Thursday, February 27, 2014

President's Day But No Presidents - Feb. 17, 2014

This was a rare 3-day hiking weekend for me, as I got President's Day off this year. As always in winter, the goal was to hike above treeline, preferably in the Presidential range, but cold temps and high winds nixed that idea. Plan B was on tap: a hike of North Twin, South Twin, and Galehead Mountain. Mondays are one of Whitney's normal hiking days, and these were remaining on her winter 4000-footer list, so this was an easy choice for what was supposed to be an otherwise beautiful and sunny day. Joining us were Denise (whom I hadn't seen since the Isolation hike in December), Ian (sans Marlie since it was a bit too cold), and Tim and his friend Ed.

We lucked out on this one in that a pair of crazy hikers broke out the whole route on Saturday, and another person took the same route on Sunday, so we weren't going to need to break trail. After meeting at Beaver Brook and leaving a couple cars there, we headed to the end of Little River Road. From here we took the usual winter route to the North Twin Trailhead, by taking the herd path on the left right after the snowmobile bridge and followed the old railroad grade (very obvious and easy to follow) right to the parking lot at the trailhead. Whitney and I were pleased to see that the overgrown section of this path had been cleaned up and we didn't have to wade through prickers this time, unlike in December when we hiked Mount Hale.

We made good time all the way to the upper crossing of the Little River, utilizing the typical bypass of the first 2 crossings. The river was completely and totally snowbridged along essentially its whole length, and so there was a great snowbridge path at the crossing, meaning we didn't need to shimmy across the giant log this time. Soon after this crossing the climbing begins in earnest.

The Little River, under a blanket of snow

Yes, there is a river under there!

Upper crossing of the Little River. Note the snow-covered log that is often a route across.

Walking across the snowbridge over the Little River

Looking downstream from the middle of the Little River

Upstream from the crossing of Little River
I was a bit tired from a poor night's sleep and being on the third day of hiking, and so the steady grind up to North Twin was tough and felt slow. Surprisingly though, I still made the summit with the group barely 3 hours after we departed the trailhead. That's close to 6 miles and over 3000 feet of climbing!

Just before the summit the trail pops out onto a terrific viewpoint (we layered up just below this point anticipating the high winds that had been forecast). Last winter when Ian and I did this hike, it was overcast though the views were still decent, but this day was incredible. Views stretched for 100 miles with barely a cloud visible, and despite the wind, we all had to stop and enjoy and take a lot of pictures.

South Twin from just below North Twin

Pano from the lookout just below North Twin

South Twin, with Carrigain on the far left

The Presidential Range gleaming behind Mount Hale

Mount Washington and the Presidential Range, shining on President's Day
Naturally we also visited the viewpoint just past the summit of North Twin (sign) that offers a great view towards Franconia Ridge and Galehead Hut. The wind was actually a bit stronger in some ways here, and after a few pictures we headed back to the wooded summit for a snack break before heading for South Twin.

Pano from the North Twin overlook

Franconia Ridge with Garfield on the right

Galehead Hut below Galehead Mountain with the pointed peaks of Flume (L) and Liberty (R) behind.
Up to this point we had enjoyed a terrific snowshoe track with no drifting. The trail over to South Twin was drifted in the col, which wasn't a huge surprise, but the trail is well-marked with blue blazes through here, and was not difficult to follow. The ascent to South Twin is also pretty gentle, and before long we were being buffeted by heavy winds on the open summit, but enjoying the views. The temp was around -3F, and the winds were definitely in the 30s, with gusts probably in the mid-40s as at times it was hard to stand up. Without a wind gauge, a guess is all we have for what the winds were, but they neared 100mph at times on Mount Washington during the day. While most of us spent several minutes taking summit shots, panos, and so on, Tim had to go retrieve part of his sled that he had strapped to his pack for the slide down South Twin to the hut. Unfortunately for him, as soon as he hit the summit, a gust of wind snapped it off (breaking it near the handle) and now he had to carry the pieces all the way back to the cars without getting to use it! (He did retrieve all of the pieces, so no trace was left).

Pano over the Pemi from South Twin

Heading off South Twin with Franconia Ridge and Garfield looming large.

Bond and West Bond, with Passaconaway far off on the left and the North Slide of the Tripyramids in the center distance.

The Willey Range (Tom, Field, Willey) with the Baldfaces in the center background.

Lincoln and Lafayette

Last look at Franconia Ridge
The descent off of South Twin was soft, with deep snow only partially broken out. Those in front reported still having to somewhat break trail, but in what seemed like only a short time, we were all at Galehead Hut ready for the last climb of the day. A short snack later, we dropped our packs and scurried up to the summit.

Galehead Mountain from just below Galehead Hut on the Frost Trail

The Twins (South in center, North on left) from the overlook just below Galehead's summit.

Galehead Hut tucked below North and South (R) Twin

Galehead Hut from Galehead Mountain

South Twin Mountain

Ed, Whitney, and Tim on Galehead

Galehead Mountain from Galehead Hut
Now all we had left was a long descent. A short stint on the Garfield Ridge Trail, then a long haul on the seemingly never-ending Gale River Trail brought us to Gale River Road, which is gated and closed to cars in winter, and used by snowmobiles. We didn't see any snowmobiles as we followed the road a short distance to a fork, and headed towards Route 3 briefly before ducking into the back of the first campsite along the road. In back of that campsite is one of the cross-country ski trails that leads fairly quickly back to the Beaver Brook parking lot. In a testament to the strong group of hikers on this hike coupled with good trail conditions, we completed the 14+mile hike in less than 7.5 hours, and did not see any other hikers either (aside from a couple folks a the start heading to Hale)!

Congratulations to Whitney and Denise on 3 more checkmarks off their winter lists, and to Tim, Ed, and Ian for grid checkmarks. For me, this capped off 8 peaks this weekend, bringing my February grid total to 24, making it my second month (July) to reach that mark.. With the fast hike, I was home a lot earlier than I expected, which was awesome as well. This was an awesome hike with great company, thanks for the invite Whitney!

Route: Old North Twin Trail, North Twin Trail, North Twin Spur, Twinway, Frost Trail, Gale River Trail, Gale River Road, Beaver Brook Ski Trail
Peaks: North Twin (4761', NH4K), South Twin (4902', NH4K), Galehead (4024', NH4K)
Mileage: 14.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 3950'
Book Time: 9hr 10min (actual 7hr 25min)

Looking up-river along the Gale River Trail

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Field, Willey, and Tom - Feb. 16, 2014

For day 2 of a 3-day hiking weekend (thanks to President's Day being a rare day off from work for me), I was off to a hike I knew was at least mostly broken out (knowing a potentially hard day was in store for the following day). The Willey Range is always broken out pretty fast after a storm, as are most of the trails at the top of Crawford Notch thanks in part to the AMC's Highland Center being next door. An unplowed parking lot at the Crawford Depot Station (which didn't appear to have been plowed all winter, though I've parked there in winter before) and another lack of motivation morning meant another somewhat late start (9ish). But off I went, on a beautiful snowshoe trough.

What all trails should look like in winter: a perfect snowshoe trough!
It took me a bit to get going, but interestingly I picked up the pace after starting the steep climb following the Avalon/A-Z Trail junction. With the sun only occasionally peeking out, and having been there several times before on nicer days, I passed on the short side spur to Mount Avalon and continued up at a good pace to Mount Field, reaching the summit in about 2 hours, a good time for me. It looked like only one or two people were ahead of me at this point, and the trail was only barely broken out to Willey, so I assume no one had ventured out that way the day before.

Just above the spur to Mount Avalon the sun came out

A brief opening in the clouds to peek back at the rocky summit of Mount Avalon, which offers a great view into Crawford Notch.

Mount Field up ahead
Making my way across the Willey Range Trail towards Willey, I eventually ran into a pair of hikers and their friendly Golden Retriever Pemi. I believe this is the same Pemi I've run into a couple other times in the last year or two. Pemi had a good time swimming in the deep snow while we chatted briefly. They were on their way to Tom, I thanked them for breaking out the trail, and we went our separate ways. Eventually reaching the summit of Mount Willey (which is after several other little bumps that seem like the summit, but it is just before a great viewpoint into Crawford Notch). With another break in the clouds, I made sure to check out the view before u-turning for Field.

Near the Field-Willey col

A Gray Jay was hanging out in the Field-Willey col, the first I've seen this winter in fact.

He liked posing for me.

Yet another pose by the Gray Jay. A friendly fellow who didn't seem too interested in begging for food, a rarity for these birds!

Mount Webster from Mount Willey. The Presis are all in the clouds behind.

A look down Crawford Notch from Mount Willey. A little too cloudy today but you can get an idea of how great this view can be!
The return to Field was easy now, with the trail well-broken out now. There were a few spots that were already drifted in some, but that is typical of this trail in winter in several spots. I also met a friendly couple on my way back who were heading to Willey too, so the last 3/4-mile to Field was really easy! Back at Field it was clear that the clouds were now winning out over the sun, and the trail was only lightly broken towards Mount Tom it seemed. Within a few hundred feet though, the trail became much more consolidated and it was an easy, gentle cruise down to the junction with the A-Z Trail. A large amount of traffic apparently went through here en-route to Zealand Hut the day before, which surprised me, as I've never seen that segment well-broken in winter.

The Mount Tom Spur is moderate, and the one steep ledge that tends to become icy in winter had the usual winter bypass well-established through the woods. Unfortunately, the summit was almost entirely socked in. There are some great views from the summit cairn area into the Pemi Wilderness, but not today. The only view was a short peek to Mount Field, so I made a quick exit hike.

No view today from Mount Tom :(

Rimed spruce

A short peek to Mount Field, just barely visible a mile away.
The descent on the A-Z Trail to the junction with the Avalon Trail is a little steep at the start, but not terrible overall, and aside from a few bare-booter postholes in the last 1/4-mile to the junction causing some tricky footing, it was a fast and easy descent. From there it was an easy cruise on a well-packed trail back out to the windy fields by the trailhead where I needed to head upwind to the Highland Center parking lot where I was parked. A relaxing afternoon was now in order, with 3 more 4000-footers with some friends on tap for the following day!

Route: Avalon Trail, Willey Range Trail (all the way to Willey and back towards Tom), Mount Tom Spur, A-Z Trail
Peaks: Field (4340', NH4K), Willey (4285', NH4K), Tom (4051', NH4K)
Mileage: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 3500ft
Book Time: 6hr 45min (actual 6hr)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Hancocks After the Storm - Feb. 15, 2014

A day before this hike, the White Mountains all received around a foot of new snow from top to bottom. Finally we had a good snowpack on the trails! But it also meant the trails were going to need to be broken out. I enjoy trail-breaking, at least for a little while (until the legs tell me I'm crazy!), but 12" of somewhat heavy snow solo is not something I wanted to break through all day. The original plan was to hike the Tripyramids, but when I arrived at the Pine Bend Brook Trailhead (near 9 thanks to being unable to get out of bed on time...), I saw that the pullover on the side of the road had not even been plowed yet, so I opted for plan B: the Hancocks, just up the road. There were plenty of cars there, and that meant I would be helping to break the trails, versus doing it all alone, a much more manageable task for all.

Snowshoes naturally went on the feet from the get-go, and I was off, following a nicely-established snowshoe trench from those in front of me. I soon caught and passed a group of skiers who were heading all the way to Lincoln Woods via the old logging routes that are now hiking trails in the Pemi Wilderness. In front of them, sadly, was a horrible mess of postholes in the new snow. The next 1.5 miles was extremely rough on my ankles, as I kept rolling my snowshoes into the mess of deep postholes, until I caught the offenders. It was a large group of at least 12 (it looked like it might be a college group), not a snowshoe to be seen among them. Why people think going out hiking the day after a FOOT of snow falls, and don't even contemplate bringing snowshoes, boggles the mind. Asking them why they didn't have them only resulted in a puzzled "no?" from one of them. Not only is it rude to the rest of the hikers to posthole a trail so badly, but it's a LOT more work too. Some folks just don't get it...

Nice snowshoe trench early on on the Hancock Notch Trail

It's hard to see well here, but the barebooters had taken over here and beat the heck up out of the trail.

In front of them was a nice, soft snowshoe trench again. I motored along from here, hooking onto the Cedar Brook Trail for a short time, passing two of the snowshoers along the way. I caught 2 more at the start of the Hancock Loop Trail, and there was still one lone set of snowshoe prints in front of me. The mile to the split in the trail was tougher, as now I was essentially breaking trail, trying to alternate steps with the lone fellow in front of me to establish a nice trench for later. Arriving at the fork, I saw that the mountain was now socked in (which was in the forecast) and the lone snowshoer had gone up to South Hancock first. I prefer heading up to North first myself, so after a snack break and a chat with the snowshoers I had passed at the start of the Hancock Loop Trail (one of whom was from out in Western NY near where I grew up!), I started breaking out the steep trail.

I knew that soon I would run into the lone snowshoer, and I was curious who it might be, figuring there was a decent chance I would know them. Sure enough, roughly halfway up to North Hancock, I saw Dan (DMOutdoors, he keeps a blog too) bounding his way down in the powder. This was pretty funny, as the last time I met him was by the summit of this very mountain, North Hancock, LAST winter! We had a nice chat this time around, before he headed off to hike the Osceolas in the afternoon (Dan is trying to do all of the New England 4000-Footers in this single winter season!). Great to see you again Dan!

The ascent was tough with deep snow and needing to kick in firm steps each step, but eventually (nearly 1.5 hours to do this 7/10-mile stretch!) I topped out on North Hancock, where the wind was light but the view was not to be had, yet again on this mountain. Oh well. I had a short snack during which time the couple caught up to me again (and they decided they would head down from here, foregoing South Hancock), congrats you two on bagging a 4000-footer in winter (the first one for one of them)!

North Hancock's summit

No view today from North Hancock

The ridge was only lightly broken, but it was at least broken thanks to Dan, who did a great job of following the exact corridor of the trail. Soon enough I was on South Hancock, where I was dismayed to see the bare-booting group had apparently postholed their way all the way up to this peak before turning around. The descent was really tough, and I twisted my knees several times in all of their partially-hidden craters. I really wish these people had realized the damage they were doing (especially since I know several of us on the trail that day had spoken to them about it) and changed their plans instead of ruining the trail for everyone else... I do have to admire their tenacity though, it must have been brutally hard work postholing all the way up to South Hancock in a foot of new snow...

South Hancock summit

Looking back at the trail across the ridge from South Hancock now that 2 pairs of snowshoes had gone through.

Down low, I surprisingly caught up to the same couple again that I'd last seen on North Hancock, and the three of us smoothed out the trail from the postholes (and there were 2 more snowshoers still up on the ridge behind me). The barebooters were gone when we reached the parking lot.

Aside from the barebooting mess (OK, some of them were wearing microspikes, which amounts to the same thing), this was an enjoyable hike, with a short stretch of tough trail-breaking. Thanks Dan for starting early and doing the lion's share of the trail-breaking, you animal!

Route: Hancock Notch Trail, Cedar Brook Trail, Hancock Loop Trail (to North, then South)
Peaks: North Hancock (4420', NH4K), South Hancock (4319', NH4K)
Mileage: 9.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 2700 feet
Book Time: 6hr 30 min