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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Hike: Mount Washington

Trail Report

One Sunday in November my friend John and I headed north to the White Mountains of New Hampshire with the goal of climbing Mount Washington. The forecast was favorable temperature- and precipitation-wise, but it was calling for hurricane-force winds on the summit.

We got to the parking lot at the Pinkham Notch visitor’s center at 8:00 am. There was some activity center, but it was hard to tell if people were headed up to the summit or not. We gathered our gear and headed up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail.

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Hike: Mount Moriah

Date Hiked: 8 November 2014

Mount Moriah has been in my sights for a while. It is the last mountain in the Carter-Moriah Range that I have not hiked and it is supposed to be a moderate hike and have a fine view from the summit. From research, most people suggest hiking it from Stony Brook Trail as the elevation gain isn’t as bad. Despite starting at 800′ and adding more up from summitting Mount Surprise, I decided to hike Moriah via the Carter-Moriah Ridge Trail.

I planned on camping out overnight at Barnes Field, a group campground in Pinkham Notch. Unfortunately, due to complications at work, I left Portland a lot later than I anticipated. By the time I got to the junction with Route 16, where I planned to purchase firewood, Grant’s Supermarket was already closed. I headed up Route 16 as the snow began to pick up, excited about the night despite not having firewood. I would get to camp out in the snow and the forecast for the morning was clear for my hike. As I hit the height-of-land in Pinkham Notch by the Mount Washington Auto Road I also hit a whiteout. I slowed the car down to 35mph and concentrated on the lanes swerving through the forest and shifting in and out of view under the snow accumulation.

I soon found the turn off for Barnes Field and took a slow swing around the campground looking for a good site. About half of the dozen sites were occupied. I took a site near the end of the loop and set up my tent in the snow. I had two beers to enjoy but no campfire by which to drink them, so a slow setup it was.

I learned a few lessons on staying warm from my winter camping test back in January. I had my fleece sleeping bag liner and my foam pad to increase the insulation between me and the ground. Though it wasn’t cold enough to put the fleece liner inside my 20 degree bag, I put it on top of my air pad and the foam pad below the air pad. Throughout the night I never felt my body heat being sapped by the ground, despite a slow leak in my air pad, so I suppose it worked. I also slept in my Under Armor Cold Gear, so in the morning I was still warm.

Camping at Barnes Field

Camping at Barnes Field

I got up with the sun as I tend to do when camping and packed up. I cooked some oatmeal and coffee and ate an apple and banana, my typical pre-hike fare. I took the short drive up Route 16 toward Gorham, New Hampshire and made a last minute decision on whether I would park in Gorham or try to find the road-side parking on Bangor Street near the trailhead. Since from my research it was not entirely clear where the trailhead or parking was and because I wanted to walk across the suspension foot bridge over the Peabody River, I decided to park on Promenade Road.

parkParking Map for Mount Moriah hike, Gorham, New Hampshireing map for moriah hike

Parking Map for Mount Moriah hike

With a little wandering I found my way to the suspension foot bridge and crossed the river (see the more direct route in the above map, blue line). The river was roaring and my footsteps made the bridge bounce up and down in a slightly unsettling but enjoyable way. On the other side I took a trail into the woods. I quickly realized that I was not on the Carter-Moriah Ridge Trail, but an ATV trail. I headed back out to Bangor Street and saw trail signs at the end of the street (duh) and really started my hike at 8am.

The trail climbed sharply away from the Peabody River and then became moderate. I found a discarded coffee cup and shortly later a hat and jacket in the trail. I figured someone was bagging Moriah quickly and discarding their extra weight along the trail with intentions to pick it up on the way down.

The trail leveled out some below the approach to Mount Surprise and snow started to appear on the ground. I could make out several pairs of boot prints marking the trail through the snow. Right before the trail climbed up Mount Surprise it penetrated thicker spruce forest and I was struck by the way the light snow made the moss stand out in a brilliant lime green.

Snowy Carter-Moriah Ridge Trail

Snowy Carter-Moriah Ridge Trail

The trail climbed moderately again and eventually broke out of the forest and onto ledge summit of Mount Surprise. I got my first vista of the day, a nice one looking toward Mount Madison and Washington.

First Vista from below Mount Surprise

First Vista from Mount Surprise

As I slowly walked out onto the ledge with eyes transfixed on the view I hit a patch of black ice and went down on my left knee hard enough to make me curse. That marked the point where I slowed my pace and started paying attention to my footing. I had my STABILicers with me, but most of the ice was avoidable and I had footprints showing the best route (and marking places that were slippery).

After making my way along the very icy ledges above the summit of Mount Surprise I passed a couple in the forest. They were the owner of the boot prints I was following but informed me that there were still more boot prints ahead. They asked me if I had seen a hat during my hike and I told them about the hat and jacket. Apparently her backpack had been unzipped and they had accidentally fallen out. I felt bad that I hadn’t carried them up the mountain with me, but I hadn’t know if they were lost or purposely discarded. I let her know that they would be easy to find on the way down as they were right beside the trail.

Beyond a small unnamed peak above Mount Surprise the snow became several inches deep and the going was a little faster with traction no longer being a problem. The snow was fluffy and sticky so bare-booting was fine. The trail continued on with many PUDs (pointless ups and downs) and no views to hint at how close the summit may have been.

Several hours into the hike my legs started to severely cramp. My hiking condition had been decent all year long, so I didn’t know what was making the hike difficult. I figured it was either the weight from wearing boots and extra layers or that my legs were beat from the ridiculous number of squats I had been doing while exercising lately (even though the previous day was a rest day).

I was starting to think that I was nowhere near the summit because the trees were still so tall and I had read that the peak was treeless. Just when I was thinking about turning around and giving up on Mount Moriah I saw a square white beacon ahead, a sign pointing to the summit.

Mount Moriah Summit Sign

Mount Moriah Summit Sign

There was a small rocky climb up above the trees and to the summit. The peaks was just a big boulder pushing above the tree tops. It was very cold and windy on summit. I had no view due to clouds but the sight of the ocean of trees around me covered in snow was amazing.

Mount Moriah Summit

Mount Moriah Summit

I stayed on the summit as long as I could, jumping around, eating a protein bar and drinking a vegan protein drink. I was hoping for the clouds to break so I would have the clear sky the forecast promised. The sun tried hard, but it didn’t happen while I was there.

Sun trying to come out

Sun trying to come out

My hands began to hurt from the cold so I headed down. Shortly thereafter I had to stop and put hands inside my shirt to warm them up. The couple I passed earlier came up the trail and asked if they were close. They too were discouraged and thinking about turning around. I let them know the summit was close but very cold, and wondered how long they would last on the summit with only a single hat between them.

With my hands back to a reasonable warmth I got ready to continue my hike down but discovered my CamelBak line was frozen. It took a minute of sucking on it and squeezing the tube to get it flowing again. The hike down in the snow was quick but my leg cramps returned on the up-side of the PUDs. Once I hit the ledges above Mount Surprise again I pulled out my STABILicers. Even though they were old and worn, they gave me enough traction to continue on at a confident pace.

It appeared that the clear forecast somewhat hit when I walked out onto the vista above Mount Surprise and I got some stunning photos of Presidentials.

Mount Washington from Mount Surprise

Mount Washington from vista above Mount Surprise

Presidentials from Mount Surprise

Presidentials from vista above Mount Surprise

Once I was past the icy ledges I pulled off my STABILicers and hung them from my pack. The rest of the hike was quick and easy. I started passing other people hiking up to Moriah and passed the lost jacket and hat, then hanging from branches trail-side. On the way out I picked up the discarded coffee cup and cleared a deadfall out of the trail. When I hit Bangor Street again I saw where people were parking along the road, there appeared to be room for 3 cars. I stored that info away for future hikes (and marked it on the map from earlier in this post).

I dragged myself back to my car and headed back to Portland, but not before stopping at Moat Mountain Smoke House and Brewery for a veggie burger and coffee.

I was a little concerned about the amount of cramping I experienced during the hike and hope that my attempts to stay fit during the winter by doing CrossFit-like body weight training doesn’t continue to impact my future hikes. But I was also pretty psyched to get my first 4000 Footer in the snow and can’t wait for enough snow to start snowshoeing.

Winter is coming.
—George R.R. Martin

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Highest Elevation: 4049′
Elevation Gain: 3550′
Distance: 9.0 miles
Book Time: 6:15
Actual Time: 4:45
Temperature: 20°s
Weather: mostly sunny
Wind: W 8mph

References:
Barnes Field Group Campground.” http://www.fs.usda.gov. Forest Services, United States Department of Agriculture. Web. 6 December 2014.
Beginner CrossFit Program.” jasonharper.com. Jason Harper. 6 December 2014.
Cabin Fleece Sleeping Bag.” llbean.com. L.L. Bean, Inc. Web. 6 December 2014.
Grant’s Supermarket.” yelp.com. Yelp, Inc. Web. 06 December 2014.
Hike Mount Moriah.” 4000footers.com. 4000footers.com. Web. 6 December 2014.
Men’s Cold Gear.” underarmor.com. Under Armor, Inc. Web. 6 December 2014.
Moat Mountain.” moatmountain.com. Moat Mountain Smoke House and Brewery. Web. 6 December 2014.
Mt. Washington Auto Road.” mtwashingtonautoroad.com. Mt. Washington Auto Road. Web. 6 December 2014.

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Hike: Hancock Loop

Hike Date: 3 September 2014

I typically use my vacation days around the holidays and possibly a full week in late summer. This year I decided I would sprinkle my remaining vacation days into the week days of late summer and early fall. This is my favorite time of the year to hike, and by hiking during a week day it affords me the early boat leaving the island, which allows me to fit a hike into the day. There are two other advantages to hiking in the middle of the week. First, it breaks up the work week, which is crazy this time of year as there always seems to be a project targeted to go live prior to the holidays. Also, the chance of there being people on the trail is slimmer. No offense to people, but many have behaviors and motives for being on the trail that conflict and detract from my own.

The first of my mid-week vacation day hikes was to the Hancock peaks. These peaks are located off a crazy hairpin turn on the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire. I arrived at the parking lot at 9:45am expecting to find it empty. I was in fact concerned it might be closed due to all the construction on the Kancamagus. It was not closed, and it was not empty. There were several cars parked, one person paying for parking and what looked like a group of scouts getting situated before heading out. I grabbed my bag and hit the trail as soon as I paid for parking, trying to get a good lead on the group.

The first few miles of the hike followed the Hancock Ridge Trail and the Cedar Brook Trail. Both were very flat and made for easy and quick hiking. Cedar Brook crossed the brook several times and it was a little unclear where the trail was at points, but I found my way.

I hit the Hancock Loop Trail and it began to climb elevation. The trail was flanked by evergreen trees and smelled like Christmas in the morning sun.

Hancock Loop Trail

Hancock Loop Trail

At the sign which marked the beginning and end of the loop, I met a father and son taking a break. They were planning on heading up to the northern peak and coming down the southern peak; the more traditional route. I had heard that the view was better from North Hancock and decided to save it for last even though it meant descending the steeper trail with less certain footing. This didn’t really concern me even though the rocks were damp from showers earlier in the week. I had on my old approach shoes which had much better grip than my newer trail shoes.

The hike up to South Hancock was a hefty one. Right after the sign, the trail climbed sharply over varying-sized boulders. My pace slowed as I approached the summit and I had to take breaks to catch my breath and stop my heart from pounding out of my chest. I reached the south summit in due time and descended the short spur trail on the south side of the peak to an overlook of Passaconaway, Chocorua, Moat and Tremont mountains.

View from Hancock South Peak

View from Hancock South Peak

I ate a snack and was about to leave when an older, retired couple showed up at the overlook. We immediately hit it off and I hung out for 40 minutes talking about different hikes we’d been on. She was working on her first pass through The Grid, and he was close to finishing his second. The Grid is hiking each of the New Hampshire 4000 Footers in each month of the year. He had hiked each 4000 footer between 26 and 50 times. Holy crap! He also told me a story that I was pretty sure I had read in Peak Experiences: Danger, Death and Daring in the Mountains of the Northeast (presumably it was his son who had written the story I read).

When a hiker I saw at the parking lot also showed up at the outlook it began to feel crowded and I headed off for the north peak. The trail between the peaks was easy and quick for me though I may have zoned out. I hit North Hancock and it did indeed have a better view.

View from Hancock North Peak

View from Hancock North Peak

There was a couple at the outlook near the peak of North Hancock as well and I spoke with them a bit. I had planned to meditate at one of the summits, but as the couple settled in for lunch I decided to start hiking out.

I don’t think that the trail down North Hancock was any steeper than the trail up South Hancock, it may have even been less steep, but the footing was not great. I took my time until I got past the gravelly section near the summit.

Descent from Hancock North Peak

Descent from Hancock North Peak

Once I hit the flatter trail after Hancock Loop Trail I cruised back to the parking lot. About a mile from the parking lot I caught up to the retired couple from South Hancock and hiked out with them. He continued to give me pointers on hikes I was planning in the future.

By hiking in the middle of the week I had hoped to find some solitude, a refresher form the stresses of work. I didn’t find as much of it as I had hoped, but I met some great people I hope to meet on the trail in the future.

I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.
—Henry David Thoreau

When I started this blog I was torn between two themes to carry through in my writing. The first, bringing to light the inner struggle with being a dirtbag (see references for more on this) while at the same time not shunning the responsibility of family, friends and work. The second was to just keep a personal account of all hikes I went on so that I could look back on them in the future with the possibility that some people would find them informative and maybe even entertaining. When I wrote my first post I had all intentions of doing the first, but looking back I mostly did the second. As I approach 1000 visits of this blog it is apparent to me that some people out there do find my posts helpful, but I wanted to make a point of reintroducing my original purpose into my posts as it was the catalyst for starting the blog and what gets me out the door in the morning.

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Highest Elevation: 4420′
Elevation Gain: 2700′
Distance: 9.8 miles
Book Time: 6:15
Actual Time: 4:45
Temperature: 50°s
Weather: mostly sunny
Wind: NE 20-30mph gusts

Completed Red-Lining Trails:
Hancock Loop Trail

References:
Desk to Dirtbag Blog.” desktodirtbag.com. Desk to Dirtbag. Web. 12 September 2014.
Peak Experiences: Danger, Death and Daring in the Mountains of the Northeast.” amazon.com. Amazon.com, Inc. Web. 23 September 2014.
The Dirtbag Diaries.” dirtbagdiaries.com. The Dirtbag Diaries. Web. 12 September 2014.
The White Mountains 4000 Footer Grid.” 48×12.com. 48×12.com. Web. 23 September 2014.

Hike: Mount Madison

Hiked: 15 June 2014

So far, my favorite peaks in the White Mountains are Carrigain, Bondcliff and Madison. When my son chose Madison to be his first 4000 Footer I was excited, even though I’d be doing a traverse of the Presidentials two weeks later. Saturday evening we drove to White Birches Camping Park, and RV park (which I typically and vocally rebel against), but the tent sites in the back of the camping park were actually secluded and quite nice.

We woke at 4:30am in order to get to Appalachia parking lot by 5:30am. Not knowing how my son would perform on his first serious hike I wanted to leave 5 hours for each ascent and descent and an hour for breaks and still be back to Portland to catch the early evening boat. We arrived to find plenty of space at the parking lot and headed up Valley Way toward Madison Spring Hut.

I explained to my son that this was his hike, if at any point he wanted to turn around we would and to remember that at any point the hike was only half over, to save enough energy to get back down. With that I asked him to take the lead so that he could set the pace, which he did the entire hike.

Valley Way was a nice trail, it weaved between conifers and following the brook for a while. Later on it grew rocky and steep. I recognized a few places that I remembered from doing a Presidential Traverse attempt two years previous. The spot where my brother and I stopped to drink some of the Heady Topper he brought because it was too heavy. The boulder-strewn climb just below Valley Way Tentsite that we stumbled over in the dark, hoping that the spur trail to the tentsite would soon appear.

Valley Way

Valley Way

We met just a few people coming down from the peak. They were noticeably wet and mentioned how windy it was. This was disheartening as I was hoping that the clouds would burn away by the time we attempted the summit.

We arrived at the Madison Spring Hut and went inside to rest for half an hour and hope that the weather would break. I stepped into the hut in my t-shirt to quizzical looks and questions about the weather down Valley Way. I let those huddling around waiting for clearer weather know that it was not too bad, and even quite warm a half a mile down the trail. My son was excited to see the hut, but was expecting something like the rest areas that you see on the side of highways, with vending machines and all.

After a couple of Clif Bars we decided that the weather wasn’t likely to break before our legs started to cool down and possibly cramp up (well, more of my concern, not the sprite youngin’s). We added a few layers and headed out into the clouds surrounding the hut.

As soon as we got above the krummholz and onto the bouldery cone of Madison the wind picked up. My son started dashing between cairns while I relished the severe weather. I imagined the contrast between the hot and sunny valley below and cold and windy dampness of the giant’s shoulder. Only those who truly loved the mountains would be undeterred by such weather. And my son was enjoying himself.

I also stopped to take some photos of the Diaspensia and Alpine Azaleas which were in bloom.

Dispensia

Diapensia and alpine azaleas

We climbed up to the summit, greeting a few people as we went. These were people so in love with mountains that the weather could not turn them around. People that refused to huddle within a hut, staring out the window wishing for better weather. We snapped out our pics, stared into the clouds and then decided to head back down to the hut for some PB&Js.

Madison summit

Madison summit

On the way back down to the Madison Spring Hut the sun tried its hardest to pierce through the clouds. There were brief moments where we could see some grayish-blue contrasted by fast moving white.

Sun trying to come out

Sun trying to come out

As we approached the hut there were brief, intermittent patches of clear-ish sky where we could get a glimpse of Mount Quincy Adams.

Madison Spring Hut

Madison Spring Hut

We had our sandwiches and headed back down the Valley Way trail. We briefly considered climbing Mount Adams but decided that even though we had the time do so, chances were we would only see more clouds. My son had climbed Mount Madison so vigorously that we were two hours ahead of my worst-case schedule.

On the way down Valley Way I enthusiastically greeted someone named Carl and his wife. I only knew his name because everyone else greeted him by name and I followed suit, then let him know we didn’t know each other. The Rosenthals turned out to be pretty legendary AMC members and lovers of the White Mountains. I later talked to the group who greeted them and found out a bit of their history, including that his wife, Jadwiga, is one of the few people who have “red-lined” the White Mountains, or hiked every trail listed in the AMC White Mountains Guide. I was in awe and decided I would have a new goal once completing the New England 4000 Footers.

At Lower Bruin Trail we left Valley Way and made our way down to Brookside Trail. We did not see any other people for the rest of the hike and started to see a bit more of the local fauna.

A toad

A toad

Brookside Trail was a nice hike with a narrower trail and some interesting terrain and views of cascades. We stopped at one of the last brook crossings to eat some more sandwiches and my son took a nasty spill on the slippery rocks. He shook it off and was able to hike out despite a bruised knee. We got the the parking lot far earlier than I expected and were able to make an earlier boat back to the island.

I was utterly impressed by my son’s first 4000 Footer hike. He lead the entire way, was not stifled by the cloudy and cold summit and kept up a pace that even challenged me at times. Most importantly, we got to spend an evening and day together and he enjoyed himself.

There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.
—Alfred Wainwright

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Elevation: 5367′
Elevation Gain: 4100′
Distance: 8.4 miles
Book Time: 6:15
Actual Time: 7:00
Temperature: 48°
Wind: NW 35-50 mph
Weather: cloudy

References:
Appalachian Mountain Club Nature Notes.” outdoors.org. Appalachian Mountain Club. Web. 18 June 2014.
Dedicated Hikers Red-Line the Entire White Mountains Guide.” outdoors.org. Appalachian Mountain Club. Web. 18 June 2014.
Madison Spring Hut at Mt. Adams, NH.” outdoors.org. Appalachian Mountain Club. Web. 16 June 2014.
“White Birches Camping Park.” whitebirchescampingpark.com. Friend Communications, Inc. Web. 16 June 2014.

Hike: Wildcat A

Date Hiked: 01 June 2014

I attempted a traverse of the five Wildcat peaks last year with my friends Michael and John. It was the first time I dragged them out of the office and into the mountains. The weather was overcast and cool, Michael started the day by falling into the Ellis River, and I hit a time deadline that stopped us from getting to Wildcat peaks A and B. Needless to say, they were hooked. I decided that I would return to Wildcat Ridge in order to get Wildcat A, a New England 4000 Footer.

For the second day in a row I found myself hiking up the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail toward Carter Notch. Things were different this time, the trail was drier and at the Carter Dome Trail junction I stayed on Nineteen Mile Brook Trail. Soon after the junction the trail crossed the brook a couple of times and then left it, heading for the higher ground of the notch between the Wildcat Mountains and the Carter Mountains.

It was 3.5 miles from the parking lot to the junction with the Wildcat Ridge Trail, but it went quickly. I only saw two small groups of people on the way up. I stopped at a small clearing of illegal campsites at the junction and had a Clif Bar and meditated. The sun shone brightly through gaps between tree branches while small birds flitted around me.

After the quick break I made my way up one of the steeper trails in the White Mountains. Right after the junction the trail started the steep climb up to Wildcat A. It gained 1050′ over 0.7 miles, a hefty climb. I stopped at the infamous slide on the trail to remember the stories of people slipping and falling on the section of the trail from Peak Experiences by Carol Stone White. The trail switchbacked a few times (rare in the White Mountains) and I was soon at the summit and vista overlooking the Carter Mountains.

Carter Notch

Carter Notch

At the vista I saw the guy from my Carter Loop hike the day before who was trying to complete the New Hampshire 48 4000 Footers before moving back to California in a few weeks. He was just getting ready to hike back down, so I soon had the summit to myself. After taking a few photos of Carter Notch and the hut below, I stashed my pack in the woods and dashed over to Wildcat B.

Carter Notch Hut

Carter Notch Hut

Since I was wrapping up the Wildcat Mountains, I decided I should get Wildcat B as well. It was a short hike over to it and like the other Wildcats and Carters it was a forested summit. The trees were wide enough apart to squeeze between, so I bushwhacked until I had a partially unobstructed view of Mount Washington, my only real view of it the whole weekend.

Mount Washington from Wildcat B

Mount Washington from Wildcat B

I hoofed it back to Wildcat A to find it still without hikers and my pack untouched. I repeated my new ritual that I began the day before and stripped of my wet shirts, replacing it with a dry one, and taking off my shoes and socks so they could all dry a little. I cooked up an early lunch and meditated for a second day in a row on a mountain top immersed in nature.

After 40 minutes of solitude and beautiful mountain scenery with sun shining on my face, I packed up for the trek back to my car. On the way down Wildcat Ridge Trail I met a guy and a dog. The dog greeted me first while the man took a short rest further down the trail. His dog was on her 5th repeat of the New Hampshire 48 4000 Footers and he was wrapping up his 19th by hiking the Wildcats that day.

I cruised the rest of the way down the Wildcat Ridge Trail and Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, passing many groups of people heading up. As nice as the hike was, it was the third time in two days I had passed some of the terrain, so I didn’t take my time.

Before practicing meditation, we see that mountains are mountains.
When we start to practice, we see that mountains are no longer mountains.
After practicing a while, we see that mountains are again mountains.
Now the mountains are very free. Our mind is still with the mountains,
but it is no longer bound to anything.
—Thích Nhất Hạnh

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Elevation: 4422′
Elevation Gain: 2946′
Distance: 9.0 miles
Book Time: 6:00
Actual Time: 5:00
Temperature: 37° F
Wind: none
Weather: clear

References:
Peak Experiences: Danger, Death and Daring in the Mountains of the Northeast.” amazon.com. Amazon.com, Inc. Web. 10 June 2014.
Steepest trial in the Whites?mountwashington.org. Mount Washington Observatory. Web. 10 June 2014.

Hike: Carter Loop

Date Hiked: 31 May 2014

The planned route was to hike up Nineteen Mile Brook Trail to Carter Notch, take the Carter-Moriah Trail over Carter Dome, Mount Hight, South Carter, Mount Lethe and Middle Carter, descend North Carter Trail to Imp Trail, take the south end of Imp Trail to where is bends right near Cowboy Brook and then bushwhack back to Nineteen Mile Brook Trail and follow it out. Worse case scenario I would wimp out of the bushwhack and hoof it out via Imp Trail and then yellow blaze it back to the parking lot or possibly follow Cowboy Brook to Camp Dodge and yellow blaze from there.

It was the last day of May and I was finally ready to hike my first New England 4000 Footer of the year. I camped overnight at one of the Brook Loop sites at Dolly Copp Campground, just up Route 16 from the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail parking lot, in Pinkham Notch. It was a short drive and nothing was preventing me from starting early. But, the weather was supposed to be overcast until the afternoon, so I wanted to start late to take advantage of the weather. I love the tent sites at Dolly Copp on the Brook Loop. They are set back in the woods and the Culhane Brook runs right behind them. Despite their allure and even though I didn’t want to start hiking until 10am, by 8:30am I had had enough sitting around my campsite and headed for the trail.

I arrived at the parking lot along Route 16 to find it containing a dozen cars. I saw a lady with a dog heading up the highway, presumably to Imp Trail to follow the same loop of the Carters I was planning, but in the opposite direction. I recently listened to a backlog episode of Dirtbag Diaries where they discussed the different types of people you’ll find at trailhead parking lots. There’s the person who can’t decided what gear to bring, the one who wants to tailgate and brag. I happen to be the type who prepared before driving to the parking lot and takes off for the trail as soon as the car is locked. That was what I did.

I hiked Nineteen Mile Brook Trail three different times over the weekend, luckily it was a beautiful trail with an easy to moderate grade. It followed the north side of the Nineteen Mile Brook for about two miles and (at least that time of year) was festooned with slick river rocks and copious amounts of mud and wet leaves. The brook was running hard and I stopped to scramble over some rocks to take a photo. That’s when I discovered that my new Brooks Cascadia 8 trail running shoes that I love so much have absolutely terrible traction on wet surfaces. Both of my feet slipped out from underneath me, I twisted and landed hard on my right hip and started to slide toward the brook. Luckily, I was able to create enough traction with my hands to prevent a cold dip in the brook. I gingerly stood up and took my photo.

Nineteen Mile Brook running hard

Nineteen Mile Brook running hard

1.9 miles up the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail I came to the junction with the Carter Dome Trail. My plan was to continue on the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail to Carter Notch and take the Carter-Moriah Trail to Carter Dome. Standing there at the trail sign it occurred to me that if I took the Carter Dome Trail to Zeta Pass and then on to Carter Dome that I would reduce the amount of trail I would repeat the next day. I could also take the Carter-Moriah Trail via Mount Hight back to Zeta Pass, doing a small loop and preventing repeating trail on the ridge as well.

The only downsides that I could think of were if I got hurt I would be off my planned route, and I hadn’t read any trail reports or descriptions on the Carter Dome trail to know whether or not there were difficult water crossings. I decided that the pros outweighed the cons and headed up Carter Dome Trail.

The Carter Dome Trail turned out to be a pretty moderate jaunt up to Zeta Pass. There were a few water crossings, but like the ones on the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, they were easily crossed. I really enjoyed one section where the brook split into several tributaries and then came together again. The trail crossed where they separated and re-joined, making its way between several different subsections of the brook.

At Zeta Pass the trail hooked right and climbed easily to Carter Dome. The weather was still overcast, which was a shame because I passed the one location where I would have had a clear view of the northern Presidentials all weekend. Just below the summit of Carter Dome I came across some snow and ice in the trail, but it was of no concern. It was easy to walk over without traction.

Still some snow near Carter Dome

Still some snow near Carter Dome

There were three men at the Carter Dome summit when I got there, the first people I saw since the lady in the parking lot. I greeted them but sat apart as they had stopped talking when I approached and didn’t seem very welcoming. I sat on a rock for a few minutes, eating a Clif Bar and wondering what the deal was with all of the broken Plexiglas on the ground. While sitting there the three men descended toward Carter Notch.

I saw my first bit of blue sky while walking down the Carter-Moriah Trail toward Mount Hight.

Hight, South and Middle Carter peaking out of clouds

Hight, South and Middle Carter peaking out of clouds

Mount Hight was one of the many mountains that were over 4000 feet, but not considered 4000 Footers because of their prominence over surrounding peaks. Basically, if you found the low point below two peaks and there wasn’t a 200 foot climb to the next peak, then it was considered a sub-peak of the other and didn’t qualify for the 4000 Footer list. While Mount Hight wasn’t marked with a red triangle on my map, it was the highlight of the hike.

Mount Hight stood high to the east of the Carter ridge line, towering over the Wild River Wilderness, one of glorious areas in the White Mountains that was highly protected due to its importance as a watershed. The Carter ridge was blocking the encroaching clouds, allowing a clear view into the Wild River Wilderness and the distant mountains to the east and south.

Wild River Wilderness from Mount Hight

Wild River Wilderness from Mount Hight

It was closing on lunch time, so I took the opportunity of a great view and scattered sunshine to take a break from hiking. I switched out my upper layers and laid the wet ones out on rocks to dry. I took off my shoes and socks to allow them to dry as well. I quickly boiled some water with my JetBoil and set some soup to re-hydrate. I sat facing the Wild River and meditated. The only sounds that I could hear were the river a few thousand feet below and the occasional bird tweet. I sat for 40 minutes and enjoyed my lunch and the view, truly appreciating the lack of noise and deadlines, and basked in the solitude. It was one of the many reasons that I hike every opportunity that I get.

Eventually dark clouds started to roll over South Carter and head toward Mount Hight. I re-shoed and dressed and headed down the the Carter-Moriah Trail toward South Carter.

For those that find themselves on the Mount Hight summit, be aware that the trail heads back toward Zeta Pass on the Carter Dome side of it, it doesn’t head directly toward the pass or South Carter, even though it looks like a trail leads in that direction. Luckily I left before the clouds rolled in and was aware of the direction of the trail from my White Mountains guide book.

Soon after I descended Mount Hight it began to rain. I started seeing groups of people on the trail, including the lady I saw leaving the parking lot in the morning. At first her dog scared the crap out of me. I looked up to see a dog standing in front of me with a muzzle on, but for a split second I saw a bear.

She asked if I had a dog, as her dog was not good with other dogs but was fine with humans.

I replied that I did not, held my hand out for the dog to sniff (I imagine it sensed my sudden apprehension at imagining a bear and I wanted it to know I was cool with it) and I asked her if she came up via Imp Trail, mentioning I had seen her as I pulled in to the parking lot. The dog apparently approved of me and started to excitedly rub up against my legs, a behavior I recognized as a request to have its rump scratched.

The lady confirmed that she was hiking the same loop as I and said she hiked in that direction as she was afraid she wouldn’t find that cut-over trail from Imp to Camp Dodge, but it was in fact very hard to miss.

I told her that I was planning on going that way and internally made a note that I wouldn’t have to bushwhack to Nineteen Mile Brook Trail or Camp Dodge as there was apparently a trail.

I continued on to South Carter and Middle Carter. Both were 4000 Footers, but both were also forested summits. On the summit of Middle Carter there was a partial view toward the Wild River Wilderness. There I met a guy from the Boston area who was trying to wrap up his New Hampshire 48 before moving back to California in two weeks. He was on number 43. He had come up Carter Dome Trail like I had, but had headed to South and Middle Carter first. He was heading to Carter Dome and then down to Carter Notch Hut for the night and getting Wildcat A in the morning. Like myself, he had attempted the Wildcats before but had only gotten Wildcat D.

Shortly after Middle Carter was a small peak called Mount Lethe. Its summit was also forested but just beyond it, toward North Carter, it had a view of Mount Madison across Pinkham Notch. The clouds were still clearing, but I still got a sense of the size of Madison and could see Barnes Field campground sitting low on its shoulder and creases in the forest south of the field which were Dolly Copp’s roads and sites.

Madison shaking off the clouds

Madison in the clouds with Barnes Field and Dolly Copp campgrounds below

In the col between Lethe and North Carter was the junction with the North Carter Trail. Since I was all the way up on the ridge and had plenty of daylight I continued on the 0.25 miles to North Carter. It was yet another forested summit, but I got a glimpse of the Presidentials through the trees and saw that the clouds were completely gone. I lectured myself for not taking a break at the view on Mount Lethe and headed down to the North Carter Trail.

North Carter and the southern end of Imp Trail were very wet, in places the trail might as well have been a brook. On North Carter my new shoes’ treads once again failed me. While descending I planted my right foot on a damp rock and the tread failed to hold the pressure from my weight. My leg shot forward and I came down hard, my left knee slammed against the rock I had attempted to step on and I rolled off the trail.

I lay there for a moment in a pile of frustration, pain and cuss words. I slowly stood to assess my knee. My new Columbia pants were torn and blood was starting to seep through the pant leg. It was just an abrasion but my patella felt badly bruised. I said screw it and continued down the trail.

The North Carter intersected with the Imp Trail and I followed it to the left. I eventually got to where I could hear Route 16 ahead and Cowboy Brook to my left. I started to wonder just how obvious the cut-over trail to Camp Dodge was. Assessing my map I decided that a button-hook turn in the trail just ahead was the closest point to Camp Dodge. If I didn’t see the trail there I would pick up the pace and follow the Imp Trail out. Alas, the very obvious side trail appeared, following an old logging road. As the lady said, it was hard to miss.

Along that trail I saw some very fresh moose tracks, but I did not see any other sign of the beast.

Fresh moose tracks

Fresh moose tracks

I finished my hike by walking down the dirt road at Camp Dodge to Route 16 and then yellow blazing it back to the parking lot. I got back to my car at 4:45pm with plenty of daylight remaining. My original plan was to leave at 10am and return by 8:30pm to maximize the clear weather prior to sundown. I didn’t have many views, but I ended up having plenty of time to start a campfire back at Dolly Copp before it got dark.

In all, I enjoyed the hike despite the overcast weather. I didn’t realize that the Carters had so many forested views, but Nineteen Mile Brook Trail was a real nice hike and the Carter-Moriah Trail was interesting with its many ups and down and couple of nice views to the east. Mount Hight was definitely the highlight of the hike for me and would have been even if I had clear views across Pinkham Notch from the other summits. My only disappointment was the traction on my new shoes. I guess in the end it forced me to slow down and be more mindful of my foot placement, which is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately off the trail. Slowing down and being more mindful.

Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.
—Thích Nhất Hạnh

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Elevation: 4832′
Elevation Gain: 3900′
Distance: 15.0 miles
Book Time: 8:15
Actual Time: 7:15
Temperature: 54° F
Wind: 2 mph E
Weather: overcast, showers, scattered sunshine

References:
Appalachian Mountain Club. White Mountain Guide: 28th Edition. Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 2007. Print.
Brooks Cascadia 8.” brooksrunning.com. Brooks Sports Inc. Web. 05 June 2014.
Camp Dodge Volunteer Center.” outdoors.org. Appalachian Mountain Club. Web. 06 June 2014.
Dolly Copp Campground.” http://www.fs.usda.gov. United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Web. 04 June 2014.
The Shorts–Parking Lot Players.” dirtbagdiaries.com. The Dirtbag Diaries. Web. 04 June 2014

Winter Hike: Kearsarge Mountain North

Hike date: 23 February 2014

Each person has their own way of dealing with tragedies. Some collapse upon themselves, others lash out at those around them, some go on like nothing happened. While I’ve had the fortune of never experiencing a life-altering tragedy, I do know how I deal with small tragedies. I take a walk, often in nature, in order to process what happened and come to terms with the consequences.

When a tragedy struck my small community, I escaped to the White Mountains, found a mountain to climb and spent the entire hike processing what happened, remembering the person who was lost and tried (I’m sure with no success) to understand what the family members were going through.

Kearsarge Mountain North is a popular hike with its trailhead right in North Conway. Since its parking lot is small and the day was mild, I felt lucky to find a spot when I arrived. As I was checking over my pack a couple walked down the trail. I asked about the conditions, afraid the trail would be sloppy due to the warm temperature. They said the trail was fine as long as I had traction. As they got into their car to depart I looked at their bare-booted feet and wondered how far up the trail they actually went.

The first few hundred feet of trail went through private property. Since it was fairly flat and the trail was still stable in the cold shadow of the trees, I bare-booted the first quarter mile or so. As I came around a bend in the trail I was surprised by a skier coming down the trail directly toward me. I quickly hopped off the trail as he passed by with a muttered “thanks.” If I had been wearing my snowshoes, I probably wouldn’t have been agile enough to get out of the trail in time to prevent a collision. It made me think of a recent post for Cannon Mountain on New England Trail Conditions where someone was complaining about how the skiers should not follow the hiking trails down because it is dangerous and it messes up the trail for snowshoers (the same argument that cross-country skiers make about snowshoers). As I stopped to strap on my snowshoes I made a mental to keep an eye out for oncoming skiers, luckily I saw no others.

kearsarge-forest

Forest and boulders

I have had asthma my entire life, but these days it only bothers me when I exercise in cold weather. Typically I run all winter long and my breathing is not an issue as it seems to condition to the cold weather. This year I have been very lackadaisical with my running, and my asthma has been an issue. I got about a mile into this hike and my breathing was really rough. I stopped to consider going back to the car, but I rested for a few breaths and looked around me. I was standing in a quiet forest with a ravine to my left and the mountain to my right. The sun had cut through the clouds and was lighting the snow all around me. Scattered through the trees were large glacial boulders and beyond the ravine I could see Bartlett Mountain with blue skies above it. The breather was just what I needed for my lungs to get acclimated. Shortly after starting up the trail again my lungs loosened and I had no further problems.

I continued up the mountain and said hello to a father and son hiking down from the summit with crampons on their feet. Soon after I broke out of the trees for a spell. It was nice to have a limited view of North Conway to the south but the exposure to the sun was making the trail soft and there were many spots where bare-booters had post-holed. The trail soon dove back into the trees to swing north of the summit before switching back toward it. A group of about 5 people and a dog stepped off the trail to let me pass. A few had crampons but most were just wearing boots. When they stepped off the trail they went up to their waists in snow.

kearsarge-summit

Fire tower on the summit

I made short time of the last mile of the trail and broke out onto the summit. There was a thin layer of ice coating everything, so I made my way carefully up to the fire tower. The wind was gusting pretty hard, so I took off my snowshoes at the foot of the stairs and put them and my pack in the lee of the concrete footing at the base of the tower. A caution if you visit this summit (and probably any summit with a fire tower) in the winter, when the wind gusted it broke sheets of ice free of the tower and showered them down on anyone below.

kearsarge-washington

Presidentials from the fire tower

I made my way to the top of the tower and walked around to the lee-side where I had a great view of the Presidentials and Carter Notch. At this time the group of people with the dog had made it to the summit and there was an older fellow taking advantage of the warmth inside the fire tower. I checked my cell service and found that I had a good connection. I always let my wife know my exact plans when I go on solo trips, including any emergency exit strategies. I also check in with her at the end of the drives to and from my destination and when I reach the summit and back to the trailhead (if I have connection). I received a text from my wife saying that she was at the memorial service and I suffered a few moments of guilt. Here I was enjoying a wonderful view of my favorite place in the world and she and the rest of our community was mourning a sudden loss.

kearsarge-long-island

Looking toward Long Island

I turned away from the view of the Presidentials and peered off to the southeast where I could just see (or pretend that I could see) the Maine coast. I again tried to understand the recent events and feel for those who were hurting the most. I was interrupted by the group’s dog, so I made my way into the fire tower to warm up.

I usually make some small talk with folks I meet on the trail and on summits, surprising I’m sure to those who know me personally. I’m not one for small talk, or to talk at all unless I’ve had a few beers. I feel kindred to those on the trail in a way that I’ve never felt to those who like to gossip at home or talk sports at work. But, this time I was feeling too introverted to ask the normal trail questions (“Where are you hiking from?”, “Have you hiked this mountain before?”, “How do you like those [insert gear product name]?”, etc.). I merely warmed up and then headed back down the fire tower, downed a Clif Bar and donned my snowshoes.

I left the summit at about the same time as the older fellow and caught up to him before the clearing a mile below the summit. I stopped and we talked a bit about winter hiking. He was a troupe leader and gave me some tips on a few local mountains which have much less traffic and great trails. After leaving him I did not see another person. The trail was much softer from the warm afternoon, but the hike down was quick and without event.

I later found out that the person our community lost had plans to explore Acadia National Park this summer and climb Cadillac Mountain, many times. I felt a sense of relief at hearing this as it made the trip to the mountains feel a proper send-off to him, in my own way. Also, when I got back to the island I had the opportunity to see air lanterns lit and released in memory of the person lost and spend a short time with the family and close friends. It was a time I will not soon forget as so many of our small community came together and lit a little happiness during a dark time. There was an amount of support and love that can only be found in a small, self-sufficient community. If I had stayed home that day, I probably would have missed out.

Nature is always lovely, invincible, glad, whatever is done and suffered by her creatures. All scars she heals, whether in rocks or water or sky or hearts.
—John Muir

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Elevation: 3268′
Elevation Gain: 2588′
Distance: 6.2 miles
Book Time: 3:40
Actual Time: 3:05
Temperature: 45° F
Wind: 2mph WNW (10mph with gusts on the summit)
Weather: partly sunny

References:
Appalachian Mountain Club. White Mountain Guide: 28th Edition. Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 2007. Print.
Mount Kearsarge North (Mount Washington Valley).” summitpost.org. SummitPost.org. Web. 19 March 2014.
New Hampshire Hiking Trail Conditions.” newenglandtrailconditions.com. NewEnglandTrailConditions.com. Web. 20 March 2014.

Winter Hike: Potash Mountain

Hike Date: 17 February 2014, Presidents Day

I couldn’t have asked for a better day. The forecast for noon, when I expected to be on the summit of Potash, was 12 degrees, 10mph winds from the northeast and absolutely clear.

Knowing it would be clear and sunny I stopped at the EMS in North Conway and picked up some sunglasses. I typically don’t own sunglasses because I have one of those weird heads that no pair of glasses seem to fit. I don’t know, one ear is higher than the other or the bridge of my nose is crooked. Probably a result of inbreeding or something. Miracleously I found a pair that fit my face and I walked out of EMS with a smile while glancing up at the white shoulder of Mount Washington.

I got to the logging road just past Passaconaway Campground on the Kancamangus and saw that the entrance was not plowed enough to safely park there. It’s suggested that you hike from the logging road to bypass the Downes Brook crossing, which can be dangerous certain times of the year. I pulled over anyway, much to the relief of the car that was following me and probably wondering why I was going so slow, and saw that there was no broken path through the several feet of snow up the logging road. I hoped for a stable snowbridge across the Downes and drove back to the Downes Brook Trail parking area.

Thankfully the parking area was nicely plowed, but there were two cars already parked there. I had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I would love to have the mountain to myself. On the other, I would be glad to have a nice broken and packed trail ahead if me. It turned out that I got my way. While I was strapping on my snowshoes a group showed up at the parking area with a dog and cross-country skis. As I headed across the parking lot to the trail they started their cars and prepared to leave. I passed the iron ranger, the self-service pay station found at most of the National Forest parking lots, and noted the sign over the pay slot. It said that no fees were required for the day in honor of Presidents Day. That was most likely why I would have the mountain to myself, most businesses do not observe Presidents Day.

potash-downes

Ice Bridge over Downes Brook

The trail to Downes Brook was easy going and well packed, it meandered through a sparse forest and didn’t gain much elevation. I came to Downes Brook and found it to be bridged over with ice and snow, something that I had read about but had never experienced. I crossed easily and snapped a photo of my first icebridge crossing. The trail gained a little elevation and crossed the logging road where the wind picked up, but I was soon into deeper forest which protected me from the wind. Through the leafless trees I caught glimpses of the view I would have at the summit, I was especially excited to see Carrigain standing proudly on the horizon.

The trail came to a switchback and then started to climb more moderately. I had more than enough time for this hike so I took it easy and only took a single break for water (and Nuun, which I also picked up at EMS). When I typically hike on the weekend I can’t get off the island until 8:25am, which gets me to Portland at 9:00am, an hour and a half drive from the White Mountains. Since it was a Monday I could get off the island almost two hours earlier, which gave me plenty of time for a day hike.

potash-passaconaway

Passaconaway and Whitehead

The trail abruptly broke out of the forest and onto a ledge with an amazing view to the southeast of Mount Chocorua and a more spectacular view to the south of two 4000-footers I hadn’t yet climbed, Mount Passaconaway and Mount Whiteface. Passaconaway was especially beautiful with its great cone towering over the smaller Mount Potash. When the wind gusted, snow would curl off the summit into the indigo sky. I had plans to hike these mountains along with the Tripyramids and Mount Chocorua with some friends this summer, so I had to take a photo to whet their appetites.

After the vista the trail continued up to the summit, moderately steep at times but easy for the most part. Since the trail climbed up the south side of the mountain after leaving the trees the path was unhampered by the wind and remained nicely packed all the way to the summit.

potash-panorama

Potash Summit View

I reached the summit, dropped my gear and unstrapped my snowshoes. The view was absolutely breath-taking. From left to right I could see Passaconaway, Whiteface, The Sleepers, Tripyramids, The Fool Killer, Kancamangus, The Osceolas, Franconia Ridge, The Hancocks, Carrigain, The Willey Range and The Presidentials. There was not a cloud in the sky, the sun was high and warm and I had not seen a single sign of humanity for hours (though I could then see the Kancamangus Highway snaking through the valley below). The only thing that wasn’t perfect was the cold wind from the northeast, but that was bearable considering the rest.

potash-carrigain

The Mighty Mount Carrigain

I was especially taken by the view of Mount Carrigain which was not only one of my favorite hikes but is probably my favorite mountain to look at from a distance. After eating a wasabi hummus and vegetable sandwich I packed up and headed down the mountain. The hike down was easier than hiking down South Moat Mountain the previous week where I had a hard time navigating the rocky slopes with my snowshoes. I made great time even though I was not hurrying; making it to the parking lot in less than an hour. There were a couple different cars in the parking lot, but there was still nobody in sight.

I learned something the previous weekend from hiking South Moat Mountain, it is not fun driving for an hour and a half while wearing a sweaty shirt and socks. I changed into a dry sweatshirt and socks and then began the trek back to Maine. I cranked the music and enjoyed the lulling switchbacks of the Kancamangus Highway. It wasn’t until I got a decent distance back in Maine that I realized I had left my hat, gloves and brand new sunglasses on top of my car while changing clothes. I pulled over and checked the hood, but they were long gone. It was too late to drive back and look for them, but at least I still have this nifty photo of them on Potash Summit.

potash-summit

Sunglasses

We want to make good time, but for us now this is measured with the emphasis on “good” rather than on “time”
―Robert M. Pirsig

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Elevation: 2680′
Elevation Gain: 1430′
Distance: 4.4 miles
Book Time: 2:40
Actual Time: 2:40
Temperature: 12° F
Wind: 10mph NE
Weather: clear

Reference:
Appalachian Mountain Club. White Mountain Guide: 28th Edition. Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 2007. Print.

Winter Hike: South Moat Mountain

south-moat

South Moat Mountain Trailhead

Hike Date: 9 February 2014

Ever since winter broke my hiking habit back in November, I had been waiting for a decent weekend to try out hiking with snowshoes. I’ve had a pair of 27″ PowerRidge Crests for quite a few years and dug them out of the garage once or twice a winter. For whatever reason I never thought of combining them with my love for hiking and the White Mountains in particular. When a weekend with a nice forecast where I didn’t actually have other plans came up, I was all over it.

One of my great loves in life is driving out of the city and into the mountains on a sunny day with the windows down and some music blasting. As the congestion and distraction of the city fades away and the first mountains loom over the distant tree tops I feel a physical pressure lift off my chest. I can breath and smile and wonder again, it’s akin to a heaping pile of gifts under the Christmas tree. Granted, it was the beginning of February in Maine, so my windows weren’t down, but I was still able to relish this moment of release. A cure for the Winter Blahs if there ever was one.

As I drove through Conway I snatched glances at the Moat Mountains when they were visible. I found myself making my way slowly down Passaconaway Road making sure I didn’t miss the trailhead. I found the parking area well-plowed and containing only one other car. After quickly organizing my gear I strapped my snowshoes on and I hit the trail. The trail wound through some young trees and dipped down to cross a small brook and again at a small bridge over Dry Brook. This early portion of the trail was packed by a snowmobile so the going was easy and I quickly shed a few layers.

Soon after the Dry Brook crossing the trail began to climb and I found myself stopping to catch my breath and let my pulse slow. Ascending with the weight of snowshoes on my feet and less than perfect traction was definitely more tiring than hiking in the other three seasons. The trail continued to be decently packed but soon hit a steep and rocky ascent. It was difficult to navigate the rocks with bulky snowshoes but I was thankful for the traction that their crampons gave me. I stepped off the trail as two ladies made their way down and assured me the view was well worth it. I watched them hike easily down and thought (not for the last time) that I would need to buy some crampons.

south-moat-break

Vista with Mount Chocorua

Just as I was starting to feel as if the mountain had me beat, I ascended to an amazing vista of Mount Chocorua. I stopped to have a burrito break and marvel at the view in front of me. It was just what I needed: time to cool down and energy from the carb-rich burrito. The trail to the summit changed again at this point, it became less steep and the trees spread out. From posts I had read it sounded like it was easy to loose the trail at this point, but it was no problem to follow when the trail was already broken. There seemed to be several alternative ways to navigate the trees and slopes, so the paths I chose were less packed than the lower trail and therefore more slippery. Again I wish I had crampons.

The climb to the summit was not as intense as the prior climb to the vista of Mount Chocorua. There was a false summit a quarter of a mile from the summit and the trail was fairly level at that point. I was welcomed to the summit with 360° views with Conway valley to the east, Lake Winnipesaukee to the south, Mount Chocorua to the south west and the Moat range pointing to the Presidentials to the north.

south-moat-chocorua

Mount Chocorua from South Moat Summit

south-moat-presidentials

North Moat and the Presidentials

I stayed on the summit for twenty minutes just taking in the view. In the summer it is hard to find a summit in the White Mountains that you don’t have to share with others. For those twenty minutes I had the peak (and seemingly the whole mountain range) to myself. Even with roads and houses lining the valley below it felt as if there was no presence of man to be found. I turned slowly in a circle and climbed the scattered boulders to appreciate the view from different perspectives. Eventually the cold got to me from standing still on the gusty peak and I packed up and headed down the way I came.

On the way down I passed a group of three young men with a dog, all of whom where happily chugging up the mountain to the summit. Soon after the Mount Chocorua vista I came across a lady sitting in the trail with a first-aid kit sitting beside her. Seeing her first-aid kit reminded me that I had made the dumb mistake of leaving my own kit under the driver’s seat in my car. I stopped to ask her if she was okay. She was just doing some blister maintenance, pointing out that it was a lot easier to do in the summer when you didn’t have to sit on snow. I mentioned how my snowshoes were blistering the tops of my toes where the straps crossed. Something my feet were not accustomed to from just three-season hiking.

The rest of the hike to the parking lot was uneventful. I fell down a few times when the front of my snowshoe crampons lost their traction and I slid on the tail end of them. When I got back to the parking lot I fired up my JetBoil, cooked a cup of soup and heated some coffee for the drive back to Maine.

I had approached hiking South Moat Mountain with some skepticism. I love hiking, I love getting away from the grind of daily life, but I was unsure how difficult a winter hike would be and I was not confident in my knowledge, gear or skill when it came to winter hiking. I found the ascent to be more difficult and slower than normal hiking, but the descent was quicker and much easier on my knees. Pulling out of the parking lot I knew that I would be doing more hikes this winter.

After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.
―Nelson Mandela

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Elevation: 2770′
Elevation Gain: 2300′
Distance: 5.4 miles
Book Time: 3:45
Actual Time: 3:05
Temperature: 20° F
Wind: 2mph SE
Weather: mostly sunny

References:
Appalachian Mountain Club. White Mountain Guide: 28th Edition. Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 2007. Print.
South Moat Mtn. from Dugway Road.” Hike-NewEngland.com. Web. 24 February 2014.