Friday, August 29, 2014

Wildcats and Carters

Once through Pinkham Notch and the grandeur of the Presidentials behind, I started the final section of the White Mountain Nat. Forest which some believe to be to most rugged--over the Wildcat and Carter Ridges. The climb up Wildcat E is indeed really tough: 2800' of ascent that in places involves rocky scrambles and climbs with rebar steps. Ironically, the summit is crowded with tourists who took the easy way--the tram fro the ski slope on top of Wildcat.

The descent is just as steep into Carter Notch but the notch is really a beautiful and special place. The last of the huts is there and the notch walls seem to go almost straight up, nestling several high elevation ponds (that are popular for moose as well).

Carter Dome is another steep ascent and offers a wonderful view back toward the Presidentials. Fortunately the trail levels out for a bit going over the three peaks of Carter Mtn. but the final descent from North Carter was perhaps the steepest and most scary yet. I had chosen to slack pack this section to save my knees and was glad I did but it still was very slow going. I met Patty late on the trail and we hiked out on a side trail (Stony Brook) having to do the last hour by headlamp.

Fortunately, the next day was much easier, finishing off over Mt Moriah (another 4000 footer) and a gradual down to US2 and Gorham.

The Presidentials

The section of AT between Crawford and Pinkham notches is probably the most dramatic because of the towering presence of Mt Washington and the rest of the Presidential Range. The weather on Mt Washington is so unpredictable, it can beautiful and within an hour totally fogbound and chilly.

I could see Mt Washington as soon as I climbed out of Crawford Notch onto Mt Webster, almost like a beacon in the distance guiding my movement for the next two days. The first part of the ascent, over Webster Cliffs to Mt Webster, was really steep and rocky, one of the toughest of the the hike.
Enjoying the view from Webster Cliffs

Yes, that's the AT up there on those rocky Webster Cliffs

But from Webster all the way to Mt Washington the climb up isn't too bad--somewhat gradual until I reached the rocky base. The Presidentials look like someone took dynamite and blew up a chain of granite domes. The hiking is difficult, partially because of the weather, but mostly because the "trail" consists of miles of boulder hopping on granite and schist

I was disappointed that the panoramic views quickly fell apart as fog, clouds, rain, and high winds moved in. By the time I reached Mt Madison at the far end of the arc, temps were int he upper 40s and winds were blowing about 60mph. A good night to be indoors.
 The ridgewalk around the arc of the Presidential Range is impressive, even without the big views, but the climb back down to Pinkham Notch--almost 4000'--was brutal on my knees.

The Huts

Backtracking to last week, I wanted to post a few things about the huts maintained by the AMC throughout the Whites. If you're interested in details about the history and operation of the huts, there's plenty of info online so I won't repeat it here. But I would like to share a little of my experience.
Lonesome Lake Hut

The huts are open usually summer-fall to paying guests but offer food/drink/supplies for sale to the public as well as "work for stay" opportunities for a few hikers. I stopped at many of the huts for a quick snack and a look around. The huts are all located in spectacular settings throughout the WMNF. I was fortunate to do work-for-stay during three nights of my trek. The key is to get in early and be friendly and willing to help out. The work part is usually a couple hours of chores, either cleaning the hut or helping with kitchen duties.
Zealand Falls Hut
In return, hikers would receive leftovers to dine on and be allowed to sleep on the dining hall floor after the guests retired. 
The huts were a savior for me as shelters and campsites are sparcely spaced throughout the park and the weather was very changeable. My first experience with w-f-s was at Zealand Falls. The guests and crew were so nice. And we even had a little musical entertainment by the crew after hours. I also did work for stay at the Mizpah Springs Hut and the Madison Springs Hut. I think it helped that I was hiking with a couple thru-hikers and we made a jolly crew for doing the "hut tour". The extra calories and shelter , especially on Mt Madison help me a lot and I was able to hike stronger as a result.

Probably the most dramatic and most popular hut is The Lake of Clouds Hut at the base of Mt. Washington. Situated at 5000', it's the only viable shelter above treeline. It's proximity to Mt Washington makes keeps it full throughout the season.

Madison Springs Hut, also high elevation, high popularity.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Goodbye Gorham, Hello Maine

Sorry I didn't have time to post more photos from the Whites. Crawford Notch to Gorham coming soon.

Hiked out of Gorham this morning on a beautiful late summer day. It was almost too warm so I had to drink extra water (4L). Got my last view of the Presidentials from Mt Success just before crossing in Maine. Less than 300mi to Katahdin.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Franconia Notch Onward

Even though Franconia Notch is a tourist center, I enjoyed my stay in North Woodstock and it's sister town Lincoln. Found a good coffee shop and a decent Thai restuarant so all was good. The Pemi River adds to the beauty of the notch with it's crystal clear water and flumes.

After taking a day off to rest my aching knees, I ascended the Liberty Springs Trail (AT) on Monday morning (8/18). Although it's a steep climb the trail is pretty well-graded so it's not too bad (plus there's a drink of delicious White Mt water waiting at the spring).

From there I finished the climb onto Franconia Ridge, one of the most popular and dramatic areas of the Whites. It's crowned by Mt Lafayette, at over 5000' the tallest peak in this area of the park. Almost as dramatic as the peak is the entire ridge walk which goes above treeline and follows a narrow spine of rock at the summits.
Looking south to Mt. Liberty and Mt. Flume

Looking west across the notch to Cannon cliffs
View of Mt Lincoln from the south

The AT following the rock spine of the ridge
The day had started off promising, with sunshine and mild temps so I had an awesome view on the way up. But one characteristic of the Whites is how rapidly and unpredictably the weather can change. By the time I summited Lafayette, clouds and fog rolled in, the temps dropped about 20ยบ and the wind picked up to 40mph. I was much disappointed by white out on the peak.
 Hiking conditions grew increasingly tougher and I struggled to make the Mt Garfield tentsite, logging only 10 trail miles that day.

Just as quickly as the weather deteriorated on Monday, things reversed into a gorgeous morning Tuesday. I hiked past another hut (Galehead) and steeply up South Twin mountain for my first grand view of the Presidential Range to the northeast.
Mt Washington from the SW, shrouded in clouds

Franconia Ridge from South Twin
Fortunately, with decent weather and somewhat smooth trail I was able to hike pretty quickly (for me) past Mt Guyot and to Mt Zealand. I had planned to go further but still struggled to get my trail legs (Garfield and S. Twin took it out of me). So rather than push it, I decided to stop early and investigate work-for-stay at the Zealand Falls hut (more on the huts later). Fortunately, I was first in and got a spot. The hut is tucked away in a crease next to a impressive cascade.

Zealand Falls
 I sure am glad I didn't miss that experience. I got to hang out with several other thru-hikers (2 Sobos, 2 Nobos), have fun with the crew and dine on leftovers. Probably even better, I took time to appreciate the really special beauty of the Zealand Falls area and the Whites in general. I could see the Milky Way at night and saw Venus and Jupiter rising with a crescent moon before dawn.
Mt Zealand (notice small white speck to right--the hut)
Fortunately, the hike out the next day on the Ethan Pond Trail was easy all the way down to Crawford Notch. I needed a little confidence booster. Down at the notch was some trail magic and an eager bunch of hiker recipients. One of the cool things about this hike is that I'm somewhere in the bubble of northbound thru-hikers so I've met a lot of excellent people.

White Mountain National Forest

Even though Moosilauke is the unofficial entry to the Whites, the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) officially administers the region from Kinsman Notch to Grafton Notch (in ME). The AT climbs steeply out of Kinsman notch but once up on the ridgeline there are some great views across Franconia Notch to the Franconia ridge.

From this view you see Mt. Lafayette on the left, Mt. Lincoln center, and Little Haystack to the right, all points along the dramatic Franconia ridge. I was fortunate to stay in a practically brand new shelter at Eliza Brook about halfway through the 16mi from Kinsman to Franconia notches. It's one of the finest-made shelters I've ever seen, defintely craftsman quality carpentry. I was told it was built and assembled in a shop, then disassembled, flown in by helicopter and reassmbled on site. There are virtually no spaces between the logs and they used burls and grains for decorative touches. Plus it sits in a beautiful spot right next to a fast mountain stream.

Heading north, the Kinsman mountains (N & S) were a much bigger challenge. The trail on both sides is extremely steep and dangerous and involves a lot of scrambling and climbing rock faces. There are rebar handles and steps, mostly on the north side but it's still a difficult and nerve-wracking passage.  In one spot the trail builders thought it would be fun to descend through the middle of a waterfall. Hahahaha. Not. Notice the white blazes marking the trail.
The last stretch of AT before the notch passes the first of the huts at Lonesome Lake, then it's a gradual down to US3 and the visitors' center. I took a much needed rest in North Woodstock after six days of hiking but only 68 miles.

Starting into New Hampshire

Greetings and sorry for the delay getting new posts up. I've had difficulty getting a fast enough internet connection to post photos, but here we are.

I started out this year where I left off last year--at Starbucks. Yes, one has to love a trail town where the AT goes right past Starbucks and that would be Hanover.
I headed out on the AT on Monday 8/11 in sunny, warm New England summer. Even though I had a few days (maybe 45mi) of trail to warm up before the White Mtns, the trail starts getting pretty rough from the get go. Moose Mt., Sharps Mt., and Cube Mt. all have ups of 1500-2000' so it was a rough wake up call for what lay ahead. The reward for some of these climbs however was some great views into the Whites. My first view of Mt. Moosilauke, the unofficial entry to the Whites, was both inspiring and daunting.
At 4800' with its granite dome above treeline and a 3800' climb, it's a formidable challenge for me with 4 days of trail legs on. But before I got there, a wicked storm sweeped the area on Wednesday, knocking out power, causing floods and lots of blow downs. I hiked through it but it was a really scary day and made an unplanned stop at a hostel in Glencliff to regroup.
Beautiful high elevation pond

The terrain on top of Mt Moosilauke is alpine forest, either above treeline or with dwarfed spruce and small shrubs and wildflowers. It's almost other wordly to me being a Florida boy.

Even though the climb up the south side of Moosilauke involves a lot of elevation gain, it's fairly gradual most of the way (with some steep, rocky ruts along the way). Going over the south side and down the Beaver Brook Trail to Kinsman notch is much more extreme. Once the AT hits the "cascades" section, much of the trail traverses rock inclines and drop offs made accessible by rebar handles and wooden steps driven into the rock by trail crews. Really scary stuff for me, especially when the rocks were still wet from the rain a coupe days earlier.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Into NH: End of 2013 Hike

Although I only hiked about 2 1/2 weeks last year, it felt like I covered a lot of ground passing through Massachusetts, Vermont, and touching NH. It was a sweet 230 miles, especially going through the Green Mountain National Forest. The old saying is, once you reach New Hampshire you've done 80% of the miles but only 50% of the work. So I guess it's time to find out for myself.
I feel both excited and nervous about heading up into the White Mountains. I know it's some epic, breathtaking country but I hope for some decent weather and that my body can adjust quickly since I'll only have a couple days before I hit some big ups. One step at a a time, right?

I will say that New England has some sweet little trail towns. I really enjoyed Dalton, Cheshire, Bennington, Rutland, and Hanover last year. Looking forward what the AT holds for me this year.