Thursday, April 30, 2015

Spring Arrives on Mt Carrigain - April 12, 2015

Route: Sawyer River Road, Signal Ridge Trail
Peaks: Carrigain (4700', NH4K)
Mileage: 14.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 4000ft
Book Time: 9 hours (actual 8hr 25min)

I've been getting lax about writing trip reports lately. Truth be told, I've just not had the motivation to write them, especially about destinations I've visited so much. So from here on out I may skip some hikes now and then, or perhaps when the snow finally leaves the mountains and the big trips can resume I'll go back to writing more frequently. But for now, I'm going to skip 4 hikes that happened since the last report written here (a winter visit to Mt. Isolation) - Field/Willey/Tom, a visit to the Tripyramids via Scaur Ridge and the South Slide (which was a rather interesting adventure to descent in the conditions we had), Garfield (the first solo hike I'd done in roughly 5 months), and a double-hit-and-run of Tecumseh and Jackson the day before this hike. And now, on to the report!

My old hiking buddy Patrick and I had been trying to find a time to get a hike in for a while now. He had hoped to get cracking in earnest on his winter 4000-footers during winter, but life got in the way and he ended the season with a big goose egg of hikes up North. Spring has been awfully slow to arrive in the NorthEast this year, but things looked good for the first nice Spring day of the year to come for this hike, which was actually a day he had free! Meeting at the AMC Highland Center (where I spent the night in the bunkhouse), we left a car and drove the rest of the way down the notch to the beginning of Sawyer River Road. The road is not plowed in winter; rather, it is left open as a snowmobile trail. With a cold night having turned the parking lot into a skating rink, we put on the microspikes, strapped the snowshoes to the packs, and took off up the road.

Walking up Sawyer River Road - not much snow left in most spots!

The end of Signal Ridge from the Signal Ridge Trail down low.
 We both decided before the hike that we would go with summer nylon hiking pants instead of our usual soft shell or other insulated pants arrangements that we use in winter. We also opted at the car to leave the gaiters, in anticipation of warm weather. With the sun out in force on this morning, we were down to short sleeve shirts before we were halfway up the 2-mile road walk to the summer trailhead, and we stayed that way all day. Hurrah for the return of warmer weather! (Yes, in another month or so I'll be complaining it's too hot, but 50s and even 60s are awesome hiking temps!)

We hit the summer trailhead, and seeing a low snow level there (the road had still had solid, but quickly thinning, snow cover), we continued on in the microspikes, hoping we could get near the trail junction with the Carrigain Notch Trail before things softened up to the point where we would have to change to snowshoes. The trail was in pretty good shape overall, with postholes along the sides, but not in the middle of the packed trail, and we made good time, chatting and catching up after over 4 months since we last hiked. We did in fact manage to reach the old trail junction (it has been relocated a little further up trail, and an extra 1/4-mile of trail with a pointless PUD added since 2013) in just the light traction, but knowing the climbing was about to begin and the trail softening fast in the blazing sun, it was here we put on the snowshoes. They stayed on until our return to the Sawyer River Road. While busy getting the snowshoes on, one of the 3 other hikers we would see on the hike passed us, on her way to the summit as well.

Heading up!

Deep blue skies all day!

We took the old trail corridor (still very obvious to the left at an arrow on a tree), as it is shorter, and involves less climbing than the new official route. Plus, it was the only one with recent traffic. There are 2 stream crossings on the old route versus just 1 on the new route, but they were trivial to cross, though we had to cross the bare rocks on snowshoes, not a super-fun thing to do. Having enjoyed fairly flat trail for this first 4 miles, we soon began the actual ascent, where over 3000 feet of climbing happens in about 3 miles. We slowed down big time through this, but the trail conditions, while soft, were actually pretty good so we enjoyed the day, took our time, and eventually made it through the endless (OK, it's about 1 mile long) switchback, through several more switchbacks, and popped out onto Signal Ridge, one of the more spectacular spots in the White Mountains.

Mount Washington and the Presidential Range shining in the sun

Vose Spur, a New England 100 Highest Peak, seen from Signal Ridge. The Willey Range and Crawford Notch are in the background.

Mount Lowell and its famous cliffs.

Mount Chocorua

Signal Ridge pano

The summit of Carrigain, 1/2-mile away.

The tower atop Carrigain

The Hancocks from Signal Ridge

The Osceola Range

The Baldface Range behind Crawford, Stairs, and Resolution

With a pretty significant snowpack still present, there were great vies not just across Carrigain Notch to the cliffs of Mount Lowell, but in the other direction towards the Sandwich Range and the Hancocks, peaks not normally easy to see due to scrub on that side of the ridge. We enjoyed a good break here before popping back into the trees for the final push to the summit. At the tower atop the summit we ran into the same woman who had passed us earlier, about to head on her way down. After wishing her good luck, we headed up the tower to take in the views.

There was a mild and slightly chilly wind atop the tower, but with temps near 50 degrees and not a cloud in the sky, a light jacket was all we needed to enjoy a nice, long break on the tower. Man, it seems like forever since I spent any significant time on a summit without freezing my butt off!

The Desolation Trail, heading into the heart of the Pemi Wilderness. It sees no traffic in winter.

Signal Ridge from the Mt. Carrigain summit tower.

Left to right: Passaconaway, Whiteface, East and West Sleeper, the Tripyramids

Pano over the Pemi from Carrigain

The Bond-Bondcliff ridge, with the pointy peak of Mt. Garfield in the background.

Mt. Bond

The Presidentials

The Baldface Range

Franconia Ridge

The Osceolas

The Bonds


Tom, Field, and Willey (L->R)

Eventually we tore ourselves away from the views and headed back down to Signal Ridge. Some more picture-taking ensued, during which the other 2 hikers on this mountain this day came up, and then we pried ourselves away for the long, but not overly difficult descent, lured by the thought of burgers and beer. The only part of the descent that was tricky was the long switchback/traverse, where the downhill edge of the trail would occaisonally break free, making for an interesting game of seeing how long we could go without almost falling into the trees alongside the trail. We made it back to the road, switched to bare boots, and hauled it out to the car. Making a quick stop on the way back South to pick up my car at the Highland Center, we re-convened in Lincoln for a bit at Black Mountain Burger (our favorite post-hike spot!) before heading home after a terrific day in the woods.

"The Chute" on Mt. Lowell. There are some crazy people that climb that chute all the way to the summit, in winter!

One of the stream crossings on the old (closed) section of the Signal Ridge Trail). Easy rock-hop in these conditions.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Visiting the Birch Glades and Mount Isolation - March 7, 2015

Route: Rocky Branch Trail, Engine Hill Bushwhack, Isolation Trail (East), Davis Path, Isolation Spur
Peaks: Isolation (4004', NH4K)
Mileage: 13.25 miles
Elevation Gain: 3250 feet
Book Time: 8hr 15min (actual 8hr 40min)

The day after an awesome traverse of Franconia Ridge, I was scheduled to lead a group of 6 others from the Northeast Peakbaggers Meetup group in to Mount Isolation. I set this up after Jim had mentioned on the Wildcats hike a couple weeks before that he really wanted to visit Isolation this winter, and I told him I was itching for another visit too. All 6 other people showed up, but when we set off on the trail, we were down to 6 total people thanks to a car locking itself with the keys inside...the owner got a ride down to the Pinkham Notch visitor center to call someone and get that issue dealt with. The rest of us set off, most with snowshoes strapped to their packs as the trail was well-packed at the start, but I and one other started in snowshoes, preferring not to carry them. The forecast for the day was for mostly cloudy skies and maybe even some snow, but we had mostly sunny skies to start with and that never changed!

Heading up the Rocky Branch Trail

Well-broken trail the whole way made for great snowshoeing!
The Rocky Branch Trail wastes no time in beginning a steady, though not overly steep, climb up to the height-of-land where the normal winter bushwhack begins. About a mile in everyone not already in snowshoes switched over to them as the trail was softer up high and we wanted to preserve the snowshoe track. Steadily we continued the climb, enjoying great conversation and keeping a nice pace up to the height-of-land. The broken path on the Rocky Branch Trail ended at the usual start of the bushwhack, at a tree with a fading "T" carved in it (and currently some flagging nailed to it too...I wish people wouldn't leave that garbage in the woods...). But the broken path continued through the bushwhack, though at a much different route than any of my 3 prior visits. It stayed much lower than normal and missed much of the upper birch glades, but it did still avoid the major water crossings and cut a fair bit of distance off the hike. I love the birch glades on this bushwhack, they are one of my favorite spots in all of the White Mountains, and we had some awesome bluebird skies as we headed through them.

The start of the Engine Hill birch glades

The group starts to emerge into the glades and experience them for the first time.

Mount Isolation from the Engine Hill birch glades

Partway through we ran into my friends Chris and Whitney (Tip-Toe) on their way out from an early-morning trek out to Isolation, it was great to catch up with them for a few minutes after not seeing them since the Maine trip over the New Year's weekend! As we exited the bushwhack onto the Isolation Trail, we had a ways to go to get to the upper 3 crossings due to the lower-than-normal track, but we made fairly short work of that stretch and took the short bushwhack (which was also broken out) around the 3rd and 4th crossings (the Engine Hill bushwhack avoids the 1st and 2nd), and had a very solid snowbridge crossing the final (and only of the day) crossing.

Looking upstream at the one crossing we made on this hike.

Normally I'm not a fan of hanging out on snowbridges, but this one was feet thick and not going anywhere.

There is an extra, short bushwhack that cuts the corner at the Davis Path/Isolation Trail junction which was also broken out, so we took that, cruised up the Davis Path, and scrambled up the steep but short spur to the mostly open summit. Thanks to the much sunnier than forecast weather, we had tremendous views of the Southern Presidentials, part of the Pemi Wilderness, and the Carters/Wildcats/Baldface region. The winds were mild and so we enjoyed a lengthy stay up top during which close to a dozen others came and went, it was a busy day for this isolated peak! Even the gray jays came out in force, there were at least 3 of them at one point flying around looking for anything they could steal from us.

There is now a stick sign on the summit. Not sure when that happened.

Mount Washington and the Southern Presis from Isolation

Mount Carrigain

Mount Pierce, with the Willey range behind

The Baldfaces, such an awesome hike!

The Wildcats with part of the Carter Range on the left.

One of the only clouds was covering the summit of Mount Washington - of course!

The crew on Isolation

Mount Washington tries to shake the cloud

Pierce, Eisenhower, Monroe, Washington, and Boott Spur all shining bright in their winter finery.

Gray Jay on Isolation

Our exit hike was faster than the hike up of course, but along the way we got to enjoy the awesome Engine Hill birch glades a second time. The hike down from the height-of-land always seems to drag on, but with a great group of folks, it went by pretty fast and soon enough we were back at the cars, and 5 more people had Isolation in winter checked off their 4000-footers list!

Back out the Engine Hill birch glades


The red route is the one we broke out last winter, gray is this year's route.