Sunday, April 29, 2012

The 49th 4000-footer

Peaks: Sandwich Dome (NEHH, 52WAV), Jennings Peak (52WAV), Noon Peak
Trails: Drake's Brook Trail, Sandwich Mountain Trail, Jennings Peak Spur
Mileage: 8.7
Elevation: 2800ft

It's the peak that I've heard so many stories of that people climbed when they didn't want to climb a 4K. But when said peak is maybe 20 feet shy (and if one were to stand at the top of one of the trees, who knows?) of that threshold and involves more elevation gain than a good chunk of the 4Ks, I never understood that, let's just add Sandwich Dome to the 4000-footer list, shall we?

My plan was to do a loop (because I get bored by out-and-backs). I opted to head up Drake's Brook and down the Sandwich Mountain Trail, hitting Jennings Peak on the descent. Drake's looked/sounded to be more gentle in grade which sounded good for an ascent as I was a bit tired.

But first I had to get to the trailhead. I decided for some reason while heading South on I-93 that taking Tripoli Road, now open, would be a fine way to get there. Maybe a bit slower, but a nice drive. Well, let's just leave some advice right here: DONT. The road is in horrible shape. Yes, it is passable by any normal car, but the paved sections of it are in very poor shape with massive multi-foot wide, 1-2 foot deep potholes. Of course, lots of frost heaves too. The road goes through a nice stretch of woods, but I couldn't enjoy them as there was a car-swallowing pothole every couple hundred feet (and of course I just had my front suspension partially rebuilt...). The gravel stretch in the middle portion of the road was actually fine, just one brief spot of potholes, but otherwise smooth.

I was the second car in the lot, and hit the trail at about 8:45. Drake's Brook is a logging road at the start, with a gate and all. At 0.4 miles it leaves the road and crosses the brook, which required a short excursion about 30' upstream to find a suitable rock-hopping place. After that the trail appears to be an old logging road for a while, and is an easy grade, but doesn't seem to gain much elevation.

Nice, open trail corridor low on the Drake's Brook Trail

After a while it climbs steadily, but still not badly. There is a washed-out section of trail that must be Irene-caused damage. But just before the switchback section there is a very steep pair of pitches with a short flat stretch in between. The good news: they are short-lived. Other than that I really rather enjoyed the trail, which was good because I felt sluggish this day. Nevertheless, I plowed on and hit the trail junction.

The next 1.2 miles seemed to stretch on for a long time. It probably didn't help that the Sandwich Mountain Trail basically does nothing as far as gaining the last 800 feet for the first half of it. Thus, a typical grunt to the summit was in order, but I made it and was treated to wind (of course) and fantastic clear views.

Mount Tecumseh from Sandwich Dome

I headed down shortly as the wind was pretty stiff, and made solid time back to the Jennings Peak Spur junction. A snack here, and then the climb to Jennings Peak, which also has fantastic views. In my opinion, Jennings Peak has better views, at least of the Sandwich Range. As a bonus, the rocks were in the sun, but on the East side just below the summit, so the wind was light. A nice spot for a rest.

After a little, I headed down, passing a lot of people on their way up. Seems my "late" start was early on this day, I saw only one person on my way up, near the summit of Sandwich Dome, but about 15 on my way down.

The Sandwich Dome Trail slowly drops elevation until past Noon Peak (which I thought was the set of open ledges, but they came too fast after Jennings Peak so I'm not entirely sure where the peak was). After Noon Peak it is pretty steep for a while. I was glad I didn't come up this stretch, and I think if I climb from this side again, I will do an out-and-back via Drake's Brook or do something else entirely.

The stream crossing right before the road was wading territory at the trail crossing, I went about 100 yards upstream and rock-hopped carefully.

Another great day out in the mountains, and I did the whole loop in 5:15 with a lengthy stay on Jennings Peak! I guess I wasn't as sluggish as I felt after all.

2 more very worthy 52-With-a-View peaks (Sandwich Dome and Jennings Peak).

The trails were in pretty good shape, some blowdowns here and there (many looked pretty old so probably are staying there), but only one muddy spot (on Drake's Brook and it was filled with branches making it a non-issue). Drake's Brook Trail was in far better shape than Sandwich Mountain Trail too interestingly.

All pics:

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Something New - No 4Ks!

With the rush of hiking nearly every weekend for 2 months this winter while working on the New Hampshire 4000-footers in winter now over, I was looking for something new. I have plans to hike many of the peaks I have remaining on my winter list at some point this summer and fall to familiarize myself with the different trail approaches (for example, the Osceolas from the Kangamangus Highway as the Tripoli Road trail head is several miles past a closed gate in winter). However, I wasn't really wanting to hike 4Ks again. With that said, I enjoy the hiking and especially now that I am in pretty good hiking form, I want to keep it going. With a roughly 3-hour drive to the Whites from Massachusetts, I also try to do longer, full-day hikes to make the trip worth it.

Which brings me back to the original quandary: what should I hike? The only hikes I have ever done in New Hampshire were 4Ks or part of an approach to a 4K, as when I was first working on them, my dad and I would drive nearly 9 hours from Rochester, NY and so there was little time to be spent on other hikes.

I settled on going for a peak I have heard a lot of great things about: Mount Crawford, off of the Davis Path at the bottom of Crawford Notch. With a 2.5 mile one-way hiking distance and a little over 2000 feet of elevation gain, this peak is a lot like hiking a 4K, and was reputed to have terrific 360-views. However, knowing that this would be a half-day hike at best for me despite not having been on a trail in over a month, I needed more. Well, what do you know, Stairs Mountain and Mount Resolution are right in the neighborhood and are also part of the 52-With-a-View list, meaning they ought to have good views at or near the summits. A Y-shaped approach from the Davis Path would net all 3 of these peaks in a little under 11 miles and ~3300 feet of elevation gain. Perfect, a pretty average day hike for me of late!

To throw some extra "fun" in the mix, I decided to go to the real summit of Mount Resolution. That's right, the true summit of Resolution is actually the Northern-most of 2 nearly-identical high knobs, and is 0.1-0.2 miles off of the trail. From all indications and first-hand accounts it was pretty thick spruce all the way with no real herd paths. To this point, I've never really bushwhacked. I did the Liberty Springs - Bikepath bushwhack solo a couple months before, which was in open hardwoods, near a road, and tracked out in the snow. Not really a bushwhack. I also did the Engine Hill bushwhack on the way to and from Mount Isolation back in the winter. Also tracked out (and packed so hard you probably could have ridden a mountain bike most of the way!) and I was also with 12 other people... Not a real bushwhack.

That said, I've always had a pretty decent sense of direction, knew pretty much where I would be heading, know more or less how to use a compass, and also have my GPS with topo maps loaded on it. It was time to give this a whirl. My primary plan was to go to the high point on the Mt. Parker Trail, take a visual bearing on the true peak, and head over from there, staying just East of the "ridge" between the peaks, as Google Earth indicated that there were some ledges part-way to the summit just east of the shallow col. My plan B was to maybe find a stream heading that way from the main trail, and follow that, hoping for some better woods.

I hit the trail earlier than I had anticipated (got up earlier than expected!) at 7:40. The Davis Path initially follows a dirt path that residents park along as they don't have a vehicular bridge to their homes on the other side of the Saco River. They walk on foot (or bike I suppose) across the Bemis Bridge, which the Davis Path shares. The river was flowing, but looked pretty low considering the time of year. The stream crossing shortly past the homes required some careful rock-hopping, but it was very doable along the actual trail corridor, and after that the climbing begins.

There was a light dusting of snow from the morning's flurries, but it never totaled more than 1" at any point during the hike.

Just a light dusting of snow on the Davis Path

The trail climbs steadily, but never steeply until it reaches some ledges shortly below the Mount Crawford Spur Trail. It truly is like a 4K climb, you start at 1000 feet and climb to near 3000 feet in 2.2 miles, with the rest of the climb to the summit on the 0.3-mile spur trail. The views here were nice and showed that the skies were starting to clear. I decided that I would leave Crawford itself for the return trip at the end of the day, hoping for clear skies. I also figured that by the time I got to Stairs Mountain that the skies would have cleared and views there would be good too. So I soldiered on.

The trail between The Crawford Spur and the Mount Parker Trail was wet with standing water in a lot of places, but often under a thin ice crust as the temperatures were near the freezing mark. That coupled with skim coatings of ice in the shadowed places meant one had to be careful with foot placement. There was just not enough ice to use microspikes, so I barebooted all the way to Stairs Mountain in fact.

I was surprised to run into someone just past the Stairs Col Trail, he was heading down because he thought he'd missed the Davis Path when things got really steep. After he found out he had probably gotten 3/4 of the way to Stairs Mountain before turning around he had a good chuckle. He'd headed up late the night before to the shelter on Rocky Branch at the Stairs Col Trail, and was heading over Isolation and to the other Rocky Branch Shelter (or thereabouts) for the night. Hope he had a good trip, we parted ways after visiting the summit of Stairs Mountain.

There are 2 nice tent pads on the top of Stairs Mountain (perhaps more, I saw 2 for sure) right near the ledges overlook (not so near to roll off of course!). I'd love to spend a night here some time! It was pretty windy on the ledges, but I took a short pictures/snack break before heading back to the Mount Parker Trail for the interesting part of the day.

Well, interesting started just past the downlook heading down to Stairs Col. I hit a hidden patch of ice on a rock face and went down, spun sideways, and slid down about a 10' rock face, bouncing off the rocks on my tailbone a few times. Well that HURT! After laying there for a minute or so, the pain subsided enough to get up (slowly) and determine that I had a scraped elbow, rather sore tailbone, sore wrist, but nothing major in the long run. At that point I decided that I didn't care about burning out the microspikes and put them on until shortly past Stair Col. There were a couple of icy spots on the steeper sections that they were helpful for, but otherwise I was walking with them on rock/gravel...not so comfortable but I didn't fall!

Hung a left at the Mount Parker Trail, and put the microspikes back on for the first ledge on this trail, which has wonderful views from it.

Towards Crawford Notch

I planned to bushwhack to the true (NE) knob of Resolution. I knew that there weren't really any herd paths and the brush was very thick. I wasn't disappointed in that regard...My hope had been to find even a faint herd path just for some easier going (navigation wasn't the worry, I had a map, compass, and GPS with topos, and the distance was under 0.2 miles). My second-best case was hoping to find a stream or something heading more or less towards the summit, figuring I might find some easier going along that. Well, shortly before the high-point on the trail, I crossed a little streamlet heading more or less towards the right place! I missed this in the guidebook description initially, but upon further reading, it is mentioned. I decided to start here.

The stream initially provided fairly easy going, but soon swung West and also became rather marshy.

The "easy" part of this bushwhack

So I struck out from here towards the summit which I could sort of see though the dense trees (spruce I guess? Not so good at tree identification...). The going got thick fast, and even though I tried to meander my way towards thinner spots, I was literally swimming through branches a lot of the time. Near the summit I hit some thinner spots and was able to make the rest of the way alright. Woot, my first real bushwhack! (Engine Hill in winter fully tracked out such that a bike probably could have made it and the Camp Dodge shortcut from Imp Trail don't really count in my book...) The views were well worth it, great lookouts to the North/East and Stairs Mountain.

The Southern Presidentials

There was a carin here, near the highest point. I didn't see any sign of a register that apparently was there at one point, but I admittedly didn't look too long or hard, it wasn't in the carin or the tree nearby. I thought about taking my original planned path back to the trail, which was to stay slightly South of the "ridge" between the 2 peaks as there were more ledges there it seemed, but I opted to re-trace my steps instead, as I knew what to expect there. I actually had a fairly easy go of it for about 1/3 of the way back, then hit some really dense stuff, before hitting the stream right where I had left it earlier. From there I picked my way back to the trail and I headed up the trail to get some views from the upper ledges.

After that, a u-turn back to the first ledge, re-donning of the microspikes for only the ledge (it wouldn't be a good one to slip and slide on), then a return to the trail junction for a snack. All was left was Crawford. From here to Crawford was the same as the morning, except a little easier as some of the ice had melted and I had fewer spots to worry about. A quick scramble up the spur trail resulted in a return of the wind that I'd felt off-and-on all day (basically whenever out of the trees), but fabulous views. I also saw the first people since the guy on Stairs Mountain.

Mount Washington from Mount Crawford

I hung in a sheltered spot on the rocks for some fuel after taking lots of pictures (many of which came out grainy and flat because my camera's zoom stinks, at least with auto-mode on and I've never taken the time to learn to take non-auto-mode pictures). After a while, I headed down for the day, passing a couple pairs of people shortly below the spur trail who were on their way up. One pair in particular had some massive packs on and were clearly heading for an overnight, they were planning on maybe Stairs Mountain. One made a comment about staying out until it hit 70F, so maybe by the end of the week those 2 will come out of the woods!

It was a great day out, though the wind was heavy and the low temperatures made it worse. But it's hard to beat clear skies! These 3 peaks are well deserving of their place on the 52-With-a-View list. The views from the true summit of Resolution are great, and different from the other ledges of that summit, but the woods are pretty tough to get through. I have nothing to compare it to, but it took me about 20 minutes to push through. One thing to remember for the future, when you have seasonal allergies and trees tend to be one of the main culprits, it's probably a good idea to take your meds if you are going to go bushwhacking through thick pines/spruce...

All pics: