Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Whiteout on Monroe and Washington - Dec. 14, 2014

Route: Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, Mt. Monroe Loop, Crawford Path
Peaks: Monroe (5384', NH4K), Washington (6288', NH4K)
Mileage: 9.1 mi
Elevation Gain: 4000ft
Book Time: 6hr 35min (actual: 8hr)

Ian (and Marlie), Theresa, and myself met early at the Cog Railroad parking lot for this hike. The weather was for the skies to clear by mid-morning, the temperatures to be near freezing above treeline, and the winds to be manageable. The skies were indeed hinting at clearing as we started off, putting the snowshoes on right off the bat at the start of the spur trail to the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. The snow depth was not terribly deep, but sufficient, at the start, but it quickly increased in depth as we progressed.

The first stretch into Gem Pool was easily traveled, but now we were in for the real climbing! I'd only been on this trail once before, on the descent in winter, but recalled that it was pretty steep above Gem Pool. In fact, it is really steep, and the climb is fairly relentless! We also noticed as we climbed that the skies weren't looking like they were going to clear anytime soon. When we reached treeline a short distance below the Lakes of the Clouds Hut (closed this time of the year of course), visibility was very limited, and it wasn't until we were 100 feet or so away that we finally saw the hut!

The base of the Cog Railroad

Gem Pool in winter

This of course meant that finding our way up to Monroe, which has only a few cairns to mark the way, could be a bit tricky. Since we all had been up here several times before, we were familiar with how the trail first skirts the base of the cone to the junction with the Monroe Loop, before steadily and mostly directly ascends to the false summit. We also had a GPS track if need be, but we walked right up to the trail junction without any trouble. From there it was easier, because you just need to ascend. We got a little offline, but recognized our mistake and swung around to the trail corridor, and then up to the actual summit as the clouds thinned a little bit.

On Monroe - in a cloud!

The Monroe Loop junction
The wind was really whipping on the summit, so after a few pictures and a short break behind some rocks to break the wind, we re-traced our steps back to the hut. From the hut, we had the long, steady ascent on the Crawford Path (the first time I've ascended Washington from this direction in fact!), but visibility had improved some. We could see usually 2-3 cairns ahead, and the cairns are quite large on the Crawford path too which helped. Aside from my legs being completely shot (still getting the snowshoe leg muscles in shape again!), the ascent went well. We had hardly any wind until hitting the junction with the Gulfside Trail 0.2-miles below the summit, and were quickly out of the worst of it as we swung around the summit behind the buildings. For once there was no line for pictures, and after taking turns getting our pictures taken, we headed behind one of the buildings for a break.

Snow cat tracks!

Hey Marlie!
With the wind still fairly strong out of the North, we opted to descend the way we had ascended, especially since the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail had been in such good shape (no ice, and good snowshoeing conditions). As we descended, the clouds thinned and lifted a little bit for the duration of the descent to the hut. We even saw a little blue sky, along with a rather freaky-looking cloud over towards North Conway. The sun was short-lived though, and so once again the weathermen missed a little bit. Still, it was a good introduction to winter above treeline for Theresa (winter officially didn't begin for another week but this was absolutely winter conditions!), and a fun time out!

Monroe in a sea of clouds

Freaky-looking cloud looks like it is sucking up something from the valley

Blue skies!
One thing I do want to say is that the snow depth above treeline was tremendous, as we barely hit any rocks with our snowshoes. The conditions were simply amazing, the best I've ever seen above treeline! All the usual rocks and holes between the rocks that are present in summer were completely covered and we had great snowshoeing all day long. I've heard of people saying they've had such conditions before, but I'd never seen it myself. It really makes hiking above treeline so much easier!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hike on 12/13/14 to #15 off Route 16

Peaks: Carter Dome (4832', NH4K), South Carter (4430', NH4K), Middle Carter (4610', NH4K)
Route: 19-Mile Brook Trail, Carter Dome Trail, Carter-Moriah trail, North Carter Trail, Imp Trail (South), Camp Dodge Shortcut, Roadwalk
Mileage: 13.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 4400'
Book Time: 8hr 45min (actual 8hr 20min)

Around 1.5 years ago, a series of hikes were posted on the Random Group of Hikers Meetup Group that were along the lines of "11 mile hike to #11 on 11/11/11", "Hike to #12 on 12/12/12", and so on. One of those was for a hike on 12/13/14 to #15 (Middle Carter). I rarely hike with this group, preferring to lead my own hikes with the Northeast Peakbaggers, but I signed up for the waiting list for that one since it was a weekend hike and thus I had a chance to make it. As the day approached, I still could make it, and made it onto the actual hike, and so off I was for my 3rd hike of the 3 Carters on the 4000-footer list in 2014!

While waiting in the parking lot, I saw Rachel and Isis arrive and begin gearing up (well, Isis stayed in the nice warm car while Rachel warmed up). I last ran into them nearly a year before, on a hike to Mount Cabot, and it was great to say high again to the both of them. They were off to the Wildcats, though we would run into them a little while later at the Carter Dome Trail junction. I also had a chance to say a quick hi to the group organizer for the northeast Peakbaggers, Allison, who was off with a group to Pinkham Notch to climb the Wildcats from the hard direction! Once everyone for our group arrived, we put on the snowshoes (there was already a nice snowpack in the mountains, such a change from the last 2 Decembers!), and set off, our merry group of 8. This was my first hike on new snowshoes, the Tubbs Flex Alp, since my MSR Lightning Ascents had suffered a broken crampon/binding the week before on Garfield. So far, so good with the new shoes!

Off we go!

19-Mile brook Trail cloaked in early-winter finery

At the Carter Dome junction, turn here guys, don't go the way you were going!
After wading through the minefield of postholes on the 19-Mile Brook Trail (people just don't seem to comprehend that snowshoes are the way to go at least until the trail is firmly packed out), we turned off onto the lightly-broken (but largely posthole-free) Carter Dome Trail. As we climbed gradually toward Zeta Pass, it became increasingly clear that the skies would not be remotely clear today, and that views were going to be hard to come by. Still, it was a fun group, and after a fairly quick jaunt from Zeta Pass over to Carter Dome and back, we continued North on the Carter-Moriah Trail, barely pausing at the 2 wooded peaks of South and Middle Carter (there are some limited view points near both of these peaks). It was amazing to note in places that the snow depth was already on the order of 4 feet, this early in the winter season (in fact, winter was officially a week away yet!).

One of the few peeks of blue sky we had on the ascent

Ascending the Carter Dome Trail

The snow is so deep, the branches that are usually overhead were at our waist and sometimes lower!

On Carter Dome
The rest of the trip down went fairly smoothly. The Imp Trail is one of my least favorite trails, as it is rocky, rough in footing, and often wet even in winter. But this time around, aside from a few wet spots that needed some care to get around, the trail was in fabulous shape thanks to a couple feet of snow burying all the rocks! We made good time down to the old logging road that leads into Camp Dodge, reaching that point right at dark. Headlamps on for the final short jaunt out to Route 16 through the camp, we took off the snowshoes, walked the short way down the road to our cars, and took off for dinner in town! It was at dinner that we realized that not only was this hike on 12/13/14 to #15, but it was off of Route 16!

Descending the ledge near Middle Carter

The lower portion of the Imp Trail

Monday, January 12, 2015

Calendar Year 48, 2014 Edition!

Date of Hike: December 7, 2014
Peaks: Mount Garfield (4500', NH4K)
Route: Gale River Road, Garfield Trail, Garfield Ridge Trail
Mileage: 12.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 3350ft
Book Time: 7hr 55min (actual 6hr 35min)

2014 marked the 3rd year in a row where I was able to complete a full round of the New Hampshire 4000-footers, and for some strange reason Mount Garfield was the final peak for 2 of those years. I had hoped to be able to hike this one before the road to the trailhead closed for the winter, but about 1.5 weeks before this hike the gates started closing for the year. So, we had an extra 1.2-mile each way road walk, oh well.

Walking Gale River Road to the Garfield Trail

Patrick enjoying the day!
My old hiking pal Patrick was able to come for this hike, which was a rare treat, and coupled with me opting to do a single-day trip to the mountains, we met at a Park-and-Ride in New Hampshire. Driving that last 1.5 hours together was a nice change in pace from the usual solo driving I do, and it was great to catch up after a long time not seeing each other. We arrived to an only somewhat-plowed parking lot at the end of Gale River Road, but my car was able to bust over the berm and we began gearing up. Pulling in just as we were about to set off were gridders John and June whom I'd seen on the Carter Range the month before. It really is a small world in the hiking world, especially once the snow starts flying (and it isn't calendar winter yet either)! We put snowshoes on from the start, and set off down the road on our hike.

The day was cool, but we were fairly warm as we motored down the road and made the turn onto the trail as John and June and their friend caught up to us. We would end up leap-frogging each other a few times down low, until seeing them again at the summit and about a half-mile down from the summit too. They were the only other hikers out on this day on this great peak.

A Winter Wonderland up high!
The Garfield Trail is an old fire warden's trail/tractor grade, and climbs gently though over a long distance, using a series of switchbacks in the higher elevations. The snow depth was minimal at the start but soon picked up nicely, and the conditions were great for snowshoes. We made decent but not amazing time to the summit, where it was a whopping 0 degrees out! Luckily the wind was not too bad, and the skies were mostly clear though there was a thin cloud hovering right over the summit. We enjoyed the sights for a few minutes before retreating for the trees for a snack, and eventually a fairly rapid exit hike. The last 2 miles of the hike were a drag, as both of us were not used to the heavier winter packs nor did we have our snowshoeing legs, but we still made good time overall back to the car. Then it was off to Lincoln for delicious burgers before the drive home!

Franconia Ridge!

Hikers reaching the summit

"OK, it's cold, let's get outta here!"

The Twins, with the Presidential Range behind

Pemi Pano from the Garfield fire tower foundation.

The Bonds, with Carrigain poking out behind.


Franconia Ridge

The lumpy mound of Owl's Head in the middle of the Pemi Wilderness

Loving this!

Franconia Ridge, from Lafayette (R) all the way through Flume (L)
This hike completed my 4th round of the New Hampshire 4000-footers, and I'm better than halfway into my 5th round. Slowly but surely I'm chipping away at that grid, and having lots of fun along the way. Days like this are the best, just a nice quiet day out with a friend enjoying the winter scenery (even if winter hadn't officially begun yet!). It's great to see that winter is getting a good start in December for once, the last couple of years the snowshoes have stayed firmly in the closet until after Christmas. Not so in 2014! Thanks for coming along Patrick!

Ice-crusted trees in the sun.