Saturday, November 30, 2013

Belknap Range Finish - Mt. Rowe to Whiteface - 11/24/13

Last November, we did a 7-peak Belknap Range Loop on a nice day to get started on this unique peak-bagging list.  I can't believe a year got in the way of completing the remaining 5 peaks.  Many times this had been labeled a back-up, or rainy day hike, but this past Sunday, we had to get a hike in, and it was the back to the Belknaps. (cover: Gunstock and Belknap Mtn. seen from the Ridge Trail from Mt. Rowe)

The Belknap Range has a funny little L in it.  This is one of the difficulties of stringing all 12 together in a day without having hiked them before really (that had been the hope last year). The five peaks remaining were Rowe, Gunstock, Belknap, Piper, and Whiteface, and the start of the hike brought us to the parking lot at Gunstock Ski Area.  We walked around the front of the lodge, over to the skate park area, and the road started up Mt. Rowe right behind that.  This frigid morning was a test for those mornings to come in a couple of months.  Shivering and antsy, we set off up the road hoping that we would warm up.

Slowly but slowly we started to regulate our temperature.  The walk up the road was perfect though.  It is always nice to warm up on easy terrain.  We drifted toward the olympic ski jump by accident, but bushwhacked over back to the road and continued up to the summit of Mt. Rowe.  It was nothing spectacular, but we had one down and nice view of where we were heading.
Cell phone tower on Mt. Rowe summit  
Ridge Trail, Mt. Rowe

The trail ahead was looking nice, and we were warmed up, so now on with the hike.  The terrain was covered with a dusting of un-touched snow.  There were fox and bird tracks all over the place on the trail. Shortly afterwards, we came up on a plate boundary observatory station.  The Belknap Range is what is remaining of an ancient volcano off the west shore of Lake Winnipisaukee, so it only makes sense to have one here.  Another cool thing about the Belknap Range.

Eartchscope Plate Boundary Station

Belknap and Gunstock 
Nice open woods on the Ridge Trail to Gunstock
Along the way to Gunstock, we had some nice views.  We reached the summit at the same time someone else was from a different trail.  It was the only person we saw all hike.  The summit of Gunstock was a ghost town today as it was freezing, but we took in the view for a few minutes and continued on to Belknap.

A nice view along the way 
The summit chairlift at Gunstock
The Hut at the top of the ski area  
Belknap Mountain Fire tower 
Belknap Mountain summit marker 

We made it to the summit of Belknap, and went right for the tower, but we didn't linger very long at all.  The wind was gusting really good, enough to blow us off our stance. After leaving we had some nice views as we declined elevation on some icy terrain.  The next ascent would take us up Piper Mountain on the Orange trail.  This was another "remote" section that was really nice.  We made it to Piper which was nice with open views and sprawling rock ledge.     

Orange Trail (Old Piper) - Belknap Range 
Piper Summit 
Looking ahead from Piper
The area around Piper and Whiteface had a lot more ice than the rest, so we used microspikes for a good portion of the middle of this hike.  Although we had seen tons of tracks in the snow all day, we came across a really nice set, again on untouched snowy trail.  Most likely fox tracks, or maybe coyote tracks, but not sure.  There were no human tracks around, that's for sure.

Continuing, we came onto the ATV Trail to Whiteface and followed it to the summit, finishing the last of 12 peaks in the Belknap Range to earn a new patch - a pretty cool one, I might add! I have been going up to Lakes Region just about all my life, and had been to Belknap by all trails from the halfway point. I even got lost once, and ended up in someone's back yard about 2 miles away from Belknap Mountain.  It's definitely a unique place to hike.  It's not a walk in the park, and its variety gives you a little bit of everything to keep you on your toes.  Looking forward to getting the patch in the mail (see below).

Belknap County Sportsmens Association

Hike Stats
Trails: Mt. Rowe access road, Ridge Trail, Saddle Trail, Blue Trail, White Trail, Orange Trail, Green Trail, White Trail (to Belknap Access Rd), Blue Trail, Saddle Trail, Brook Trail
Distance: 12.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,320 ft.
Actual Book Time: 6:55

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Willey Range Traverse - 11/16/13

On November 16th, the weather was as perfect as could be for a mid-November day in the White Mountains.  I was invited to join a hike of Willey, Tom, and Field, a Willey Range Traverse.  Cynthia, another passionate hiker like myself, was finishing the Grid on this hike, and there were dozens of others along for the excursion, including many who've completed the goal of hiking all 48 4000-footers in each of the 12 months of the year and/or in a single winter season.  Talk about an amazing group to share a hike with.  I was happy to share such an easy, beautiful day in the mountains while meeting some really awesome people.

Amazingly, we got a few car loads to Ethan Pond Trail head after meeting at the AMC Highland Center. Shortly into the hike on the Ethan Pond Trail we came across some nice bear tracks, and then a notice in the snow making sure we saw them.

This was the first time up the Ethan Pond side for me, which got me the last section of the Willey Range Trail "I needed" for my redlining. One of the bonuses to that was getting to try to the ladders on Willey for the first time.  This trail section is also on the Terrifying 25 Trail list I'm working on.  Up we went!
Willey Ladders
Mt. Washington with Mt. Lowell in foreground
Mt. Willey summit (4th round, 4th month) 
View West from Willey before into the trees towards Field
For summits with limited views, the day overall, weather, and views we had made it seem better than any other time. While some of the group took more time on the summit of Willey, a few of us headed for Field. It was so nice to meet Cynthia who continued along leading the way to Field as we chatted about a few grid moments and hiking in general.  Shortly after that, we ran into Rachel and her beautiful pup Isis. Isis is getting close to her 48 finish! Follow their journey HERE. They also had planned to join the hike along the way, and meet up at the finish.  Continuing on, we ran into others who also were joining the fun along the way, and eventually (but still fast) we made it to the summit of Field.  There were about 20 people on the summit of Field having snacks.  The gray jays flew about cautiously and less closely because of the unexpected and odd commotion of so many people.  After a needed snack, the group cruised on down to the A-Z Trail and the junction with the Mt. Tom Spur, where there was another dozen people waiting, including family members to join for Cynthia's big finish to Mt. Tom.

After the Mt. Tom Spur parade, we arrived at the summit, where the celebration began.  Champagne and chocolates for everyone, and bunch of happy people on a beautiful day celebrating an incredible accomplishment.

In a few spaced out groups, we made our way back to the AMC Highland Center, were it was an absolute blast hanging out in the freezing cold, celebrating, and meeting many others, including the incredible Ed Hawkins! Pictured below are the most grid finishers (13 of 41) together at once. Some have completed it more than once, and a few have climbed all 576 starting after the age of 60.  Talk about some awesome stuff right there. Congratulations to Cynthia!

Hike Stats
Trails: Ethan Pond Trail, Willey Range Trail, Mt. Tom Spur, A-Z Trail
Distance: 8.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,980 ft.
Actual Book Time: 5:54
GPS Track: Garmin Adventures

Friday, November 15, 2013

Pemi Loop - 11/2/13

After getting some 4000-footers in for October, I was looking forward to doing the same as the first weekend of November arrived.  October and November are the months I've hiked the least amount of the 4000-footers in (so far).  After an unforgettable experience traversing the Pemi Wilderness and eight 4000-footers by way of a unique route, I was looking to 'take care' of the remaining 4000-footers along the ring of Pemi in November, which left me the opportunity to try an 8th Pemi Loop (of any variety ;) ), and hopeful 6th successful completion of one.  Click HERE for all of my Pemi Loop reports.

Never mind the hours of daylight in my failed attempt in December of 2011, even in November, the sun rises late and sets early, so completing the Pemi Loop in a day in the fall (without running it) is very challenging. It undoubtedly requires starting and ending in the dark, and for me, I never short myself of the gear that is needed for an emergency night out, so I carry a 30lb pack. Winter's coming anyways, so the pack weight needs to be upped!
Entering the Pemi Wilderness under the cover of night!
I got going from Lincoln Woods around 3:20am.  I was literally undecided on a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction as I headed to towards the Osseo Trail Junction.  Within that distance, I had made up my mind that I was headed for another sunrise from the summit of Bondcliff.  It brought back awesome thoughts of that March morning I completed the 4000-footers in winter, as I again hiked those 9 flat miles in the dark to make it for sunrise, which I did.
Bondcliff summit, waiting for the sun
Bondcliff and the Bonds in front of an interesting cloud bank
Bondcliff (It was calm, so, yes, I went and stood out there!)
Sunrise from Bondcliff
I was welcomed to the open and exposed alpine zone with another beautiful and calm morning, and slowly rising sun.  With it so quiet, and being so far from roads, its really an intense feeling to be on the Bonds ridge at this hour.  That is why I sort of slowly meandered along the ridge toward Bond, taking in the rising sun, and the alpenglow as it blanketed, and eventually fully greeted all of the Pemi peaks.
Owl's Head in front of Franconia Ridge, with the ridge to West Bond 
Sunrise from the ridge  
Eventually (and if this is going to be a 1-day thing...), I had to move myself along to the summit of Bond, where the view was spectacular as it always is in nice weather.
Classic Bondcliff from Bond shot
Bond's summit marker, West Bond, Owl's Head, Lafayette, and Lincoln
Bondcliff and the Pemi Wilderness from Mt. Bond summit

With the sunrise part of the hike behind me, it was time to take on the rest of the hike, and get really moving, which lead me to my next peak - an out-and-back to West Bond's summit.  It was clear with some light clouds as I reached the summit, but just a few short minutes later those clouds thickened and swooped into the middle of the Pemi, and took away the long and clear views of a few minutes ago.  They were tame, but fast moving, and because of that it was sort of eerie, and made me move quite fast from the summit to the junction with the Twinway.
The last push to West Bond's summit 
West Bond offers an amazing view as your about to bag its summit 
Me on the summit, with clouds increasing fast 
Bondcliff from West Bond
With the three Bonds behind me, I still had a long way to go, and no time to waste, so I continued on, enjoying the beautiful Twinway en route to South Twin. When I arrived, the overcast did nothing really to diminish the views.  I saw the 2nd group on the day on the summit, and I was thankful for them sharing a butter-finger with me. Left over Halloween Candy makes great trail snacks! yummy
Bondcliff / Twinway Trail junction 
Arriving at the summit of South Twin 
An incredible view of Mt. Garfield and the Franconia Ridge!
South Twin summit
I got down the steep and rough section to Galehead Hut without any issues, but I was starting to get pretty tired considering my task.  I went two weekends without hiking after the Cross Pemi hike.  It was pretty quiet on the trails up to this point, around noon, and only seen a few people in about 13 miles.  I decided to stop and take a 15 minute or so break with my boots off, and have a bigger snack.  Along with that, a Tylenol 500 because my ankle was starting to become really sore.  Right after getting started again, I ran into fellow hiker Mike Cherim, who I've ran into a couple of times of the trail.  After a nice chat with them, I was onto the Garfield Ridge Trail, with 6.6 miles strenuous  miles to go until the Franconia Ridge Trail.

Looking up my path ahead on a steep section along Garfield Ridge Trail 
Looking back at South Twin from Garfield Ridge Trail, near Garfield Trail junction
A little over 3 miles later, and including another long break at the Garfield Shelter spur to re-fill water and eat a huge cookie, I was at the summit of Garfield, which is always pretty nice.  The view from the top of the Pemi ring is pretty sweet.  It's a good point along the way to reflect on the madness of a Pemi Loop - on the left, what you've hiked over so far, and on the right what lies ahead, with only 2 hours until sunset.

Approaching the summit of Garfield 
Owl's Head (center), Flume (right) from Garfield summit 
3 miles away from the start of Franconia Ridge, with 2hrs of daylight left
The next section between Garfield and North Lafayette was much better to me this time.  Garfield Ridge Trail is always tough, and I always tell myself it will be (because it is, especially going up to Garfield in both directions).  Despite my progress, the soreness in my ankle (likely because of my new boots) was now a pain.  It hurt more going down, and not as much going up, so I was doing alright for the time being, as I made it to treeline on the northern shoulder of Mt. Lafayette.
Franconia Ridge Trail junction 
Looking in the other direction at Garfield, South Twin, and the Bonds
I continued on with my approach to Mt. Lafayette.  I even passed a patch of snow, which helped bring a smile to my face.  The atmosphere was changing pretty quickly with respect the cloud activity, temperature, and what I could see of the sunlight.  It was one of the most interesting scenes I've experienced up here.  The sun's rays were cool coming through the thick clouds, but the darkening sky and rapidly dropping temperature more easily won my attention, and was telling me that no matter how tired or painful my ankle was, I ought to keep my ass moving just in case this was going to be that possible late afternoon snow.  After all, this is one of the most risky locations to be with weather moving into the region.
Yay my first snow this season! 
Sunset over the Kinsmans from Franconia Ridge
Hiking into clouds on the way to Lafayette 

Always a great feeling, as it is my favorite peak, I reached the summit of Mt. Lafayette.  This was my 12th summit of Lafayette.  I cautiously took another quick break in the shield of the rocks at the summit so I could take another Tylenol, put my headphones away, and ready myself for the long-haul out.  From here, I moved quickly (at least I thought), with my attention to the sky, and therefore less attention to my foot. 
Franconia Ridge Trail (iphone)
Here we go! A little wind, concessional snow pellet 
Mt. Lincoln summit and the last of daylight (and GoPro footage) 
So I kept on going and going, just like this trip report...  As I passed Little Haystack, it started to rain.  It didn't come down hard but sprinkled from Little Haystack all of the way to somewhere on the Osseo Trail.  I passed the Liberty and Flume summits, and all the dark miles between.  Five of the nine times I've been to Flume have been in the pitch dark.  At this point, it was one last glance out at the dark view from 4000 feet and the tiny moving objects on Route 93 before a long 5.5 miles on the home-stretch back to Lincoln Woods.
Mt. Liberty summit marker 
Flume summit 
Finally, ONLY another 5.5 miles to go
It was now 9pm, so it really took me almost 5 hours to cross the whole ridge.  Counter-clockwise is much tougher, in my opinion, and I had never completed a one day Pemi Loop in this direction, so anxiousness was setting in.  While the Osseo Trail is one of the easier trails, it was like torture hiking out alone in the dark, foggy mist, with an extreme pain in my ankle.  About two and half hours later I eventually closed the circuit completing my 6th Pemi Loop in 20hrs and 28 minutes.  It has been two weeks since the hike, and my ankle is still feeling a little weird, so I'm looking forward to getting back out there to stretch it out and to start focusing on December 21st!
The Pemigewasset River East Branch footbridge at Lincoln Woods
Hike Stats
Trails: Lincoln Woods Trail, Wilderness Trail, Bondcliff Trail, West Bond Spur, Twinway, Garfield Ridge Trail, Franconia Ridge Trail, Osseo Trail
Distance: 31.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 10,832 ft.
Actual Book Time: 20:28
GPS Track: Garmin Adventure