Wednesday, June 15, 2016

White Mountains Direttissima Attempt - An Unsupported Thru-Hike of the 48 4,000-Footers of the White Mountains

June 2016
Dan, Alton, & Cole (aka SuperPup)

Tomorrow, June 16, 2016, Alton, Cole (K9), & I (Dan) begin an attempt to hike a “direttissima” of the 48 4,000-Footers of the White Mountains. It is our goal to traverse each of the 48 4,000-footers in one continuous and unsupported hike, and by using the most direct route as possible. This means that we will not retrace one step or re-hike one spur trail as we traverse each and every summit on our way to, we hope, completing a direttissima of the White Mountains.

The word or idea “direttissima” comes from its use as an Italian climbing term in the 1930s and 1940s. Definitions across the board state that, generally, it means “most direct route to a mountain top”, or “the shortest link”, or “most direct route”. There have been previous thru-hikes and other unrecorded attempts revolving around the idea of a “direttissima” or “thru-hike” of the White Mountains. Based on my due diligence in understanding the prior attempts, the previous six known thru-hikes of the White Mountain 4,000-footers generally tagged the summits using the typical trails and spur trails (aka "out-and-backs"), and/or with the benefit of leaving backpacks/supplies behind for short portions of trails, spur trails, in particular. If one retraces a spur path or section of trail, then the route might not be considered the “most direct route”. If one has to retrace their path to get to the next section, than it is likely not the shorter or shortest route. Such a hike may be a continuous hike from start to finish, but wouldn't be a continuous, direct path or route. If one relieves themselves of their supplies along a route that is not the most direct, then a question could still be asked as to what truly is an unsupported Direttissima of the 48 4,000-footers of the White Mountains?

During our attempt, we will use trails, roads, and bushwhacks with all our own foot power. We will not use any spur trail more than once, which will require either an off-trail approach or off-trail descent from some of the peaks (namely Owls Head, Galehead, Hale, Zealand, West Bond, Bond, North Hancock, Passaconaway, Tom, Isolation). The ultimate goal is to take a route that does not retrace any part of our path and to potentially blaze a shortest route of all prior attempts. Our secondary goal is to pursue the fastest known time of any unsupported thru-hike of the 48 4,000-footers (8 days, 8 hours or less). By shooting high with our goals, we give ourselves a chance to still accomplish this inspirational feat, at the end of it all, in a number of potentially different ways. Any use of huts (except water), services (stores), or gifts, could deem this hike self-supported, as opposed to unsupported. We may use available open shelters or tent sites, but not enclosed huts with doors for sleeping. We will carry all of our gear and food for every step of the way (since we can't go back), and dispose of everything properly, practice LNT, and follow all WMNF rules for camping.

We respect, admire, and share the same passion and inspiration as those who’ve previously accomplished a thru-hike of the 4,000-footers. Such a hike is in inspiration to anyone. Each before us has done it in their own way, direction, or with their own twist, and we are simply doing the same, with a desire to push our physical ability to beyond its limits, while hiking across our favorite and beloved mountains. Below, is a brief synopsis of the known completions and attempts of a White Mountain thru-hike. Below it, is a brief note on what makes the prior attempts different compared to our goal.

Previous White Mountain Thru-Hike Accomplishments & Attempts

1969 - Reverend Henry Folsom, 19 days
In the summer of 1970, the Reverend Henry Folsom, of Old Saybrook, Connecticut worked out the shortest continuous route of walking trails and roads to climb all the peaks - “direttissima” --in the most direct manner. In 19 (non-continuous) days and 244.5 miles, he bagged them all starting with Cabot and ending on Moosilauke. His tale is told in the December 1971 issue of Appalachia.
-Steve Smith & Mike Dickerman

*Folsom drove home at the end of each day or section to sleep in his own bed and drove to the next trail head the next morning.
*Folsom’s set his "direttissima" guidelines as using only established trails and roads available to cars, and using the motorized vehicle as part of the route.

2007 - Mats Roing, 10 days 12 hours and 7 minutes
In 2007, the feat was reprised by hiker Mats Roing, who climbed all 48 peaks in one continuous, unsupported backpacking trip, starting with Mt. Moosilauke, and ending with Mt. Cabot. For his own twist, Roing dropped down for 10 push-ups on each peak
-Steve Smith & Mike Dickerman

Journal as it happened on VFTT

* Roing dropped his pack for a number of summits and used out-and-backs and spur trails.

2009 - Mats Roing & MEB, (Attempt) in reverse.
44 of 48, called off the attempt at Lafayette Campground, 4 shy of finishing

“We're carrying everything from the start and the only thing we'll refill is water. MEB's pack weighed in at 50.4 lbs last night (with 3 liters of water). Mine was 51.0 lbs but I still have 15 lbs of stuff to add (including water). The food is the bulk of it. We are using a Black Diamond Lighthouse tent without the vestibule. No tent stakes to save weight. Have solar charger for the Iphone so the GPS tracker will work....knock on wood.” - Mats Roing

* Roing dropped his pack on occasion and used out-and-back and spur trails.

2012 - Ryan & Kristina Welts (Attempt)
3 of 48

2014 - Taylor Radigan, approx. 14 days
*Route details were not available online, although it is presumed that only trails were used and was completed in the style of a White Mountain Challenge.

2014 - Arlette Laan, 11 days 19 hours

Arlette’s Blog & Personal Account -

*Laan dropped her pack on occasion and used out-and-backs and spur trails

2015 - Ariel & Anna Feindel, 8 days, 8 hours, 37 minutes, fastest time
On September 16, 2015, Ariel and Anna Feindel of Portsmouth, completed a 4000-Footer Direttissima (an unsupported, continuous backpacking hike of the 48 peaks) in, to the best of our knowledge, a record time of 8 days, 8 hours and 37 minutes. They started up north on Mt. Cabot and ended on Mt. Moosilauke, averaging nearly 30 miles per day on their 240-mile trek.
-Steve Smith & Mike Dickerman

*The Feindel’s used out-and-backs and spur trails

Other Information & Discussion Regarding the idea of a “Direttissima”

A Views from the Top discussion on trying to decipher and discuss the “shortest route” and the term “Direttissima”.

A thread in Views from the Top discussing “direttissima”.

Philip Werner’s (Section well thought-out ponderings of a White Mountain Direttissima or White Mountain Challenge

A general comment from Tim Seaver about blazing a direttissima route, explains our approach best.

“I am sure a very interesting route could be constructed using only bushwhacks which would be shorter mileage-wise, but what I am really after is the most efficient way to tie all 48 peaks together (using primarily the established trails) without an undue amount of thrashing.”

White Mountains Direttissima Itinerary

Start: June 16, 2016
Target End Date: June 24, 2016
Estimated Distance: 230-250 miles
Estimated Elevation Gain: 80,000 ft +/-
Estimated Elevation Loss: 80,000 ft +/-

A very rough and approximate daily peak itinerary is below:

Day 1
Moosilauke, Kinsmans, Cannon

Day 2
Flume, Liberty, Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, Owls Head, Galehead

Day 3
S. Twin, N. Twin, Hale, Zealand, West Bond, Bond, Bondcliff, N. Hancock, S. Hancock

Day 4
East Osceola, Osceola, Tecumseh, N. Tripyramid, S. Tripyramid, Whiteface, Passaconaway

Day 5
Carrigain, Willey, Field, Tom, Jackson, Pierce, Eisenhower, Monroe, Washington

Day 6
Isolation, Wildcat D, Wildcat A, Carter Dome, South Carter, Middle Carter, Moriah

Day 7
Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Waumbek, Cabot

General Astronomical Outlook for Mid-June

Sunrise:  5:00 AM
Sunset:    8:30 PM
Twilights: 20-30 minutes before and after sunrise/sunset (4:40am / 9:00pm)
Day Length: 15 Hours 20 Minutes
Moonrise: In the evenings, one hour later each day. 8:30 pm on the Full Moon
June Full Moon: Monday, June 20th, 7:04 AM; Full Strawberry Moon
Summer Solstice: Monday, June 20, 6:34 PM

Estimated Route Details & Camping Options

Complete Pack List

Complete Food List

As always, we tremendously appreciate the support, and encouragement of all our friends and family in our crazy endeavors, and we hope that you will support us in this exciting attempt to complete, perhaps, the first “true” direttissima of the 48 4,000-Footers of the White Mountains. We look forward to seeing many of you out on the trails next week! Remember, we will be on a precise plan and focused on our goal. Someone please bring us some good champagne and some ice cold beer to the Unknown Pond Trail head next week! Welcome Summer! Cheers to all of you!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Kinsmans & Cannon - 06/09/16

This was a fun Thursday evening hike with Alton & Nate. The weather was looking much better a few days prior, but it takes a little more than what was there for us to alter plans.  It was strange for June with gusty winds and temperatures in the 40s at Lonesome Lake Trail head (Lafayette Place).  We packed for a chilly, potentially wet, but fast hike of Kinsmans and the Cannon. We elected to ascend the Fishin' Jimmy and hit the Kinsmans first. 
The gradual ascent on Lonesome Lake Trail 
Jogging by Lonesome Lake
We did some quick climbing up the wet rocks on the Fishin' Jimmy. We reached the summit to no views.  Moving on quickly towards South Kinsman, we encountered a patch of ice pellets. They almost looked liked broken ice cubes. Cole seemed happy to see them and stick nearby.  We took the opportunity for a quick stop and photo to enjoy the freak ice in June.  It made us talk about how we've been encountering ice for the last 7-8 months in a row now, including a winter with a storied abundance of icy trails. 
Fishin' Jimmy Trail 
No views today from North Kinsman 
Enjoying a nice break with the ice
 As we reached the summit, we saw a potential view starting to clear. As we got our phones out to capture it, it went away. We decided to wait 20 seconds to see if would come before we'd shoot back into the trees. Within time, but for only another few seconds, we had this view below from South Kinsman. On the way back, we had a few more little view opportunities before it was going to get dark. On a hike like this, when the view opens, its kind of cool to take it in if its there. This happened a couple of times, and during those times we'd grab a snack or change a layer.
South Kinsman
View from Kinsman Ridge Trail
Hiking north on Kinsman Ridge Trail
Cannon from the Cannonballs 
This loop is one my favorite late afternoon or night hikes.  I like it as a fast and physical hike...5,000 ft of gain over 11 miles.  We had fun slipping into the puddles on the trail, sliding off bog bridges, and trying to beat daylight to the summit of Cannon. We kept on going, and climbed up the steep backside of Cannon.  It was incredible to see the boulder that recently wiped out many trees next to and across the trail.  It was amazing to see such a tremendous force and reality of nature. We reached the summit of Cannon in 4hrs 25 min, which is fast. It felt like it'd been a while since I did a short fast hike, so this one was fun, and I felt good.
Nearing the Rim Trail on Cannon 
Nate and I braving the wind on the Cannon Summit deck
Kinsmans - 13th Round
Cannon - 14th Round

Trail Conditions:
It was extremely windy at the trail head with temperatures in the mid to upper 40s. The trail was wet from start to finish. Slippery bog bridges all along the way, and muddy puddles up on the ridge. Going up Lonesome and Fishin' Jimmy included wet, slippery rocks and flowing water, and Kinsman Ridge Trail had wet, slippery rocks and mud puddles. Only a few spills during this fun and fast hike.

Hike Stats
Trails: Lonesome Lake Trail, Fishin' Jimmy Trail, Kinsman Ridge Trail, Hi-Cannon Trail
Distance: 10.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,036 ft.
Actual Book Time: 5:18

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Captain - 06/03/2016

For three years, I've long desired to reach the Captain. The Captain is a remote, trail-less mountain peak on a ridge between the Hancocks and Mt. Carrigain on the edge of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.  The Captain is visible from only a limited number of vantage points, so to see this peak up close and personal is a special reward for a bit of difficult bushwhacking.
Sawyer Pond Trail at the end of Sawyer River Road 
Entering a LZ 
North Fork Trail Emergency Landing Zone

Quickly after passing the footbridge for the Sawyer Pond Trail, we took a right onto the North Fork Logging Road.  Toward the end of the logging road, we came to the North Fork Road Landing Zone. We determined this must be an emergency landing zone for a Heli evacuation. We gathered that this particular location likely serves the snowmobile trails in the area. It was a beautiful open meadow.  I figured, at least for myself at least, that this location is worth being aware of.  After that, the trail closed in to a very faint herd path, a natural skin exfoliater, which continues fairly straightly.

Eventually we arrived to a pre-existing campsite, with a really nice view of the Captain, still very much in the distance.  This was pretty much the spot where we were going to camp for the night, based on our research. I've been reading about the approaches to this peak for the last few years, along with the Google Earth images and contour lines. We set up our camp and left the bulk of our gear behind.  It was about an hour here, and then we continued forward around 12:30pm with lighter loads.

Following the bootleg path beyond our spot, we soon came upon another fire ring and camp location. This particular one we read about in another online report.  While it was closer to the Captain, it was not as tent friendly, but had a very nice rock chair.  Shortly after the camp spot, we are led to the base of the slide that is seen on the Google Earth Image below. We made our way up the loose slide.  From the slide, the view out of the valley was obstructed by the enclosing slopes, and an impressive view of the Captain was blocked by a large tree, but it was amazing, and we continued up until we reached a wall. This was when the real fun began, this is where it becomes significantly more challenging.

Looking left to the Captain from the slide

Bill ascends the slide, with the steep slope of Hancocks in the background
Here, we are forced into the trees, where we need to cross and ascend a steep contour
The going got pretty tough quickly. We had to keep our bearing toward the ridge between Captain and Carrigain so to come out in the col. This meant traveling left to right, while shading uphill on a very steep slope.  Shortly after the slide, we came to a gorge-like riverbed in the steep slope. We had no choice but to descend until we could cross it without too much risk. After a minute of hiking down, we found a ledge that we could finally throwing down our packs, and hanging on to trees with our arms to lower ourselves.
Bill about to send his pack down
Once we got down from the literal cliff (seen in the right of the picture below), we started up the gorge to gain what we just lost.  A few short minutes later, we were near the top, and shading left (north) again towards the ridge.
Deep gorge to the right of the Captain
Heading up through blowdowns
After what was the most difficult part of this bushwhack, we finally made it to flat area in the col between Captain and Carrigain. It does not get any easier here, however, as there was really no defined path. We noticed a few "herd" paths in the tall grass, but it clearly resembled animal tracks, and we passed through a couple of quick but thick spots as we neared the final steep part of the Captain ridge. There is not a whole lot of give on this part of the ascent. Going left (closer to the ledges) was obviously steeper with ledge and much more dangerous, and more to the right (Carrigain Pond side) seemed pretty darn thick. We headed straight toward the highest point, and eventually we saw a magical summit canister atop a tree in the middle of this craziness.
Nearing the summit of the Captain
The canister as we reached it. Just amazing to reach this thing in the middle of nowhere
We enjoyed about 15 minutes or so at the summit. The mosquitoes and midges were just ferocious, so while we did our summit stuff, it was a battle. We were really happy at making it here. We've talked about this hike for so long. I really enjoyed seeing the list of well known White Mountain hikers who have visited before, even going back into the 90s. Out of the whole world, not many have been here.  I fulfilled my long dream of drinking Captain atop the Captain! There was even an eye patch to pose with.  This summit, despite the lack of view, was a beautiful reward, one that was much different than anything I've done in a while. It was needed. I still have many amazing things to see and do in the White Mountains.
On the summit of the Captain!!! 
Bill does a pretty decent Captain Morgan pose 
Aye, Captain! 
Bill and I have done a few extremely tough bushwhacks in the White Mountains
We left the summit, and our plan was to follow the same route back for the most part. At the summit there was absolutely no noticeable path. Other than a few spots with a noticeable trample, there is no path once up on the mountain. We were pretty good on our way out, except facing a couple of tough obstacles.  One of those was a steep drop with a tree to hang onto and lower ourselves down steep step. The slight change in our path, however, allowed us a rare view from practically a 10 foot ledge step on the edge of the Captain. Gripping my phone very precisely, I took a photo and then a self-shot so that I would remember what it took to get that view of the valley. :)
Leaving the Captain summit through a tangled and mangled pine forest  
Living on the edge, you might say....
A view from the steep slopes on the front of the Captain
It had been a beautiful and very warm Saturday. We made remarkable time on our descent. As we approached the large gorge again, we picked up some easier terrain just before it, and avoided it. Although it is still steep, its much easier to move down.  We even missed the slide too, and ended up back to the bootleg path below it.  It was actually a very pleasant evening below, one of the easiest and most relaxed nights in the White Mountains. My brother and I enjoyed a couple beers while we looked back on another tough hike and great memory in the White Mountains.
Evening twilight campfire beneath the Captain

A very challenging bushwhack.
My 2nd overnight in 2016. Before recently, my last "planned" overnight was March 9, 2014.
Bill's first hike since my grid finish last November.

Trail Conditions:
The conditions were mostly dry. (There is no trail) The ground was a little damp on the way in, making our boots wet. It was warm, very buggy, and mostly sunny.

Hike Stats
Trails: None; bushwhack
Distance: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,170 ft.
Actual Book Time: 23:00 (overnight) The hike to the Captain and then down to our camp was 6:40.
Photo Album Link

**Before heading out to the Captain, be sure to read up on it, do research, have a plan, and be absolutely prepared for a night or two, and for possibility of injury due to the steepness and thickness of the vegetation. We have been reading about this trip for 3 years before finally doing it.