Sunday, March 9, 2014

Carrigain in Winter - March 1, 2014

With the official winter season fast winding down, IQuest and I met up to hike Mount Carrigain, one of the handful of remaining peaks on his Winter 4000-Footer list. It was a chilly morning, but forecast to warm up pretty quickly to fairly mild winter-time temperatures. IQuest brought his pup Marlie along on this hike, and she was raring to go right out of the gate, running all over and even jumping some (perhaps she was trying to warm up?). In winter, Carrigain, an already fairly long hike at 10 miles and 3400 feet round-trip, turns into a 14-mile, 4000-foot hike due to the Sawyer River Road being closed. This adds 2 miles and about 600 feet of elevation gain to the day. The rewards come at the summit though, and Signal Ridge just before it, with far-ranging views. In fact, from Carrigain's summit on a clear day over 40 of the 48 4000-Footers in New Hampshire can be seen!

We took the broken-out herd path along the river to bypass the first mile of the roadwalk, but it wandered extensively side-to-side, and we ended up cutting a few of the corners off. But it was some rough footing in places due to a lumpy surface that had frozen hard like that due to warm temps the weekend before and then cold weather during the week. We were glad to finally hit the road, which is a main snowmobile route in winter, which offered much nicer footing, even if it was more boring.

The Signal Ridge Trailhead

Snowmobile-packed Sawyer River Road at the trailhead for the Signal Ridge Trail
 Hitting the summer trailhead, which a year or so ago was moved to the other side of the stream to avoid an early stream crossing, we wasted no time in continuing on. The first 1.7 miles to the old trail junction flew by, as the trail was well-packed out, and honestly we did not need the snowshoes on our feet for this part, but I was looking forward to using the heel-lifts on the steady climb ahead.

At the old trail junction, which is in a clearing and is pretty obvious, a simple small arrow carved into a block of wood indicates that the trail heads to the right. To the left of this sign is a large tree that was placed to block the old route. A year or so ago the AMC put in a major re-route in this area, routing the Signal Ridge Trail further along what used to be the start of the Carrigain Notch Trail before then switchbacking up a small ridge to rejoin the old route. Back in November I traveled the new reroute for the first time (incidentally with IQuest and Marlie after we bushwhacked to Carrigain from Vose Spur), and it is a bit obnoxious. It adds about 1/4-mile to the one-way distance of the trail to Carrigain, and it also adds a rather obnoxious ~100ft PUD (pointless up and down) to the route. The AMC must have had a reason for the route they chose, but today we weren't going to play along. The snowshoe trench split here, with folks having followed both routes. We took the shorter, old route, and in a matter of only a few minutes we saw the reroute rejoin the trail. It is clearly MUCH shorter along the old route, and we were on our way.

A peek through the trees on the Signal Ridge Trail
 At this point, the trail soon starts climbing, and in the next 2.5 miles it gains the majority of the 3000 feet remaining to the summit. It can be a pretty mind-numbing grind, but today it went along fairly smoothly. The heel lifts on the snowshoes were extremely helpful and with an inch or two of loose snow higher up, the snowshoeing conditions were terrific. Eventually we reached the open ridge that gives name to the trail that crosses it - Signal Ridge. The cloud clover was pretty solid today, but the ceiling was high, even above Mount Washington. The winds were also light, so lots of pictures were taken (which with the flat light don't come out all that well unfortunately).

Pano from Signal Ridge - the cliffs of Mount Lowell right in front

The Presidential Range

Vose Spur, on the side of Mount Carrigain

Signal Ridge up to the summit of Carrigain

Vose Spur on the right and the ridge up to Carrigain. Hard to believe I climbed that!

The observation tower on Carrigain from Signal Ridge

Mount Washington

Marlie on Signal Ridge

The Hancocks with Moosilauke between in the distance

Tripyramids, Osceolas, and Hancocks from Signal Ridge

The Bonds and Twins
From here it was a short, but steep climb up to the summit of Carrigain, where the newly-re-decked observation tower stands. On the top of the tower was the most wind we'd felt all day, and even this was only a little, mostly in the 10-15mph range, with a few stronger gusts. We didn't spend long on the tower, and only took a short break underneath it to eat a quick snack, as though the thermometer read 15 degrees, it felt colder today, and Marlie was getting chilly too.

Climbing the stairs of the observation tower

Partial pano from Carrigain - Chocorua through the Bonds

Partial pano from Carrigain - Bonds through Osceolas

Partial pano from Carrigain - Osceolas through Kearsarge North


Passaconaway, Whiteface, Sleepers, Tripyramids (L->R)


Franconia Ridge


Presidential Range

On the way down, just below the summit we ran into the first people we'd seen all day. Some more pictures along Signal Ridge, and then we ducked below treeline to hike the steady hike out. In the upper switchbacks below Signal Ridge we saw 3 more people, wrapping the total for the day up at 5. A nice, quiet day on the trails, aside from the snowmobiles on the road walk out (which were all polite, slowed down as they passed us, and overall were not a problem).

Thanks again for the great hike IQuest, and for getting another one off your list too!

Route: Sawyer River Road, Signal Ridge Trail
Peaks: Carrigain (4700', NH4K)
Mileage: 14 miles
Elevation Gain: 4000 feet
Book Time: 9 hours (actual 7hr 15min)

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