Up, High in the Whites

Big day hike in the Whites.

First, about the New England 4,000 Footers. This is an official list of mountains in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont that reach or exceed 4,000 feet in elevation. There are 67 on the list. I have less than 5 left to go, after picking off the rest of Vermont last August on my Long Trail thru-hike. I am now quite interested in finishing up, possibly before winter.

Mount Carrigain is on that list- at 4,710′. Normally a 10 mile up and back round trip, it was 14.7 miles today. The additional mileage consisted of walking back to the car after a night camping at Fourth Iron on the Saco River, plus the 4 miles of road walking on the Sawyer Pond Road, still gated after major washouts from Hurricane Irene last August.

Hikers need to know about Fourth Iron. The tent site appears on the map enclosed in my AMC New Hampshire Guidebook, but with no printed mention of it in the Guidebook itself. The parking area is about 3 miles west of Bartlett and leads to a hike-in group of 8 maintained tent sites, less than a half-mile, walking on flat-ground-to-get-there, off Route 302. All the sites ($8, USFS Honor system) were taken, so we meandered down the side of the Casco River until we found a most excellent spot that allowed us to roam around in the river.

The Saco, explored.

My partner for this hike was Tenzing, aka John Clark, who spent the night in his new LLBean solo backpacking tent, while inside his new light weight sleeping bag, and on top of his new sleeping pad.

Beside the River

Our dinner was comprised of us splitting one US Army dehydrated Enchilada MRE dinner, complete with all the fixins’. Plenty of calories for that to go around. Later, we had fun hanging our bear bag on a limb overhanging the side of the water. Big night for Tenzing and I both- to be resting aside the infant Casco River as it gathers momentum after descending in rivulets from the high flanks of the mountains surrounding Crawford Notch.

We were up at 5:30 AM and only had to move back to the car and drive it across the street to the parking area at the base of the gated Sawyer River Road. Those “in the know” had brought their bicycles with them to pedal up ( and coast 2 miles back) on the gradually inclined gravel road to the official start of the Signal Ridge Trail, which is now rerouted at the start and a short distance up Whiteface Brook, due to the massive logjams and washouts from Hurricane Irene ( 2011).

The trail is a gradual 1.7 mile hike up to the intersection with the Carrigain Notch Trail, where it continues itself over Carrigain Brook, eventually reaching 3 miles of steady climbing to the actual exposure of Signal Ridge, where the views just keep on coming. The end is now in sight, with the outline of the squat firetower ahead.

Signal Ridge with fire tower ahead
- photo by John Clark

On the way up, you pass the site of the old fire warden’s cabin, which would have been a peach of an assignment back in the day. There is ample water there in a boxed wooden spring. We reached the top at 11:30 AM, with views all the way to Washington in the east, to Franconia Ridge to the West, and all the way back south over the Kangamangus Highway to Mt. Chocorua. The Appalachain Trail and North and South Twins were to the north.

A large pile of pressure treated lumber and beams were on the ground, ready for a rebuild of the Firetower, the project starting this week, when access to the tower would be limited.

We passed just one lone hiker on the way up, who was finishing his New Hampshire 4,000 Footer list today. I took off my shirt, boots, and socks while relaxing on the deck of the tower, while I enjoyed what may be the best trail snack I’ve even had- Bacon Jerky !

Gotta love it!

A steady stream of hikers began to join us after 12 PM, when we gathered our gear and headed down. Surprisingly, it took us just about the same time to descend the first 3.3 miles as it took us to go up, due to the constant jumble of which-way rocks and crossways roots that made up the ancient trail.

I wish I had my bike waiting for me at the intersection of the Sawyer River road, so that I could have cruised back down those last two miles. They went on forever!

Tenzing’s complete photo album of the adventure is here: http://tinyurl.com/Carrigain8-18-12

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