Hike: Crawford/Resolution/Stairs

SUMMARY

We accessed Davis Path from the Davis Path parking lot off Route 302 just south of Crawford Notch in Bartlett, New Hampshire. We took Davis Path to the intersection with the Mount Crawford spur path, which we took to Mount Crawford. We backtracked to Davis Path and continued along it until the intersection with Mount Parker Trail, which we took to Mount Resolution. We again backtracked to Davis Path and continued north to the intersection with Giant Stairs spur path, which we took to the vista overlooking Giant Stairs. We then backtracked to Davis Path and began the return trip to our car. At the intersection with Mount Parker Trail we took an old side trail to AMC Resolution Shelter (demolished) and returned to Davis Path. Midway between Mount Resolution and Mount Crawford we bushwhacked over an unnamed peak marked as 3088′ to a remote cliff. We finally bushwhacked back to Davis Path and returned the remaining distance to our car.

This hike and its many side trips and bushwhacks turned out to be nearly 12 miles long and accumulated over 3500 feet of elevation. Including several breaks it took us just under 9 hours to complete.

Trail map

Map of hike (interactive map)

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Bushwhack: Vose Spur & Mount Carrigain

SUMMARY

We started on the Signal Ridge Trail off Sawyer River Road . At the junction with Carrigain Notch Trail we took it. There was no official path to Vose Spur, but there was a pretty good herd path to the summit from Carrigain Notch Trail. Soon after passing Bushwhack Boulder we took the herd path on the left, stepping over a large birch log, and followed it to the summit. We then continued our bushwhack down the western side to the talus strewn col between Vose Spur and East Carrigain. The bushwhack continued up East Carrigain and then followed the ridge to the fire tower atop Mount Carrigain. We looped back to our car by taking Signal Ridge Trail back to the trailhead.

The hike was about 10 miles with 3600′ elevation gain and took us under eight hours to complete.

Trail map

Map of hike (interactive map)

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Bushwhack: Mount Abraham

TRIP REPORT

I knew when I hiked Mount Abraham in May I would want to return to explore the alpine area more thoroughly. It boasted the second largest alpine area in Maine by square acreage after Mount Katahdin. What I didn’t was that it would be less than two weeks later when I returned.

A friend and I drove up to Mount Abraham after work on a Friday evening. We got to the trail head clearing at 8:35 pm as daylight was fading. The temperature was mild and the sky mostly clear as we started up the Fire Warden’s Trail by headlamp. We made the mostly easy hike to the Abraham tent site by 10:35 pm. After setting up camp we ate dinner by a campfire and retired for the night at midnight. I remembered drifting to sleep as my hammock slowly swayed below the glittering stars.

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Bushwhack: Mount Redington

TRIP REPORT

On a rainy day in May I decided to take the long trek up to Carrabassett Valley to do the Mount Redington bushwhack. I figured there weren’t going to be many views from Redington, so it would be a good day to hike it. I awoke fairly early and planned on getting to the parking area on Caribou Pond Road by 8:00am. Those plans were thoroughly smashed when I got to Kingfield, Maine, the finish line of the Sugarloaf Marathon.

It took me an hour to go the final 10 miles of my drive, but I couldn’t complain. Four years previously I had made the Sugarloaf Marathon my first marathon. Seeing the utterly exhausted runners brought back fond and painful memories. I wish it had been cool, overcast and drizzly on my marathon day. Instead it had been sunny and in the 90s.

The Caribou Pond Road was a hot mess. The gravel was soft as if from a recent thaw and water was puddling up all over. That was on top of normal conditions of the logging road, sketchy wood bridges and all. Along the way I passed a mountain biker going the opposite direction and arrived at the trailhead at 9:00 am.

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Winter Bushwhack: Mount Isolation

Trail Report

What do you do on the final full day of winter? Get in your last Winter New Hampshire 4000 Footer of the season of course. Since the weather was going to be mild, a couple of friends and I decided to bushwhack to Mount Isolation. It was a Winter 4000 Footer that none of us had, and since we had done the other difficult Winter bushwhack of Owls Head, we figured we would round out the season.

The night before, one of my friends and I camped out at Barne’s Field Group Campground. As drove through Pinkham Notch it started to snow, but it was not supposed to accumulate to anything. We were surprised to find many of the campsites were being used, it must have been due to the favorable forecast. We did dinner over a fire and hit the sack early.

We met our other friend at 8:00am at the Rocky Branch Trail parking. There were about 10 cars in the lot and the weather was sunny, in the 20°s and breezy. We were somewhat surprised that there was no snow on the ground, the forest floor looked more like May than March. The plan was to hike Rocky Branch Trail to the top of Engine Hill and then do Engine Hill Bushwhack to bypass all of the water crossings on Isolation Trail. We would then hike Isolation Trail after doing a single water crossing and finally Davis Path and Isolation Spur to the summit.

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Winter Bushwhack: Owl’s Head

Trail Report

A couple of friends and I took advantage of mild winter conditions to bag one of the more difficult winter 4000 Footers, a bushwhack to the Peak above Owls Head. The Peak above Owls Head is considered one of the more difficult hikes for several reasons: it is one of the more isolated peaks, by trail it is a 19 mile round-trip hike, there is no official trail to the summit of the peak and there are many water crossings which can be dangerous when the waters are high. To top this off, the best way to get to the peak in the winter is to do two bushwhacks known as the Black Pond Bushwhack and the Brutus Bushwhack.

Three of us drove up to the mountains Friday evening after work and camped at Hancock Campground, which was open year-round and across the street from the start of the hike. On the drive over Kancamagus Pass we pulled over to watch a moose munching leaves on the side of the road. Once at the campsite and after some food by the fire we turned in for an early morning start.

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Hike: El Capitan Bushwhack

Hike date: 13 March 2014

I stood with John and Mike on the Top of Texas, Guadalupe Peak, and stared at the peak to the south. El Capitan was truly spectacular to behold. Three sides of the mountain a cliff that dropped 1000′ to the slopes below which dropped another 2000′ to the Chihuahua Desert. The fourth side of the mountain a 500′ slope that angled at about 30 degrees so the western side was much higher than the eastern side. It was one of those peaks that you looked at and thought: “I have to climb that.”

Internally, I struggled with some concerns about being able to accomplish the bushwhack without running out of water, of getting back to the campsite before nightfall, and of course the risk of being bit by a rattlesnake while trudging through the underbrush. I voiced my concerns to John whose response sealed the deal for me, “You only live once.”

While my hike mates explored the Guadalupe Peak and packed up, I did some research on bushwhacking to El Capitan. I found a SummitPost.org post that seemed to have the most details on the hike. I read it while looking down at El Capitan for some context. The resulting plan was to hike down the Guadalupe Peak Trail to a point where it was close to a small ridge that lead down to the ravine between the two mountains. Once we got off the trail we would ditch our packs in order to lighten our load, just bringing water and food. There was a large tree on the ridge that would be visible from anywhere on the hike that we could use as a reference point as to which ridge to climb back up. We would try to cross the ravine as high up as possible as the further we went down into it, the higher we would have to climb back up. On the other side of the ravine there seemed to be some animal trails or washes that we would follow to the summit, we would try to stay parallel to the cliff edge to minimize the total vertical to the summit. We would also return the same route.

The Plan

The Plan

With the plan shared and agreed upon by everyone, we hiked down to the spot where we would start our bushwhack. When I started hiking several years back and heard the term bushwhack I pictured people hiking through the jungle, chopping all vegetation out of their way with a machete. In the context of hiking in Maine and New Hampshire I thought it was a very disrespectful behavior for the protected land that I loved to hike. I thought bushwhacking should not be allowed as it completely went against the concept of land conservation, the principle that all of the state and national parks that I enjoyed were formed upon. Soon after I realized that it was just a term that meant hiking off trail.

Silly me.

It was here, standing among small bushes worrying about snakes, scorpions and other things which bite and sting that I realized from where the term probably came. Mike lead the way, whacking bushes and logs with his trekking pole in order startle any creature that was hiding under. I followed his footsteps with the confidence that he already proved them safe. It was not behavior that I would ever have practiced in New England, so the term never had any context to me. We were literally whacking bushes.

We got to a point 30 or 40 feet below the Guadalupe Peak Trail where there were a few boulders. We ditched our packs behind one so they could not be seen from above. As well as food and water, I pocketed my compass, a map, a knife and some rescue line and of course my phone. John and Mike also brought a trekking pole each. One of the great coincidences of our trip to Texas occurred here. Upon stashing his pack, John found a Bar Harbor Bike Shop hat in the bushes. What was the chance of a couple of Mainers finding a hat from Maine off trail in the mountains in western Texas? Pure craziness.

Mike continued to lead the way down the ravine. The going was slow as we got used to the whole bushwhacking procedure and stopped to discuss the best route down to the ravine. For the most part we stuck to the ridge line and tried to stay out of areas of think underbrush. As we fell away from the Guadalupe Peak trail, the voices of hikers fell away as well. Looking back we could see that traffic on the trail had picked up as mid day approached. We imagined the trail stompers above noticing us below, way off the trail, wonder what the hell we were doing.

The rocks we climbed were amazingly rough and dry. When I grabbed a boulder for support it felt like pumice stone and I could literally feel it chew away the soles of my shoes. The further we got into the ravine the hotter it got. We no longer had a gentle breeze that had blessed the peak and high trail above, the air was still and quiet. I worked hard at not sucking down all of my water at once. We got low enough in the ravine to find a good place to cross the wash and begin our ascent of El Capitan. On the other side of the wash there were indeed trails of stone through the underbrush that seemed to be from animals.

We made it up the first, steep slope and began to follow the cliff’s edge. To our right was The Horn, a sub peak of El Capitan that jutted out over the desert below like the prow of a boat. From reading hiking posts, many people climbed it first, but we decided to bypass it because it added quite a bit of ups and downs.

I’ve always been one to enjoy the view over a cliff or from the top of a tall building. The fear of height crawls up my spine the same as everyone, but I usually suppressed it well enough to bask in the view. We inched our way to the edge of the cliff and looked down, and it scared the shit out of me. A thousand foot drop is a massive drop. I stayed long enough to snap a photo, but the whole time I could imagine the ground I was standing on calving off and falling for several seconds to the still desert below, taking me with it.

1000 foot drop

1000 foot drop

We followed the cliff’s edge up to the peak, I for one stayed well away from it so I could pretend it wasn’t there. The mountain rose and fell in waves, and in places it was technical enough that we had to move further in away from the cliff or closer to the edge to continue on. We went over the north peak (which some people claim seems higher in elevation than the south peak, but I disagree) and got a view of the summit.

View of the summit from before the north peak

View of the summit from before the north peak

Between the north and south peaks was a forest of small pine trees. We had to pick our way through the trees, weaving in and around the low branches. We saw scat from the animals that made the game trails lower on the mountain and joked that it was probably mountain lion. The trees were thick enough that we could barely see the sky over the edge of the cliff and had no sense of how close to the peak we were. We abruptly exited the trees and had a great view of the desert to the south of El Capitan. Beside us were a few boulders and the ammo canister marking the summit.

Mike and me on the El Capitan summit

Mike and me on the El Capitan summit

The summit was one of the most solitary places I had ever visited. If it wasn’t for the ammo canister, my hiking mates and the road through the Chihuahua Desert there would have been no sign of humanity around. The copse of tree behind us sheltered any sound or sight of the hikers on Guadalupe Mountain and the highway to the south was too far away and below us for the sound to travel up. We slapped each other high-five with massive grins on our faces. It was one of the most rewarding moments in my hiking career.

I signed the log book while Mike and John called their families (we weren’t so separated from society that we didn’t have a cell signal). I wolfed down a Clif Bar, finished off my water and texted my wife to update her on our progress (I’m not a phone person).

There’s a funny thing about summits. You make plans and anticipate a particular summit for so long that when you finally get there it’s over and there’s nothing left to do but return.  There’s nothing really special about a summit. The view really isn’t much better than 20, or 50 or 100 feet before the summit. If you stopped 200 feet sooner and turned around it wouldn’t really take away from the massive journey that you endured to get to that point. The ending is subjective after all. For many people that day the ending was Guadalupe Peak. For us, that was just where the real adventure began. So often I get caught up in the target, that I don’t realize that it is the trip that is important. It reminds me of what Yvon Chouinard said in 180° South: “You get to the top … there’s nothing up there. Lionel Terray, the great French climber called it ‘The conquistadors of the useless.'”

After 15 or 20 minutes of trying to take in the moment and make it a memory I began to get anxious for the return trip. I knew we had a tiring hike ahead and it was closing in on 3:00pm; my northern clock was telling me that daylight was running out. We began hiking down the route we took to the summit and discussed whether it was better to follow the cliff’s edge again or cut lower on El Capitan’s angled face. Those who wanted to cut lower won out and in the end I think it saved us some time and PUDs (pointless ups and downs). We made it off the face of El Capitan and back into the ravine at roughly the same place we ascended.

Once in the ravine the temperature rose again and any sign of breeze disappeared. From the research I did, there was always a strong breeze on El Capitan (and the summit register reflected that). I guess we got lucky that there was no wind, but at that point I could have used some. The hike up the ridge to the Guadalupe Peak trail was a difficult one filled with many breaks looking back at El Capitan. It was unbelievable to look at it and consider that we just hiked it.

El Capitan from just above the ravine

El Capitan from just above the ravine

We continued to bushwhack our way back up Guadalupe, but the anxiousness of hidden snakes was gone for me. I trudged between the shrubs too beaten down by the sun and temperature to worry about snake bites. We even stopped for a 10 minute break and stretched out on the ground under our reference tree.

A short reprieve from the sun

A short reprieve from the sun

We got back to the Guadalupe Peak trail about four hours after we left Guadalupe Peak. The total distance and elevation gain was not huge, but given the difficult terrain, hot temperature and sun and the fact that it had begun after a 4 mile, 3000′ hike to Guadalupe Peak I think we made pretty good time. This was my first time bushwhacking and I certainly will not forget it any time soon. Bushwhacking in the northeast will present its own difficulties I’m sure, but we chose a pretty epic route for our first attempt.

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Map of Bushwhack

Map of Bushwhack

Stats:
Elevation: 8065′
Elevation Gain: 1325′
Distance:  1.9 miles
Book Time: none
Actual Time: 4:00
Temperature: hot
Wind: 0 mph
Weather: sunny

References:
180° South.” 180south.com. 180° South LLC. Web. 6 April 2014.
Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop.” barharborbike.com. The Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop. Web. 6 April 2014.
Company Info: Our History.” patagonia.com. Patagonia, inc. Web. 6 April 2014.
El Capitan Bushwack from Guadalupe Peak Trail.” summitpost.org. SummitPost.org. Web. 30 March 2014.

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