Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mt. Clay, Washington, Monroe, Franklin, & Eisenhower - 9/14/13

Two weeks ago, when my brother and I set out for an overnight hike in the Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness, I thought to myself "this should be interesting", and sure enough it was interesting! Our original plan was to hit Jefferson, Clay, Washington, then head towards Isolation to hammock-camp, and head out to Crawford Notch on Sunday, with a choice of hitting another peak or two. Because the forecast and current rain below 4000 feet, we had to change our plan from Caps Ridge Trail to Jewell Trail, so off to Marshfield Station we went. A hiker on his way out needed a jump to his car, and it was then when I mentioned our route, he reminded me of the closed west branch of the Isolation Trail. Darn it! How the bleep did I not know/remember this trail was closed (and also the Dry River Trail)? I guess I was just so in tune about camping somewhere remote! So we headed up the Jewell Trail, with the idea that we're just going to have to go with the flow today and see where we end up. A little different than some recent hikes, pack weight for us wear around 35lbs since we were planning for overnight.
Start of the Jewell Trail right at the start of the Cog tracks
Jewell Trail
We took it slow and steady up the ascent of about 2,900 feet on the Jewell Trail to the Gulfside Trail, where it meets in the alpine zone.  The conditions reminded me a bit of my recent Presidential Traverse, foggy, misty, and hard to see very far in front of you. One thing that was pre-planned was this: If we had to give up Caps Ridge, we'd make a direct ascent of Mt. Clay using the Jewell Trail, and then a rock-whack to the height of the ridge and to the summit. At the junction we climbed directly up from there, making it to the cairns on the Clay Loop. We had to go about .2 miles north to hit the summit, but we essentially completed a "direct" ascent of Mt. Clay, which is a 5,531' mountain. This unique ascent of Clay counted as a Trailwright 72 peak for both me and my brother.
Jewell Trail and Gulfside Trail junction
Bill climbs Mt. Clay in the fog and mist 
Ascending Mt. Clay 
The summit of Mt. Clay a short distance ahead 
It was really gusty on Clay with a pretty hard mist making us move as quickly as possible to get to the summit, take our picture, and on our way towards Mt. Washington. The rocks were getting slippery too. As we ascended, the clouds seemed to lift and lower and repeat, and essentially the very top of Mt. Washington was going in and out of the top of the clouds. This occurrence resulted in "fogbows", occasional spots of blue sky, and then a small view of a distant under-cast of puffy white clouds. I've seen some cool weather formations on Mt. Washington's summit, and these sights were another to add to my list.
Gulfside Trail (1.1 miles and 900 feet to Mt. Washington) 
Bill hikes across the alpine zone on Mt. Washington 
Gulfside Trail to Mt. Washington 
Fogbow over the Great Gulf 
Great Gulf Wilderness on the Gulfside Trail
Halfway up this next section we came to the cog railway tracks. Two cogs came up right after one another as we walked by - pretty cool. We could only see them when they got much closer. We opted to hike alongside the tracks the rest of the way to the summit. In doing so, we passed two memorials on our way, including Lizzie Bourne's. Lizzie Bourne perished in that spot on September 14, 1855. (Note: during the hike, it did not dawn on us it was the exact date) This day (September 14th) was the 158th Anniversary of Lizzie's passing. We had talked about what it might have been like in 1855 in this spot. Afterwards, as I look at the photo, the description on the sign sort of describes the current conditions we were in. All in all, it was humbling to pass by and ponder, and then later as I looked at the photos, I realized the date was the anniversary - Now that is kind of chilling!
Lizzie Bourne Memorial (Photo taken on Sept. 14, 2013, 158 years after her passing) 
McAdams and Chadwick Memorial not too far up the slope
An MWO employee walks alongside the ascending Cog 
The Cog Railway car on its way to Mt. Washington's summit
As we approached the summit, we had some brief, but breathtaking views. Throughout most of the day, those who stood at about 6,288' feet were the only ones who saw some blue sky this day. It was a chilly 40 degrees and 30 degree wind chill (add being wet) as we headed towards the summit sign for my 15th summit of Mt. Washington.
Hiking with a fogbow in the background 
Bill takes in a pretty amazing view from Mt. Washington 
Walking toward the summit
Someone got it right and must have organized a line for the summit sign. Patiently, we waited about 5 minutes for our photo. This was kind of a bummer and annoyance, but it is what it is! We went inside where we leisurely took in a nice hour and a half break for chili, pizza, hot chocolate, and a brownie! It was nice to do a re-set and get ready for some more wet hiking. 
15th Mt. Washington summit 
The summit photo line
Since our plans were now changing again, the wet conditions steering us away from dealing with a wet nasty camp out, we decided that we were going to bag Monroe and hike to Eisenhower and then descend Edmands Path and walk Mt. Clinton Road back to my car.  We descended to Lake of the Clouds and the hut, and paid a short visit inside. The caretaker was friendly, asked us our route, and what time we started. She replied, "hmmm a little behind schedule...", and she seemed concerned of our plan to go towards Eisenhower but didn't say much. Two minutes later, we left, and as we hiked on toward Monroe, I kidded to my brother, "Since when does a mountain have a schedule?"
Lake of the Clouds - always majestic 
The half mile and few hundred feet to Monroe become easier and shorter every time I do it, but for Bill, this was his 2nd time to Monroe, and the first time back since our Moonlight Presidential Traverse on August 14, 2011 (and my 48 finish).  It was pretty breezy up on the summit, like it always is. Without much of a view, we continued on.
Bill takes a big step on Mt. Monroe's summit
Mt. Monroe - 8th summit 
We took the gentle hill that loops over the summit of Mt. Franklin as we continued towards Mt. Eisenhower. I didn't hit Franklin on my last two presi's, so I decided to bag it on this unique hike.
Bill and I hike the Crawford Path near Mt. Franklin 
Mt. Franklin summit 
Along the next flat section, we flip-flopped with another group doing an apparent Presidential Traverse, and who you could say were much further "behind schedule". At the sometimes confusing junction near the Edmands Path, I guided them towards Pierce on the Crawford Path, as they were going to skip Eisenhower to make up some time. Here, in true-peak bagger fashion, I encouraged my brother to take cover in a patch of scrub while I went up to summit Mt. Eisenhower. Thanks Bill! I told him it would take no longer than 20 minutes to do the .8 and a few hundred feet ascent and back. I dropped my pack with him, took my cell phone, and darted up to Mt. Eisenhower's summit. Now later in the afternoon, the Eisenhower summit was empty. The hard mist and strong wind made it feel like I was getting pummeled with rain. After running up at full speed and taking a couple of pictures, I kneeled next to the cairn for a minute to recuperate before I bolted down back to the scrub. Almost back there, I let out a yelp through the darkening sky, and I'm sure my brother was stoked to have me back in 12 minutes flat!
Mt. Eisenhower summit
When I got back, we quickly headed down the Edmands Path. The Edmands Path was a first for my brother. We still had daylight for about half of the descent. We took our time, switched back to shorts, removed the rain gear, and had a rather pleasant walk down the Edmands Path and back to the spotted car at the Mt. Clinton Road Trailhead. While this wasn't the Dry River Wilderness overnight we had planned, it was still a successful and fulfilling hike having climbed Mt. Clay directly for a Trailwright, hiked a couple of new redline trails, and hit some peaks for my September grid, including my 15th summit of Washington.  It was also the first time my brother has hiked above treeline in the Presidential Range during the daylight! I'm looking forward to this coming March and April, as they are the only two months I have not climbed Mt. Washington. Another great Presidential Range experience in the books, and looking forward to more!

Hike Stats
Trails: Jewell Trail, bushwhack, Clay Loop, Gulfside Trail, Crawford Path, Monroe Loop, Eisenhower Loop, Edmands Path, Mt. Clinton Road
Distance: 15.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,700 ft.
Actual Book Time: 10:30 (*trail-head to trail-head, including 1:30 break at the summit) (does not include road walk of about 1:00)

Sugarloaf, Spaulding, & Abraham (Maine) - 9/7/13

Ahhh.....To me, hiking Maine's 4000-footers offers that little bit of variety that is needed sometimes from the White Mountains. When it was finally time for buddy Mike to take on the wild Sugarloaf, Spaulding, & Abraham, I was ready to go. When I hiked it last October, my brother and I had great time, being scared to hell by a bear at our car at midnight and then seeing a moose the next day during our bushwhack. With this September hike a few weeks ago, I had wondered what we might get this time around!
About a half mile up the road to the AT crossing 
I now consider myself a fairly frequent visitor to the Caribou Pond Road trail head, and the previous 4 times I've been there, the road has been in great shape up to the barricades. This time, upon our arrival in my car, which is a sedan, it was a bit different. Softball size and larger rocks seemed to be all over the road. Lo' and behold, after a mile of dodging them, we see the culprit - a pick-up truck with a road grader in tow. It took about 40 minutes for us to get down the road, and only once a rock scraped the bottom of the car, but it was pretty dicey not having an SUV this time, but it was obviously just luck of the draw that they were grading the road that day. As we were about to hit the road towards the AT crossing, we saw a sign drawing attention to the search for a missing hiker, and how to report any information.
The AT leading down to the river from the road
Mike crosses the Carrabassett and breaks the bridge in the process
We started our ascent up the steep section of the AT towards Sugarloaf. This part of the trail is really nice. As we climbed, we took in nice views of the valley, the Carrabassett River below, and across to the Crockers & Redington. As we hiked up over one of the ledges, we caught glimpse of a low-flying helicopter coming through the valley.
Steep section on the AT southbound 
Mike climbs alongside the steep ravine off the back of Sugarloaf 
Quite a steep ravine - not a place to fall into! 
A helicopter flies low over Carrabasset Valley
Feelin' good, we made it to the Sugarloaf spur trail, which continues up a nice grade to the summit. Despite the abundance of rather unsightly summit buildings, breaking out onto Sugarloaf's summit offers incredibly expansive views all around. In my two times here there has been a stiff wind, but undeniably the cool weather and endless views on this day gave us a big boost of morale, as Bear Gryll's might say. We still had a tough hike ahead.
Sugarloaf Spur Trail 
2nd time to Sugarloaf summit
View south from Sugarloaf summit 
View north-ish from Sugarloaf summit 
Where's Mike?
After enjoying the summit for a few minutes, we headed back onto the spur trail, and back down to the AT. The trail between here and Spaulding is relatively flat until you approach Spaulding, but there are so many roots and stuff on the flat sections, its easier said than done.  We were moving quickly, but along this stretch we took a solid break since I was trying to be reached for an emergency call and had to stop. We used this time so I could resolve the issue and have some pepperoni and cheese and trail snacks. Then we were on our way. After a few minutes of hiking along this incredibly beautiful stretch of trail, we heard a noise off into the woods or somewhere ahead. It sounded like a ghost making a woooooo sound, but it sounded natural. Immediately we stopped, and in seconds we saw some shadows coming around the bend, we got pretty spooked, stopped short and braced ourselves for whatever would be coming down the trail. Hilariously though, it was a couple of thru-hikers enjoying their hike making some funny noises.
Appalachian Trail between Sugarloaf and Spaulding 
Mike hikes towards his 64th New England 4000-footer  
150 Yards to Spaulding summit 
Spaulding Mountain summit
Who says there is no view to enjoy from Spaulding Mountain?
Now with two of three 4000 footers done on the day, we still had quite a ways to go, but since we've been hiking often we were still going with some good energy and a good pace. Since Mike's outdoor blog is called the Outhouse, we took an obligatory Outhouse photo at the Spaulding Mountain Lean-to.

Appalachian Trail near Spaulding Mt. lean-to
On this particular hike and chosen route to get all 3 peaks, leaving the AT for Mt. Abraham is where one is pretty much committed to about 6-7 more miles before completing the hike. And that is if you plan to bushwhack to the road after getting back to this junction. Otherwise, its longer if one re-traces their steps back on the AT to the crossing of the river. This is what makes these 3 peaks together a tough day. Off we went to Abraham.
Mt. Abraham Trail 
The Abraham Trail, as it leaves the AT, is a really beautiful section of trail. We saw 3 living creatures within minutes of leaving the AT; a frog, a fuzzy caterpillar, and a spruce grouse! (check out the album for those pics) Not to mention the woods and scenery are quite awesome through this stretch. It got even better as we started to cross the scree on the ridgeline to Abraham. The afternoon views were great, and it was nice and cool. Mike in the lead to his 65th New England peak.
Mike climbs toward #65 
and tries to get to get to the highest point as possible... (we did)
Mt. Abraham for the second time. Awesome Maine peak!
Mt. Abraham's summit, although on the short end near 4000', is one of the best 4Ks in Maine, and was just as spectacular as my first time to its summit. It's amazing the difference in views between September and October. We could just see the start of the yellowing, when last year's October hike it was in full bloom. While there were some clouds in the sky, the views and setting were perfect, and on top of that, at this time of the afternoon, we had all of Mt. Abraham to ourselves.
Abraham summit views 
Mt. Abraham summit 
The tower on Mt. Abraham 

After a nice break of about 30 minutes on the summit, we headed back to the junction at a consistent pace and took another break to get situated for our bushwhack to the CVR. Last October, my brother and I successfully did this bushwhack, and I was looking forward to this again for weeks prior! I took the back end though, and let Mike lead us off into the woods on the obvious herd path at the junction.
The start of the bushwhack from the AT to CVR 
We followed the herd path straight, passing the AT boundary marker.  This time, we stayed straight on the herd path a little longer than we did last time. The first time, my brother and I didn't pay too too much attention to the compass and focused on staying straight all of the way. This time, and for the entire way, we stayed on an exact north bearing.
Mike navigates the easy bushwhack 
This brought us to the same dead-wood clear-cut area as last year, except about 100 yards further south than when my brother and I entered it last year. Now extremely familiar to me, we crossed the clear-cut right through the middle. Here, we had awesome views of the surrounding valley with an unique sky, and from a spot in the middle of nowhere. This is what its all about. This was the spot of my first ever in-hike moose sighting too! We paused here and took in Maine's awesomeness.
Straight across the clear cut, same one I passed through the first time 
Great views from the middle of nowhere
Beautiful view in Carabassett Valley 
On the other side of the clear-cut, we found several herd paths leaving it. We picked one, and continued to follow north shown on our compass. After the clear-cut, there is a zig-zag of herd paths and grown in roads (certainly not a place to be in after dark by any means). If you've been thinking about doing this bushwhack, do it! After doing this for a second time, just lock your compass on north and have at it by zigging and zagging your way down to the road! It took Mike and I just a touch under 30 minutes to go from the AT to the road.  Minutes later, we were passing the Caribou Pond outlet, and just a few miles down the familiar CVR back to the parking area, where a couple of hard ciders awaited! Congrats to Mike on getting #65. It was an awesome early fall day, and we did it in timely fashion, getting home to MA at a fairly reasonable hour.
Walking back to the parking lot on CVR
Hike Stats
Trails: Appalachian Trail, Sugarloaf Spur Trail, Spaulding Mtn. Spur, Mt. Abraham Trail, Bushwhack
Distance: 17.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,280 ft.
Actual Book Time: 9:00 (approximately)