Jacqueline, Christine, Jimmy, and I headed north for our annual post-Christmas hike. The weather was quite good for this one. We decided on Mount Willard because we had heard good things about the view at the top. The trail had been well traveled, so we wore spikes the whole way.
Thursday, December 27, 2018
Sunday, December 23, 2018
Jimmy, Christine and I headed north at 5:30 from Londonderry on Sunday. Being close to the holidays, we didn’t want to be away all day. We met Steve at the AMC Highland center and made our way to the trailhead. It was really cold and windy gearing up, but quickly warmed up as we started climbing and got into the trees. Snow was very packed on the monorail, so no need for snowshoes (We all carried them just in case).
We made great time to the tree-line reaching the summit approach in around 2 hours. We saw a pretty heavily geared up guy coming back down and told us “it gets pretty arctic quick up there”. We decided to gear up at that point for the very short exposed section. He was not wrong. It was windy and very cold above the trees. The summit actually has some tree shelter so we hung out there and got some great pics toward Washington and the other Presidentials.
We got lucky, clouds had been blowing over us all morning and we were pretty fogged in right before we reached the summit. It cleared just in time.
We made it down in 3:30 (RT), and grabbed a big lunch at Moat Mountain before heading home. My second time up Pierce, and first time since January 2012.
Saturday, December 8, 2018
Note: this is not going to be a particularly interesting entry because 1) I’ve done this one before and 2) I mostly want to make gear notes to myself for future climbs in similar weather.
I had to be back in the Boston area for a holiday party in the evening so this one had to be quick. I hit the road around 5:45 to make the Lafayette trailhead ~8am.
There was already a lot of snow down, so I geared up and opted for snow shoes to start. The trail was completely covered, but pretty packed down. Spikes would have been fine too. It was a good excuse to use the raised heel on the MSR snow shoes. Temperature was 7 degrees in the parking lot. Layers were: standard socks, winter boots, long underwear, hiking pants, shell pants (no snow pants), base layer shirt, fleece, down vest, shell jacket (unzipped), glove liners and ski gloves. For water I had 2 Nalgenes wrapped in wool socks and a large Gatorade.
Made good time up to the tree line. For future planning, I should’ve ditched a layer down low and layered up more when I was getting into the wind. I switched to spikes just before making the Greenleaf Hut (closed for winter) where the trail breaks above the trees for the rest of the way.
Because of the wind, drifting, and frozen sections, there effectively wasn’t a trail to the top. I followed some old footprints but they would occasionally dead end in deeper snow. It was a mixed bag. Some sections were hard ice such that I was glad I had the Hillsounds on. Others deeper sections would’ve been better in snowshoes. I added neck warmer, goggles, hood, and zipped up everything.
My feet were very cold and toes numb approaching the summit. The last few hundred yards were quite windy and bitter cold. I spent a grand total of 5 seconds at the top and made my way down to get out of the wind. I couldn’t get any summit pictures as my phone would’ve died instantly. I don’t totally understand why, but my feet actually got much warmer on the way down. My hands were cold at times; my gloves definitely have some weak spots.
Made it down in a little over 5 hours (about 30 mins ahead of book). Stopped at Woodstock Inn for a big bowl of chili and made it back in plenty of time for the holiday party.
I saw a couple dudes with skis heading up from the hut. I think that could’ve been a blast for a short ride. It was wide open, no rocks or cliffs, not too steep. Obviously a lot of work to get the skis up there. Changing into ski boots at the top also would have been horrendous.
Saturday, October 20, 2018
So this was a long one. Alarm went off at 4:10AM in Norwood which was early enough to get me to the Appalachia trailhead by 7:30. I met Steve there to drop one car and we continued to Caps Ridge trailhead to start the hike at 8:00. The plan was a traverse of the Northern Presidential range starting at Caps ridge, ascending the Caps Ridge trail to Jefferson, and then following the AT to Adams and Madison. We’d then descend via Watson’s Path/Valley Way to Appalachia to pick up the second car. The weather was iffy, and we had read in the book that with fronts approaching, the worst weather would likely by in Edmand’s Col (which acts as a wind tunnel). We figured we’d grab the Jefferson summit and see how things were progressing.
Caps Ridge trail climbs above the treeline quickly. I saw somewhere that it’s the highest trailhead in NH (ignoring Mt Washington auto road trails). It was cool, breezy, and very foggy. Views were non-existent as we climbed up the caps ridge trail toward Jefferson. Nearing the summit of Jefferson, the trail had a thin layer of snow and ice, but was still passable without spikes. The wind had built and was now enough to push us around a little bit. There was also occasional sleet/hail mixed in with the cold fog. We sheltered behind a rock and got the map out to game plan. We were both still leaning toward following the plan, but agreed to check-in at the top.
The summit was pretty unpleasant. Visibility was maybe 20-30 feet and the wind was uncomfortably strong. Had to stay low to preserve balance. We debated the decision for a minute or two, but both decided it was not safe to continue on the exposed ridge toward Edmands Col (where the weather might get worse). We already could barely see from cairn to cairn and if it got any worse, we wouldn’t have been able to. We started back down.
A few hundred feet below the summit, the wind softened considerably and the visibility improved. We decided not to fully abandon our plan, and headed for a trail called “the cornice” which parallels the AT about 800 feet below the ridge. The trail is relatively flat in terms of elevation gain, but it is also hardly a trail at all. It’s just a series of markers in a massive boulder field with patches of snow and ice. Traversing the 1.1 miles of the Cornice was incredibly slow going. It added a substantial amount of time to our already long day.
As we approached the intersection with the Randolph path, the weather began to clear. Sun burned the fog away everywhere (except the summits of Jefferson and Washington), and the wind continued to decrease. When we got back to the ridge, the weather was great and we were making good time again.
The summit approach to Adams was a little dicey due to all of the rime, but not enough to justify spikes. We didn’t stay long on Adams, but the view was incredible.
We descended the north side of Adams toward Madison Springs hut and stopped there to eat some food and consider the rest of the plan. We decided that if we kept a good pace, we could get up to Madison, and make it back down by around 6PM (sunset at 6:15). Madison was pleasantly easy to ascend, and from the top we could see the whole path down to the valley floor toward Route 2 and the Appalachia trailhead in the distance.
My general shoddy trail math is that I can make ~3 miles per hour on flats and moderate downhills, 2mph on moderate uphills. And 3mph on flats. This looked like a moderate downhill, so we were assuming close to 2mph.
This fails to account for the fact that most of my hiking experience remains on established trails below the treeline with only small sections of exposed climbing on summit approaches. My shoddy trail math was very off, and it took us nearly 2 hours to descend the first 1.5 miles. We were going to be hiking in the dark for a long time.
We were prepared for this unfortunate eventuality, but I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed this part. It was a long and uncomfortable day even by my standards and tolerance for long uncomfortable days. The first 8 hours of hiking were unbelievable. I could’ve done without the last 3:15.
We hit the trailhead around 7:15 PM. From there we grabbed a cabin at Crawford Notch campground and headed to Moat Mountain (Barbeque and Brewery). I checked my Garmin smartwatch data on the way over which told me that I needed to consume 3,500 calories before midnight to stay “on track” for the day. I did my best to accomplish that goal at Moat.
Despite the tough finish, I would definitely do this again. I would avoid the Cornice if weather allowed and stick to the ridge (no regrets on the decision this time), and I would consider taking Airline and accepting some back-tracking as opposed to Watson’s Path.
Monday, May 28, 2018
I had been in Chamonix for a few days, and my Airbnb had a great little deck that overlooked Mont Blanc. On the near side of the mountain there was a massive glacier (pictures from a distance never do it justice, but it was impressive to see)
It was frustrating. Everything was closed. First the parking lot (I found a spot on the side of the road), then the trail (I translated the sign as best I could to understand that I could go partially up, but not all the way due to snow), I ducked the rope and went for it.
There's a mountain hut near the glacier and yet another chained off area with a sign I could kind-of read indicating that I shouldn't go further. There were people working on the hut and I managed to talk my way past them and get permission to go a little further.
I only had to climb up a few hundred yards past the hut before I got a great view of the glacier. It was impressive and surprisingly loud. It was pushing 70 degrees out, so the snow melt had created a river underneath the glacier. It was a pretty relaxing place to lie down for a while.
I took a grass road past some rural homes on the way down with some unreal views looking back toward Le Brevent.
Sunday, May 27, 2018
I had kicked around a number of different ideas including some traditional summer routes on the subpeaks of Mount Blanc. One of them required taking a cable car to the trailhead. At the base, I spoke some broken French to a guide to assess the feasibility of my plan. This wasn't working, so I showed her on the map. In very clear English she said "forget about it" and then did a pretty clear hand gesture indicating avalanches. I went to a mountain climbing guide HQ to propose some other routes and they confirmed this problem.
As a result, I ended up heading to the opposite side of the valley toward the summit of Le Brevent. The top section was also closed for "unstable trail conditions", but I could get up to a subpeak called Planpraz. The trail was beautiful and started on some winding footpaths in the valley before climbing up a mix of glades ski trails, access paths, and some switchbacks up steeper ski trails.
At the summit there was a little cafe (mostly accessed via cable car) serving coffee, sandwiches and beer. Great contrast to white mountain hiking.
Saturday, February 3, 2018
This was my second trip up Wildcat D (both times hiking up and skiing down). The temperature on my car thermostat read -9 shortly before starting. As a result, my phone didn't make it out of my pocket often for pictures.
There was no visible parking/trailhead in the snow for the Wildcat Ridge Trail, so we parked at Pinkham Notch and geared up there before heading to the Lost Pond trail for 0.9 miles before linking up with the Wildcat Ridge Trail.
The trail was packed and frozen, but it was clear that no one had been on it for a few days. We did not use snowshoes, and never felt like we needed them. Microspikes the whole way up. The Wildcat Ridge Trail to the Wildcat D summit is only 2.2 miles long, but carries 3,500 feet of elevation gain. As a result, it is quite steep. Most of the pitches could be handled with careful walking. There were probably 4-5 which involved a little more creativity using trees for hand holds or "anchoring" in with trekking poles.
Full crampons and an ice axe would have made it easier, but I'd say it was passable with spikes and a little bit of caution this time. I could see it freezing in such a way that would really make crampons and ice axes essential.
We made it to the top in a little over 3 hours which felt pretty slow. Part of the slow pace was a result of staring at pitches and figuring out the best way up. Transitioning from hiking boots to ski boots was terrible. Boots were frozen and rigid. It took the better part of half an hour to change gear. The ski ride down was a total of about 5 minutes down the polecat trail.
Casualties: Steve's helmet blew off the mountain while we were putting our boots on.
Saturday, January 27, 2018
For a little background on this one, this mountain has become my nemesis. I’ve been within a mile and a few hundred vertical feet of the summit twice and had to turn around. The first time was back in 2011 when I was first returning to hiking after back surgery. I got to the Liberty summit on a cold and windy November afternoon. In my less-than-ideal physical condition, I determined that I probably wasn’t capable of getting myself out of trouble if I got lost or injured, so I bailed. The second time was during a heavy snow storm with my brother. We snowshoed exhaustingly to Liberty. The ridge-line trail was very difficult to follow and the snow was very deep. We bailed. That one was an easy decision.
This time was going to be different. I decided to abandon the traditional route via Liberty, because this was going to be another solo winter climb and I didn’t want to deal with the exposed ridge-line again. Turning around for a third time on that ridge would’ve been hard to do. This time I approached from the Lincoln Woods side, which starts as a gradual climb from the Pemi wilderness and only gets steep for the top 1/3rd.
I got an on-time start a few minutes before 9 AM. Since I was solo, and its winter, I carried a full pack including a sleeping bag, and a Jetboil stove (for melting snow for water if needed). The trail was very hard-packed so I started with spikes, but carried my snowshoes on my back as well. My pack was much heavier than would be desired for the planned 11.2 mile climb, but at least I was prepared.
With the hard-packed trail conditions I was able to make great time, I was chugging down miles and awaiting my left turn from the Lincoln Woods trail onto the Osseo trail. Overlooking the Pemigewasset river to my left, I began thinking that the bridge to cross it and get me over to Osseo was going to have to be quite substantial. The water was running really high and the river is already wide at that section. I stopped to check my map and realized my error. There was no bridge. I fucked up. I’ve been in this section of the mountains several times before, and each time, it hadn’t mattered whether I headed out on the East or West sides of the river. The two trails junction a few more miles in, so it was a non-factor for previous hikes. It was a factor for this one. The fact that I had started out so fast only made things worse and took me further away from the starting point.
I checked the clock and saw I had been going for about 35 minutes and had already covered nearly 2 miles. I bushwhacked down to the river to see if there were any safe places to rock-hop across to the west side. There weren’t, so I began backtracking all the way to the trailhead. By the time I got back to the starting point, I’d already burned 3.5 to 4 miles worth of energy/water, wasted over an hour of daylight, and had the starts to a pretty fierce blister. Not how I wanted to begin the day.
Redoing the math, if I hit the “book time” targets, I’d still be done by a few minutes after 5:00. It’d be dark, but the last several miles were relatively flat and I had a headlamp. It’d be fine. So I started back up again, on the west side of the Pemi this time. The trail starts out nice and open and then briefly dives into a pine forest for some fun switchbacks. It opens up again for a few miles leading up to a series of ladders about 75% of the way up. The ladders cover a series of very steep pitches near the ridge-line, and with the decent amount of snow already down, they were completely covered in hard pack snow to the point that you wouldn’t even know they were there unless you were looking for them. As a result, this section was a very slow and careful climb. The footing is still decent because it wasn’t frozen solid. If it really freezes, I’m not sure this section would be safely passable without an ice axe and crampons.
After the ladders its a few more steeper pitches before it flattens out on a ridge for several hundred yards leading to the final steeper ascent to the summit. Up to this point, I really felt like I was dragging ass. I had hoped to make the summit in under 3 hours, and I had barely made it to the ladders in that time frame (adjusting for my late starting time, I’d actually been hiking for over 4 hours). I was stopping to rest on my poles every hundred feet or so. I didn’t mind finishing in the dark, but I definitely needed to be done the steep parts by then. I later decided it was the extra pack weight slowing me down.
Near the summit, before the final climb, there’s a trail junction with flume slide. I grabbed some extra clothes and Spot GPS tracker and ditched my pack there so I could do the last bit super light. It felt great. The summit was beautiful and worth the wait. I had made it in about 3.5 hours which put me loosely on track for book time (surprising, because again, I felt SO slow uphill).
There were a couple other hikers I had been trading places with on the way up. One of them seemed pretty sluggish near the top and was taking a lot of breaks (no judgment, it was a bitch). While I was on the summit enjoying the view, I saw that they had looked at the final climb (only a hundred yards away) and turned around to head back down. I know not everyone is bagging peaks, but I can’t fathom getting that close only to turn back. I hope everything was alright.
The couple minutes of wind-chill on the summit were enough to drain my phone battery from 65% to 0%. It was only a bummer because I’d been listening to and really enjoying Outside Magazine podcasts on the way up. It also took out my only camera for the way down.
I made it down in barely 2 hours beating the book time by well over an hour (ignoring my ~4 mile detour). Despite the frustration it was still a really good hike. I’d like to come back to Flume (perhaps via flume slide) in the summer time.
Five to go.