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

Rescued hiker says White Mountains are out | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Photo by John Clark

What brand and model of snowshoes broke?   How bad could the break be that it couldn’t be fixed with the all-essential backup ziptie ( it was just one shoe)  to be able to move through the snow?  Where can we find out the answer?  Clarkie, Guthook? Help!

“I think I’m done with the Whites for now,” Embrey said from his home in Buxton on Saturday, the day after guides with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department had to rescue him near the summit of Mount Lafayette, bringing him a replacement showshoe and helping him find his way back to the trail.

Rescued hiker says White Mountains are out | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram.

Megatex on Mt.Washington

“Caution: This is the most difficult regular hiking trail in the White Mountains”, reads the White Mountain Guide. With an elevation gain of 4,256 feet in 4.4 miles of trail from Pinkham Notch visitor’s center to the summit of Mt. Washington (6,288′), the description appears right on.
Here’s a shot of Huntington Ravine, on the right, with Tuckerman’s to the left.

Huntington Ravine ( right) on Mt. Washington
The picture was taken from the top of Wildcat Mountain, which we climbed yesterday. Yup, it’s steep, – real steep!
The trail gets increasingly steep, starting as a normal trail, then enters a steep slope of broken rocks known as The Fan, where at one point it climbs 650 feet in just 0.3 of a mile, rendering it way beyond the usual steep Whites climbs.
It is at this point that the trail reaches the head wall and you are faced with an expanse of smooth steeply sloping ledge that is completed by jamming your feet into and clawing your way 30′ up a vertical crack, then skittering sideways to enter a less treacherous, but very exposed route up to the lip of the ravine. Here’s a shot of that exact point, with two other climbers in and above “The Crack” to illustrate! I found myself pulling my body up some tough sections, and was surprised how much upper body strength the trail demanded.
General Lee and I made it to the summit of Washinton at 11:10 AM, some 3 hours and 40 minutes after starting the hike, a time that was 1 hour under the formula established by the AMC.
Once on top we gave up waiting in the long line of people waiting to get their photo taken by the summit sign, 95% of them riding their car, motorcycle, ATV, or the train to get there.
We spotted a fellow walking by as we were eating our lunches while sitting in two chairs near the summit building. After our eyes locked, he came over and asked if we were thru hiking, which he was doing- Northbound. We gave him one of our steak sandwiches and another day hiker sitting next to us gave him a huge bag of most excellent gorp. then Lee and I went to the hiker station on the ground floor and talked and hung with the hikers as we brewed up some fresh coffee from Lee’s Jetboil.
Then we had to walk back to the car. Since descending the way we came up is considered a suicidal possibility, we decided on a more roundabout route. Or routes.
Lee ran up to the top of Mt Clay (5535′)
Lee on AT, heading toward Mt. Clay
, then ascended off the AT to the top of Mt. Jefferson (5716′). Unfortunately he swung back down the Six Husbands Trail to link back up with me, who was having my own challenges descending the steepness of the Great Gulf Trail. Lee said that his descent was even more treacherous than the Huntington Ravine trail would have been, even with the use of several ladders. Emeralds and crystals were the images that came to me as I wound my way northeast along the west branch of the Peabody River until I reached what I thought was the AT near the Osgood cut- off.
I walked for over a half hour until I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I was not on the AT. Why? No white blazes. Not one. The footpath certainly looked beat down enough to be the AT but where were the blazes?
I had the sun low in the sky on my right, it was past 4PM, so I was oriented in the correct direction- south. And I was climbing again. So I turned around, finally convinced I was not on the AT. After about a half hour of fast hiking, I eventually ran into General Lee who was coming up my way, either making the same mistake, or we were both really on the AT. He looked at my map and proclaimed that although he also had the gut feeling it was not correct, that it did look right to him, despite no white blazes. Lee is very good with maps, and counted contour lines to determine that we had to go up 550′ to 2850 in elevation before we would start the final descent. I was fact checking with the altimeter on my Highgear watch. We went back the way I just came from, now my third time over the same mile of trail.
Eventually we reached Low’s Bald Spot and soon the white blazes started up again, but now there were blue blazes right next to them, which appeared odd to me.
By this time, it was close to 6 PM and Lee and I were on unsteady feet as we reached the car in the nearly empty lot.
It topped out as a 15 mike day for me, including the toughest trail in the Whites, right after a day up those Wildcats. I’m taking a zero day tomorrow.
Now does anyone know why there were no white blazes on that 1.9 mile section of the AT? I really want to know.

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Tangling with The Wildcats

Started hiking up the Wildcat trail out of Pinkham Notch in New Hampshire’s Whites at 8 this morning. We finished 9 miles later just before 3 PM. Exhausted, but a good exhausted. It was as humid as you can stand.
It was a hike characterized by an initial mile of paralleling Rt 16 followed by 2,000 vertical feet of climbing trail within 2 miles . Clarkie, my brother Roy, General Lee, and I held strong up the first half of the climb, pulling over 1,000 vertical feet on top of that first mile by 9 AM.
Within another hour we were roaming around the top of the gondola lift to the summit of 4,422′ Wildcat A. An armada of cameras captured the moment.
Yesterday it got within 3 degrees of 100 out in Conway. Today was much better, and the higher we hiked, the cooler it got. Breezes were present off and on. All in all, it seems to be a good decision to hike here in the midst if this heat wave.
We lumped up and over all 5 high points in the Wildcats, then dropped over 1,000 feet to reach the Nineteen Mile Brook trail. Falling waters were cool and clear, and we stopped near a couple of pools to soak our feet on the way back to Clarkie’s auto.

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The Winter Whites: Day 2

The Sunday $8.95 breakfast buffet at Welch’s Restaurant in Gorham is the only deal in town on Sunday morning. Where else in Gorham do you get a live acoustic guitar rendition of Here Comes the Sun with your individually prepared omlet? Welch’s is easy on Rt. 2, adjacent to the abandoned Mobil station, across the street from the empty insurance company.
Right now the ‘Goon and I are leisurely reading the Sunday NY Times. Waiting for our Room 7 pals to get mobile. After they get back from breakfast The plan is to strike up the Carter-Moriah Trail off Rt 2 and see how far we feel like suffering until we turn around and make for the cars to head home.
It was no walk in the park, compared to the relatively gradual first 2 miles up Nineteen Mile Brook yesterday. In fact, the side of the pyramid entry path immediately shot right up out of the parking lot at the end of Bangor St. , with Rangoon once again leaving a vapor trail, his trail thickning with the increase of the angle of the footpath.

This initial two miles was an unrelenting up. Toward the top we encountered two dicey ledges that would have dashed bones to broken piles if we somehow neglected to strap metal screws or twisted wires to the bottom of our footwear.
Two miles and some 2,000 verticle feet later, Ohm and I were begging for mercy and filing a special request that no matter what, where we were be considered the top of Mt. Surprise and that we retreat, and start gulping Peanut M&M’s as soon as we sheltered ourselves from the cold.
On the way down, I wish I had a whole functioning body so that I could slide down the steep sections like everyone else, but I was just too sore and hobbled to risk an out of control hit. The known wincing steps I took were better than the possible downsides of unrestrained luge-like velocity.
It’s been a long time since I hiked up these snowcapped trails in the Whites.
I’ll be back. There’s nothing here that three ibuprofen can’t help.
Where on earth can a guy like me get a chance to hike in formation with the likes of these genuine souls, unheralded veterans of five to six months of living in the woods, true knowers of a unfettered take on 21st century life?