Sunday, January 12, 2014

Osceolas - Jan. 5, 2014

It was tough getting up after a 17-mile, 12.25-hour trek to Owl's Head the day before, but when 4 other people are meeting you at the trailhead, it makes it easier. Ian and I had planned to do this hike just a few days earlier on new Year's Day, but with forecast highs of -5 to -10 degrees at 4000 feet and high winds, we both decided we would wait for a different day. What a difference 4 days makes, as the highs on this day were in the mid-20s at the summits!

Right around 7, Ian, his dog Marlie, Theresa, Patrick, and a hiker from Views From the Top (Deb? I'm terrible with names...) and her dog Harley (yea, Marlie and Harley meant confusion time!) met at the trailhead for the Greeley Ponds Trail off the Kancamagus Highway. With trailhead temperatures around 7-8 degrees, it was quite a bit warmer than the -10 of the day before, and we took our sweet time getting going. Marlie and Harley were not getting along great, so Deb and Harley took off 10-15 minutes ahead of us, figuring that the dogs would do better together once on the trail. Also leaving ahead of us was a solo fellow on skis, who is trying to ski all of the 48 4000-Footers this winter!

The first 1.3 miles on the Greeley Ponds Trail is a gentle warmup, though it was welcome as I was trying to loosen up a tight muscle in one of my legs (which never did totally loosen up, but it was good enough that I didn't end up having to turn around as I initially feared I might have to). Snowshoes went on at the car, and with the nice snowshoe trough from all the traffic the day before, it was a really pleasant hike to the top of Mad River Notch, where the Northern terminus of the Greeley Ponds Trail resides.

A short snack break later and we began the climb. This trail starts off steady, but after a short stretch of traversing, gets to climbing in a hurry. In total it is only 1.5 miles from the junction to the summit of East Osceola, with 1800 feet of elevation gain, but the bulk of that climbing is done in roughly 1 mile. Shortly into the actual climbing section we ran into the skier on his way down. There wasn't enough snow cover for him to ski down, so he was off to find somewhere else to go for the day.

This trail frequently requires crampons in winter, but the snow was pretty grippy and aside from a few short stretches that took some care, the ascent wasn't too tricky. The slide crossing near the top of East Osceola, which is a definite no-fall zone and was extremely icy last winter when I went up this trail with an AMC group, was actually nicely filled with snow and was one of the easier spots to ascend in fact. Still, none of us was looking forward to the descent later in the day. We also still hadn't run into Deb and Harley, they were apparently making good time.

Pano from the East Osceola slide crossing

Mount Carrigain with the fire tower platform visible on top

Across the Kancamagus Highway toward Carrigain (C) and the Hancocks (L)

The Mount Osceola Trail ascends from near the pond, under the cliff to the left, then gets climbing fast!

Mount Chocorua

Mount Kancamagus across Mad River Notch - a completely trailless New Hampshire 100-Highest Peak
A couple hundred feet below the summit of East Osceola is a steep gulley section, at the top of which a short herd path leads right to a very nice view of the Osceola Peaks, as well as Franconia Ridge, the Kinsmans, and more. We took a short break here for pictures, then climbed the remaining distance to the wooded summit of East Osceola, stopping briefly at a blowdown viewpoint just below the summit.

Franconia Ridge (R) and the Kinsmans (L) from the viewpoint below East Osceola

Mount Osceola from below East Osceola

The Tripyramids from the viewpoint right near the summit of East Osceola

Non-descript summit of East Osceola
From there it was a steady descent down to the col between the peaks, where it was time to tackle the infamous chimney section. We finally ran into Deb and Harley just before this spot on their way back, as Harley was not liking going up this section. The chimney itself was predictably filled with ice, but the typical bypass was tricky to get up as well (and this was the part Harley did not like). Most of us ended up bypassing the bypass through the woods to the right, which Harley had no issues with. From there it was a steady climb, with a few steep pitches, to the ledges near the summit of Osceola, during which time Harley and Marlie mostly got along fine.

Many people assume this is the summit when coming from the Kancamagus Highway, but in fact it is a couple hundred feet away up the trail and on a short side path. When you hit a big rock with a great view of the Bonds and Franconia Ridge, you've found the summit.

Looking towards Owl's Head (wooded lump in center), nestled between Franconia Ridge and the Bonds. The snow-capped peak of Garfield is dead center behind Owl's Head.

Mount Osceola from partway down to the col between the Osceolas

Pano Northward from the true summit of Mount Osceola

Franconia Ridge from Mount Osceola's summit

Mount Washington (with a cloud...) between the Hancocks and Carrigain

The Bonds, with South Twin in the background from Mount Osceola
A nice break in the sun and low winds was in order at the ledges, during which time a pair of hikers summitted and nicely offered to exchange summit shots. The dogs mostly cooperated with this attempt...

Pano from the Mount Osceola ledges

Mount Washington from the Osceola ledges

The ridge back to East Osceola

The Tripyramids, with the North slide abundantly visible

The gang on Mount Osceola

Blue skies, low winds, warm temps. A wonderful day!
The descent was tricky as predicted. Getting down to the chimney section was fine, though with a few involuntary butt-slides on the way. We were also starting to run into many people on the trail (our 7:30 start beat basically everyone up the trail!). Getting through the chimney bypass bypass took some doing but we made it, then an easy climb up to East Osceola. From there it was a careful, tricky descent, as with ice underneath the snow we didn't want to slip and slide too much on this steep, tree-and-rock-lined trail. A few slides happened anyway, as they were still often the safest way down (though somehow Ian managed to stay on his feet the whole way...), but with care we all made it down to the flats without incident. It was an easy stroll back to the cars at that point, where the small parking lot had long overflowed and many folks were parked along the side of the road near the trailhead. An interesting trip out in the mountains, but everyone (but me, haha) got checkmarks on their winter 4000-Footers list on this day (I did get grid checkmarks though). Thanks guys for a great day!

Route: Greeley Ponds Trail, Mount Osceola Trail (out-and-back to Mount Osceola)
Peaks: East Osceola (4156', NH4K), Osceola (4340', NH4K)
Mileage: 7.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3100 feet
Book Time: 5hr 20min (actual time 6hr 50min)

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