Wednesday, January 8, 2014

New Year's Eve on Hale - 31 Dec. 2013

The day after breaking out Mount Isolation Chris, Whitney, and I headed over to Mount Hale to bag that peak for Whitney's Winter 4000-Footer list. We anticipated not having to break this one out this time, or at least we hoped as much, as we were pretty beat from the day before. Arriving at the end of Little River Road, the usual starting point in winter to access the abandoned Fire Warden's Trail up Hale, we saw a mere inch or two of snow on the ground. Thus the snowshoes got strapped to the packs and we took off.

Immediately after crossing the bridge, we hung a left onto what I've been told is the old North Twin Trail (predating Haystack Road perhaps?) This unmaintained trail follows what appears to be an old rail grade for roughly one mile before reaching the bridge on Haystack Road right before the North Twin Trailhead. This is an uneventful stretch of trail, though the center section has gotten very overgrown in the last year, and we had to push through a lot of growth, some of which had small thorns on it, but luckily these were short-lived segments.

A section of the old North Twin Trail

Partially-frozen Little River from the bridge at the end of Haystack Road
We had seen no recent traffic on the old segment of trail to this point (not since the storm the previous Sunday), but at the parking lot we saw a ton of bootprints coming up Haystack Road. Apparently everyone the day before had come up a different route. Taking off on the current North Twin Trail, we stayed to the left of the river at the first crossing (who does the first 2 crossings on this trail anyway!), carefully crossed a small brook, and soon were at the start to the abandoned Fire Warden's Trail.

On the North Twin Trail

Heading up the abandoned FireWarden's Trail
The trail immediately starts climbing, albeit at a mostly gentle grade, but we were feeling it from the get-go (at least Whitney and I were, Chris seemed unaffected...). Still, we steadily made progress, soon entering the birch glades famous among White Mountain backcountry skiers. The snow cover was increasing as we climbed, but it still wasn't terribly deep, and there were no signs that skiers had come through as yet. Partway up the glades, Chris had to turn around and head back home for New Year's Eve plans, while Whitney and I switched over to snowshoes (the snow was now about 6-7" deep) and kept on climbing. With heel-lifts to ease the calf strain and the snowshoes off our backs, we actually did much better from here and soon enough we had reached the ridge, dropped into a shallow col, and just as the snow suddenly reached a depth of nearly a foot, we broke out into the summit clearing.

Winter Wonderland near the summit of Hale

The summit clearing of Mount Hale

5th time on this summit for me.

Whitney hits #14 on her Winter 4000-Footer list!
Standing on the rock pile that serves as a summit cairn one can see the tip-top of the Twins nearby, as well as the Willey Range. Back when there was still a fire tower on the summit, apparently the summit area was pretty open and Hale held terrific 360-degree views. Not so much anymore, those trees have grown up pretty well in the last 40-50 years!

South (L) and North (R) Twin

The Willey Range - Field dead center, Willey just to the right
With no major reason to hang around (the temperature was hovering right around 0 degrees, though at least there was no wind!), we pretty quickly turned around and headed down into the col for a quick snack before resuming a quick exit hike. We saw the only other hiker of the day near the bottom of the birch glades as he headed up.

Heading back through the overgrown section of the old North Twin Trail

An old fireplace and other building near the end of Little River Road - never noticed this before!
Congrats again to Whitney for another checkmark off her Winter 4000-Footer List, and good luck with the rest of the winter!

Route: Old North Twin Trail, North Twin Trail, FireWarden's Trail
Peaks: Hale (4054', NH4K)
Mileage: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 2550'
Book Time: 5hr 45min (actual 5hr 45min)

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