took a while to find the fire road; passed it a couple of times.) There was a young couple making coffee on the tailgate of their pickup truck, and I struck up a conversation. Turns out they were heading north toward Maine, and bingo, I had me a ride. Lovely folks — Gary and Shirley. They had just moved east from Utah, and were checking out these mountains for the first time. Made small talk while they finished breakfast and packed up the truck, then they took me straight to my trailhead. Hit the trail at 8:45. Late start, but excellent time, considering that there would be no hitchiking required when the hike was done!
Skies had been clear on the drive up, until I got to Woodstock. The Whites had their own private cloud system. Walked up a steep semi-cliff, but it seemed like an easy walk; trail was not at all rocky. Hit the top of the cliff far sooner than I expected, but no views, due to the clouds and fog. Met a few hikers coming downhill, complaining about all the excess water on the trail. Took a left turn up the Ethan Pond Trail, met more hikers complaining about a wet trail. I soon discovered what they were talking about; the trail turned into a roaring brook in several places. Somehow I managed to keep my boots fairly dry, but the going was really slow and it took at lot more energy than it should have. This is super-flat terrain; it should have been a piece of cake.
The trail eventually turned right and headed up along the contour lines of a steep valley, with Whitehall Cliffs just to my right. Came to a rockslide area, which caused the trail to be exposed; got the first really fine views of this hike, looking up the valley toward Zealand falls, and across the valley toward the direction of the afternoon’s hiking. Reached Zealand Falls hut at about 1:30. It had taken just under 5 hours to hike 7.4 miles. Not too shabby.
The Hut looked like a good scene to avoid. I stopped just long enough to take a photo of Zealand Notch, looking south from the hut. A sign said 3.9 miles to Guyot shelter, which (according to the 1 mph rule) meant I should arrive at about 5:30. Stopped for “lunch” in thick woods, about 45 minutes up the trail from the hut. About 15-20 minutes after resuming the hike, I came to a short spur marked VIEW, and, Oh what a view it was! Looking eastward now across the valley, at Crawford Ridge and the Presidential Range, and at the cliff whose side I had walked along an hour before. Wonderful views looking south as well, but I couldn’t identify the peaks in that direction.
The remainder of the day’s hike was somewhat of a grind, and fairly uneventful. It seemed to take forever to get to Guyot shelter! Got to the summit of Guyot around 6 PM, dog-tired. It was windy and cold, but clear skies and a fine view looking west at the Franconia Ridge. Approaching the campsite, I met several disgruntled hikers complaining about the mob scene down below. I was determined to claim a spot, either on a tent platform or in the shelter. I turned out to be the fifteenth body stuffed into the shelter, and I felt a bit foolish paying $4.00 for the privilege of sleeping there. My guess is, there must have been seventy people at that campsite! In retrospect, the lack of sleep on Friday night is probably what made Saturday PM drag on so painfully.
Sunday AM: breakfast was two cups of coffee, and on the trail by 7:15. The ridge was socked in pretty well, not much to see. Flat walking, almost all the way to the summit of Mt. Twin. Met not one, but two grouse. Made the summit of Mt. Twin by about 9:15. Very steep descent to Galehead Hut; seemed to take longer than the map indicated. I met numerous hikers on the way up, with more than the usual level of complaints and grumbles. Had a leisurely lunch at the hut. Removed jeans, replaced with polypro long-johns plus shorts. Excellent combination! Polypro top feels good, too. Continued on the ridge to Mt. Garfield after about 45 minutes at the hut.
Walk to Garfield Summit took about three hours. It’s flat on the map, but there were a lot of steep, 50-foot ups and downs. The skies got sunny and clear and the temperature increased continually. Had to stop twice to peel off layers. The climb up Garfield was a bear; steep as hell for the last 0.4 miles or so (the trail went straight up a backbone of the mountain.) Wonderful view of the entire Franconia Ridge from the summit; stopped for a sandwich and photos. I got a great panorama picture consisting of about 8 separate shots.
From the summit, down about 0.2 miles to Garfield Trail, which is one of the easiest, most pleasantly graded trails I’ve ever walked in the Whites. You can walk at a good clip, but it is a long walk — 4.6 miles to the fire road (Gale River Road.) That walk took me about 3 hours, give or take 15 minutes. The last mile is quite new, and not the same trail that Bob and I walked years ago onour way up to the campsite. In any case, I got to the fire road at about 5:30, tired but thoroughly delighted to emerge from the trail fifty feet from the trusty Red Tempo!
What did I learn? In any event, I was happy to have done a three-day trip (about 23 miles or so, I figure), in two days. Pack was probably about 32 pounds, a touch heavy, due to the new (one-man) tent, which I never got to use. That polypro underwear is wonderful stuff! This weekend I seemed to be at odds with the AMC: Zealand hut was aswarm with yuppies, and Guyot Shelter was the biggest mob scene I’ve ever encountered in the Whites. Paying that $4.00 was really painful! Word on the trail was that Garfield Campsite was even worse; that’s one of the reasons I was determined to get off the mountain by Sunday evening.
Almost forgot to mention the third day’s climb: Mt. Monadnock, in southern NH. Since Monday AM found me at home, I called Bob to see what was happenning. Unlike me, Bob has done almost no climbing this summer. Hiking Monadnock was his idea, and I couldn’t offer a reasonable alternative. The mountain was mobbed with people — there must have been well over 1000 people there, no kidding! Families, groups of teenagers, couples, screaming babies, etc. Bob and I moved along quite a bit faster than most of the folks there. Had a good time in spite of the crowds. When we ascended above the woods, we left the trail and did some scrambling over the rocks. Good fun, if a bit dangerous. At one point I found myself in a very tight corner, having to scale a nearly vertical section of rock. Scary. Still, a beautiful-weather day, and a fine way to kill it.
Sept. 16,17: North and South Baldface and the Wild River
With Bob Bailey. This was a totally new area for both of us, but highly recommended by my new roomate, Jim Kaemerlin. Weather reports for the weekend were gloomy, but Bob and I were both too psyched to cop out. When it was all over, it turned out we had walked a bit over 18 miles.
Left Middleton (my new residence) at about 6 AM, arrived at the trailhead at 8:50 AM and hit the trail without delay. The skies were clear and sunny. Walked for about an hour or so until we came to a lean-to. There we spotted a flat stretch of rock that seemed to offer a view uphill — and what a view it was! South Baldface isn’t very high (about 3600 feet), but its top third is quite steep. Also, while it’s not above the treeline, it is bald, and offers some beautiful views. We had a fun climb over some very sheer rock faces to get to its summit. By noontime, when we reached the summit, clouds were rolling in from the south. We had a quick lunch on the ridge, and continued on to North Baldface, and then to Eagle Crag. The walk along the ridge was rugged, but the views were worthwhile. By the time we hit Eagle Crag, the skies were gray and it was fairly certain that we were in for a wet night.
At Eagle Crag we headed downhill on Eagle Link Trail. Made super time, and got to the junction of Wild River Trail in less than two hours. We had a tent (Bob carried my heavy dome tent), but decided that with rain quite likely, it was worth our while to head for the shelter, about a mile or two north on the Wild River Trail. There we me three campers: Liz, Mary Beth, and Chuck, who are law students at the University of Maine, in Portland. A fun-loving bunch. They had a nice fire going in the fire pit, and Bob gathered some huge logs while I started up the stove and boiled the water for our dinners (dehydrated cuisine: chicken vegetable soup, and Beef Burgundy.) Bob rolled a doober and passed it around, and then Liz did the same. The girls were silly as get-out all evening. Liz was a real knockout — a Scandinavian beauty — and had Bob and me both drooling.
We all hit the hay around 9:30 or 10, and I sacked out almost immediately. Bob tells me I snored like a chain saw — a curious reversal of the usual role. It rained all night, but quite conveniently stopped before we even awoke. Had our breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, packed our bags and hit the trail, after saying farewell to our shelter-mates. A bit late for my taste, about 8:45, but what the hell. Today’s hike wasn’t terribly ambitious.
Walked north for about 3/4 mile to the junction of Black Angel Trail. Easy, low-key uphill walk for about two miles, and then downhill for another mile or so to a shelter, where a group of three couples was still lazily preparing breakfast, in a wok. Bob and I each had a sandwich, and Bob filled the canteens. Then we continued up the trail that took us, in about another hour or so, to the summit of Mt. Meader, which we reached around noon. The views today were non-existent, due to the fog and mist. We each had another sandwich on the summit, and began our way downhill. After about 20 minutes of moderately steep stuff, we came to a heavily wooded section that was incredibly steep. However, once this section was passed, the trail mellowed out progressively all the way down to Rte. 113. In fact, the last fifteen minutes of walking were on a dirt road, with some heavy (and very ugly) clearing of trees, and even a few houses on the last quarter mile or so. Sort of depressing, after miles of semi-wilderness.
This was almost a circle-route; on reaching Rte. 113, we dropped our packs, and Bob walked 1/2 mile south or so to get his car. We threw the packs in the car and were on our way home by about 3:30. Lessons this time? Hmmm… I like polypropylene! I got to try the polypro-long-johns with rain pants; it’s about as comfortable as I’ve ever been under similar circumstances. Even the polypro top had the right “attitude” in the wet forest — mist and dew beads up on its surface, instead of being absorbed instantly. I imagine that Gore-tex pants (instead of my cheapo vinyl rain pants) would have been cooler and more comfortable still. I’m sure I’ll find out one of these days.
Sept. 30, Oct. 1: Mt. Carrigain, etc.
Another weekend of unbelievably wonderful weather. After getting everything ready on Friday night, I couldn’t sleep. Tossed and turned till 12:40 AM and gave up trying. Threw the pack in the car and headed north, up 93 to Lincoln. Headed east on the Kancamagus, looking for a place to camp/crash. Pulled into a campground — the gate was open, even at 3:30 AM — found an empty tent site, and slept on the ground. No tent, just sleeping bag and mat. Mr. Ranger arrived at 8 AM to wake me up and extort $9.00 from me. After the deed was done, I felt like a fool for having handed over the dough without a fight. It almost ruined my day. Nine bucks for four hours of sleep. The US Forestry Service strikes again. Then I missed the turnoff for Bear Notch Road — the shortcut to Bartlett from the Kancamagus. This caused me to drive through both South and North Conway, which I had really wanted to avoid.
Finally got through Bartlett, and missed the Sawyer River Road on the first pass. When I hit the Nancy Pond Trailhead, I knew I had to turn around. Up the road, parked the car, and on the trail by about 9:45. The first 1.7 miles took all of 45 minutes; to the junction of Signal Ridge and Carrigain Notch Trails. From there, Signal Ridge climbed gradually for another 2 miles or so, and then steeply for the next mile, to a ridge with a beautiful view, where I had lunch.
The summit was another 200 feet up, and I reached that about 20 minutes after finishing lunch. There was a lookout tower, but it was windy and cold, so I didn’t linger. A sign indicated it was 5.0 miles back down to Sawyer River Road; I had walked it in less than three hours, including lunch. There had been fine views east — toward Mt. Lowell — all the way up. Had a quick snack at the summit, and headed down Desolation Trail, which rates as one of the steepest I’ve ever climbed — at least in the middle third. That 2.1 miles took me almost two hours. Arriving at the shelter I encountered a group of rowdy guys; not really my type. Decided to continue walking west, along the East Branch of the Pemigewasset. From the trail map, it looked like there would be no shortage of good-looking campsites along the river, and that hunch paid off. I found a beautiful, isolated spot right on the riverbank, near the junction of Thoreau Falls Trail (Walked about 150 feet north, through the brush, from the trail to the riverbank.)
Cooked myself a dinner of dehydrated Mandarin Orange Chicken — Bob’s selection from our last trip together. Not bad. Dessert was a cup of hot chocolate, with a few raspberry Newtons. I felt full, and decided to skip the Jiffy-Pop. I finally got to set up (and use!) my new tent. Had to relocate it once, but then it went up in a flash. It kept me warm and cozy that night. This is the first night I’d slept alone in the woods in the last five hikes — and the first in ages that wasn’t at a designated shelter or campground. I took great pains to “leave nothing but footprints”. Heard an interesting bird in the morning, probably a thrush. It had an interesting seven-note call: three notes, then four. It must have repeated the call about a dozen times or more. (P.S. — the bird was identified long after the fact by Scott Spangenberg, a fellow from work who happens to know about these things.)
Woke at about 5:30, but dozed for another hour. It was mighty cold on leaving the tent; I put on everything I had except for the polypro. Breakfast was two cups of coffee and some hot cream of rice, embellished with several teaspoons of sugar and clumps of margarine. Tasty — a sight better than Quaker instant oatmeal, in any case. I must have lingered a bit; it was 8 AM sharp when I hit the trail for the day. I was wearing long pants, polypro top, windbreaker and hat. I wished I had a pair of gloves.
Made my decision and headed west along the trail — the long road. Came to the junction of Cedar Brook trail in about 20 minutes, and took it. The sign said 6.5 miles to Hancock Notch Trail. I set a goal of 12:00 noon for my arrival at that point. The walk was quite easy, as I expected; a mild, graded uphill for the first four miles or so, but easy-sleazy by White Mountain Standards. Took a 15-minute break at about 9:30, and removed the windbreaker and hat. I came to the junction of the Hancock Loop trail at around 11AM, and had a quick lunch. It looked like yet another fine campsite, and in fact some campers (apparently off on day hikes) had left their packs lying about, without even trying to hide them. Finished lunch, flew down the last mile or so, and reach the junction at 12:05.
One slightly humoruous scene, slightly annoying also. It seems I can walk for hours without seeing a soul, and when I stop to do something “personal” (like change pants, or pull over for a dump), people show up out of nowhere. That happened on the way down to the junction from my lunch spot, near the edge of a stream. It was getting sunny and quite warm, and high time to change into shorts and T-shirt. No sooner had I unzipped my fly, when Mr. and Mrs. Middle-aged Hiker appeared on the other side of the stream. I quickly zipped up and began waiting, taking pains not to look or act at all friendly. Mrs. Hiker took for-fucking-ever to cross the stream, and didn’t seem at all phased by my lack of friendliness. I felt like shouting, to tell her to get her ass up the trail, so that I could change my shorts and move on. Must have lost a good ten minutes on that stupid little scene. The moral: if it’s getting lonely on the trail, and you want company, just take off your pants.
Onward. Took a left at the junction, heading east on Hancock Notch Trail. The first 3/4 mile had some moderate uphill grades; no problem. The map showed this trail following along streams for much of its way; what it didn’t tell you was that the trail was a stream in many places. Quite wet. Not as bad as Ethan Pond Trail a few weeks ago, but bad. Two or three nasty mis-steps; one of them had my boot immersed in black gunk up to my socks. In another, I slipped on a wet log and ended up almost upside down; took me a few moments to get righted (I was glad to be intact, so I took it cheerfully.) I HATE WET WOOD!!!! The stuff is treacherous! It makes Teflon feel like forty-grit sandpaper.
After crossing a few boggy areas, the trail became quite flat, and I knew I was reaching the end. Actually, I reached it too soon, somehow. The trail runs parallel to Sawyer River Road for a ways, and I ended up on Sawyer River Road long before I was supposed to. I walked what must have been two or three miles of dirt road, with aching feet. The only compensation was the view looking back west, at Hancock Ridge and “The Captain”. Eventually a pickup truck came by in my direction and offered a ride; I took it, and wimped out on the last 2-3 miles back to the parking lot.
In terms of sheer distance, this has been my longest hike yet; about 25 miles. (10 miles on Day 1, 15 on Day 2.) A couple of things happened to set up this marathon. First, I got to Desolation Shelter early and didn’t really like the crowd there. There was a chance to cover some major-league distance on day 2, and I took advantage of it by covering several extral miles on the first day. That also meant a solitary night by the riverbank; no campfire, no crowd, early to bed, and a good night’s rest. There was still an oportunity to wimp out in the morning, and I said no: it was time I tried walking a fifteen-mile day to see how it felt. Not bad! (Now, fifteen miles over mountains, that’s another story.)
It was the first actual use of the new tent; not a “trial by fire”, but it was cozy and much appreciated. It set up and came down quite quickly. You can’t stand or even sit up in it, but it’s plenty wide and long enough while sleeping. You can use as much or as little of the fly as you want, but the tent loses five anchor points if you roll up the fly entirely. I had it about 3/4 up — the main part of the fly full up, and the “head” end halfway folded back. A nice combination; gave me some air and a look at the stars.
Octobder 22: Day Trip on the Blue Ridge
One hell of a long ride for a very short walk. Went down to Asheville, North Carolina to visit Stefi Mackenzie, and hopefully to hike for a day or two in the Smokies. That never happenned, but we did take a very short day-hike in the mountains near Asheville, at an area called Shining Rock Wilderness.
Nothing very remarkable about this hike. It was a bit odd to begin the trip walking downhill, and end it walking uphill. That’s because the trailhead is just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, which generally follows the ridgeline, wherever it can. Saw a lot of rhododendron, which one doesn’t usually see in New England. We walked about 3 miles round trip, if that. No map; Stefi knew the way. Had lunch by a beautiful stream, then bushwhacked for a stretch until we picked up our trail again.
Oct 29-30, Wildcat Ridge Trail
Not my best-planned hike… the weekend before was my fateful trip to Asheville, where I’d hoped to hike some of those Blue Ridge mountains. No dice. For some reason, I hung out at home on Saturday (10/28). Sunday morning I gave some thought to hiking, but had a hard time deciding whether to go or not. By noon the decision was made, and by about 1:00 I was packed and on the road. Of course, it took the usual 3 hours or so to get to Pinkham notch, and what with Standard Time back for the winter, there was not much daylight left.
Parked the car at Pinkham Notch base, and hitched up Rte. 16 to the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail. Flew up the trail to Cedar Brook Trail, and followed that until the daylight disappeared entirely. I made camp by a stream, and had freeze-dried spaghetti with sauce for dinner. Set up the tent, but left the fly rolled all the way back. It was amazingly warm for almost-November! I could see the stars through the netting on the tent roof. For some reason or another, I didn’t sleep all that well. Maybe it was the noise from the stream that kept me up.
Monday morning (10/30) began with cream of rice and coffee for breakfast. On the trail at 8:00 sharp. Hit the junction of Carter-Moriah trail at about 8:45, and turned right (south, sort of) toward Carter Dome. The AT goes over the summit of Mt. Hight, and I followed it. The morning was beautifully clear, and there were the usual fine views, in all directions. From there it was a quick jaunt to Carter Dome summit — not nearly as scenic.
The descent from the Dome to Carter Hut is quite steep and direct. There is a pond by the hut, and I stopped there for lunch — around noon or so. While eating lunch I met the only other humans I was to see on this whole trip — two guys who had stayed at the hut overnight, and were off to a rather late start. I filled my canteen at a stream that fed into the pond, and then began the very steep ascent of Wildcat Mountain. The summit was reached rather quickly — about fifty minutes or so — and there was again a fine view looking back at Carter Dome and at the hut far below. Continuing on the Wildcat Ridge trail for forty minutes or so, I came an observation deck, and shortly thereafter, the Gondola and T-bar stations of the ski area.
At this point the hike began to be not much fun. I had hiked about five miles and done at least 2500 feet of vertical since the day began. I knew that, on skis, I could be down to the road in about ten minutes. The sign on the trail said it was 2.9 miles to Rte. 16, and I figured it would be a fairly straightforward two-hour walk. Wrong!
The descent from the Gondola station to the road was a grueling affair. The net vertical is 2200 feet — this I knew from skiing. But the trail goes up and down several minor summits on the way, so one probably climbs at least 300 feet on the way down (making the vertical more like 2500 feet.) There was no easy hiking on the descent. The ridges had the classic ups and downs that don’t even show up on the topo map. The trail was either a ridge or a steep descent down a rock face — and I mean steep! This trail just wouldn’t let up. Some of the steepest rock faces were in that last 700 feet of vertical above the road. There were a few good views in this section, but the sky had clouded over by this time, and I was too tired and sore to enjoy them. Just before it reaches Rte. 16, the AT turns northward and follows a stream back to Pinkham. That last mile was the only “easy” walking I did all day.
I cursed the creator of this trail. I felt like I was being toyed with. There was absolutely no point in routing the trail this way, because the mini-summits were wooded, and had no views. There must have been a zillion easier ways down this hill!
The last laugh in this fateful hike occurred a week later, when I was struck with three days of diahrrea. The doc figures it was a parasite of some sort (giardia?), probably picked up from one of the two streams that I filled my canteen at. This is the first time in fifteen years that this has happenned to me! But I’m going to think twice about drinking stream water without filtering or treating it first.
So… not my most impressive hike, but one of the toughest. This is probably the section of the Carter Ridge that I had been warned about! What the hell, I finally closed off the last remaining gap in my coverage of the AT in the Whites. This is one trail I won’t be returning to any time soon!
Thanksgiving Night (1989) on Mt. Washington
A very short but noteworthy hike. My first-ever winter hiking experience, and by far the coldest night I have ever slept out of doors. Also a sociable hike: with Dan Coleman, Frank Selig, and Gordon Ledgard. This Thanksgiving trip is somewhat of a Coleman/Selig tradition, and Gordon and I basically just tagged along.
To make matters exciting, Ma Nature rewarded us with our first serious signs of winter for the season: several inches of fresh powder snow on the ground, and bitter cold temperatures, compared to the over-extended Indian summer we’d been enjoying up until just a couple of weeks ago. Most of northern New England had received from 12 to 24 inches of snow just a couple of days earlier.
We met at the Analogic parking lot at 4 PM on Turkey Day. (My feast had been a Celeste frozen pizza…) Dan and Frank drove northward in Frank’s beater, and GL drove the two of us in his Honda. Arrived at Pinkham Notch camp at about 7 PM, and took forever mulling around, adjusting things, etc. Dan and Frank seemed to be in no hurry whatsoever. They each carried enormous internal-frame packs that must have held no less than 60 pounds of whatever.
We began hiking up to the Hermit Lake shelters at about 8 PM or so, in near-total darkness; it was a new moon but with a zillion stars blazing. We figured it was about 15 degrees F or thereabouts, but (amazingly for this mountain) there was no wind whatsoever. The climb went quickly, and the snow turned out to be no problem at all. With the usual two pair of wool socks, my feet stayed warm and toasty. In fact, as the walk progressed, we kept having to shed more and more clothing. Gordon and Frank held back a bit, and Dan and I walked several minutes ahead. When we finally reached the care-taker’s hut, we were amazed to see the thermometer reading minus 3 degrees Fahrenheit!
Four of the lean-tos at Hermit Lake have wooden fronts attached for the benefit of winter hikers. The first three we checked were somewhat occupied, so we had to settle for the fourth, which had two campers inside. We made a hell of a racket coming in (at 10 PM, no less), setting up, and heating water for hot drinks. Frank had brought a backgammon board and he and I played a round (it was all I could do to avoid getting gammoned.) We eventually settled down and attempted to get some sleep, but this turned out to be no easy task. To make matters worse, a third wave of campers invaded our lean-to at about 1:30 AM (four of them!), and they didn’t settle down till at least three AM or so. No matter; the bitter cold kept most of us from sleeping anyway, in spite of my 2 1/2 pound down bag, the polypro liner in the bag, the polypro underwear, wool socks, and my new Therm-a-Rest pad — which was wonderful, but not quite long enough to keep my feet off the frigid floor of the lean-to.
It turned out to be easy to get started in the morning, as there was little incentive to stay in the frigid down bag. Besides, there was a bright sun out, and the sun on our backs and faces felt wonderful. When the caretaker came around, he informed us that it had reached minus10 degrees F. during the night. None of us had slept well at all.
We had a very leisurely breakfast. I cooked up my entire package of bacon and shared it with the group. Frank heated water for coffee and hot chocolate. My main course turned out to be Ramen Noodle soup, usually reserved for lunches and dinners… It looked to be a beautiful day.
Hit the trail quite late, by my standards; just before 11 AM. The sun was blazing, the sky was bright blue and crystal-clear. It was 20 degrees, with hardly any wind at the camps. The walk through the snow, up Lions head trail, was a blast. It was deep powder, but well packed by wind and by previous hikers. It was soft and luxurious footing, as opposed to the rocks and roots of summer. There were only a few places where ice was a problem. We all caried crampons, but never got to use them. The ice axes, however, were very handy. It seemed like a very short walk — less than an hour — to the treeline. Beautiful views of Wildcat mountain across the valley. If you looked carefully, you could make out the tiny figures of skiers on the lower slopes of Wildcat.
The wind was picking up, and there was now a fairly constant cloud trailing off the lee side of Mt. Washington Summit — not at all unusual. Gordon was running out of steam, and decided to turn back about 20 minutes or so after we broke out of the woods. Dan, Frank and I continued on for another half hour or so, but the weather was deteriorating rapidly. With about 700 vertical feet left to go, we decided to forget about making the summit. We considered an alternate route back down — perhaps down Tuckermans ravine — but decided it was too dangerous. We had a quick snack and then headed back down Lions Head.
We mangaged to stay ahead of the descending clouds and made good time downhill. Frank and Dan were far ahead of me for most of the way down, but I didn’t mind. It was interesting footing. Above the treeline, one had to watch carefully for ice. But where the snow was packed just so, and the grade was just right, you could point your toes downhill a bit and slide effortlessly for several feet at a time. It was a gas! I had three pairs of socks on, and my feet were warm and toasty all day. I felt like a mischievous child, and happily slid downhill on my butt when the terrain allowed this. The only minor casualty of the day was a tear in my ski warmups caused by the ice axe. No big deal.
We got back to the lean-to at about 3 PM or so and found Gordon casually heating up a (frozen) can of beef stew. I followed suit and heated up the chili that I had brought. Frank tried to cook something or other, but somehow screwed up his stove so that it wouldn’t work any more. He has one of the older MSR stoves that puts out about ten zillion BTU and sounds like a 747 taking off. At the moment, all it would do is sputter up plumes of sooty yellow flame.
Gordon wasn’t ready for another night on the mountain, and wanted to head back home. I decided to join him; partly out of kindness, and partly because I too was not looking forward to another frigid night. Besides, I found these lean-tos to be dank and depressing, and thoroughly overcrowed. So GL and I packed hastily and headed down the mountain, starting around 4 PM. Gordon looked to be in sad shape. He complained of painful knees and stopped frequently, on what I considered a very easy, well graded trail. About 3/4 of the way down I got tired of his constant breaks and left him to his misery. I reached Pinkham Notch camp just before the darkness became total. Gordon pulled in about twenty minutes later. We had some soda, organized our stuff a bit, and then jumped in the car for the ride home. It was a fun ride; we talked about almost everything and anything. It sure beat driving alone, and it was a pleasant break from the Bailey/Bustin style of “goin down the road” feelin’ stoned.
Like I said: a short trip, but memorable. Chip tells me that last night (Thanksgiving day night) set record low temperatures throughout New England. Under the circumstances, I can’t really say that we were ill-prepared or that our equipment let us down. I’m amazed at how many folks play this game of winter hiking and camping. I was impressed at how well my boots kept my feet warm, and how easy it was to keep warm while hiking. A full-length Therm-A-Rest would have been wonderful, but I’m not about to run out and buy one. The short one that I did have was a godsend. I packed a lot of food and a lot of spare clothes, and still managed to have the lightest pack of the group — a touch over forty pounds. I did not carry a tent or tarp, however, and I would have been totally unprepared for rain (a calculated risk.) My trail foods are getting more creative: I carried no gorp at all this time, but I did carry (and consume) a block of Halvah, which was delicious. Soup for breakfast tasted great!
December 9, Hancock and Cedar Brook Trails
Day hike with Dan Coleman. Left middleton 5:30 AM. Breakfast at a Friendly’s in Concord NH. Hit the trailhead parking lot of Hancock Trail at about 8:30. (It’s on the Kancamagus Hwy., about 10 mi. east of Lincoln.) Started walking at about 8:45. It was a gorgeous, cold, clear, sunny, bright-blue-sky day. My toes were freezing! Dan’s cheapo thermometer read 0 degrees; in reality it might have been as warm as fifteen or so… I simply told my toes to shape up, and they eventually did. There was about 2 feet of fresh powder snow in the woods on either side of the trail.
It took us 1 hr. & 15 minutes to hit the junction of Cedar Brook trail, a distance of 1.7 miles. We walked over fresh powder, packed only by what seemed to be two sets of snowshoe prints. Every third or fourth footfall, you’d sink in about 4 to 6 inches below the surface. Tough going. Dan also thought there might be a few sets of footprints below the snowshoe tracks.
We caught up with the snowshoers shortly after starting up Cedar Brook Trail — a couple in their forties or so. They said they had traveled about as far as they were intending to. We chatted for a bit and moved on. There were five stream crossings before we hit the junction of Hancock Loop Trail, and each one was tricky. You had to test carefully with the ice axe, and walk as if on egshells. Even so, you’d constantly break through, and do a little dance to regain your balance and minimize the damage.
Turning right onto the Hancock Loop trail, we soon met three hikers lounging on sleep pads in the snow. They had full packs, but told us they were not planning to camp. Hmm. Strange. Chatted briefly and continued up hill. At this point, we had traveled farther up the mountain than anyone else, and were occasionally wading through virgin, thigh-high snow. Real slow going. Stopped for about 15 minutes for a brief lunch, and were passed by the three hikers; 20 minutes later, they passed us again, heading dowhill. All three were carrying their packs. Strange bunch.
We got to the junction of the two summit paths at 12:30, and knew we’d been licked. Stood around for a few minutes, gazing at the steep face that we would have to climb to the summit of North Peak. There was no way to do the summit loop as we had planned, and still make it back to the car at any reasonable hour (there was a party that night that we both planned to go to…) We sighed a deep sigh, and headed back down.
On the walk down to Cedar Brook, I looked behind me and spotted a good-sized gray-white bird flitting behind Dan. I pointed the bird out to Dan, who said yeah, he’d noticed them (there was a pair, I soon discovered). “They’ll eat right out of your hand”, he said, and proceeded to demonstrate. We have photos… Dan identified the birds as either Gray Jays or Mountain Jays. From what I’ve seen in the Readers’ Digest Wildlife guide, I’d say that’s a good call; the book describes Gray Jays as quite brazen and unafraid among humans.
Met our three hikers one more time, at the same spot as our first encounter. They were sprawled out again, had a stove going, and were cooking soup and dehydrated meals. It was about 1:00 PM.
Uneventful walk back to the car. We met nobody. Back on Cedar Brook, and on Hancock, there was a set cross-country ski tracks that hadn’t been there before. Got to the car at about 3:15, earlier than we had hoped or planned for, but pooped anyway. The three clowns (clones?) emerged from the woods about twenty minutes later, as we were driving off for home.
No great lessons or revelations today. The leather boots were fine, except for the first 1/2 hour of walking. The rest of me was warm and comfortable, in spite of the extreme cold. I was wearing the same outfit I’d used on Thanksgiving night on the walk up to Hermit Lake. The 1 mph rule held, even today; what we gained in not having heavy packs, we lost back due to the tough footing in the snow.
Dan was a bit disappointed not to have done the summits. I personally hadn’t taken that plan seriously, even when we began, so I was hardly upset. I had in fact tried to argue for a shorter, more “reasonable” hike, but Dan had his heart set on those two summits. No problem. A nice workout on a fine winter day. Just right for a day hike. Left just enough energy for the party that night!
December 31 — Hanover NH (Smarts Mtn.)
No, I didn’t climb Smarts Mountain, but I did gaze on it a bit, and made two short walks in its vicinity. The Coleman-Selig crowd has made a tradition of renting Hinman Cabin from the Dartmouth Outing Club over the New Years Weekend. I joined the festivities this year. Hinman is on a remote back-road, just a few miles from the Dartmouth Skiway, near Lyme, NH. Lyme is about 10 miles north of Hanover.
The first short walk of the day was on snowshoes, across the frozen lake directly in front of the cabin. The entire round-trip was probably about two miles or so. I was a bit nervous about walking on the ice, but needn’t have been — Danny and crew later discovered that the ice was about two feet thick! Like I say, it’s been a cold December. It turned out to be fairly easy walking. On the far side of the lake (away from the cabin, and toward Smarts Mtn.) I followed a creek bed uphill for a half mile or so, until it seemed to end in a swamp. At that point I lost the “trail”, so I just turned around and headed back for the cabin. Smarts Mtn. had been in full view, directly ahead of me throughout the walk on the lake, but there was no hope of making the summit on a short day hike, nor was I on a trail at that point.
Later on that same day I donned hiking boots again, left the snowshoes at the cabin, and did a short hike up Lambert Ridge Trail. This is in fact the A.T., leading from the cabin’s access road up to the summit of Smarts Mountain. Again, uneventful, but pleasant. I had my little day-pack with some extra clothing items and a canteen of water — maybe 5 pounds total luggage. This time, I probably walked about 3 miles round-trip. It was warm (30 degrees) and cloudy. The leather boots served me well on both hikes, but I should add that the snow on Lambert Ridge trail was pretty well packed down for me — kind of like the Tuckerman’s Ravine trail on Thanksgiving. There was a nice view at one point on the trail, looking east (?) toward the shore of the lake on which our cabin was located.
Jan. 6, 1990: Centennial Trail
A short entry, I’m afraid. This was planned as my first solo, overnight winter hike. Didn’t turn out that way. Centennial Trail is the A.T., heading north from the Androscoggin River, just east of Gorham.
Got only three hours of sleep the night before; stayed up till 1:30 packing, and then struck with the usual pre-hike insomnia. (Wonder why that is?) Left Middleton at 6 AM, and on the trail by 9:15. I had planned to do about 6 miles on the first day, up over Mt. Hayes, camping at Trident Col. I was packed and dressed pretty much as I had been for the Thanksgiving hike, although I had my new Gore-Tex top and bottoms with me, and was wearing the top part. Was also wearing my brand-new “Ultralight” boots.
The first 1/4 mile of the trail was nicely packed down, and it looked like it would be fairly easy hiking. Then quite suddenly the tracks stopped, and I was in crunchy, untracked snow, occasionally up to my shins. It didn’t seem too difficult to walk on the flat stuff, but on the steep sections each step was a battle. On the plus side, I had beautiful views looking south over the Androscoggin River, and over the Presidentials and Carter-Moriah range. The only “summit” I made on this trip was the little unmarked mound that appears on the topo map, just south of Mt. Hayes.
I was beset with technical problems. Snow was getting into both boot-tops. A pair of gaiters would have solved that problem. I tried to tie my pants around the boot-tops, but that method only worked for about ten minutes at a time. Early on the hike, I had brazenly stepped into a small stream with my right boot. Sure enough, about 10 minutes later that foot began to feel very wet and cold. It was not intolerable, and that problem alone would probably not have ended the hike. But before long, even the left foot began to feel cold and clammy. It didn’t seem to me that the melting snow from the boot-tops should cause them to take on water like that.
In any case, it was approaching noon, and I still hadn’t even begun the main “assault” of Mt. Hayes! I was moving at less than 1/2 mile per hour. It had been a gloomy gray morning, and now it was snowing. My feet were both cold, and I was dog-tired, after having walked perhaps two miles. I decided to call it quits, and turned around.
The walk downhill was considerably faster than the walk up. It took well under two hours, and that time included a lunch of hot Ramen soup. The Whisperlite stove is a trooper — melted the snow for the soup, and boiled the water, in well under ten minutes. On arrival back at the car, I changed into dry pants and removed the hiking boots ASAP. They were soaked through and through.
Bottom line is, I was not prepared. First off, snowshoes should have been used for the deep snow on this trail. Barring that, those rubberized “downeast” style boots (Sorrells) would have been far more appropriate than any kind of normal hiking boot. Alternatively, a pair of gaiters might have made ordinary boots workable, if not optimal. And it was downright foolhardy to attempt the trip in new, untried “ultralight” boots.
As I said earlier, the Whisperlite worked like a champ. The Gore-Tex top was cool and comfortable. Of the three layers that covered the top half of my body, the only one that showed signs of wetness was the middle layer: a flannel shirt. Hate to say it, but the synthetic fabrics win hands-down, at least for the legs and upper body.
January 13: Centennial Trail and Mahoosuc Trail
This hike didn’t go as planned, but went well enough. I’m getting to like the concept of winter hiking, but winter camping is another thing. The original idea had been to take Centennial Trail as far north as Dream Lake, and then take Peabody Trail back to the starting point — just like last weekend. It was a clear and very cold day — about 15 degrees or so up north, and windy to boot. There were a few fast-moving clouds, but snow was not likely.
Got started on the trail at about 9:40. The drive north was tough; it had snowed a couple of inches in the Whites during the night. This time I was ready: I had Jim’s snowshoes, a new pair of Gore-Tex gaiters, and my new Fabiano leather boots, which had been worn-in somewhat during the prior week. Indeed, my feet were comfortable and toasty all day long, though I didn’t try stepping into streams. On my bottom half, I wore polypro and K-mart sweats. On top, polypro and my Gore-Tex windbreaker. I wore a sweater for a while, but it got too hot. Wind was not a factor in the woods, until I actually reached the summit of Hayes.
It took a bit over two hours to get to the point at which I turned around last weekend. That was good news. Everything seemed to be going well. No need to look for the AT blazes — all I had to do was follow my tracks from the week before. Sure enough, when I got to the point where my tracks ran out, the trail became very difficult to follow. The AT blazes were few and far between, and most of them were badly faded. I spent a great deal of time on this trip searching for the next blaze and hunting for the trail. It’s not at all obvious in winter, under several feet of snow!
The main ascent of Mt. Hayes went fairly well. It’s a nicely graded path, until you get to within 1/2 mile or so of the southern summit. At that point the snow got deeper, and the ascent steeper, both at the same time. It was very rough going; a couple of times it felt like I just couldn’t take that next step. At one point I took the snowshoes off, to see if that would help. I immediately sank down to my crotch in the snow! At that point on the trail, the snowshoes sank about 8 or 10 inches in the snow with each step!
I made the southern summit of Mt. Hayes at about 2:15. Even under winter conditions, I was moving at just below my usual one-mph — not bad. Sat on the bare rocks and had a quick lunch — and I mean quick! The view of the Presidentials was fantastic, but it was f•ing cold in the wind. You know how snow blows over a drift in the winter, or how the crest of a wave gets blown into spray by an onshore breeze? Well, that’s what I thought of as I watched the clouds fly over Mount Washington. The cloud layers were less than a hundred feet thick, and above them it was perfectly blue. Couldn’t really get a photo, because the view was due south into the sun.
Had to keep moving (one of the rules of winter hiking, I guess.) I was trying to decide whether to cop out and take the Mahoosuc trail back south into Gorham. I knew for sure that another ascent like the one I had just done would be thoroughly unpleasant. Nor was I really looking forward to a night alone in the cold. After about 20 minutes of following the AT north, I came to the junction of the Mahoosuc Trail. The sign indicated that I’d have to take that trail to reach the “real” summit of Mt. Hayes. I decided to go for it, and left the AT. I must have found and lost the trail about five times in the first half mile, but then it started to leave the open summit areas and became more obvious.
After about 15 minutes of walking downhill, I came upon an open space with a most awesome view, looking due south over the entire Mount Washington Valley. It looked like a postcard of some story-book Swiss valley. You could see all the way down to the slopes of Wildcat. The view was centered perfectly with the Carter Range to the left, and the Presidentials to the right. You could definitely appreciate the glacial origin of the valley from here. Again, no photos; this one just couldn’t be captured on film (you had to be there.) Just below me was the town of Gorham, and it looked close enough to touch. The thought of camping disappeared then and there, but with that thought I realized I’d have to hurry to get off the mountain by dark. Fortunately, the trail was well packed, and I made excellent time.
I never made it to Gorham. Somewhere near the “end” of the trail, it crossed a wide path, which I mistook for the trail itself. (Had I consulted my map, I probably would not have made this mistake.) The path bore hard left, and continued to descend and to widen, all of which seemed quite proper. However, after about 45 minutes I noticed that I had left the town entirely to the west, and was now heading almost due east along the northern bank of the Androscoggin. When I realized what had happenned, I just chuckled to myself and kept going — I was heading straight back to my car! No big deal; it was fast walking, and kind of nice to walk right along the bank of the river. Just after 6 PM, after about an hour of walking in the dark, I arrived at my car and gratefully ended the hike. Hard to tell just how long this walk was, but I’m guessing about 12 or 13 miles. Not shabby, even if five miles of that was on wide paths and roads.
There were several “firsts” on this hike. First time out with my new Fabianos. My first ascent of Mt. Hayes. First summit I’ve ever fetched wearing snowshoes. First summit ever fetched on a winter hike (none of my first three actually made it to a summit). Perhaps the main “lesson” learned was how incredibly difficult it can be to follow a trail in the winter, particularly one that you’ve never followed before. I’m really not sure how people climb steep, deep slopes in winter; I’ve been beaten on that score thrice now, with and without snowshoes.
Saw a bit of wildlife: a woodpecker, a pheasant, and some kind of rodent that burrows into holes in the snow (it looked like a small squirrel). Saw lots of animal tracks, but I couldn’t begin to guess what sort of critters made them. Some of them just crossed the trail, and others followed along it for significant distances.
As for not camping, I have no regrets. I just couldn’t see the point of freezing my butt off, trying to stay warm for a long winter’s night, all alone in a tent pitched on snow. Maybe with one or two other hikers, it might have made more sense. I didn’t really anticipate a repeat of the Hermit Lake freeze-out, but it would have been a cold and lonely night, nonetheless. Instead, I’m safe at home, about to wrap up this report, take a hot bath, and jump into a warm bed!
Sunday, January 28, 1990 — Near Pittsfield, Vermont
A short hike, rather spur-of-the-moment. This started out as a typical ski weekend, based out of Bob’s ski house on Rte 100 in Vermont, just north of Pittsfield. Bob Bailey and I skied Jay Peak on Saturday. I took a fall that spooked me and wrenched my knee a bit, and so decided to skip the skiing on Sunday. I told Bob to go ahead and ski without me, which he did. It was a warm, windy day; a sunny start, but mostly gray by 10 AM, when I finally walked out the door. Rain looked quite possible, if not probable.
I was dressed in the same outfit, almost, as I had used the day before to ski: on the bottom, cotton briefs, polypro, sweatpants and Gore-Tex. On top, polypro, acrylic sweater, and Gore-Tex. Plus my all-new (bought at Jay) “barkeater hat” — the kind with the ear flaps. I used my boot bag as a day-pack, and carried a quart of water in a returnable plastic soda bottle, plus some dry cereal and Cheezits.
The hike took all of about 3 hours, up to the ridgeline connecting a couple of small hills, across Rte. 100 from Bob’s ski house. I started out figuring on a bushwhack but within five minutes picked up a trail of sorts. I followed it up to the ridgeline, where it ended. So I back-tracked and pursued several of its forks. Each one would head uphill and eventually dead-end near the ridgeline. Bear in mind that this ridge of which I speak is perhaps 300 feet vertical above Rte. 100, so we’re not talking about any marathon climbs. The ridge was heavily wooded, so the only views were the ones obtained when the trees thinned out just a bit.
I had neither compass nor map, and my sense of direction was not amused by the seemingly impossible orientation of the sun. I did in fact bushwhack several times, and always seemed to pick up a new path, which always seemed to lead back to the same central one from which I’d started. I also had forgotten my watch back at the ski house, even though I’d written a note promising to return by 2 PM. As it turns out, I returned at 1:15.
I saw a woods phenomenom that was new to me: complicated networks of colored plastic tubing strung between dozens of maple trees over several acres at a stretch. The tubing would teminate onto little plastic taps with valves at each tree trunk, and you could see the tap-holes in the trees that these things would be plugged into. And then I realized — this is Vermont, after all. Just a rather bizzare way of collecting maple sap!
Aside from that, nothing remarkable to report, except that I was almost too warm in the Gore-Tex, and it never did rain. However, it did help get me through the brambles on several occasions — my sweatpants would have been hopeless. I was wearing the new Fabianos, and they were wonderful. Feet stayed dry and comfortable, in spite of my slogging through a great deal of mud and snow.
Feb. 17-19, 1990 (Washington’s Birthday)
A long weekend that went well, though not at all according to plan. Dan Coleman and I left Middleton Friday evening, headed for the Rattle River Trailhead. The plan was to spend the night at Rattle River Shelter. Saturday would take us up over Moriah to Imp Shelter. Sunday would be day-hiking on the Carter-Moriah ridge, and Monday would take us back to Gorham via the Carter-Moriah Trail.
The plan was shot to pieces when we arrived at the trailhead late on Friday and found it plowed in behind a four-foot-high bank of heavy snow. We cruised all over creation looking for an alternate parking spot. Drove back to town with an alternate plan: park in Gorham, and take a taxi back to the trailhead. Could not make contact with the taxi service, in spite of the help of a local motel proprietor. In the middle of all this, we had lightning and ice rain. Danny knew about a DOC cabin along Rte. 2, and we went exploring in search of it. Eventually found it, empty and locked up tight. The porch was accessible, and one possibility was to set up Dan’s Timberline tent on the porch. Neither of us could get excited about that idea.
Back to Gorham. Sat in a bar and had a couple of rounds of Budweiser. Fought the urge to buy a pack of smokes, and won. Left the bar and headed down Rte. 16. Pulled into the parking lot of the Great Gulf Wilderness, and decided it was as good a spot as any to spend the night. Pulled the car up next to a snowbank, and set up Dan’s tent between the car and the snowbank. It was rather warm — probably around 30 most of the night, and I slept well, in spite of the ice and snow under the tent. I was inside the new down bag, and had the old one pulled up over my feet. The wind blew like stink, and as the tent was not staked down at all, the only thing that kept it from sailing away was me, sleeping on the windward side.
Next morning we packed up quickly and drove back up Rte. 16. Somewhat colder now, in the teens most likely. Had breakfast at Walsh’s in Gorham. Then down Rte. 16. There was a large spruce that had blown down during the night and was laying across one lane, just south of our “campground”. (The forests are dying, and the conifers are going first.) Turned right, up Rte 302, and eventually decided to hike up Ethan Pond Trail. I wanted to backpack up to the Ethan Pond shelter, but Dan just wanted a day hike. Dan won out, and it was probably a good thing, as one of my snowshoe bindings decided to self-destruct along the way. Dan jury-rigged it with nylon cord, and it held up well for the rest of the day’s hike. We walked almost (I think) to the junction of Kedron Brook Trail before turning around. The snowshoes had been quite necessary on this hike, although there were footprints left by some poor soul who had walked without them. We met one couple walking up the trail with full packs, as we walked down. That was the extent of our company on this hike. All told, we probably covered about 3.5 miles round-trip, and gained maybe 600 feet before turning back.
Back on the road (Rte 302.) Drove south, to Sawyer River Road. The place was alive with snowmobilers. Went tromping through the woods, looking for some tent platforms that Dan had stayed at once before. We never found them. Afterwards, Dan set out on snowshoes to find us a tent site for the night. Then back in the car again heading south, in search of a new set of snowshoe bindings. Found them at EMS in North Conway. Northbound traffic was a mess (this was Saturday night) and neither of us felt like driving back up to Sawyer River Road. So we kept driving south. When we reached the Kancamagus highway, I turned right toward North Lincoln.
The Kanc was slippery as hell. We did notice that many of the trailheads were plowed out and had cars parked at them, but Dan absolutely did not want to backpack. At North Lincoln we stopped for pizza at the place I’d discovered earlier in the summer. Real, hot food tasted great. It had gotten quite cold during the day, and the night promised to be a chilly one, probably below zero. I remembered about Kinsman Notch, and Beaver Brook shelter. Dan was undecisive, so I just led the way and ignored his moans and groans. Drove up Rte. 112 to the trailhead. There was a place to park nearby, though I was not sure where the exact trailhead was. We suited up one last time in the bitter cold, donned the snowshoes, and walked along the snowbanks until we found the trailhead. The sign said 0.1 miles to the shelter. It was probably more like 0.3 miles, but no matter: we found it. It was empty, intact, and looked very inviting in that bitter cold. We set up quickly, and I soon had the stove going, heating up water for hot chocolate. Even Dan’s spirits improved greatly. I lit up my new candle-lantern, and the place seemed downright cheery. It probably went down to about ten below zero that night.
Slept like a rock, with my new, small down bag completely enclosed within the old one — four pounds of down around me. I was quite warm, in spite of the sub-zero temperature. We both woke around 9:30 AM. I got the stove going post-haste. Made hot chocolate. Used some hot water for a sponge bath — it felt great! No oatmeal, went directly to Ramen soup. We must have lingered for quite a while — it was about 11 AM before we left the place. During the night (and morning) we were visited by a very brazen mouse. He ate the dregs of the hot chocolate out of my cup, and then left his feces in the cup. I washed it out pretty good. Hope I don’t end up with giardia a week from now…
The plan at this point was as follows: Park at the Basin on Rte. 3. Hike with full packs and tent to Liberty Springs campsite. Then go up to the ridge, and down Falling Waters, on Monday. The plan was once again shot to hell, and for the same reason: the Basin is not plowed. Continued north to the Falling Waters/Bridal Path trailhead. This one is plowed, but our plan was still shot. Many cars, and many barkeaters heading up the mountain with snowshoes. We decided on a day-hike up the Bridal Path trail. A hiker in the parking lot told us not to bother with the snowshoes, and it turned out to be a good tip. We would have liked to camp, but the signs everywhere said NO CAMPING, and I knew that to be the rule in summertime. Apparently, this rule is lifted (or just not enforced) in winter. There were many cars left at the trailhead later that evening, and many stories of people tenting in the woods below Greenleaf hut during the previous night.
The day’s weather and the hike itself were both glorious. Carrying only day packs, we made good time. It felt like my first time ever up this trail. The views were magnificent, even better than in summer. Danny had never been up to Franconia before, and I could tell he was impressed. He stopped at every lookout for photos. We had started the walk at about 1 PM, and hit Greenleaf hut at about 3:45. We were able to maintain our 1 MPH, even in winter conditions! In the woods, we were actually a bit warm, and had to peel back layers. But as we approached the hut, the layers came back on. Just above the hut, we stopped for an extended break and munch-out. Took a few more photos, and then began our descent. We were not concerned about darkness, since we had both headlamps and flashlights. However, we wanted to get down below Agony ridge before total darkness, as there had been a few steep icy sections, and Dan didn’t have crampons.
The views on the way back down were equally magnificent. The sun put on a royal show in the process of setting, and we lingered deliberately so as to catch the whole performance. Once it was over, and we were safely in the woods, we began to fly down the mountain. I think we make the whole trip down in two hours. We had carried the headlamps, but never used them. The darkness was not quite complete when we hit the parking lot.
That was the end our our White Mountains hiking for the weekend. Picked up a six-pack of Bud and then flew down Rte. 93 headed for home. Once in Middleton, we heated up the leftover pizza from the night before, and then Dan headed back home to Lynn. Shortly thereafter, I discovered the one casualty of the weekend: I had lost my brand new REI glacier glasses somewhere up on Franconia ridge. It must have happened just as we turned around to head down, when I took off the polypro gloves and put on the Gore-Tex mittens (the glasses had been stashed inside the mittens.)
It’s a shame we did head home, because Monday’s weather was even finer, at least here on the North Shore. I spent a couple of hours tromping through Bradley Palmer State Park. It must have been fifty degrees, sunny, with just enough clouds to make the sky interesting. It was too hot for hat or gloves. I finished up the film I had started on Saturday morning, and brought it to the mall after my walk in the park. Of the three local walking areas that I’ve found so far, Bradley Palmer is my favorite. It has hills, ponds, lots of trails, and seems to have a greater variety of trees than Harold Parker State Park.
I saw several more blowdowns — conifers that must have fallen quite recently. These were big trees, too. Very sad.
Mt. Chocorua, March 10, 1990
A beautiful day hike and a fitting finale to a half-year of hiking — this one is almost certain to be the last little hike before the Big One. Gorgeous, spring-like weather; probably 50 degrees. Bright blue skies in the morning, though it got a bit hazy in the afternoon.
The costume this time: polypro long-john bottoms, sweatpants, t-shirt and wool shirt. No outer layers; it was too warm. I wisely wore the old hiking boots, with two layers of wool socks (crampons won’t fit onto the Fabianos). Polypro hat, gloves, and Hobie sunglasses completed the outfit. I had the Jansport day-pack filled with a shitload of goodies, including sweater, anorak, camera, crampons, two flashlights, and vast amounts of junk food.
Left Middleton at about 8 AM; got to Rte. 1 and had to turn around when I realized I’d forgotten any kind of jacket or windbreaker. That was the only mishap of the trip, however. It took a bit of work to find the trailhead; it doesn’t look at all like what a trailhead oughta look like. It’s out behind a grocery store, with a big gate and a sign proclaiming PIPER TRAIL. Too obvious, I guess. It might have helped if I’d looked at the trail map before driving through Ossipee. From the number of cars at the trailhead (several) and the texture of the snow (heavy, packed-powder/corn) I guessed correctly that snow shoes were not required.
Followed Piper trail for about 0.5 mile to where Weetamoo Trail branches to the left, then followed Weetamoo. Fairly easy, graded walk through hemlock, birch, and young hardwoods. The trail was covered with boilerplate ice in several places, so I put on my crampons, and they remained on until I was over the summit and partway down the other side. Took a right onto Hammond Trail, and then another right onto Liberty Trail. Passed the Jim Liberty Hut — first one I’ve ever seen with a wood stove inside!
Just above the hut the terrain gets quite steep for the final ascent of the rocky summit. This was the one stretch where the crampons were a bit tricky — not easy to walk on bare rock with these things. On the other hand, where it wasn’t bare rock, it was often boilerplate ice. Found myself deliberately aiming for the ice — a strange way to travel for this camper. The crampons were very handy on this trip. I had a bit of trouble getting them to stay in place — they tried constantly to drift backwards toward the heel of the boot.
Didn’t spend a lot of time on the summit. Had a rather hasty lunch, talked with a small group that was up there with their two golden retrievers. The breeze chilled me out (in spite of the anorak) and the sky was getting hazy. Views were not as spectacular as I had hoped for, but it turns out that the best views were ahead.
Took Piper Trail for the return trip. This trail follows the bare ridge for about a half-mile before ducking into the trees. Nice views of Mt. Carrigain and the Presidentials from up here, looking west and north. Even just below the ridge, the trail stays in fairly open areas for quite a while, affording nice views east and south. As is typical, the first portion of the descent was the steepest, and then it soon leveled out into rather fast woods-walking. The trail crosses and then follows streams several times in the lower half of the descent.
Made very good time — a round trip of just under nine miles, in about six hours. Not too shabby for winter hiking! Nothing super-strenuous about the trails I hiked today, but it was a good workout just the same. Better yet, I still had some energy left when I got home, and my legs didn’t even bother to complain. I guess all this conditioning has paid off, after all!
Short Walks Near Home…
Harold K. Parker State Park — on Rte. 114, a few miles north of Middleton. Took a couple of walks there, maybe two or three miles each, if that. No verticals at all, maybe 30 feet for the whole park. But pleasant woods, stone fences, a pond, even potential camping spots — though it’s probably illegal. There are lots of fire rings around the pond, so it’s been done before, I’m sure.
On my first walk, I remember making a very positive identification of a hemlock tree. Hey, for this city boy, it was an impressive feat. I also remember trying for an hour to identify a certain interesting wildflower with the Readers’ Digest book, with no success at all. The woods are all relatively young conifers, Hemlock and some kind of pines, I think. Some hardwood, notably birch and aspen (you know, the trees with shiny white bark!)
The second (or was it 3rd?) walk was sort of a trial-run for the new Ricoh camera, bought in January. A fine day — that’s when I went around the pond. Just before that little jaunt, I spent about 1/2 hour at one of the trailheads picking up trash. It was disgusting.
Wier Hill — On Feb. 10 — a bright Sunday day after the Valentines party — roomate Jim told me about a nice walk up in Andover, Wier Hill. A drummond, he called it; I think I remember that word from Earth Science. It has maybe 100 feet of vertical, above the trailhead. This is big time! The area is owned/managed by the Trustees of Reservations. It was neat, clean and garbage-free, and a very pleasant walk, in spite of the boilerplate ice on the trail. Only problem was, I got lost in the boonies of North Andover after the walk, and drove around in circles for an hour before making contact with civilzation.
The last hike (to date — 2/19/90) was at Bradley Palmer State Park. I’d been there before a couple of times with Liz; once to walk, and once or twice at equine events. This time I found a new entrance to the park, directly off Ipswich Road. Of the three areas mentioned here, I think this is my favorite. See the comments just above (notes for hike of 2/17/90.)