Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Much-Needed Day Above Treeline on Easter

Date: April 20, 2014
Peaks: Washington (6288', NH4K), Monroe (5372', NH4K), Little Monroe, Franklin (5001', TW72), Eisenhower (4760', NH4K), Pierce (4312', NH4K)
Route: Jewell Trail, Gulfside Trail, Cog Railway, Crawford Path, Monroe Loop, Franklin Loop, Eisenhower Loop, Webster Cliff Trail
Mileage: 13.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 5050ft

About a year ago in late April 2013 I joined a friend for his New Hampshire 4000-Footer list on a Northern Presidential Traverse from Jefferson through Madison. The thought of doing the other half of a Presidential Traverse, from Washington through Jackson, occurred to me and I decided that in 2014 I would wait for the right day and jump on it if I could. Fast forward to April 2014, I haven't been above treeline in over 6 months. There is just something magical about spending a day above treeline, it's good for the soul and at this point it was something I sorely needed.

Easter Sunday was shaping up as a decent day to do just this hike, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Theresa wanted to hike on this day as well. With that, plan A was set, and all the weather did as the week went on was get better and better for Sunday. With a final forecast of temperatures at 5000 feet being in the low 30s with hardly a cloud to be found and winds in the low 20s mph, we were a go.

We met at the Highland Center at 7AM, left a car, and headed to the cog railroad parking lot, nearly losing our teeth on a massive frost heave on the road to the cog that we couldn't see in the morning sun. The weather looked fantastic, and we were off in short order. We made decent time to treeline on the Jewell Trail, and from there we took a steady, but most definitely leisurely pace to the day. It was clear early on that we wouldn't be making it to Jackson, but it didn't matter, the weather was too beautiful and we enjoyed every single moment of our time above treeline.

We saw a mere total of 10-12 people all day, and 4 of them were on the summit deck of Mount Washington. Still, no line for summit pictures, as the cog railroad was not open yet, the auto road was also still closed (and will be for a while yet), and being a holiday most people were not on the trails. We got to enjoy a perfect day nearly to ourselves. We felt hardly a breath of wind all day, the trail conditions were great (we carried snowshoes but never once even considered putting them on, as the monorail on both the Jewell Trail and Crawford Path below treeline were rock-hard even in the afternoon, and there was a lot of bare rock above treeline), the views were incredible, and the temperatures mild (I wore a t-shirt all day except when we took snack breaks).

We saw every one of the high peaks in Vermont easily by eye, from the Jays up near Canada, through Mansfield, Camel's Hump, Abraham/Ellen, and Killington/Pico. The high peaks in Rangeley, ME were also easily visible, and there was barely a cloud seen all day. In fact, I got a pretty good sunburn, and it was totally worth it!

We took every summit loop we came to, including the short, unofficial but well-defined path to Mount Franklin, and made it back to the Highland Center with just enough time to retrieve the car and enjoy a wonderful turkey dinner before crashing for the night! This day was just what the doctor ordered, so to speak. A full, long day above treeline does a body and mind good, and I could feel all the worries just melting away as the day went on. Theresa and I chatted, strolled, and simply had a tremendous day, one of the best days of hiking all-time for me!

I'll let the pictures do the talking from here (a slideshow of the full album is at the end of this post):

First view from treeline on the Jewell Trail

Treeline on the Jewell Trail, looking West

Bonds, Twins, with Franconia Ridge in the background

Looking down the ridge the Jewell Trail ascends

The Southern Presis waiting for us

Clay from the Gulfside Trail

Mount Carrigain

Willey, Field, Tom, with Bond behind the Tom-Field col

The Bond/Twin range, with Moosilauke and Franconia Ridge behind

Mount Washington from the Gulfside Trail

Walking up the cog tracks for a couple tenths of a mile to avoid an icy trail around the Great Gulf Headwall

While we were up there, there was a lot of rime ice falling off this tower in the warming sun

No line, clear skies!

The Northern Presis, shot from right near the MWOBS camera of the same view :)

Heading down to the Southern Presis

Franconia Ridge - would have been a good choice today too!

Mount Monroe from near Lakes of the Clouds Hut

Looking back at Mount Washington from near Lakes of the Clouds Hut

This guy came up the Ammo Trail just as we left the hut - guess he decided to go hut-bagging today!

Pano from Mount Monroe

Washington and Monroe from Little Monroe

Franklin ahead

Pano from Mount Franklin

Franklin from the Franklin-Eisenhower col

Mount Jefferson peeks out

Looking back North from Eisenhower

Eisenhower from near the Pierce-Eisenhower col

Theresa approaches Pierce with the day's work in the background

Springtime on the Tripyramids, and a Bonus Bushwhack - April 19, 2014

Route: Pine Bend Brook Trail, Mount Tripyramid Trail, Bushwhack
Peaks: North Tripyramid (4180', NH4K), Middle Tripyramid (4140', NH4K), Scaur Peak (3605', NHHH)
Mileage: 10.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 3750ft
Book Time: 7 hours (actual 6.5 hours)

Finally, after over a month away, I got back to the Whites. I am fortunate enough to be able to head North fairly often, and a long day on the trails really helps me re-zero myself. I really needed some trail time, and a day solo on the trail might prove just the ticket (and if not, the plans for the next day surely would). I've meant to hike the Tripyramids a couple of times already this year, but it just hasn't happened, but today I would actually get going. I drove through some light sleet/freezing rain along the Kanc from Lincoln, but as I got out of my car at the Pine Bend Brook Trailhead, blue skies were starting to emerge. Hey, not badly timed!

The route today was to take the usual winter route to these peaks, the Pine Bend Brook Trail, which is fairly flat and meanders along its namesake for the first mile and a half or so. Then there is some climbing, nothing terribly steep, but definitely increasing in grade until it reaches the base of a ravine where the real climbing begins. This stretch up to the ravine base is not a favorite of mine, as it is very rocky and rough, but with a couple feet of snow still clinging on, it isn't so bad. The trail conditions also weren't too bad, with a pretty solid monorail to this point, meaning the snowshoes stayed strapped to my pack.

An eroded spot along the Pine Bend Brook Trail

The infamous monorail, a common spring-time discovery in the White Mountains

Open woods, blue skies, it was a pretty nice day actually.

Along the way I passed the only 2 people I would see all day on this hike (I would see them again on the ridge as I returned to North Tripyramid), leaving me with a light coating of fresh snow (about an inch fell in the area a few days before). Not long before the ravine, about 2 miles from the road, a set of canine-looking tracks joined the trail and followed it up towards the ridge for quite a ways. Since there were no human tracks up to this point fairly far into the woods, the only conclusion I could come to was that these were tracks belonging to a coyote, and a pretty darn good sized one at that! The women I had passed earlier on also mentioned seeing bear tracks. That's the fun thing about this time of the year, you get to see a lot of different animal tracks in the woods as everything comes out of their winter hideaways.

Coyote Tracks?
At the base of the ravine I switched to my snowshoes. Mainly, I needed the darn things off my back, and since the monorail was now pretty wide and the steeps were ahead of me, I figured I might as well take advantage of their great traction and the heel lifts. With the footwear change done, I practically flew up the steep section of trail, reaching the junction on the ridge with the Scaur Ridge Trail in what seemed like no time at all.

A sunny, open spot near the Scaur Ridge Trail that was completely clear of snow! Though overall there was still a couple feet on the trail.

Still a decent amount of snow in them hills!
Making my way along the trail towards the final steep climb to North Tripyramid, I could see the North Tripyramid slide from time to time. One of these days I really want to climb that, but I'm going to wait for the snow and ice to go completely away first! I made my way without incident to the summit, including the place where I smashed up my knee pretty good last fall (my own clumsiness to blame for that one). The North Tripyramid viewpoint near the summit offered a view of some cool cloud action just to the North, where there was a solid layer of clouds starting below 4000 feet. Looks like the Kanc was the dividing line for the clouds today!

Solid cloud deck just to the North

Bear Mountain and Table Mountain

Mount Passaconaway

Mount Chocorua in the distance
A short stop, and I was off across the ridge to Middle Tripyramid. The trail is much less rugged in this stretch, the temps were still cool (around the freezing point), and the trail in great shape so I just cruised in the snowshoes. Middle Tripyramid offers a couple of nice viewpoints from the summit, one to the East and one to the West, and both were nice today.

Potash and Hedgehog

Waterville Valley

Sandwich Dome just visible, and Jennings Peak below it - both offer great views

Mount Tecumseh and the Waterville Valley ski slopes - looking pretty bare

The ski area must be closed for the season now, there's no one parked in the parking lots!

Mount Chocorua and the 3 Sisters


After a u-turn, I was back up and over North Tripyramid in short order. I had one more target in mind for the day. From where the Pine Bend Brook Trail attains the ridge, it turns hard left (if ascending) towards the Tripyramids. Going right at that point is a visible herd path in summer/fall, which heads to Scaur Peak, a New Hampshire 100 Highest peak about 1/4 mile away. That isn't a list I am working on, but being a pathological peakbagger, I couldn't pass it up this time around. It turned out to be a really easy bushwhack (like I said there is a herd path, but it was under a couple feet of snow), as the woods are pretty open the whole way, and I could see the summit the whole time. No map/compass or GPS needed, I just walked right up to the top, took a picture (and took a GPS waypoint for good measure), and retraced my steps back to the trail.

The descent was a little interesting, I stuck with the snowshoes and did slip once or twice on some steep icy spots (the snowshoes do not offer that great of traction on ice), but overall it wasn't bad getting back to the ravine. Around the Wilderness Boundary I ditched the snowshoes in favor of microspikes knowing from the morning that the snow from there was a mix of narrowish monorail and bare ground. For the next 1/2-3/4 mile the going was obnoxious, as the monorail's top was narrow and slushy, so I slipped off of it numerous times (snowshoes would not have helped), sometimes postholing on the side of the monorail (welcome to spring hiking!). But eventually the rail resolidified and it was a pretty easy trek out to the road from there, and the hike was done! A shower, food, and sleep was in order, as the next day was to be epic, but already I was feeling more "normal" again, it's amazing what a day in the woods can do for you.