Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Garfield - February 16, 2013

This was originally going to be a partly sunny day. But of course the forecast changed the day before. But since I was up, I was going to hike, and since I'm getting really close to finishing the New Hampshire Winter 4000-Footers, I stuck with the original plan instead of changing to a lower elevation peak where I might have been below the cloud deck, since I'm out of such peaks right now.

In the winter, Gale River Loop Road, which accesses the Garfield Trail trailhead, is closed and gated. But a small lot area is typically plowed off the highway in front of the gate. I initially jumped into this lot, powering through the bank alongside the road, but with the lot clearly not having been plowed in several days, I decided to get out of there and park elsewhere (I was the first one into this lot this morning it appeared). Just North on Route 3, there is a small lot on the left across from the Northern end of Gale River Loop Road, and so I parked there (this area is referred to as "5 Corners" and is at the intersection of US3 and Trudeau Road). It only adds 0.2 miles each way to the hike. Several others had parked here already, and some were there gearing up for Galehead.

I hit the road at 8AM sharp, snowshoes and microspikes on the pack. The walk on the shoulder to the Southern end of Gale River Loop Road (the one closer to the Garfield Trail) went quick and I started up the road itself. The road was fairly hard-packed though lumpy, but I made my way with little trouble to the trailhead itself, avoiding the couple of side roads that are used for logging and for snowmobiling (keep left where the snowmobile route continues ahead when you are inbound). 1.5 miles in, with another 5 miles to go to the summit.

I started off in microspikes, but just past the 2 crossings on this trip (both nice and fully snowbridged), I put on the snowshoes. The snow was getting deeper, and I didn't want to cause damage to the trail. Higher up, the snowshoes became essential.

I'd had a terrible night's sleep, and just wasn't feeling it early on, but slowly and steadily I made my way up the gradual trail. The wonderful thing about the Garfield Trail is that there is not a single steep section. However, that also means it is LONG.

There was little to see as far as far-reaching views go, but plenty to see as far as beautiful winter woods go. And, as I passed through the final switchback (yes, this trail has several of them!), I had company. No, not other hikers (and in fact aside from the snowshoe prints of one hiker ahead of me, I hadn't seen a sign of anyone since the parking lot), but GRAY JAYS. These handsome little scrounges are pretty common in the White Mountains, particularly in the Crawford Notch area, but I've seen them in a number of other places, including on Garfield back in November. Here they provided me with a great source of amusement. After seeing one at a short rest, every time I stopped for a quick breather, 2 would land in nearby branches (I assume they were the same 2 jays). All the way up the last 1/2 - 3/4 mile to the summit! They were obviously looking for snacks, and while they got one or two peanuts, they were probably a little disappointed in this hiker. But they stuck with me until I left the summit, obviously hoping for more.

0.2 miles from the summit, the Garfield Trail ends at the Garfield Ridge Trail. Here is the only steep part of this hike: the last pitch to the summit. This was filled with loose snow, but I made my way up, and was greeted by the wonderful view...of the inside of a cloud.

Summit area of Garfield

Not much to see is there?

Normally there is a great view towards the Twins and Bonds this way...

Inside the old fire tower foundation

While the winds were calm and the temperature reasonable, there was little to see so I returned to the trail junction for a little while, before starting down. Before doing so, I noted that the tracks I had been following all day had returned from the summit and then headed off over the Garfield Ridge towards Galehead, through what looked like an un-broken trail (since the snowstorm the weekend before at least). Hope he had a good hike!

The descents are one of the best parts about winter hiking. With the solid snow coverage, there were no rocks, roots, or anything in the trailbed, just a nice smooth ramp downhill. I made great progress downhill, running into a number of groups heading up (some with large overnight packs heading towards the Garfield shelter and/or beyond). Aside from the trio of college-age kids in microspikes and crampons totally destroying the trailbed, everyone was in snowshoes and looking to be having a great time. With gravity on my side, I was down the trail, off Gale River Road, and back to the car less than 2.5 hours from when I left the top!

This was winter 4000-Footer #42 for me, with only 3 hikes left to finish. But I'll have to return to Garfield another winter day for sure to get those winter Garfield views!

Peaks: Garfield (4500', NH4K)
Trails: Road Walk, Garfield Trail, Garfield Ridge Trail
Mileage: 13 miles
Elevation Gain: 3300 feet
Book Time: ~8hr 15 minutes (actual: 7hrs)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

W#41 - Tecumseh - February 15, 2013

At the very last minute, I was able to take the afternoon off on Friday, at the end of what was a long, tough week at work, and so I sped off (legally mind you) for Waterville Valley. Originally I wasn't sure if I would hike on this weekend, since there were hardly any places to stay on Saturday night (owing to being President's Day Weekend) and what places there were all had minimum lengths of stays and were charging 2x the normal rate...but Friday night there were rooms at a reasonable rate. Perfect!

I knew that with a free afternoon, I could knock off Tecumseh with minimal headlamp time. Reaching the ski area parking lot at Waterville Valley at about 3:20PM, I was surprised to see just how busy they were, as the lots were pretty full for a working weekday. That's a good sign for them though. That said, people were coming off the slopes, and I was able to park about 3 spaces from the end of the row across from the trailhead. Nice!

3:30 I was off on the trail, snowshoes and microspikes on the feet until I needed one or the other. The trail was very hard-packed despite the warm temps (45F at the car), except for the top 1" which was a little softer. Translation: I bare-booted all the way to the summit (and with no trail damage mind you)! First time I've ever done that...microspikes in a couple of the steep spots would have been nice, but I managed just fine without them.

I saw one person about 10 minutes in who was heading down, and that was IT. Otherwise I had the mountain to myself. I sped along well on the lower half of the trail, which is fairly moderate, taking a couple breaks as needed but overall just trying to keep moving as I knew the sun would be setting soon enough.

Woodpeckers had a field day with this tree

Ski slopes seen through the trees along the trail
The ascent to the ski slope overlook went smoothly. The 2 larger crossings were fully bridged and presented no trouble. Just after the second crossing, and just before the hairpin turn where the ski slope viewpoint is, the trail grade picks ups significantly. I took a short break at the view point to fuel up for what lay ahead.

Tripyramids across Waterville Valley as the sun sets

Looking down the ski slope (which was closed off for some reason just above the view point)
From here, this trail gets relentless. It climbs up fairly steeply, and with no real turns and definitely no switchbacks. But the footing, even in summer, is great thanks to terrific trail construction, and this time, owing to the snow, it was a solid steady ramp up. I made surprisingly good time up, despite stopping a lot to catch my breath, and before I knew it I was into the traverse across the ravine and on the final push to the ridge. All through this upper half I noticed plenty of evidence that people had been snowboarding down the trail, must have been one heck of a ride!

Once on the ridge, I noticed the Sosman Trail towards the lifts was well-broken out (not shockingly), but I was here for the main summit. The sun had just set, but there were lingering rays of red/orange sun striking the trees in here, it was actually quite pretty (pictures didn't capture it well).

Final rays of light bouncing off the snow-covered trees
With a last final push, taking the left fork to the summit (which is the Sosman Trail in fact), I had made it, and in good time to boot (about 1hr 50min, faster than I'd have normally pushed for, but I was fighting daylight). I would have loved to have caught the sunset from up here, but oh well. I took a well-deserved, though short, break at the top to take in the final rays of light fading over the valley.

Tripyramids from Tecumseh

Osceolas from Tecumseh
With light fading fast, I threw on the snowshoes (mostly for traction, though the trail was a little less firm up top too so I'd be smoothing things out a bit before they froze overnight too) and headed down. The snowshoes provided perfect traction for the conditions and I was able to charge away downhill until shortly before the ski slope viewpoint, where I relented and turned on the headlamp; there just wasn't quite enough light to continue to see by safely. A short time later, I was back at the car, less than 3 hours from my start. Wow, that was one fast descent (45 minutes!)

And with that I was on my way to a shower and dinner, with Winter 4000-Footer #41 under my belt, and Garfield on tap for the morning.

Peaks: Mount Tecumseh (4003', NH4K)
Trails: Mount Tecumseh Trail, Sosman Trail
Mileage: 5.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 2300 feet
Book Time: 3hr 35min (actual 2hr 45min)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Monadnock After the Storm - February 10, 2013

Friday night through Saturday the Northeast got pelted with a blizzard. For once living up to billing, this storm dumped better than 2 feet of snow over most of Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire, with lesser, but still significant, amounts further North.I was scheduled to hike Cabot on Saturday and Moriah on Sunday, but cancelled those plans once the scope of the storm became apparent mid-week. But Sunday was supposed to be a BEAUTIFUL day. A Presi-worthy day even. But I wasn't going to drive all the way to the White Mountains and back on Sunday. So I went to Monadnock Sunday morning instead, as it's less than 1.5 hours away from me, and still a hearty hike.

Unlike my previous hike to this mountain in October, I opted to go from the State Park side. My reasons here were two-fold: first, I figured that the State Park might be the only lot plowed so far, and second, I wanted to try to most popular trails on this mountain at some point, but not during the "regular" hiking season when it is a veritable conga line all the way up the mountain. (Note to those hiking from the State Park lot on Poole Road: there is a $5 per person use fee unless you have a NH State Parks season pass.)

With no one jumping on my somewhat last-minute call, I set off from the White Dot trailhead at 9AM. Not knowing what to expect for trail conditions (aside from expecting needing snowshoes most of the day), I was pleasantly surprised to find a well-broken 2-foot deep trench snaking through beautiful open woods right from the start.

Nice trail-breaking by someone(s)
Soon after starting, I saw my first person since leaving the parking lot, a guy snowboarding down the trail (very much under control and he went off-trail so we could pass without any problems). He seemed to be enjoying himself!

1/2-mile in, and only a moderate amount of climbing later, I reached the first trail junction with the White Cross Trail, which I intended to take down the mountain later. I was pleased to see it was broken out, though it clearly had only seen one or two people through it since the snowstorm.

White Dot/White Cross lower junction

Lightly-broken White Cross
The White Cross parallels the White Dot for a little over 1 mile before they re-merge, but the White Cross is a tad bit longer and allegedly avoids the steeper sections the White Dot climbs. I soon ran into those steep sections, and let me tell you, I was surprised at just how steep it was. I've seen worse before, but this was definitely a lung-and-leg-burner. There is really 2 steep pitches with a short more moderate section between. Making progress up the steeps was tough in the new snow, especially since the snow wasn't very compressible. Apparently this area got 2 feet of pure powder, while where I live there was several inches of denser snow at the bottom. Therefore, a single step, even in snowshoes, in fresh powder resulted in the snowshoe bottoming out maybe 1" off the ground at best. Bottoming out on the uneven rocks below that is!

Still, progress was made, and I was in no real hurry on this beautiful day anyway. Somewhere near in the second steep section I caught up to another solo hiker and we leap-frogged each other up to the summit from there. Around 1.5 miles from the trailhead, the White Dot Trail begins to hit some open ledges, providing nice views to the South. Easily visible on this day was Wachusett Mountain of course, but also the Berkshires, and even the Boston Skyline. In fact, I was just able to make out the Blue Hills a little South of Boston.

Also present on these ledges was the wind, probably 25-30mph gusts in fact. Nothing crazy, but since it was still early and so it was still fairly cold, definitely noticeable, so out came the facemask, goggles (blowing snow stings the eyes), and a windproof layer. The ledge sections were by and large bare of snow (since it was so light a snow, the wind easily blew it off the day before), so I decided to try bare-booting from here since rock-hopping on snowshoes is not a ton of fun. Before maybe 100 feet, I found where the wind had deposited a LOT of snow, and sank up to my hip in one drift. OK, back on with the snowshoes it was for the rest of the hike. The rest of the climb up consisted of these open rocky areas intermixed with deeply drifted sections, until the last 100 vertical feet or so, which was pretty clear of snow.

Heading up under clear blue skies

Over a shoulder of Monadnock to the Pack Monadnock ridge

Same shot from slightly higher

Looking South/SouthWest

Panoramic shot from high up Monadnock looking East and SouthEast. Can't really see it in the picture, but the Boston skyline was visible 65 miles away.
Myself and the other hiker summitted to an empty summit. Anyone who has hiked Monadnock knows how rare this is. Monadnock is reputed to be the 3rd-most climbed mountain in the world, and it certainly was busy at 4PM on a late October afternoon on my last trip. While the very summit top was quite windy, I enjoyed looking around at the 360-degree views. Everything from the ski slopes in Vermont, to Boston, the Berkshires, and more was readily visible. In fact, I pretty easily picked out snow-capped Mount Washington, clear as could be, over 105 miles away! I also saw another snow-capped ridgeline up there that had to be either the Twins/Bonds or Franconia Ridge, I'm not entirely sure which it would be.

Pano from Monadnock to the North and NorthWest

Pumpelly Ridge - some day!
After ducking out of the wind for a short break, I began to head down a little, as people started to arrive at the summit. I went the 3/10 mile down to the upper junction of the White Dot/White Cross Trails, and went a short distance down the White Cross to an open ledge near the Smith Connecting Trail for a longer break out of the wind.

After a while, I got moving again, and aside from following the Smith Connector a little ways before realizing my error (it was broken out better than the White Cross, which looked like one person's random wanderings), it was a nice descent. The powder was deep and only lightly tracked, and so I was sinking very deep again into the deep drifts. When the shoes didn't hit the edge of a rock way down and try to roll my ankles badly, it was a nice soft descent through deep powder. I did see a number of people heading up as I neared the lower junction with the White Dot, so I imagine by the end of the day it was in great shape.

The trek out back to the car was uneventful, though I was saddened by how many were bare-booting. We had just had 2 feet of snow and probably half the people I saw in this last half-mile (around 2 dozen) were in boots chewing up the trailbed...not sure what they were thinking. But hey, what can you do? I just enjoyed the day, one of the most beautiful I've ever had in the mountains.

Peaks: Monadnock (3159', 52WAV)
Trails: White Dot Trail, White Cross Trail
Mileage: 4.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 1800 ft
Book Time: 3 hours

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Winter on Owl's Head - Feb. 3, 2013

For a little over a week before this weekend came about, I had changed my Sunday hike target from Garfield to Owl's Head. Knowing it had been broken out for a while was a great thing to take advantage of, and since I was at 39 of the 48 New Hampshire 4000-Footers in winter coming into this day, I did not want to leave Owl's Head much longer. The only question was what the 1" of rain a few days before had done to stream crossings.

The answer came Friday when a group tried to go in there and despite taking the Black Pond bushwhack to avoid the worst 2 river crossings, they had to turn back just a few yards from the start of the actual climb to the summit due to the last crossing being completely un-crossable. I crossed my fingers that 2 more days of cold plus time for things to ease would result in manageable water levels. Early Saturday, the flow volume at the Lincoln Woods gage dropped to 460 cubic feet per second and a gage height of 5.2 feet, both numbers similar to when I last hiked this mountain in September. I figured this was worth a try, especially with the ice bridges having started to form during the day Saturday.

Greg and Rob, both of Hike-NH and new acquaintances to me, signed on to join me, as both needed this peak for their winter lists as well. We met at 6AM at the Lincoln Woods parking lot, just before the sky lightened up, and began our preparations. While there we said hello to Heather and her dog Kali, knowing we'd see them again on the trails (though not as soon as we expected!). Right around 6:30 we were off without headlamps, as the sky was rapidly lightening. Microspikes went on from the parking lot, snowshoes strapped to the packs, where they stayed all day in fact.

The first 2.6 miles on the Lincoln Woods Trail was its usual fast but boring warmup, spiced up only by the views along the river of Mount Hitchcock. There was very little snow cover, but just enough to bury those obnoxious railroad ties, yeay!

A couple peaks of Mount Hitchcock - I assume North and West peaks
A quick stop at the junction to Black Pond, and then we shifted down a gear and trekked over to the pond, where we took the requisite picture of Bondcliff in the distance.

Bondcliff over Black Pond
To this point we were flying, with only a little over 1 hour having elapsed since we left the parking lot! Tracks were hard to come by due to the thin snow cover (and rock-hard from the rain then freeze), but we found the established bushwhack, and followed it through clean open woods right to the Lincoln Brook Trail at the site of its first crossing of Lincoln Brook (which we did not have to do thankfully, it looked impossible with only slushy ice bridges forming). Do to the cleaner line, and the dead underbrush, we made good time through the bushwhack compared to my September trip.

We headed up Lincoln Brook Trail, navigating the lower 2 brook crossings without too much trouble, though they weren't exactly trivial. Somewhere in between them we were passed by a solo hiker (I later found out it was Little Brown Mushroom), who we would later see on his way down as we climbed Owl's Head.

Lincoln Brook

Another shot of Lincoln Brook

Yet another Lincoln Brook shot

Greg begins crossing Liberty brook, the first of 2 lesser stream crossings

The upper crossing of Lincoln Brook. Not as bad as it looks, we were able to rock-hop the ice-covered rocks
The upper crossing of Lincoln Brook, which is mere feet before the start of the winter route up Owl's Head, was tricky but doable right at the trail crossing. It was a matter of carefully rock-hopping on slushy ice-covered rocks to the other side. A slip would mean a foot going into fairly deep, icy cold water, but we took our time, balanced with our poles, and made it across without incident.

Once on the other side, we stopped at the start of the Brutus Bushwhack, which is the typical winter route up Owl's Head. Forged by a New Hampshire man and his legendary Newfoundland dog Brutus, this route navigates up the mountain a little South of the Owl's Head path and its steep slide, eventually merging into said path above the rock slide.

We took a fuel break before heading up, then started following the faint footprints of the guy in front of us. None of us had done this route before (Rob had done part of it a few times though), but we had GPS tracks and descriptions as a worst case. Unfortunately we almost immediately lost the footprints where they turned to follow a skidder road we never saw (it was very overgrown in this spot). Instead we ended up just 'whacking straight up to the upper part of the normal bushwhack route. Steep and not great in footing in spots, but it got the job done, and once we met the established route, we had no trouble following it the rest of the way to the Owl's Head Path and on to the ridge. Crossing the "old" summit, we followed a good path right to the carin marking the "new" summit, where it was time for a break again.

Greg and Rob just past the Owl's Head summit on our way down - all smiles!
As we descended, we ran into a couple of groups, including Heather's group, on their way up on the upper reaches of the Owl's Head Path. It was actually a fairly busy day on this mountain, everyone getting winter checkmarks of some sort! We were cautioned that the crossing was impassible now where we had crossed in the morning, but that there was a good spot about 50 feet downstream where they had all crossed.

As we continued down, we made sure to follow the true Brutus Bushwhack past our tracks up from earlier, and had a much easier trek down to the Lincoln Brook Trail. The bushwhack cuts down a birch-filled gulley, before picking up the skidder path we'd missed in the morning, then cutting down to the trail. This was actually a nice trek, and one I'd love to do again. The woods were just beautiful in here with the sun shining and some overnight snow clinging to the trees.

Birch woods along the Brutus Bushwhack

Heading down through open woods

Still going down...
Once down at the crossing again, we found that one key rock from our earlier rock-hop path had lost its snow/ice crown. But Greg went out and found that it was only 1" below the water surface, so we all carefully and happily marched across right at the same spot. Retracing our steps from here was quick and simple, and soon we were on the Black Pond Bushwhack, then the Black Pond Trail, then back to Lincoln Woods Trail in what felt like little time at all. The last 2.6 miles out to the parking lot was its usual grind, with all of us nursing a foot injury of various forms, but we made it out a little over 8.5 hours from our start. Wow, that was fast! So fast in fact that I was able to drive home, grab a pizza, and still be home before the 6:30 kickoff for the Super Bowl (which I promptly fell asleep during the stadium blackout...).

Thanks and congrats to Greg and Rob on Owl's Head winter checkmarks. But why do I have this feeling I'll be back someday??? Winter 4000-Footer number 40! 5 hikes left to finish.

Peaks: Owl's Head Mountain (4025', NH4K)
Trails: Lincoln Woods Trail, Black Pond Trail, Black Pond Bushwhack, Lincoln Brook Trail, Brutus Bushwhack, Owl's Head Path
Mileage: ~16.5 miles
Elevation Gain: ~3100 feet
Time Taken: 8hr 40min

Hitchcock from Lincoln Woods Trail

North Hitchcock I believe