Monday, February 20, 2012

2 Kinsmans on President's Day - 2-20-12

I went via Fishin' Jimmy. I didn't want the extra elevation gain plus drive time of the Western approach on this day. I was hoping to visit George (Mount Washington) on this President's Day, but 60 mph winds at 7AM on the summit nixed that idea, as expected. The winds were forecast to drop to 35-50 during the afternoon, still not good enough. Turns out this didn't happen and the winds stayed over 60 most of the day. Definitely a good call to stay below treeline.

Great day for the Kinsmans. Clear skies until early afternoon when some clouding occurred (opposite of the forecast morning clouds, afternoon clearing but I'm not kicking) Got a late start for me, hitting the trail around 8:50AM. Chugged up the Lonesome Lake Trail in what seemed like a slow pace, but I hit the hut by 9:50. One hour, not bad, guess I'm doing better than I thought! Thought about going in the hut, but decided to keep moving, especially since people were still eating breakfast it seemed. I had 8.5 miles left on the day. I would be back later anyway.

Left on the Fishin' Jimmy and soon passed 3 people on the first significant descent about 1/3 mile from the hut. First ice of the day too... Turned out that these people would be the only ones I would see above the hut all day. The Fishin' Jimmy meanders along, gaining and losing a little elevation constantly for the first mile. After that it climbs, and steeply in spots. In the summer there are some steps drilled into the rocks, right now all of the steep rock faces are coated in a LOT of ice. Most spots are bypassed, though one or two of the bypasses are pretty icy too.

Eventually I crawled up to Kinsman Junction and headed south on the Kinsman Ridge Trail. Hit the summit of N. Kinsman at about 11:45. Gorgeous views with very few clouds from the overlook just below the summit. The only other time I was on the Kinsmans, it was overcast and views weren't great. Not so today.

Franconia Ridge

I hung out here at the overlook for a while, there was no wind here and it was a nice view to snack at. After a little while I packed up and headed over to S. Kinsman. There was some more snow and a little minor drifting near the summit. Nothing worth pulling out the snowshoes.

Snow-covered trees near the summit of North Kinsman

I started to feel some of the wind now, and even more so on the summit. Seeing the Southern summit of S. Kinsman, I headed over to it because it looked close in elevation even though I was pretty sure the northern knob was higher (it was). The trail to that knob was not as condensed (or clear due to some drifting) and I'm afraid a couple kittens were killed. The prints were already filling in when I headed back after just a couple pictures of Moosilaukee and South-West. A few pictures of the snow ghosts at the true S. Kinsman and I headed back to North Kinsman.

Franconia Ridge from South Kinsman

At the overlook I ran into the trio I had seen before. They were only going for the N. summit and were wondering if it was a little further up, they seemed pleased when informed they had already climbed over it (well, I guess the summit is just off-trail, but close enough). They wanted views, and since things were clouding up, weren't all that interested in S. Kinsman. Besides, I think the N. Kinsman outlook has better views overall, though you can see Vermont from S (that was rapidly becoming not the case though).

Heading down the Fishin' Jimmy steeps was interesting. Some glissading was used on the icy spots instead of the bypasses, and I made it to the hut intact. There I headed inside for a while to have a snack and just chill. It was warmer inside anyway (though still not warm of course, I would have put a layer on were I to stay longer). I had a nice conversation with a couple of dads who had brought their sons up for the night. I left around 2:55, setting myself an aggressive goal of reaching the car at 3:30. Turns out I made it by 3:25. 6.5 hour elapsed time with a couple longer breaks. It's insane how fast the trails are right now, I've never been this consistently under book time with long stops in my life. Hiking 5 out of 6 weekends probably doesn't hurt either.

I ran into a couple of people just getting off Franconia Ridge, they said it was hard to stay upright at times, I guess not doing the Presi's was a good move.

Another free ride for the snowshoes, really they were only needed going to the southern summit of S. Kinsman and only in a couple spots. Microspikes were perfect for all but the steep mile of Fishin' Jimmy. There I had to take my time, especially on the descent. The others I saw were using microspikes and Hillsounds too. Crampons or at least Hillsound PROs would not be un-reasonable for Fishin' Jimmy. Lonesome Lake and KRT can be bare-booted if desired, not much ice to speak of there.

Nice day out, gorgeous views. Good plan B for winds too much for the presi's.

All pics:

S. Kinsman marked the 1/3 marker on my winter 4Ks! Just over 2 months ago I would have laughed at you if you told me I would have ANY winter 4K's done. So far I'm loving winter hiking, second only to fall (and boy is it a close one, I like not having to watch every step for rocks tripping me up!)

Mileage: 10.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 3500 feet
Peaks: North Kinsman (4293', NH4K), South Kinsman (4358', NH4K)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

14 Miles to #14 - Mount Carrigain - 2-19-12

I had hoped to hit Madison/Adams, but the wind forecast (once NOAA decided to update things properly) nixed that one. I was kicking around either the Hancocks, Pass/Whiteface, or Carrigain. With the forecast for ample sun, I was leaning toward Carrigain. Winds were supposed to be stiff, but out of the NW, so things should be sheltered nicely until at least Signal Ridge, if not until the summit itself. Saturday morning Petch (whom I had hiked with the weekend before on the Mount Isolation hike) declared he was going to hit up Carrigain for his winter 48 list too, so that sealed it.

My goal was to be on-trail at 8:00 AM while Petch (and it turns out Steve too - another participant in that crazy-cold hike) were shooting for 8:30. I figured we'd meet somewhere along the line. I left the Boston area at 5AM and in my morning fog completely missed the I-93 exit off of I-95, and didn't realize this until about 10 minutes from NH...luckily taking NH rt. 16 was supposed to be only a few minutes longer...aside from the person going 35 in a 50 with no legal passing for 10 miles...anyway, I arrived at the trailhead around 8:15. O well.

Petch and Steve were about ready to go, so I grabbed my stuff, we took a picture, and were off along the herd path along the river (not the road) right at 8:30. After following the herd path for about 1 mile (at which point it was fading), we cut up to the road, right at the major washout section which has been nicely repaired. My guess is the grade is going to be left like this, but who knows. (Update 5/2012 - it appears that this is going to see more work, as the road is remaining closed for construction work much of summer 2012).

Somewhat repaired wash-out section on Sawyer River Road

We hit the summer trailhead in about 45 minutes. A brief break and we charged along the trail. Shortly before the Carrigain Notch Trail, we ran into a pair of guys with MASSIVE packs (probably c.a. 80 pounds) taking off some snowshoes (large ones at that). They had been in the woods for the last 2 nights, having camped about a mile off towards Mt. Lowell. They had climbed up Lowell the day before and now they were on their way out (and glad to hear they would be fine bare-booting or microspiking the rest of the way). We hit the junction around 9:50.

To this point is pretty moderate, gaining only about 1000 feet since the parking lot (the winter one), in 3.7 miles. Soon the climbing starts, there is nearly 4000 feet of climbing in the 7 miles of this route overall, 3000 of it in the last 3ish miles. Slowly but surely we chugged up the mountain, taking frequent breathers (my fault, sorry if you guys wanted to keep moving!) at the limited peek-though view points that offer great views of Mount Lowell.

Mount Lowell across Carrigain Notch from Signal Ridge

We eventually crested Signal Ridge, where the views were OK but no where near what they can be. You see, the weather men were all wrong: the skies were not sunny, but mostly cloudy. The lower elevations were OK, but the higher summits apparently all had clouds...

Looking towards distant Crawford Notch with Vose Spur in the right foreground

There was no wind until we got up on the tower, where there was enough to limit our time hanging out up there. We sat below the tower (where the wind was pretty much non-existant) and ate for a while, then headed down. Just below the summit in the steeps we passed Pam's group making their ascent.

Nothing much to report on the descent. We guessed we would be back at the cars around 4PM and sure enough we hit the cars at 3:52. We took the Sawyer River Road the whole way this time instead of the herd path. Sub 7.5 hours for 14 miles and 3900 feet of gain. Not bad!

Trails were just like all the others right now: hard packed, rocks all hidden, and thus FAST. Microspikes were perfect, only minor drifting along Signal Ridge. We all carried snowshoes for 14 miles. Another free ride for them.

Good day out, too bad the sunny summits forecast wasn't true. The weathermen were all wrong on the sky cover Sunday and Monday... 

Mileage: 14 miles
Elevation Gain: ~3900'
Peaks: Carrigain (4700', NH4K)

Winter NH 4000-footer #14 for me!

More pictures:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Freezing on Mount Isolation - Feb 12, 2012

Well, below freezing to be accurate. I was originally planning to link up with someone from and hike a traverse of Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce, but the weatherman had other ideas. The forecast was calling for sub-zero temperatures with 70 mph winds on Mount Washington. Oh, and mostly cloudy. Scratch anything above treeline.

Luckily, there was a plan B. The person I was to hike with was going to hike with his normal group instead, who were visiting Mount Isolation for one of their members' anytime-48 finish! I was invited to join, and jumped at the idea. Mount Isolation is a protected hike all the way until the final summit, which is exposed. Also, it is sheltered below the Presidential ridge at a mere 4003 feet. Thus, the wind would be lower and only really be felt at the summit, so not a bad choice for the day.

In the summer, Mount Isolation is a minimum 15-mile round-trip hike along a lot of very wet trails, even in late summer. There are no views until the summit itself, aside from a few tiny peeks through the trees. The elevation gain is moderate at about 3300 feet total, but I remember the first time I did this peak, the wet trails, especially the Isolation Trail, was very annoying and frustrating.

However, in winter, Isolation is actually a pretty nice hike. Snow covering the ground deals with the wet and sloppy trails. Even better, there is a nice, easy (tree-density-wise) bushwhack that cuts off a solid mile-plus each way, along with a couple hundred of feet. So we now have a 12-12.5 mile hike at about 3100 feet of elevation gain. At this point in winter, with the lack of snow this year, the bushwhack had been broken out and packed very hard by dozens and dozens of hikers. Previous trip reports indicated that the bushwhack that was broken out was a little off the normal route, but still fine and all we would need was microspikes. HURRAY! For the first time this winter, I left the snowshoes at the car. So did all but one person in the group (who I guess wanted the extra exercise?)

The bushwhack is referred to as the Engine Hill Bushwhack because it is more or less on a knob called, oddly enough, Engine Hill. The hike follows the normal approach from Route 16 on the Northern half of the Rocky Branch Trail. When the trail reaches the height of land (near Engine Hill), there is a tree on the right with a big "T" carved in it. The bushwhack starts here. It climbs 100 feet or so, and then follows the contour around to the West until it hits the Isolation Trail. From here you follow the Isolation Trail to the Davis Path, head the 0.9 miles South to the Isolation Spur, and hit the summit.

The start of the Engine Hill Bushwhack leaves the Rocky Branch Trail here.

The route to Mount Isolation using the Engine Hill Bushwhack

We ended up using a second short bushwhack near the Isolation/Davis Path Junction that cut a tiny portion of distance off, but there is only minimal advantage to this route. On the map above, if one were to not take the Engine Hill Bushwhack, the Rocky Branch Trail continues West and South to near where the label "Shelter Number 2" is before heading North. You can see the distance and elevation saved.

One thing to note is that this bushwhack track did not neatly follow the contour line on the map, but climbed briefly and then descended a ways near the end. The random ascent is hard to understand, but the descent was due to the people breaking trail running short on daylight and cutting back to0 the main trail before they turned around that day (so is the story I heard).

This bushwhack goes through some very nice open birch glades along the way.

 The only reason this bushwhack is not often used in other seasons is that the glade is apparently a bit marshy, and I saw some spots that appeared this way.

We left the sunny trailhead at 8F temperatures with 13 people and a dog. Shortly after the Engine Hill Bushwhack on the way out, the dog and it's owner had to turn around as the dog's paws were icing up a little with the abnormal cold. We heard back later that the dog was fine a short while later after putting some booties on. We soldiered on, reaching the side trail to the Isolation summit before stopping to put on facemasks (for those that hadn't yet, some of us did on the bushwhack as the wind was cold!), goggles, and extra layers. A quick scramble up the side trail to the summit where we could see...nothing. Isolation is an open summit with spectacular views of the Southern Presidentials, Carters/Wildcats, and more, but we could only see about 1/2 mile. So much for the sun that was below 3000 feet all day...

Most peoples' cameras would not work in the cold. We did manage a couple pictures, then we got out of there back to the Davis Path! Once there a couple of us checked our thermometers and discovered that the temperatures were around -10F! Couple that with an estimated wind on the summit of about 25-30 mph and you get -40F wind chills! Definitely the coldest I have yet experienced.

We picked up our packs and headed back. We stopped for a little while once back on the Isolation Trail to do a little preliminary celebration for the 48 finisher (why would you choose such a terribly cold and bitter day for an ANYTIME finish...congratulations regardless!). Then we just motored back to the trailhead. The group stayed pretty close together the entire way, which is impressive for such a large group, and we all finished in just under 6 hours total! That is a blistering pace. Needing only microspikes with the well-packed trail helped, but the big thing was we hardly stopped since it was so cold. We joked later over drinks and pizza that if it had been a nicer day we would have taken 8 hours to do it since we'd have been more leisurely. It was a fun hike and a terrific, if, um, ODD, group to hike with. Despite the bitter cold, it was one of my favorite hikes to date!

Distance: ~12.5 miles
Elevation Gain: ~3100 feet
Peaks: Isolation (4003', NH4K)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cannon 2, Matt 0 -- 2-11-12

I needed a short and "easy" day after the previous day's solo Franconia Ridge Traverse. Cannon seemed like a good candidate. I knew it would be steep going up Kinsman Ridge Trail, but I planned to get a later start and take it easy.

Arriving at the tramway parking around 9:30 and on-trail at 9:40. The climb was slow. I had every intention of snow-shoeing up to take advantage of the televators, but the shoes were like concrete shoes today (gee, wonder why!) so I put the microspikes back on and kept them on until I was back at the car.

I was slow climbing but the glades made some nice excuses to stop and enjoy the views. There wasn't much to see beyond the mountain however.

Near the initial height-of-land a group of 4 people passed me, I think French Canadians, they definitely had a French accent at least and weren't from the area. I passed them again just before the view spur path (which I skipped since the notch was socked in pretty solidly). The trail got a little harder to follow up the exposed slopes towards the summit cone, and the set of recent snowshoe prints I was following ran into a couple small spruce traps. One I ended up up to one hip in (luckily the other foot was on solid enough ground and I got out easily). Eventually the tracks broke out near the top of a closed ski slope. I trucked up the edge of it to the tram building. There I headed up hill near the chairlift and eventually came to the observation tower. Things were socked in enough that the tower was not visible from the tram building...but they lifted a little when I got onto the tower. The steps were packed into a nice 45 degree ice ramp, which made descent tricky...

I wanted to get back down to the Highland Lodge and relax for several hours knowing I had a 12-mile hike head the next day in Isolation. Since there were no views I headed down after a snack on the picnic area at the tram building. I still wasn't clear exactly where the Kinsman Ridge Trail came in from below so I mostly backtracked. I did find the correct trail past the spruce traps the person in front of me had found (I never saw them this day). On my way down I got a few clearer views of the notch and snapped a few pictures, but kept heading down. I passed the French quartet at the upper ski glade crossing (at the "sign") and cruised down. Saw one or two other foursome heading up and I descended.

Summitted in about 3 hours, descended in under 1 hour, back at the car at 1:50.

As to the title: I've been on this mountain 3 times. Once many years ago on a family trip where we took the tram up. Not much better views than this day. 2007 as my #47 peak with my dad. That was a misty day and again, not much to see. That day kicked my butt as we took the Lonesome Lake Trail to the Kinsman Ridge Trail and also did the NE Cannon Ball. That col destroyed my knees on the descent (and I've had knee problems for more than 10 years - before the hike mind you - which is sad considering I'm still young. Advil and knee braces help, but we had no Vit. I that day...) This day, the ascent just dragged on and on until hitting that height-of-land. Basically it kicked my butt. I'm sure the previous day's 15.5 miles and 5500 feet of elevation gain was to blame some. I later saw that in the first ~1.5 miles you pick up about 1800 feet of elevation, and the first quarter mile isn't very steep either! But again, not much for views...

This marked #12 on my winter 4K list however! 1/4 of the way there in just 6 days of hikes, all of them (save maybe this one) were great. And this one wasn't so bad except for the trail being really steep.

Peaks: Cannon (NH4K)
Mileage: 4.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 2100 feet


Friday, February 10, 2012

Well THAT Didn't go According to Plan...Franconia Ridge 2-10-12

I'll get to the title in a minute. I took the day off for a 3-day weekend. The original plan was to do Passaconaway and Whiteface on the way north, since the Ferncroft Trailhead is a bit away from everything else. But mid-week the weather forecast for Friday turned into what looked to be a perfect day to be above treeline: winds in the low 20s to low 30s and temps in the mid-20s with clear skies. My first though was to go for Madison and Adams, but that is a day with over 5000 feet of elevation gain, and just getting back into hiking, I wasn't sure about that yet. So I decided on doing Lafayette and Lincoln via the Old Bridle Path up, and the Falling Waters Trail down, a classic loop.

This day started off oddly enough. Getting up at 4:45 and on the road heading North at 5:30AM to avoid Boston traffic. Stopped briefly in Laconia, NH for some food, and pulled into the Old Bridle Path Parking lot at 8:00 on the nose. Never had so little traffic in Eastern MA before...

The weather was nice and clear as predicted, and temperatures were mild, near freezing at the trailhead. Winds were there, but low on the summits according to MWOBS. I was excited for this loop today.

I nearly left the snowshoes in the car knowing I didn't need them based on recent TR's. I brought them anyway. I still don't own crampons and knew that microspikes were possible, though there were reportedly some tricky spots near the summit of Lafayette. I figured I'd just take it easy and do some off-trail ascending if need be to avoid the no-fall zones.

I was on trail and moving around 8:20. My goal had been 8:30 when I planned this trip, so I was happy. Started off immediately with microspikes, which were perfect for the trail. VERY hard packed but with minimal ice. I immediately found a good pace (which I have struggled with lately) and really didn't stop too much until I hit the outlooks along the Old Bridle Path. Seeing as how I have been constantly stop-starting on ascents, I was pleased to be consistently moving, no matter what the speed. I had plenty of time on this nice day.

Soon I was approaching the Agonies:
Agony Ridge: the trail goes right over (more or less) those bumps, you can just see Greenleaf Hut near the right

I was taking my time, enjoying the views and snapping a lot of pictures. Apparently I was moving at an insane (for me) rate. I hit the Greenleaf Hut at 10:15, or 1hr 55min from leaving the trailhead. That's 2.9 miles and 2450 feet in under 2 hours. I don't know if I ever climbed that fast before. I took a 15 minute food/drink break at the hut.

Now for the part of the day I was a bit concerned about: summitting Lafayette. I knew there were some ledges near the top that are no-fall zones. I definitely did not want to slip here. Sure enough, as I neared the spring that is below the summit, I was confronted with some major ice sheets. I took it slow here, making sure to kick the spikes into the ice well, and in general tried to find the spots that weren't smooth ice. I wandered off-trail but as visibility was not an issue, I didn't worry about it at all. I was able to make it up without incident thankfully. On top I was greeted with some fantastic 360 degree views. There was some haze, but this was still probably the clearest I've ever had on the ridge, and this was my 4th time on Lafayette. Incredibly, I was on top at 11:20, 3 hours to the minute since leaving, despite the 15 minute break at the hut. 4 miles 3550 feet. I found a spot out of the wind (which wasn't bad overall, but enough to be annoying. Probably teens mph) just below the summit and took a long break. This was my view:

The Twins with the snow-capped Presidentials behind them

At 11:45 I headed off. Just below the summit as I was picking my way across some icy spots, I ran into the first people of the day. They had left the parking lot right behind me, so I figured when they didn't pass me that they went up Falling Waters, which they did. They were wearing crampons and were wondering if I really was jsut using the spikes. After saying yes, and that there were just a few tricky spots at the spring that I picked my way around otherwise being fine, we all headed on our respective ways. Off the summit I was hit with heavier winds, which were not enough to chill me, but I almost pulled out my goggles as it was blowing some snow in my face. After a short while that calmed down. I ran into the next pair of people near Truman's summit. Both microspiking, and I warned them about the ice below Lafayette. I hit Lincoln and kept moving as the wind was just a little biting. Saw one more pair of people just below Lincoln, one in crampons, one in snowshoes. I summitted Little Haystack at 12:30!

Now I had an internal dillemma. The weather was good, I was feeling great, and it was still early. If I headed down as planned I would be back at the car by 1:30-2PM. WAAAAY too early! I was tempted to head to Liberty and perhaps Flume, but that meant I had a roughly 3 mile roadwalk back to the Bridle Path. That would mean a mileage nearing 16 miles for the day (by my guess from the map), and about 5100 feet of gain! I did some math and figured that if I hit Liberty at 2 PM, Flume at 3, and Liberty again at 4, then I should be nearly to the road before headlamp time. The bike path would not be a concern in the dark. Dinner at the Highland Lodge where I was staying was from 6-9 on Fridays so I had plenty of time there.

Decision time: head down, or continue with the knowledge of a 3-mile road walk ahead.

I decided to go for it after a short break. The trail looked to be broken though loosely packed. Good thing I brought the snow shoes! If I lost the trail, I would just head back up. If I moved too slow, I would head down Liberty Springs (or just turn back if I didn't get far from Little Haystack). Well, the trail to the Liberty Springs Trail was easy enough to follow with snowshoes. About 1:45 I hit the Liberty Springs Trail and put the microspikes back on. Hardpack was back RIGHT at the junction. I scrambled up Liberty and took in the awesome views.

Down into the Pemi Wilderness: Owl's Head on the left near the middle.

It was 2PM. I was still feeling okay. And I was only 1 mile from Flume, why wouldn't I go all the way now? So I did. Part-way up the climb to Flume I started to feel it. But I pushed on and hit the summit at 2:50. Just as I hit the summit a raven (I think, it was a large black bird) dropped off the cliffs past the summit. There were some nice winds, and nice updrafts along the cliffs. The last time I was on Flume, a similar event occurred, only with 2 ravens. Sorry, no picture, but it was down here:

Now I had that steep climb up to Liberty and then a long descent and road walk...I was back at the Liberty Springs Trail (I took the broken-out shortcut past the upper ledges of the summit) at 3:50 and headed down. At the bottom of the Liberty Springs Trail where it turns sharply towards the Flume Parking there was a broken trail heading towards the Basin. I had seen a passing reference to this somewhere recently, but completely forgot about it until I saw it. It was going the way I needed to, I could hear the road and knew where to head if the trail ended, and so I took it. It was well broken all the way to the bike path shortly before the Basin. From there I took the underpass to the West side of I-93 and slogged North towards Lafayette Place. About half-way there at 5:30 I pulled out the headlamp. I arrived at the car at 6PM on the nose. I was really tired, around the time I put the headlamp on I hit a wall.

My GPS says it was 13.9 miles, but I know that isn't right. From the guidebook and some map plotting of the bike path route, it looks like the totals were around 15.5 miles and 5500 feet of elevation! Certainly the most elevation I've EVER done in a day (any season) and nearly the most mileage as well. And I did it under book time! I had a great time until that road walk. I was really hoping I'd run into someone doing Flume/Liberty that I could hitch a ride from, but I hit didn't see anyone but the 6 people along the ridge. What a great day out!

So as the title says, I didn't plan to do all 4 peaks, but I did in the end. And in winter no less! These conditions right now are incredible, they're faster than summer I would say!

Trails Conditions summary:

Light traction (Hillsounds/microspikes) is more than sufficient up to the hut and about half-way up to Lafayette from there. Above that you can do it in light traction (not really advised though), but there is one big no-fall-zone a couple hundred feet below the summit that is a sheet of smooth ice (right around where the spring is). I stayed towards the right here and picked my way up less steep sections where there was softer ice to bite into. If I'd had crampons, I definitely would have put them on for this (and brought them as I knew about this spot going in). Going down in microspikes would be very tricky, and it sounds like Falling Waters is in decent shape, so the CW direction would be better.

Other than that spot and a few spots coming off Lafayette to the South, light traction was more than sufficient. The trail between Little Haystack and Liberty was broken but not consolidated, snow shoes are the weapon of choice here. Past Liberty Springs and on that trail itself, light traction again is best. Liberty Springs is packed harder than a concrete sidewalk right now. If I'd had a sled I probably could have slid down to the Flume Slide Trail in about 10 minutes! No problems in microspikes though.

Peaks: Lafayette (4K), Truman, Lincoln (4K), Little Haystack, Liberty (4K), Flume (4K)\
Mileage: ~15.5 miles
Elevation Gained: ~5500 feet

All pictures: