Sunday, March 31, 2013

Mount Hale via the FireWarden's Trail - March 23, 2013

It had been 2 weeks since finishing my New Hampshire Winter 4000-Footer list, and calendar winter was over. But winter hadn't gotten the memo. On the first day of spring, the White Mountains received around a foot (or more!) of new snow, depending on location. And I wasn't quite ready to let winter go either. With the more snow on the ground than there really had been all winter (and it's been a very snowy winter, especially since the beginning of February!), it was a great time for another snowshoe, this time without any real care towards list or the like. With high winds in the forecast (80-100 predicted for the higher summits) and the day predicted to be mostly cloudy, something nice and protected in the trees was in order.

I had no real hike calling to me on this day, but decided I would head to Crawford Notch and hike Field, Willey, and Tom. But as I was driving South through Twin Mountain, I passed Zealand Road where a couple of hikers were about to set off. A light bulb went off somewhere reminding me that I had wanted to hike Hale via the long-abandoned FireWarden's Trail in winter, and what better day to do it than a windy, cloudy day that promised no views?

So I turned around, drove the couple miles to Little River Road, and parked in the turn-around at the end of that road, getting the second-to-last spot. In a few minutes, I set off ahead of a couple of people getting skis on their feet, but a few minutes behind another, larger group of skiers. The FireWarden's Trail is a very popular trail with backcountry skiers, as it passes through a large expanse of open birch glades, so I was not surprised to see a bunch of skiers would be around on this day.

Leaving the parking lot, I crossed the snowmobile bridge (having to climb over the gate is a rough start to the day mind you...) and immediately took a left onto the winter herd path to the North Twin trailhead. This herd path follows what looks to be an old railroad grade most of the way and pops out right at the bridge over Little River at the trailhead. From there I took the North Twin Trail, until the trail makes its first crossing of Little River. Here I took the herd path bypass, which was the only way that had seen traffic. Soon I crossed the tributary brook on a weakening snow bridge (this bridge is propbably gone by the time of this writing, or will soon be if not) and in short order I was at the turn off for the abandoned Fire Warden's Trail. Here I passed the large group of skiers and headed up the trail.

Along the old rail grades to the North Twin trailhead

Little River from the bridge at the North Twin trailhead

Large ice bulges along the North Twin Trail

Lower crossing of Little River - took the bypass instead

To this point I had been enjoying a great snowshoe on a trail well-packed by the backcountry skies, but now I had only a single set of ski tracks ahead of me, possibly from the day before. But the FireWarden's Trail corridor was obvious, even without the tracks heading ahead of me, and I enjoyed a terrific snowshoe ascent along the gentle grades of this route all the way to near the ridge, where the skier had headed downhill once the glades ended. From here I was breaking out the trail, but it wasn't hard, and aside from a drifted section near the viewpoint on the ridge, the corridor was still easy to follow.

A sole set of ski tracks heading up the abandoned Fire Warden's Trail

The skier headed down through the birch glades here

A seat-like tree high on the Fire Warden's Trail

The summit of Hale is nothing to get excited about. It once held a fire tower (serviced via the route I had just ascended, which was a tractor grade hence the easy ascent), but the tower was removed over 40 years ago, and the trees, once small and allowing what was apparently a terrific summit vista, have grown up and all the summit has to offer is a large clearing with a giant pile of rocks serving as a summit carin. Here the wind was blowing stiffly through the trees, but the solid cloud deck had a few tiny holes in it where I could see blue skies briefly. After waving at a shy gray jay (first one I've ever seen that showed no interest in scavenging food off me!) I ducked back onto the trail and headed down a little out of the wind for snacks (my fingers were also not thrilled with the cold, nor was my camera which started to rebel, hence not a ton of pictures...

Hale's summit carin

A peek through the clouds towards the Presidentials from the abandoned Fire Warden's Trail

The trip back down was more wonderful snowshoeing, with lots of evidence of where the skiers had come up to near the ridge then headed back down through the glades (versus the trail). I saw even more of them coming up as I descended, and in fact I only saw 2 other people that WEREN'T on skies (both were on snowshoes) and one of them had a snowboard on-board for descent. It was a quicker hike, but a very enjoyable one. The birch glades of Hale are wonderful in winter even if you aren't a skier, but boy did those skiers seem to be having a blast heading down through the powder!

Peaks: Hale (4054', NH4K)
Trails: Herd Path, North Twin Trail, abandoned Fire Warden's Trail
Mileage: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 2550'
Book Time: 5hr 45min

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