July 14, 2018: North & South Twin (23 and 24 of 48)

Whoa, we’re halfway there… (you’re welcome for the earworm).

Saturday morning, Kim, Miss Tory and I enjoyed spectacular views (NOT) on the Twins. Driving north on I-93 through Franconia Notch, Cannon and the summits of the Franconia Ridge were all in the clouds. I was hoping it would be different a little further northeast, but the same cloudy summits greeted us there.

Though water levels weren’t high, we still followed the bypass trail along the eastern side of Haystack Brook to skip the first two crossings. The third crossing, considered the easiest of the three, still required careful consideration for rock hopping (and I used my trekking poles) since the current was strong and some areas were knee to thigh deep.

The lower half or so of the North Twin trail is quite pleasant. Some rocks and roots, but also lots of soft footing and even some sandy spots near the river. The “steep and eroded” section described in the guidebook is no joke, either (but still very doable). It’s a glorious feeling when you’re done with that steep climb and a brief bit of rock scrambling and reach the smooth, even ridgeline. On the way up, there were some spots where we could see through a gap in the trees to the summits behind us, which were still in the clouds. However, we could still see the lower slopes from about halfway up.

When you reach the end of the North Twin trail at its junction with the North Twin Spur, be sure to take the “outlook” trail to the right to cross over the true summit. It’s a short bit of trail with a tiny summit cairn approximately halfway to the outlook. It’s also easy to tell when you’ve hit the high point, since you’re going up a little incline and then suddenly you’re descending slightly. I’m sure the outlook is beautiful, but all we could see was fog.

We paused here for sandwiches and a short break, then continued on the North Twin Spur to South Twin. As expected, we had to descend a bit, then ascend. This part of the hike was much easier than the steep section up to North Twin. There were just a couple of ledgy spots that required some butt-scooting to descend.

At the summit of South Twin, we were greeted by (surprise!) a blanket of fog. We couldn’t see a thing. I had a little fun waving in the direction of Owl’s Head, where my friend Josh was hiking. (He said he was waving back. I’ll just have to trust him on that.)

Miss Tory was a real trooper on this hike. I think it may have been her longest one so far, or at least her longest one this summer. At about mile 10 she needed a bit of a break after tiring herself out digging in some sand near the river. Or she may have just wanted to lie down in the cool sand! We let her rest a little, then Kim carried her for a bit until she got her second wind and was ready to continue on her own four paws (her paws were fine and she was well hydrated).

We encountered far more hikers on the return trip than we did on the hike up. We also had to contend with some weather forecast mishaps. Supposedly the rain was going to hold off until about 2:00 PM, but as we all know you need to be prepared for anything in the White Mountains. We were feeling occasional spritzes by about 9:00 AM, but not enough to call it even a drizzle. At the summit of South Twin it was downright misty due to the fog and the wind. (And it was cold! Didn’t need a down puffy, but I did need to put on my light fleece jacket.) We thought we had escaped the rain until it started coming down in a heavy drizzle about a mile from the end of our hike. We made pretty good time after that since we were on a flatter section of trail as we hurried through the raindrops.

Since we had no views, I may end up hiking up to South Twin again after finishing all 48, but from the other side. (I’m now up to 3 summits I want to rehike later due to lack of views.)

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July 9, 2018: West Rattlesnake Mountain

Hard to believe I’ve lived in NH a little over nine years and hadn’t hiked West Rattlesnake until now. It’s one of those peaks the locals avoid during peak tourist hiking hours. My closest friends of 40 years were visiting for a week and we were staying at the Inn on Golden Pond in Holderness, so it was the perfect time for a weekday just-after-sunrise hike up West Rattlesnake with my bestie, Mela.

Even though I knew where the trailhead was, I missed the parking lot because I couldn’t see the sign in the pre-dawn darkness. Once I turned the car around, I had no trouble finding the entrance to the parking lot from the other direction. (Usually the cars lined up along the road are a dead giveaway, but we were the only car in the lot when we arrived, joined shortly after by two out-of-state hikers as I was putting on my boots.)

The trail is extremely well maintained, and while there are some rocks and roots there are also a lot of cushiony dirt-and-pinecone footbeds. There was even one section of trail where there appeared to be some ongoing maintenance, with two gravel piles sorted on opposite sides of the trail (one for gravel larger than 1.5″ and the other for gravel smaller than 1.5″). Downhill from the piles the gravel lined the sides of the trail, I’m guessing to help prevent erosion and aid in drainage.

We arrived at the ledges just off the summit pretty quickly, took in the view over Squam Lake, and hiked a short way on the ridge trail until it seemed like we passed the high point. Then we returned to the ledges for a break, some water and a snack, and photos before heading back down to the car to return to the inn for breakfast. We also crossed paths with a guy who was out trail running while we were at the ledges. We didn’t see him on the way down, so he may have been running the ridge.

This is definitely a mountain I’ll return to again, but always at a less crowded time. This would be a lovely snowshoe hike in the winter, too.

June 23, 2018: Mts. Willey, Field, and Tom (20-22 of 48)

Lucy, Cat, and Devon all had plans today, so today I hiked with Kim and her pooch, Miss Tory, since they’re working on their 4000-footers as well. I had planned to hike Willey, Field, and Tom today as a south-to-north traverse, and it just happened that Kim and Tory had not hiked them yet either.

We met up at the AMC Highland Center on Route 302 in Crawford Notch, and left my Jeep there while we headed four miles down the road to Ripley Falls in Kim’s car. We drove out to the end of the short road, turned around in the small parking area, which was very nearly full, and parked along the wide shoulder.

We exited at the back of the parking lot, crossed over the railroad tracks, and started our way up the Ethan Pond trail, which soon branched off to the right where the trail to the falls continued straight ahead.

Following this, we had a short, slightly steep section to climb. Then the hike became easier with moderate elevation gain for about the next mile until we reached the junction with the Willey Range rail. Here, the Ethan Pond trail branched off to the left, and we continued ahead on the Willey Range trail which quickly became steep and strenuous. About one-third of the way between the start of the Willey Range trail and the summit of Mt. Willey, we encountered a series of ten ladders (stairs, actually), one right after the other. Kim and I both commented that everyone seems to make a big deal about the ladders, like they’re difficult. In reality, they’re just an incredible sight to see (imagine how hard it was to build those things way up on the mountain?!) but they’re the easiest part of the entire ascent. (People with a significant fear of heights will likely disagree with me on that. I have a fear of heights in certain situations, but this wasn’t one of them.)

After conquering the ladders, make sure you turn around and check out the incredible view peeking through the trees! We had more steep climbing with a few basic rock scrambles to tackle between the ladders and the summit. Just before the summit, there’s a short trail on the right to an overlook, which we checked out before continuing to the summit. Somewhere along the way, it began drizzling a little bit, but it stopped as suddenly as it started.

When we suddenly reached another viewpoint on the left and began descending, I realized we had somehow missed the summit cairn, so we turned around. There it was, about 3 feet tall and impossible to miss along the side of the trail. Yet somehow, on our first approach from the other direction, we both missed it. I think it was partially blocked by a tree from that angle.

We began our descent into the col between Willey and our next summit, Mt. Field. The climb up to Mt. Field had some steep sections, but not nearly as steep as the climb to Mt. Willey. It took us just over an hour to cover the 1.4 miles between the two summits.

After a short lunch break on Mt. Field, we began our journey to the third summit of the day, Mt. Tom, as the breeze occasionally picked up and drizzly rain continued fall for brief periods. When we reached the northern end of the Willey Range trail, we turned right and followed the A-Z trail for a short distance to the Mt. Tom spur trail.

A little over a half-mile later, we reached the Mt. Tom summit, which is a blowdown area that used to be much more open but is now beginning to fill in with scrubby fir trees. There’s still a bit of a view over the low treetops. After a quick snack and a few photos on the breezy summit, we began our descent back down to the A-Z trail, turning left to head down to the Avalon trail and the Highland Center when we reached the junction.

The initial descent on the A-Z trail was a little steep, but once we reached the Avalon trail junction the grade eased a bit and we had a pleasant but sometimes rocky hike with a couple of beautiful, easy crossings over Crawford Brook.

The Avalon trail dumped us out across the tracks from the Crawford Depot train station (we could hear a train as we neared the bottom of the trail). We crossed the tracks and followed the meandering gravel path through lupine fields back to my Jeep in the parking lot at the Highland Center, then returned in my car to the Ripley Falls lot to drop off Kim and Tory at Kim’s car.

And it appeared we finished up just in time. Within about 20 minutes after dropping off Kim and Tory and starting my drive home, it began raining – pouring, actually.

June 10, 2018: Osceola (18/48) and East Osceola (19/48)

Today was my first hike of a 4000-footer (two!) in 2018. I chose the scenic Mt. Osceola and the scenic-but-no-views East Osceola. This was also the first time since last August that Lucy, Devon, Cat and I all hiked together.

We arrived at the Mt. Osceola trailhead on Tripoli Road around 6:00 AM (Cat and I a little earlier, Lucy and Devon a little later due to, um, “traffic and a moose” which was only partially true… ha!) and started our hike about 6:20. There were just a few cars in the parking lot when we arrived (some may have been hikers who had been camping out from the day before).

There was just a short bit of easy at the beginning of the trail, then the rocks and elevation gain began. Not super-duper steep up to Osceola, though. There are some angled slabs to deal with, but there are also some nice breaks here and there with fairly level, mostly dirt trail. We arrived at the summit of Osceola in a little over 2 hours – not too shabby. When we arrived, the summit was occupied only by one woman and her golden retriever, Sweeney, who began their descent after Sweeney had a chance to greet us and get a little extra attention from Devon.

After a bunch of summit photos and a lunch break (yes, even though it was only 8:30 AM we were eating lunch – we had all been awake for at least 4.5 hours or more at this point), Devon and Lucy headed back to the parking lot since Devon had to go to work in the afternoon, and Cat and I continued on to the summit of East Osceola, one mile away. We went down, down, down, including the steep rock scramble known as the Chimney (Cat went down the chimney, I went down the bypass trail to the left). The bypass trail is supposedly easier to descend than the chimney, but I really don’t think it’s easier, just different. It is perhaps easier to go down facing forward than the chimney – I suspect it’s better to descend the chimney by climbing down it like a ladder.

The chimney seemed to be halfway or maybe a little more than halfway to East Osceola. We quickly began ascending again, and reached the wooded summit of East Osceola at about 9:45 AM, a little less than an hour after we left the summit of Osceola. Cat and I took a few photos at the summit cairn, including a photo of someone’s lost reading glasses, which we placed on top of the cairn so they wouldn’t get crushed.

The return trip back to Osceola took a little longer – I suspect there’s more elevation gain in that direction, plus going up the chimney took us a little longer since I went up first so Cat could document the feat in photos before ascending herself.

There were several more people and dogs at the Osceola summit when we returned, but it wasn’t crowded. On our descent back to the parking lot, we passed lots and lots more people (and more dogs) on their way up. We were a bit dismayed, though not surprised, to see a handful of people who seemed to be carrying no supplies (no packs, no water bottles, etc.), some of them hiking with dogs.

Descending the trail seemed so much longer than ascending, for some reason. But we made good time and arrived back at the parking lot just before 1:00 PM, coming in at about 25 minutes less than my estimated hike time of 7 hours (including breaks).

Since it was a cooler day with a good breeze, bugs weren’t an issue. We did encounter some black flies in the last 45 minutes of our hike, but I only got one bite. Weather was gorgeous throughout the hike – blue skies, and relatively dry trails except for some typically wet drainage areas

June 1, 2018: Poking around Franconia Notch

Before I get into the story of today’s hiking and walking, I have been out there doing stuff since my last post! I just never got around to posting about it. I snowshoed and hiked a few times in February and March. And near the end of April I began occasionally hiking (short, like 2 miles) or kayaking a couple miles before work – since I now work from home. I’ve also been walking and walk/running in the morning before work on most days.

Today I had the day off, and since the rain and thunderstorms weren’t supposed to start until afternoon (I’m writing this at 3:30 and it still hasn’t started raining), I decided to spend some time in my happy place, Franconia Notch. (Well, Crawford Notch is a happy place too… but it takes longer to get there.)

I don’t hike 4000-footers solo, so I opted for an easy, low-elevation hike with views: the Bald Mountain/Artists Bluff loop. It’s a 1.5 mile hike that’s relatively easy, except maybe for the scrambly bit just below the Bald Mountain summit.

I arrived at the small roadside hiker parking lot along route 18, just outside the entrance to the parking lot for Cannon Mountain’s Peabody Slopes, at about 6:00 a.m., and was the only car there. I crossed the parking lot to the trailhead and began the steady climb up. There are some rocky parts, and the trail seems to be pretty well maintained, with natural rock steps and granite slab steps in some steep sections.

Just below the summit of Bald Mountain, I reached what I thought was the rock scramble described in AMC’s White Mountain Guide, but that was just a little rocky spot. When I got to the real scramble, I first tried the right side, then switched to the left side, then decided the right side was better after all. I ended up wandering around the summit for a bit because I misread the trail description – I was looking for the Artists Bluff trail above the scramble, when it was way down below the scramble at the clear-as-day sign I saw earlier. Descending from the summit, I also discovered there was a much easier bypass around the scramble.

Returning to the trail junction, I was entertained by a fight between a blue jay and a red squirrel as I delayered, then made my way along the wooded trail over to Artists Bluff. The little spur trail to the bluff ends quite dramatically with a huge boulder as you emerge from the woods.

Even though the summit of Cannon Mountain and Franconia Ridge were in the clouds, the lower elevations of both Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff offered beautiful views of the notch from below the cloud cover.

The somewhat steep descent from Artists Bluff was made easier thanks to more rock steps and strategically placed granite slabs. About halfway between the bluff and the western end of the loop trail is the junction that leads to the eastern trailhead. This junction is very close to route 18, but I recommend taking the Loop Trail on the right that leads back to the Bald Mountain trail and the western trailhead. As I approached the western end of the Loop Trail, I heard some crows squawking loudly, plus another bird I couldn’t identify by sound. Well, I found out pretty quickly that it was a ruffed grouse, as it flapped frantically in the woods a short distance off trail when I got too close and scared it!

Since I still had plenty of time, and didn’t want to spend two hours round-trip driving for an hour and a half of hiking, I stopped at the Old Man Historic Site just one exit further south on I-93 on my way home. I intended to hike the Pemi Trail down to the Basin and back. I understand this to be a lower-elevation trail that runs parallel to I-93 and passes by Profile Lake and Lafayette Place Campground before reaching the Basin at the southern end of Franconia Notch State Park. The trail begins at a set of granite steps by the Old Man Historic Site visitor center. Unfortunately, I only got as far as the northern end of Profile Lake before deciding to turn around. The trail is narrow and the vegetation is encroaching on the trail – and some of that vegetation is poison ivy. Plus I had to climb over a sizable blowdown blocking the trail. Instead of continuing on (though I did climb over the blowdown – twice), I returned to my car and drove further down the highway to the Basin.

The Basin is my favorite spot in the notch that’s not a mountain. Mainly for the scenery, but standing next to the Basin or any fast-flowing spot along the river is an incredibly cool spot on a hot day (about 15 to 20 degrees cooler than elsewhere along the trail). A lot of others love to visit the Basin, too, as evidenced by the crowds in summer tourist season. However, on a Friday at the beginning of June around 8:30 AM, crowds are not an issue. Other than two FNSP workers on clean-up duty, I only saw one person, a hiker entering the trail as I was returning to the parking lot.

February 4, 2018: Lockes Hill

I wanted to get out for a hike this morning, but needed to keep it short so I could be home by noon (for Kitten Bowl, of course). I checked the weather forecast, which showed only rain starting in the afternoon. So, I was a little surprised when I arrived at the trailhead parking lot and noticed snow flurries beginning to fall (just barely – so light that I half wondered if I was imagining it).

I put on my spikes and my pack, set the app on my phone, and headed up the Lakeview trail on the northern side. I reached the Glade pretty quickly. It was still just barely flurrying, but looking out over Lake Winnipesaukee it appeared there was also a bit of snow falling to the north. I couldn’t even see Red Hill or the Ossipee range on the other side! Heck, I could barely see past the nearest islands.

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View to the north over Lake Winnipesaukee from the Glade. Can’t even see the mountains on the other side!

After a few quick photos and a text to Lucy, I continued on to the summit (and continued texting with Lucy before going back on airplane mode to try to save my battery).

A couple weeks ago when Lucy and I hiked up Lockes Hill, we noticed an old Jeep road on the opposite side of the summit that appeared to head down the western side. So upon reaching the summit, I began heading down that trail to see where it went. There had clearly been someone on this trail earlier, but not today. There were old footprints mostly filled in with snow, plus some dog tracks. And tons of squirrel tracks as well.

After only about a tenth of a mile, the trail took a hard turn to the left and there were snowmobile trail signs — “dead end, keep out” and “trail closed”. I ventured just several yards further, then turned around and took what looked like another trail branching off at the dead end sign. This trail quickly narrowed and became more of a herd path heading back toward the summit, emerging from the woods on the northern side just below the summit clearing. I turned around and returned to the summit via the old Jeep road (or snowmobile trail, whatever it was) rather than climbing up the snowy northern slope.

I hiked past the airport beacon atop the summit, and headed back down to the parking lot via the Quarry trail, which meanders down the south side of the summit and loops eastward back to the parking lot.

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Heading down the Quarry trail in light snow flurries (not that you can see them at all in the photo).

Shortly after beginning my descent, the barely visible snow flurries morphed into a snow shower. I continued quickly down the trail, half-jogging at times to make a quick descent, since the snow and my leaky thermos were beginning to soak the outside of my fleece jacket.

By the time I returned to the parking lot, the snow showers had become a bit of a snow squall. I saw nobody else on the trail today, and there were no other cars in the parking lot. Then, just as I was driving out, someone else drove in.

January 28, 2018: Klem-Mack Loop

After a last-minute change of plans on Saturday, I ended up doing a Sunday afternoon hike out to Round Pond and over the Klem-Mack Loop with Kim and her sweet doggie, Miss Tory.

We started from the Wood Road trailhead, parking along Bickford Road since the right-of-way to the trailhead parking area is not maintained in winter. After a month or more of deep freeze, the temps in the 40s were a welcome change of pace. What little snow remained on the trails (up to six inches in some spots) was of the mushy mashed-potato variety. We frequently encountered spots that were completely bare, as well as thick layers of ice in some areas.

We headed out to Round Pond first. As we neared the pond, I noticed something that looked like dirt – almost like graphite powder – in some puddles on top of icy spots. Looking a little closer, I realized they were moving – they were snow fleas! Not actually fleas, and in fact, they’re beneficial little bugs. After reaching the pond, we took a left onto the Klem trail. On our way up to Klem, we came across a couple of small blowdowns that had fallen across the trail. We carefully moved them off to the sides, and cleared away several branches littering the path.

Continuing past the summit of Mt. Klem, we headed over to Mt. Mack, then completed the loop, returning to Round Pond and retracing our steps back to Wood Road.

Other than two people and two dogs on the Round Pond trail, we didn’t see any other hikers today – possibly because we didn’t start until noon.