Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve Winter Ascent of Mt. Washington

Happy New Year everyone!! It was an amazing year, and its time to celebrate it up, so this one is short! Today's New Year's Eve winter ascent of Mt. Washington was an incredible hike. Despite the low visibility, conditions were great and consistent throughout the hike. I finally got to use my crampons and ice axe, and overall it was a pretty easy ascent up the summer Lions Head Trail, which I did in October and November. Of course, I knew I would be hiking it New Year's Eve back in October. It was great hiking with my friend Mike and his girlfriend Nicole. It was Nicole's first ever NH 4000-footer, and for each of us the first time to Mt. Washington in winter. Enjoy the pictures, and we'll see you in 2012!!!
Braving a moment of heavy snow
Me .2 from the summit

Three great accomplishments!
I'll be back this winter!
View the album below for photos from every segment of the hike. I have some fun glissading videos I hope to post this week.

Hike Stats
Trails: Tuckerman Ravine Trail, Lion Head Trail
Distance: 8.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,300 feet
Book Time: 9hrs

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Franconia Ridge Christmas Completion - 12/26/11

I've hiked a lot of awesome hikes this year, but this one was completely off the charts. The trail conditions, weather conditions, cloud formations, and timing all resulted in one of the most intense and beautiful hikes we've ever experienced. The photos we captured leave us amazed. At twilight on the day after Christmas, under an Earthshine crescent moon and a bright Venus, my brother reached Lafayette completing the 48 AMC White Mountain 4000-footers. I accomplished my goal in August on our Moonlight Presidential Traverse, and with his summit of Lafayette, two brothers accomplish the 48 in one year.

With #48 in sight for Bill, we felt we could have hiked anything. We got going around 8am, and it was snowing and pretty cloudy. I told Bill it looked like the time I started up Lafayette in February, except there was only a few inches of snow this time on the ground. Our plan was to ascend the Flume Slide Trail, so we went on. We crossed a couple of nice sized streams and followed some nice fox tracks as we hiked into the valley.
Brook Crossing on the Flume Slide Trail
Fox tracks
After the nice stroll in, then once at the slide, it quickly gets steep and it continues up relentlessly until you reach the top. We had our microspikes on just before the slide. The ice was covered completely with fresh snow. The ice was so good, I wish I brought my crampons and ice axe, but we managed just fine with our microspikes. It was a fun climb in the summer, but even more fun in the winter. It really felt like we had to climb the mountain, not hike to get there. We got some teasers of the blue sky on the way up, but it looked like it was going to be cloudy all day. It was such a relief to reach the top of the slide, we took a nice break before heading the .1mi to the summit.
Near start of the Flume Slide
Climbing a scrambly section
As we left the trees at the cliff, the wind and clouds were pretty thick, making it a complete change in weather in just a few steps. We approached the summit with the ledge to our left and the wind was blowing all of the snow around us. I followed Bill to the summit. It just so happened that Flume was Bill's 45th and it was my 90th this year. Next, we got into a hiker jam leaving the summit, and we stopped to have a chat for a few minutes, and then carried on. They were the only hikers we saw all day, except someone by himself on Liberty with khaki pants, Timberland's and no jacket. I sure hope he was ok, and we wondered what in the world he was doing.
Bill carefully ascends Flume
Dan on Mt. Flume, 90th White Mountain 4000 footer in 2011
Mt. Liberty was beautiful. When we arrived at the summit, we got our first clearing over the Pemi Wilderness, and the cloud bank was driven right up the crest of the ridge from the west. That was impressive, and then when we came down around the rocky ledge and looked back, we saw the sun had broken through, and we were looking at the summit glazed perfectly in ice.

Looking north along the ridge from Liberty
Looking back at Mt. Liberty
In the trees, the wind didn't effect us much, but it was still as cold, and the snow still blew around and above us. We arrived at the Liberty Springs junction, and I remember it being absolutely freezing and wanting to keep moving. We took a break. Next, we looked in front of us and saw the completely unbroken trail. From the junction to Little Haystack, we battled snow depths from a few inches to possibly 1+ foot drifts of fluffy snow. When we reached Little Haystack, the sky was a much nicer blue, the sun was shining when not blocked by cloud, and the clouds bumping into the ridge were starting to bunch up, and they came in waves that we watched move in. To our right, the Pemi was clear, Washington rose above the clouds, and to our left the clouds were just jaw-dropping.
Bill ascends to Little Haystack with the Pemi at his back
Dan on Little Haystack with the wind ripping
Now above tree line, we found ourselves in an intense different world, which we immediately adapted to. The trail became a sheet of ice, and the wind was blowing us and our microspikes across the icy trail. On the summit of Mt. Lincoln and Truman, the ground was complete ice, and it was dicey just posing for the summit photos. It seemed that as we climbed higher the winds became stronger. At this point, the clouds completely covered the land, and the sun was starting its downward journey. With the wind blowing so hard, it being so cold, and the clouds looking like they did, we could have been on Everest. I bet you couldn't count how many times we collectively said, "WOW!"
Sunset shining on ice above the clouds
Bill in front Washington, lookin' like he just 'chuted in
After Truman, we realized that the sun wasn't waiting, so the race was on for Lafayette. With every second, the views became more impressive and breathtaking, it was hard to keep walking. Bill looked forward, up to his final peak, which now stood clear of clouds against a deep blue sky. As we made it onto the summit cone, we faced some very steep drifts on a section of trail which took some gas out of us requiring a quick break. After this, we were treated to an amazing view of Mt. Washington and the Presidentials. The peaks were completely covered in white beneath a layered sky of blue and pink. To our left, it was clear enough above the clouds to see the mountains of VT.

The Presidentials beneath a winter sky
The clouds rolling by in waves
The summit of Lafayette was lit up in a golden light from the sunset, almost the same way Monroe was in August for my completion. With Bill in the lead, and me capturing the moment, he reached the summit, putting the 48 White Mountain 4000 footers in the books in less than a year. It was frigid, but the wind was slightly calmer. We stood atop the summit, embraced each other with a big brotherly hug, and then we stood in amazement as the sky went from blue to purple and orange, and then to orange and deep blue. Next, we noticed the incredible Earthshine crescent moon and Venus. It is hard to describe the feeling of accomplishment we had. Its so mixed up in the excitement and adrenaline that came from the conditions and heavenly views we experienced. Although I could stand on top of a mountain at any time of the day and be happy, we were frozen and finally we felt the effects of how strenuous this hike was.

Bill's final moments before completing the journey
Bill reaching for his summit
Bill completes the 48 White Mountain 4000-footers
The descent was problem free all of the way down. We stopped at the hut, and sat under the porch to take a solid break. We busted out the Glenlivet Nadurra and shared a few swigs in celebration of a successful traverse (so far). With some trail snacks in us and our insides nice and warm, we skedaddled down the Old Bridal Path, anxious to reach the warmth and comfort of the car. The Old Bridal Path was very nicely packed out, which made for a pleasant descent.

We were both strong the whole time. When the winds picked up on the top, and we began sliding across the ice, I slowed down to make sure Bill got to me, then we proceeded. We had to wait some gusts out, and we also had to pick up our pace once when a fast moving cloud was coming towards the mountain between Lincoln and Truman. This hike required teamwork, and would have been really sketchy solo. There were a lot of tests and challenges above treeline, like cautiously glissading short sections of ice or even walking without leaning towards the west in the heavy wind.

On January 1, 2011, I started a quest to complete the 48 peaks in one year. After finishing my quest in August, in eight and half months, I started hiking many of the peaks again. Some of them Bill needed, so he continued to tag along, and before we knew it, Bill was in a race to wrap them up before the year, just like me. We experienced conditions in all 4 seasons. Between us, we hiked in every single month this year. We've hiked in the middle of the night, in a couple of snowstorms, and also in pouring rain. We had some miserable hikes and ones with views to last a lifetime. It got close at the end, but on December 26, 2011, two brothers stood seemingly on top of the world watching an alpine sunset in subzero temperatures, having both completed the AMC White Mountain 4000 footers in one year.
Earthshine Crescent Moon and Venus
Bill on Mt. Lafayette, #48
Dan on Lafayette, 37th Trailwright
Bill and Dan on Lafayette
Hike Stats
Trails: Whitehouse Trail, Liberty Springs Trail, Flume Slide Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Greenleaf Trail, Old Bridle Path
Distance: 13.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,850 ft
Book Time: 10hrs 39min

Click on the slide show below to see the full album from this hike..

Franconia Ridge Traverse

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mt. Moriah & Mt. Surprise - 12/18/11

On Sunday, December 18th, it was absolutely frigid, but beautifully clear and calm for our hike over Mt. Surprise to Mt. Moriah on the Carter-Moriah Trail. I was joined by my brother and our friend Rachel. We bare booted for about a mile and a half until Microspikes became necessary as we ascended towards the ledges. The Presidentials peeked through the leaf-less trees to our right, which was a nice touch before reaching the ledges.

The views were spectacular from the ledges on Surprise and from the summit of Mt. Moriah. Mt. Moriah was Bill's 44th peak, and for me, it was my 36th Trailwright and 89th 4000-footer I've climbed since the start of 2011.

Here is a short video which shows a one minute panorama from Mt. Moriah, and 3 quick glissades of mine descending the Carter-Moriah Trail - What fun!

Hike Stats
Trails: Carter-Moriah Trail
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,400 ft
Book Time: 7hrs

The Hancocks - 12/17/11

Since its the week of Christmas, I'm keeping my reports from the weekend nice and short. On Saturday, December 17th, my brother and I hiked North and South Hancock. It was number 42 and 43 for my brother. There was a trace of snow to a few inches throughout the whole hike, and it is slowly starting to get packed down. It was cold, but not freezing, and it snowed lightly throughout our entire hike. For my brother Bill it was peaks 42 and 43, and for me it was another Trailwright and Grid hike.

The view was socked in on North Hancock, however from South Hancock, we had a great view from the lookout, which I did not experience last time because of extremely deep snow. (shown above) More than the views, we both really enjoyed the surroundings and the pleasant wintry weather on the approach and exit.

Here is a quick video showing portions of our hike.

Hike Stats
Trails: Hancock Notch Trail, Cedar Brook Trail, Hancock Loop Trail
Distance: 9.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,700 ft.
Book Time: 5hrs 25min

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wintry Pemi Loop (Attempt) - 12/10/11

Well, Saturday sure was a long day in the mountains as I attempted another one-day Pemi Loop, yep in December, just a few days off of the shortest day of the entire year. My goal was to make a big step towards 100 NH48 summits. I believed I could do it. I knew that I would be hiking straight through until until night time, at least 20 hours, but the conditions along certain sections of the way slowed me down a little. While some might think I really risked it on this one, the conditions I experienced were no more challenging than anything I had experienced before.

It was snowing lightly as I finalized my pack and gear in the Lincoln Woods parking lot. I started down the Lincoln Woods Trail, where a fresh coat of snow was forming over the dusting already frozen to the ground. I hiked at a consistent pace reaching the Bondcliff Trail in about 1hr and 25min, which was a great start. There were no issues following the Bondcliff Trail at all. I think one of the first times I took a break for more than 5 minutes was at the spot where the trail opens up at the bottom of the valley and crosses a dry river bed before the switch-backing ascent. I turned off my headlamp, sipped some water, and stood there looking at the falling snow in front of the dark outline of the mountains above.
Easy going on Bondcliff Trail
As I approached the summit of Bondcliff, it was pitch black and still snowing really good. It was not very windy, but the visibility was not great. I walked slowly across the summit recognizing the cliff, and staying with the cairns. I didn't linger and continued to Mt. Bond and recall having it pretty easy with good footing. This summit of Mt. Bond was my 80th 4000 footer this year. I tried to take it in for a few minutes, but I was pushing to get as far as I could before sunrise.
Not the summit cairn, but another one before it on Bondcliff
Cairn next to the trail opening on Mt. Bond, pitch black
Still snowing good, I made it to the West Bond Spur. The sky was fading from black to the deep blue. A short way down the trail, I dropped my pack on the side, grabbed a water bottle and started a bee-line for the summit. About 40 seconds later, I came upon the first hiker I saw heading to the summit from Guyot Campsite. I went ahead for the summit. I made the summit and was treated to a slight clearing and partial view of the Pemi Wilderness. West Bond is truly in the middle of nowhere. It was about 7:10am, just about the exact time of actual sunrise. We shared the summit together for a couple of short minutes, but then I continued on returning to my pack and then the Bondcliff Trail.
Rocky summit of West Bond at sunrise; 7:10am
From West Bond, next was 1.3 miles to the Twinway and Mt. Guyot. It was still snowing steadily going on 7 straight hours!! As I made my way towards Zealand, the snow was much deeper. It was here, I noticed for the first time I was getting slowed down. I dropped my pack and clipped a water bottle to my waist about halfway to Zealand. I placed my pack a few feet off the trail, and I clipped my orange cable link clip to a tree so I would see it on my way back. I made a few distinct marks in the snow with my poles shortly after it so I had couple of visuals to alert me on the way back so I wouldn't miss my pack. The summit of Zealand was a beautiful winter wonderland, and it was great to be back to Zealand for the 3rd time this year, but maybe coming to Zealand this time would bite me in the rear; we would find out later, but it was pretty while I was there.
Mt. Guyot summit
Zealand Mountain summit
On the way back, I came upon my pack and continued back to Guyot and picked up the Twinway. The weather was still the same, still snowing. When I arrived at the summit of South Twin, it was 11:20am. I was on Zealand at 8:40am, so it took me 2hrs and 40 min to hike the 3.3 miles to South Twin, which was the slowest section thus far, and was a result of the deeper snow and the tougher ascent coming back over Guyot.
South Twin summit
So, at 11:20am, nearly 10 hours after I started, it was still snowing as I stood upon South Twin for the 4th time since my first ascent of it in July. I snapped a photo of the summit and got out of the wind for a moment. I actually had set my pack in between the rocks and took about 30 steps on the North Twin Spur before stopping in my tracks. I didn't see any boot prints for the first time, and the snow was definitely a few inches deeper that the Twinway to Zealand, so I made an easy decision of turning around, putting my pack back on, and heading down the steep Twinway to the hut. This was a tough descent and on the lower half of this .8 mi stretch was extremely icy under the fluffy snow. Near the bottom, I past two hikers ascending South Twin.

At the Galehead Hut, the snow finally subsided, and there was a slight clearing and slither of blue sky becoming visible out over the Pemi. It was great to take a seat on the bench for another rest and some food. Again, I set my pack down and made my way up the untouched trail to Galehead. When I arrived at the summit, it might have been the most beautiful I've ever seen it. The cairn was covered with a blanket of untouched snow. I posed for a summit picture with it. On the way down only, I stopped quickly at the lookout. Back at the hut and my pack, I was about to embark on the toughest section yet, the Garfield Ridge Trail.
Sky opening up at Galehead Hut
The beautiful untouched Galehead Mountain summit
Rays through the clouds over the Pemi
The Garfield Ridge Trail proved to be pretty tricky on the ascent to Garfield, going in this direction, it might be the toughest spot. At this point, my left microspike had busted from the rocks under the fluffy snow, and my left toe no longer had any grip. This quickly resulted in the types of slips and falls that simply make you run out of gas, and that is what happened. It was 5:20pm when I reached the summit of Garfield, my 7th peak of the day and although a long way to go, I got to enjoy the sun going down over Franconia Ridge.
Garfield Ridge Trail after Gale River Trail junction
Garfield Ridge Trail
View from Garfield shortly before sunset
As I write this now, I realize this may have been the point where I should have packed it in and headed down the Garfield Ridge Trail, but nope, I continued on, wanting to grab those peaks. I started towards Garfield following that huge animal print in the unbroken snow all of the way from Garfield to Lafayette. I was slightly more than halfway along and then the sun and light altogether seemed to disappear instantly, like someone had instantly flipped the switch. There was very little wind or weather as I got closer to Lafayette, but still in the trees. I think it started to flurry a little bit again. I had 3 pairs of gloves and 2 of them were frozen. The 3rd pair, my liners, were wet but by using them it kept them from freezing, and my hands were fine. If I stopped, they would freeze, it got really frustrating. At this point all of my water and Gatorade was frozen too. I had not kept them inside my pack from the get-go, which was a mistake. At this point I was constantly making adjustments. I was clearly starting to get dehydrated, I could feel it in my mouth, it was so dry.

I broke from the trees around 10pm and made it to the summit of Lafayette shortly after. It was not easy following the cairns up to the summit. The wind was blowing consistently, maybe 30mph, which is not very hard but it was consistent with gusts that pushed me off my step, and the snow was blowing. It was maybe about 4 times worse than what I went through on the Bonds earlier in the morning. It was more calm then. Since I could hardly see the cairns, I approached the summit at a weird angle, not following a cairn, but when I saw the signs in front of me, and I think I walked just below them several feet away from them, my focus was so much on just to keep going straight and follow the cairns over the side, and I did...but somehow I lost the cairns again, and when I found one again, I must have followed it in the wrong direction, somehow spiraling back around. I sort of expected footprints on Franconia Ridge on this Saturday, but I ended up following my own footprints all the way back to Garfield unknowingly. Here I am completely gassed, slightly dehydrated, broken microspikes, and I come upon the 1/4 mile to Garfield Ridge Campsite sign. I immediately yelled an extremely loud expletive through the trees. In about 30 more steps I reached the summit of Garfield again, and again I yelled a loud expletive through the moonlit Pemi Wilderness.

Obviously, I decided to head down the Garfield Trail to Route 3. A short way down I got some service and informed the family what had happened and what I intended to do. A taxi might work during the day, but when its last call at the bars, stranded hikers, I learned are SOL. Luckily, Matt, another hiker on his way to Randolph to start a Presi Traverse later in the morning offered a ride and brought me back to Lincoln Woods. That was pretty clutch, and I compensated him for the ride.

After I had came down off of Lafayette, not knowing I was going in the wrong direction, I had thought of stopping for the night, as I had gear to sleep. I had my sleeping pad, a 25 degree sleeping bag, and an emergency tarp/blanket. I had another pants layer and another shirt layer and an extra pair of socks. I was never cold at all on this hike. My Merrell winter boots are -40 rated, and I believe it. I thought of hunkering down in the top of Garfield. I also thought of parking in a nice enclosure of trees somewhere along the Garfield Ridge Trail (apparently that's where it would have been). I had plenty of food, and if I could warm my liquids, and worked the tarp correctly, I would have been all set. However, I'm sure glad I decided to come down, because I would have been still screwed in the morning, and probably very confused!

Looking back, I'm glad this happened, it was a pretty intense physical and mental challenge, and it's only going to make me more cautious hiking in winter conditions. It has also made me really think getting a GPS is a good idea. I'm going to make sure my bottles don't freeze, and I'm going to get better gloves. From now on, if I'm going to do this in winter months, I'll plan it as an overnighter, and keep the one-day loops to the summer months. Despite the situation I experienced, the entire hike was incredibly beautiful. It was still a great day, bagging 8 peaks in December, and checking off another Trailwright peak in Galehead.

Hike Stats
Trails: Lincoln Woods Trail, Wilderness Trail, Bondcliff Trail, West Bond Spur, Twinway, Frost Trail, Garfield Ridge Trail, Garfield Trail
Distance: 34.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 9,550 ft
Book Time: 23hrs 30min

To view the album from this hike, view or click on the slide show below:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mt. Carrigain - 12/3/11

It was such a beautiful late fall day on Saturday for our hike to Mt. Carrigain. It was crystal clear, with not a cloud in the sky, but it was brisk and chilly hovering around freezing all day. Given the fact the Sawyer River Road is closed, we thought we would try something a little different so we brought the mountain bikes out one last time this year to help cut our time down on the road.

It sure was a tough pedal up the road on the way in to the Signal Ridge Trail, but it was good because it got us warmed up for the trek up the trail. We passed the large washout and some parked construction vehicles, so perhaps they will start repairing the road soon. We left our bikes behind a big rock in the woods near the parking area across from the trailhead.
Mountain biking Sawyer River Road to SRT
Bill leads the way carefully past the washout
We walked up to the trail head where a small group was waking up in their tents. Of all of the available places to set up a tent, the group's two tents were pitched right in front of the signs at start of the trail, so we passed by taking care to not to trip over their tents. But, we said good morning to one of them, and we got a "see you up there". At the beginning, the trail is pretty flat. A light dusting of snow pellets sporadically blanketed the cracks in the rocks or on the leaves at the beginning and throughout our hike, but there was no accumulated snow at all. Last time I hiked Carrigain, the crossings were a non-factor, but this time, they were pretty testing. Instead of crossing in our bare feet, we found a slightly easier spot to cross up river, but the rocks were coated with ice, so it wasn't easy. At the second crossing near the trail junction, we each opted for a different crossing point, but again the rocks were slippery and there were floating logs in the bog.
I don't think so...
After the two crossings, the trail ascends gradually all of the way to Signal Ridge. Along the way, the cliffs of Mt. Lowell became visible. It was cool to look out and the surroundings and check the progress of our ascent. Once we were above Mt. Lowell, we knew we were getting closer. The dusting of snow on the trail with the sun beaming through the trees made us not even think of the grueling gradual ascent.
Mt. Lowell through the trees on Signal Ridge Trail
Signal Ridge Trail
We exited the trees onto the exposed Signal Ridge to incredible clear views of Mt. Washington, the Presidentials, and Mt. Lowell. Knowing the same views and more would be at the top, we pushed on back into the trees and reached the summit a few minutes later.
From Signal Ridge
Me with my foot on the summit
On the summit, there was no wind, and it was quiet. Bill had a grin from ear to ear as we both looked around in amazement of Carrigain's views. When it is as beautiful it was, sometimes, there's no reason to talk about it, but to just take it in. We sat down, checked the time, had some crackers, chocolate, and some warm green tea. Carrigain was Bill's 41st of 2011, and now has seven more to go! This was my 78th NH 4000-footer of 2011, and because I started my original quest in January, its the first 4000-footer I've ever climbed in December!
Franconia Ridge and Owl's Head
Signal Ridge and south
Willey Range, Presidentials, and many more!
Sunny summit photo, ready to descend
The descent was straightforward and fun. Along with some breaks, we covered good segments of trail pretty quickly. Again the river crossings were fun. You can see the ice on this log, and the volume of water running underneath it.
Bill crosses an icy log
Although I couldn't record every part of the crossings because of the icy rocks, here is some footage showing what it took to get across.

Once we were done with that, we made our way out the last little bit of rocky damaged trail to the road. We felt great as we went into the woods to retrieve our mountain bikes. This was such a great trip. We were so excited for the ride out on our bikes, as it would be a 2 mile descent! I have never gone faster on my mountain bike; I was thrilled to mix it up a bit. Here's some video (but sorry about the poor angle, I was going way too fast to pay attention to the camera):

Hike Stats
Trails: Sawyer River Road (mtn bike), Signal Ridge Trail
Distance: 14 mi (including road)
Elevation Gain: 3800 feet
Book Time: 6hrs 45min

To view the full album from this hike, view or click on the slide show below.