Franconia Ridge to Garfield Ridge to N. Twin

Stud and I park at the North Twin trailhead and get swooped up by Notch Taxi who arrives early and is super nice and drops us in Franconia Notch at the Whitehouse Trailhead where we walk north to pick up the Appalachian Trail.  Its 11am and our packs are loaded with everything we need (and more) for a potential 3 night/3.5 day trip in the Pemigewasset Wilderness.  We start our ascent up the Liberty Spring Trail gaining 2,000 feet of elevation in 2 miles until we reach the Liberty Spring Tentsite approximately 2 hours later.

We are relieved to get into this campsite early because there are just a few backcountry campsites that sit along the high peaks of Pemigewasset Wilderness where friendly AMC (Appalachian Mount Club) caretakers collect a small fee in exchange for a tent platform, a bear box to store food overnight, a composting outhouse, daily weather reports, and there is usually a water source to filter from.  On sunny summer weekends these campsites fill right up and caretakers will fit upwards of 40-60 hikers into these sites. This is impressive considering that these campsites sit on a very steep mountain side pitches and there are only like 5-8 tent platforms at each campsite.  These caretakers will find a spot for everyone and no hiker is ever turned away and even at capacity they don’t feel crowded.  Some of these sites are directly on the AT (Appalachian Trail) so many thru hikers rely on them because there are very limited stealth campsites spots in the alpine zones of the White Mountains.  Given the rugged terrain of these ridge lines, these campsites can be a fun place to connect with thru-hikers, weekend warriors, school groups and whoever else saw those same sweeping views and managed those same hard rock scrambles and long exposed ridge lines.  Many hikers who come thru these sites, whether it be to camp or just refill water, will arrive weary and worn down by the terrain and in need of a witness.  We witness each other, some more humbly than others.

The caretaker is this smiley tough woman and Stud and I connect with her immediately. She sets us up in what she calls “the penthouse” which is a tent platform high up and further off the trail and kind of hidden.  We set up our tents next to each other filling the small platform and later we are joined by 2 young French-speaking young women who squeeze their tent onto a tiny flat spot next to the platform.  We ask about eachothers days and Stud and I throw some water and snacks into a smaller day pack and head off to ascend Mt Liberty and Mt Flume.  Its late afternoon and it feels great to hike without our big packs.  The views are sweeping and the summits are rocky with many cliffs and many sunbathers.  We relax on top and I pull out my new tiny binoculars that I acquired last week on a job helping someone purge their apartment.  We admire the dozen or so mountains around us that we have summited over the last few years and study many dozen more that we have yet to attempt before returning back to camp and make dinner and then study our maps before crawling into our tents.We wake up early and are packed up and hiking north on Franconia Ridge in the cool morning processing about queer life, pronouns, gender, music, future goals, politics, the various organizations we associate with and all the things we like to process about in between eating candy and trail food.  We pass many hikers.  We stop to chat with some and not with others.  Some of the bro-dudes mistake us for other bro-dudes and so we just kinda grunt back to them in our lowest voice and move along.  But we welcome more conversation from the hikers who recognize us as the late-30 year old women that we are.  One of these hikers says to us “Thank Goddess for this wonderful day!” and we fall in love with her and talk about her for the rest of the trip.  We share this enthusiasm of being on such a beautiful ridge line and mostly avoid conversations about what lies ahead and whether its “good” or “bad”.  People tell us what to expect and how much water to carry even though we don’t ask for this kind of advice.  I don’t bother to mention that I’ve actually hiked this ridge before and I just respond to the various unsolicited advice with “cools thanks” and try to gracefully disengage.  I’ve hiked enough to know how much water I need but the bro-dude-splanations still get to me and I fight hard not to internalize any assumptions other hikers may make about me and I notice that I care less and less with every year older I get.  I decide I love being 39 years young.

 

Its a long gorgeous climb over Little Haystack, Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette.  Its a mix of rock scrambles, long steep pitches, and short stretches of nice footpaths.  Once we are up above 5,000 feet the wind picks up and I can no longer wear my hat and sunglasses for fear that they will blow right off me.  The sun is bright and the wind is almost knocking us over.  It is so intense so we don’t linger long on any of the summits.  We take advantage of any wind breaks along the short slightly sheltered spots where we hunker down to drink water and eat snacks and relieve ourselves.  Weary, we are eventually make our way up and over Lafayette and turning northeast along the Garfield Ridge.  My eyes water and I blow record breaking 10 foot snot shots behind me into the wind.

As soon as we get back down below tree line we lay down on the trail on this boulder cliff and eat and drink and rest.  Its not a good spot for a break but we have been pushing hard and have to stop.  We push down the relentless descent and after hours and thousands of feet of elevation gain and loss we are back down in the pine forest.  We find a perfect spot for an afternoon siesta.  We take off our socks and shoes lie on a bed of soft pine needles elevating our feet of a log while eating salty crunchy things and bathing in the mountain breeze laughing about how tired we are.  We see some hikers pass by who we camped with last night who we have been leap frogging with all day.  Its a young woman and her father and they are thru-hiking the NH section of the AT and I am inspired.

 

 

Rested and restored we start our final ascent of the day up Mt Garfield which takes everything we have and when we get to the top we have the summit all to ourselves.  We take our time up there soaking in the views of the long jagged ridge line we had just hiked.  I look at Lafayette thru my binocs and see dozens of tiny silhouetted people up there.  I could even see the Long Trail’s Camel’s Hump and Mount Mansfield.  I think I could also make out Whiteface and Madonna Peak if I was correct.  But Camel’s Hump is so distinctive and it was connecting to wave to some of my old mountain friends from over here.  Its fun to know the mountains and name them off and see them from various sides.Next stop, Garfield Ridge Campsite.  It feels late but we still get into camp early enough to get another awesome tent platform spot.  This site also has a large lean-to and it fills up with AT thru-hikers.  Our neighbors are the daughter/father hikers and we chat with them about their hike and its really fun to talk to them about the trail.  We eat and crawl into our tents and sleep better then the night before.In the morning we are packed up and back on the trail by 6:45.  We make our way down the almost comically steep cliff stretch of Garfield Ridge where I imagine the look on thru-hikers’ faces when they get to this spot…like how it this even a trail?  Welcome to the White Mountains.  We reach the intersection of Franconia Brooke Trail and make a decision about our next move.  We had been strongly considering hiking down into the Valley and setting up camp at 13 Falls and then attempting to summit Owl’s Head via the northern Lincoln Brook Trail the following day.  This is a remote stretch of trail that few people travel on and everything we’ve read about it says the trail is hard to follow and its easy to get lost.  There are lots of water crossings and its a big day.  While we have been enticed by it and read a lot about it, in the end we decided to stay on the ridge.  After all the elevation gain and loss that we’d already done, adding more felt exhausting and we were losing confidence about that northern stretch and our (lack of) compass reading skills so we listened to our intuition and decided to stay up top and head towards the Galehead Hut for a big late breakfast break and take advantage the huts views, shady benched front porch, running water and bathrooms.  After some coffee and oatmeal we stashed our packs inside the hut and took a spur trail out and back to the summit of Galehead Mountain.  Back at the hut we each chugged a liter of water and sat with an older AT thru-hiker while she ate every leftover the hut croo offered her.  One the hut croo cooks brought out a big leftover pot of soup with some bowls and we watched this hiker down like 5 bowls of soup and we felt genuinely relieved and happy for her.  Hiker hunger is impressive and kind of fascinating.  I was tempted by the soup but decided to leave it for the thru-hikers since our new plan would have us hiking out that afternoon which meant we’d get to eat whatever we wanted later.

 

We filled our waters and started up South Twin which is basically straight up and gains 1,200 feet of elevation in .8 of a mile.  Its like a rock staircase and eventually we popped out on top and the wind wasn’t too strong and we were able to really enjoy this summit.  I felt a little shaky and dug into my food bag no longer conserving for that extra day.  We had been on this summit 2 years ago but it was so windy that we basically half jogged right over it on our way to the Twinway towards Guyot.  But today, the day was young and we would be hiking out from here so we sat for a while and I pulled out the binoculars and we took in the 360° views all around.

We branched off the AT  following the North Twinway Spur over to North Twin Mountain.  This 1.3 ridge was simply a beautiful stretch of trail that went in and out of the trees passing thru fern fields and bright moss covered boulders and the blue sky and distant mountains were visible thru the scraggly mountain pines cooling us off with that mountain breeze coming in from all directions.We popped out on North Twin, our final summit of this trip, and went to a lookout to eat and drink.  It was hot.  The clouds started to gather and within minutes we watched the puffy benign poofs thicken into growing thunderheads.  It was amazing how fast it formed.  We couldn’t have been more grateful to be heading down and off the exposed ridges.  We descended down the North Twin Trail down a steep gravelly slidy rocky path careful to not lose our footing.  Our legs were tired and we slid down many big boulders on our butts until finally the trail mellowed out and we could actually hike and not just brace ourselves the entire way.  We were maybe 2 miles from the car when we started hearing thunder like I’ve never heard before.  It echoed down the mountains and we could feel it in the ground vibrating through us.  As the sky darkened over various peaks and the thunder grew louder and stronger, we thought about the hikers we met and hoped that everyone would be safe.  Then we had these huge river crossings.  The water wasn’t very high and we could totally rock hop across it but it was a long stretch of many rocks to hop with some big hops over rushing water and between the grumbling thunder and some distant flashing in my peripheral vision it took so much focus and concentration to stay balanced on these rocks and not freeze up half way across or fall in!  Finally we were done crossing the “Little River” for the last time and we cruised along very moderate (almost flat) stretch of trail until we reached the car.

We kicked off our shoes and just as we drove down Haystack road back to route 3, the skies opened and the rain started to fall.  What timing.  Things seemed to clear up as we rounded the bend into Franconia Notch so we jumped into Echo Lake at the base of Cannon and before changing into some dry cotton clothes we had stashed in the car.  We discussed our lingering Owls Head Plan B which would be driving down to the Lincoln Woods, camping nearby, and then hiking Owl’s Head as a day hike the next day.  From the Lincoln Woods, its an 18 mile round trip hike which is a LOT for us but the trail is easier to follow from that direction and its mostly flat until the final ascent and we wouldn’t be carrying full packs.  But 18 miles is a LONG day for us.  There is also a significant water crossing that can be sketchy especially with anymore rain coming overnight.  SO we decided to post-pone Owl’s Head for another time and drove home stopping for some real food on the way.  Owl’s Head, perhaps we’ll see in September.

 

Mount Washington Mountain Magic 

5e and I shuffle past the sightseers at the Mount Washington Cog Railway Base Station. We fumble with our packs and trekking poles and make our way towards the Jewell Trail.  First we have to cross the cog rail tracks and it was confusing because there were trains moving up and down the mountain so I asked a conductor nearby if if was okay to cross and he waved us on.  Our first few steps onto the trail felt like being shot out of a cannon. Immediately after crossing the tracks  we climb down a very steep ladder-like-staircase into a swollen creek teetering on some tiny stepping stones while the cog is blowing its horn. It was totally overwhelming.  Within minutes we find ourselves at another fast flowing brook with a small log appearing to be the only way across. I was ready to turn back and hike something else.  It was 9am and I really was not sure I could get across this water crossing.  When I first stepped onto the small log my legs were shaking and my heart was racing and I had to step back off and like breathe and try to center myself before trying again.  15 minutes later we both made it across and with our adrenaline pumping we cruised up the trail humbled and reminded who’s boss when climbing the biggest mountain in the the northeast.  We found our rhythm and before we knew it we were popping out of the trees and climbing along an exposed ridge towards the presidential range. 

That tiny building in the middle is the Cog Base Station where we started our hike.img_2369The views could not be clearer and there was barely a breeze up top.  We scrambled our way up the lichen covered alpine rocks carefully studying the cairns trying to stay on the trail as we made our way higher into the alpine zone. From this side of Mount Washington there is a loop that leaves from the Cog Base Station and goes up and around the Ammonoosuc Ravine. Typically hikers ascend on the Ammonoosuc Trail which is made up of long steep rock slabs that weave up various waterfalls and then descend on the Jewell Trail which is more gradual.  We decided to switch it up so that we could leave open the possibility of bagging nearby Mount Monroe, also on the NH48 list which 5e is also working on.  Mount Monroe is just .3  of a mile from the Lakes Of The Clouds Hut which sits perched along the ridge at the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the Ammonoosuc Trail about 1.5 miles down from the summit of Washington.  We figured we would summit Washington and then hike down to the hut and see what time it was and how we felt and then decide about Mount Monroe.As we climbed towards the actual summit of Mount Washignton we discovered a long line of maybe 15-20 mostly cog and auto road enthusiasts waiting for summit pics.  We had just hiked up thousands of feet for 4 hours and were not prepared to wait in line for our hard earned summit pic.  We were shaky and cooling down so went inside the observation deck and ate our lunch, used the bathroom, refilled water and rested for a bit.  It was a complete circus all over the summit given the amazing weather and clear skies.  It was both entertaining and exhausting up there and we weren’t interested in lingering too long.We headed to the summit sign line and once we got our pic, we wasted no time getting back on the trail, heading south towards Lakes of the Clouds Hut.  It was maybe 2PM so we dropped our packs and practically ran up Mount Monroe and back.  We returned to the hut and took another short break before heading down.  It was so beautiful and perfect on the ridge that I did not want to ever head down.

But we were doing this as a day hike which meant we had another 3 hr drive once we got back down to the base so even though there was plenty of light at 3pm, we quickly started our descent down the very steep Ammonoosuc Trail.  We were well aware of its steepness because a couple of hikers that we had brief conversations with along the way had asked about our route and when we said we were descending the Ammonoosuc Trail we got some of that classic unsolicited and nonconsensual warnings about it.

This happened to Bear Bait and I a LOT on the Long Trail.  We were Soouthbounders (Sobo).  Northbound (Nobo) hikers were constantly “warning” us about upcoming scary ladders and hard scrambles.  It totally stressed us out and then our experience was often really different than what other hikers would tell us it would be..mainly because we were hiking up things that they had hiked down and vice versa.  We learned not to listen to this unsolicited advice. When NoBo hikers offered us a plate of fear we just looked at eachother as if to say “don’t even listen to this”  We named this phenomenon a “Nobo-A-No-No”  We learned to shake it off.  But still it would be there in the back of my mind and the night before we had to climb up the chin of Mount Mansfield, neither of us slept a wink due to the many scary stories shared with us by NoBo hikers the previous day.  It ended up being fine.   It was descending the forehead that had us trembling and no NoBo mentioned that!

While the Ammonoosuc Trail was steep, it was fine.  It was great actually and I’d descend it again.  Sure we had to go slow and there was some butt sliding and swearing and squeaky knees but that is all just part of the fun of hiking as far as I am concerned.

We were back down at the cog base station by 7 pm and we were stoked.  Perfect day.

Mount Zealand

  • Elevation: 4,260 Feet
  • Location: Whitefield, NH
  • Dates Hiked: July 2017
  • Companions: Stud
  • Trails: Zealand Trail to Twinway

Summer in the Whites has arrived.  I finally broke in a fresh new pair of sneakers that I had stashed away.  They are the same sneaks that I hiked the Long Trail in after finding them on a clearance rack of a cheap department store.  I loved them so much and they were so cheap that I ended up buying 2 more pairs online.  I was really waiting for summer to kick in before breaking in this last pair.

Stud and I decided to hike Zealand as we are chippin away at the Pemigewasset Wilderness section of the NH48 ever since our heavenly backpacking trip over the bonds a couple summers ago.  Zealand Road, the road to the trailhead, is a long dirt road that is closed in Winter.  Zealand Hut stays open all year round and outdoor winter enthusiasts will ski and snowshoe up the 3 mile road all the way to the trail head.  The trail itself is super gradual and mellow.  Once at the hut we refilled water and ate some snacks and I left a big fun encouraging note in the trail registry for Little Bear Stumbles who is currently thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and making her way thru the White Mountains right now!

I met Little Bear last summer on the Long Trail.  She started north from Harpers Ferry in April and I’ve been following her blog and enthusiastically waving my internet pom poms as she makes her way north.  I figured once she got into the White Mountains I might run into her on one of my hikes. The White Mountains have a reputation among the Appalachian Trail.  They are hard, they are beautiful, and have some long stretches of relentlessly rugged exposed alpine ridges that can be super dangerous in bad weather. These same ridges offer some of the most spectacular views and fun scrambly hikes in good weather.

I reached out to Little Bear as she got closer to the Whites offering support if she wanted any.  We talked in the phone once she crossed the border into New Hampshire and she told me her plans for hiking thru the Whites and asked some questions about it.  I gave her lots of encouragement while cautioning against traversing the Presidential Range in any chance of lightening.  We reminisced about the Long Trail and I reminded her how rugged that northern section was and that the whites would be similar…just more exposed.

I knew there was a chance that Stud and I might see her on our hike because we would be hiking south on the Appalachian Trail/Twinway Trail towards the summit of Zealand and Little Bear would be in this area hiking north.  But I honestly didn’t expect to see her given the heavy rains, thunderstorms and tornado warnings from the day before so I figure there was no way she would have gone over the Franconia Ridge in that.  But she did!  And made it across just in time getting into shelter before the weather kicked up.

Once Stud and I left the hut there were a couple water crossings that made me think our hike was over.  With all the rain from the last few days the Zealand Falls were running high and I honestly didn’t think we could get across.  We hiked up and down the bank looking for a better spot and there just wasn’t one so we went back to where the trail crosses and debated what to do while the white water rushed by in front of us.  Finally Stud figured out a good way over and I followed her with my adrenaline pumping wide eyed and wide awake.  Neither of us slept the night before but after a couple of these water crossings we were wide awake.  Water crossings scare me so much.  I don’t mind getting wet.  I just tremble when I feel the pull of that current.

As Stud and I climbed up the rocky trail I see Little Bear Stumbles coming down the trail and I holler out “WHATS UP LITTLE BEAR STUMBLES!!!”  She was like “NO WAY!!!”  She recognized Stud from my blog and we chatted.  She told us of her wild adventures thru the Pemigewasset Wilderness.  I was shocked that she was this far along given the weather and I was so happy to see her and regretted not having like a backpack full of oranges and like ice cream sandwiches to offer her.  I had texted her to ask if I could bring her any special requests in the chance that I ran into her up there she just said to bring sunshine and fortunately that worked out!  Stud and I brought loads of sunshine and it was a beautiful hike.  

We parted ways with Little Bear who still had many miles to her next campsite.  We hooted and hollered as we hiked on and popped out on Zealand Cliff which was just stunning with views for miles.  Then we followed the ridge to the  summit of Zealand which was not particularly mind blowing but the ridge was one of the most fun hikes I’ve had in a while mostly in the trees but with views thru them the whole time and occasionally popping out on some rock ledges.

There were lots of hikers out given the good weather and the holiday weekend but the trail did not feel like a hiker highway or anything.  We hardly leapfrogged with anyone and the trail was unusually not super challenging so we didn’t take many breaks.  Once back at the car we drove down the road a little ways to a spot along the Zealand River where we soaked our feet and tried to fully submerged but it was just way too cold.  We managed to sit in it for a few minutes but that was it.  We cleaned ourselves up and put on dry cotton and headed home stopping at the Red Arrow Diner for a fun dinner.

As I head off to work this morning I am thinking about Little Bear heading into Crawford Notch and gearing up for the Presidential Range!  Weather is lookin good Little Bear!!! You got this!

Mount Tom!Mount Field!Mount Willey!

Spring has sprung and the White Mountains are thawing out.  I picked Stud up at 5:30am on Saturday and we drove north thru Franconia Notch, up and around the Pemigewasset Wilderness, and then down into Crawford Notch.  We parked at the train depot, lathered ourselves in bug stuff and headed up the Avalon Trail. There were no bugs.  There was some mud and the babbling brooks were running high but we managed to keep our boots mostly dry on the ascent.  There were flowers, woodpeckers, bird song, and the pine scent was strong.

We reached the A-Z Trail and continued up to the ridge were we reach the intersection of the Willey Range Trail.  We took the spur trail up to Mount Tom and took a summit pic with the rock cairn and then took in the views of the fog. It was chilly up there so we headed back down to the intersection where we sat on a log and had a snack watching the very plump mountain jays encroach on us.  Couldn’t sit for too long so we continued along the ridge towards Mount Field where the sky started to open up giving us views.  We ate our lunch on top of Mount Field, took another summit pic with another rock cairn and continued on to Mount Willey.

We found whats left of the “monorail“.  Most of it was melted down and avoidable but there were still a few stretches of the snow packed balance beam.  We had our micro spikes in our bags but didn’t bother to put them on cuz it just wasn’t that much snow and it was mushy so our boots were able to get just enough traction.  There was definitely some slipping and sliding and we sorta skied off the sides of it a few times and some light falling but always laughing.  We referenced American Gladiators as we negotiated the monorail with oncoming hikers and I imagined dueling with my trekking poles.  But instead we took turns politely stepping off the monorail and attempting to yield accordingly.  Technically, the downhill hikers are suppose to yield to the uphill hikers but yielding on a ridgeline can get confusing when the trail goes up and down and then flattens out.  Add the monorail and its just laughable.  Most of the hikers we passed and leap frogged with were friendly and open hearted.  There were a few bro dudes out there as well who had more of a “get the fuck outta my way” kinda vibe.  Whatevs.  Stud and I like to stop and smell the pines.  

By the time we summited Mount Willey, the skies were clear.  To the East we looked out into Crawford Notch and across the range at the southern Presidentials with Webster Cliff with all its landslides..  To the West we admired South Twin and the massive peaks of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.  We ate some snacks and headed back taking the Avalon Trail side loop.

Lots of blowdowns but the trail was clear.

Lots of rocks!  Getting our trail legs going again!

8 hours later we were back at the car removing our wet and muddy boots and changing into fresh dry cotton.  Had a gorgeous road trip home.  Summer hiking season has officially begun!

Mount Waumbek

Mount Waumbek

  • Elevation: 4,006 Feet
  • Location: Lancaster, NH
  • Date Hiked: 3/12/2017
  • Companions: 5e & Brenda
  • Trails: Starr King Trail

Nothing like going up a four thousand footer on a 0º winters day with a -30º windchill.  No seriously…there is nothing like it and I mean this in the most neutral way possible.

As I obsessed over my layering system, waiting for 5e and Brenda to pick me up in Lincoln where I had been staying in a tiny cabin for the weekend,  I seriously questioned the decision-making spot on my frontal lobe.  5e had proposed this hike way back in January inspired by daylight savings.  I enthusiastically agreed to join her despite my lack of winter hiking experience and my snow-shoe resistance.  She brought her best pal Brenda who had never hiked a 4000 footer before (never mind in winter).  Fortunately we were all on the same page as far as not being overly attached to summiting and keeping the communication lines open in order to stay safe.

The hike was described as being one of the more moderate of the NH48 for winter hiking and thats why 5e picked it out.  The trail was a 7.2 miles round trip out and back with a steady grade and nothing too steep or exposed.  There was a smaller peak called Mount Starr King along the way followed by a mile of ridge but the ridge was in the trees so we were protected from the wind.  The trail was snow and ice covered and totally packed down so we were able to just wear micro spikes without needing snow shoes.

Twenty minutes into the hike and we were sweating bullets stopping to shed layers and trying to stay dry.  Our body temperatures dropped as we gained elevation.  We steadily climbed for hours and I became aware of the places where I was getting cold and I wondered if I would be okay, if we would be okay, if I would know if I wasn’t okay and where my edge was.   As we ascended,  we checked in a lot and helped each other with zippers and laces and buckles and clips.  Gloves and freezing temps make everything more challenging.  I take my gloves on and off dozens of times when exerting myself outside in winter.   My hands get sweaty and I don’t want my gloves to get too wet or I need to get into a zippered pocket and then unwrap a snack.  Then my hands are cold and I put my gloves back on and so on.  We checked each other out from time to time assessing each other’s okayness.  Now 5e and Brenda have been pals for 20 years and know each other pretty well.  But since they don’t know me nor do I know them as well, the gauge of “are you okay” was less precise and had a steeper learning curve but the trust was there.  The thing about hiking a 4000 footer with others is that it creates instant intimacy.   You go from, “hi my name is__” to detailed accounts of whats going on with your body as you burp and rip farts and help each other in and out of your clothes and boots.

The higher we got the more snow was on the trail and caked all over the trees. Any pain or discomfort or cold spots I had went to the back burner once we popped out onto the ridge.  The blue sky creeped through making way for a breathtaking wonderland up there.    Once on that first summit called Starr King we put on more clothes, ate some snacks and then quickly moved along.  Stopping for even two minutes was enough to start rapidly cooling down.  The ridge was gorgeous.  We were in the trees but there were some clearings with some intense views.  The first summit, Starr King actually had more views than Mount Waumbek.  We passed some remains from an old fire cabin…ironically all that was left was the fireplace and I wished it had a fire in it.

Before we knew it we had summitted Waumbek exactly 3.5 hours later.  We were elated.  5e made a snow angel, we snapped some pics, ate more snacks, and I discovered some ice chunks that had formed on my eye lashes that were just impressive!

We cruised down the mountain half trotting and I even butt slid a few of the steeper snowier sections saving my knees.  My feet started to throb once we got to a lower elevation I laid down on the trail and elevated my feet on a log reminding me of all those painful descents on the long trail last summer.  It was so beautiful looking up at the trees and the blue sky with the fast moving clouds and I tried to take in as much of it as I could.

Once back at the car we were stoked to have had a successful hike and it was a relief to take my boots off and change into dry cotton in the warm car.  It was a lovely drive home through Franconia Notch with Lafayette looming on the left and Cannon rising up on the right.  We texted and called our loved ones to let them know we were safe and off the mountain.  I got to know my new friends during the 3 hour drive home and we shared stories.  I was home in time for dinner and I was in bed by 8:30.

In conclusion, I’m still not sure how I feel about winter hiking.  I love the snow and I love the snow caked scraggly trees up there.  But zero degrees is kind of intense.  I’m hoping my next winter hike will be at least 20 degrees warmer.  I have yet to snowshoe up a mountain and to be perfectly honest, I am not that eager to.  I don’t mind the micro spikes…they feel like a super power.  I AM however VERY eager to hike up a mountain in sneakers and shorts and I can’t wait for that.  In the meantime I will continue to experiment with winter hiking.

Voluntary Hike Safe Card

I finally got myself a Hike Safe Card from New Hampshire Fish and Game.

For a measly $25, the money goes directly to NH Fish and Game who spend thousands of dollars and hours often risking lives in order to rescue hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who get into trouble out there on those rugged White Mountains and deep woods.

The card also keeps you from being liable for costs associated with a rescue mission.  For example, if you go out on an aggressive hike totally unprepared (like wearing jeans and carrying no food or water or map) and then something happens and you need a helicopter evacuation, than yes, you will get a bill for that and have to pay for your negligence.  You can still be held accountable even with the card (like the example I gave) but I think the idea of the card is more about that act of buying the card.  It shows that you are thinking ahead and making the extra effort to be prepared out there.  This is something I think about and talk about with my hiking companions when I go on a hike.  I consider how I might be evaluated if I were to be evacuated by a helicopter…like if NH Fish and Game looked in my backpack upon rescuing me and discovered that I only had 8/10 of the Ten Essentials, what would be the ruling if I forgot my whistle or compass?  Having the card simply helps me remember my whistle and compass.

I feel proud to carry one now…like I’ve made a commitment to hike more and be more safe and more prepared.  You might say I’m engaged with the White Mountains now.  Remind me to show you my shiny new laminated Hike Safe Card.

You can get your own Hike Safe Card here:
Hike Safe

The Haunted White Mountains

The White Mountains pull me towards them like a super magnet.  They stay with me. They are in me.  They intoxicate me.  Every time I drive into their various notches I feel uneasy.  Once I’m walking on their foothills I feel the relief set in.  My constant low level anxiety starts to dissipate.  I take in the vitality of the trees.  I think about the loggers from the 1800’s who lived on the trails and then left with the ancient trees.  I think about the many people who have died in and around and on top of these mountains.  I reminisce of my life before this one and wonder what my next lifetime will bring.  I hear music and voices and unexplainable sounds in these woods.  I don’t question it.  I just listen and take it in.

I took the “Cherub” (aka my partners daughter “A”) up to New Hampshire for some outdoor fun.  She is off from school for winter break after ace-ing her first semester.   Go A!  Stud lent us her xc skis and boots for A to use.  We headed north early on Thursday stopping at the infamous Red Arrow Diner in Manch-Vegas and then drove towards Lake Winnipesaukee to the Wolfeboro Cross Country Ski track.  We did a few loops and then headed to “Funspot”,  a massive trashy yet vintage arcade where we played all the race car games.  After cashing in our ski ball tickets for candy we drove up into Franconia Notch to these tiny cabins on the side of the road right on the Pemigewasset River. They got fireplaces and they were built in the 40s.  Family owned.  Super cute.  We made a fire and relaxed and watched some trashy tv and then retired in our prospective rooms where the rushing river lulled us to sleep.

Woke up to a light dusting on Friday and headed to the Lincoln Woods to ski on the East Branch Trail.  It was quiet and the sun ominously lit up parts of the surrounding snow capped beasts.  We crossed a few nice new foot bridges over various creeks.  The last time I was on the East Branch side on the Lincoln Woods was June of 2013 on a short backpacking trip.  My friends and I hiked into the Franconia Brook Tent Sight at dusk and then woke up and crossed the big river.  It had been a snowy winter and the water was raging.   The depths looked deceiving and half way across I found myself in thigh deep frigid pools between fast moving white water praying to stay upright and make it across with a dry pack.  We all made it across and sat on the other wide our legs red and stinging from the cold water and our adrenaline pumping.  There use to be a 180 foot suspension bridge connecting the East Side to the Wilderness Trail but it was dismantled in 2009 because of safety issues.  It was built in 1962 just two years before Wilderness Act of 1964.  It was not replaced because it is in a federally designated wilderness area.

We meandered home on the Daniel Webster Highway taking in the views of the mountains and the ramshackle cottages on the side of the road.  We stopped in a ski store and I asked to look at some “mens” cross country boots.  The sales clerk paused and with great concern, he explained the difference in sizing of men’s and women’s boots.  I asked again for the boots.  I asked for zero advice.  I just asked for the boots.  He began to ask irrelevant questions and went into great detail explaining the difference between men’s and women’s feet.  I started to glaze over.  I pushed back a bit explaining that not all women’s feet are narrow and given the limited selection of “women’s” boots and “women’s” styles I was not interested in women’s boots and I asked again if he could please just bring out some mens boots in my size.  He finally did but not without taking great offense at his decades of proffessional boot sales being questioned.  Where to begin…Why does clothing have to be so gendered…especially boots and hats and gloves.  Not all women are slight and want to wear magenta.  Not all men are tall and have big feet.  I have never worn women’s clothing because I don’t like the styles or the colors or the way things are often “fitted”.   I like deep pockets, darker colors and room.  I am more comfortable in “men’s” clothing and always have been.  I did not ask for advice about the boots.  I do not ask permission to wear my clothing of choice and I choose not to conform as a result of my preferences.  Its times like these that I would like to declare this Island of Misfits (as Seven has so eloquently named it) a wilderness area and remove all the bridges.  We’ll have to start a clothing line.

Carter Dome

  • Elevation: 4,832 Feet
  • Location: Coos County
  • Date Hiked: May 2016
  • Companions: Ayla
  • Trails: Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, AT
Carter Notch with Ayla

Last Saturday at 5:30am, Ayla and I drove up to the White Mountains under blue skies.  We drove into Pinkham notch admiring clear views of the summit of Mount Washington.  Its was a little after 9AM as we rounded the last bends of route 16 towards our trailhead of choice and I was nervous about the parking situation given it was a Saturday with perfect seeming weather -although this is the Whites and it can change on a dime but regardless, it was late morning for weekend hiking.  I was brainstorming alternative routes/other parking options when I noticed a hiker on the side of the road.  I asked Ayla if she was cool with me picking him up and she was so we pulled over.  When I saw him I just assumed that the parking area we were headed to was full and so he must have parked down the road at another lot and was headed toward the same trailhead as us but it turned out that he was finishing a loop he had started the day before and was simply hiking back to his car.  I asked him if he wanted a ride and he gratefully accepted and then just like magic, he was parked in the lot we hoped to park in which was indeed full and when we pulled in and he was able to give us his parking spot.  What a great start for us and I know he was happy to not have to hike along the highway for that last mile or two. We were also fortunate to be able to ask him for some first hand info about the trail conditions and the hut since he stayed there last night.  Given that it was still self-service season at the hut I wasn’t sure about water and he told us the water had just been turned back on and the composting toilets were free to use.  I also asked him about ice on the trail and if we still needed our micro spikes and he said there was some patches of ice and that he did use micro spikes.  Thank goddess for that tip from him.

We shuffled thru our packs before leaving the car making our last decisions about what to leave or take.  During self service season at the huts, one needs to bring a sleeping bag and their own food.  But even without a tent, sleeping pad, cookpot, stove, fuel, or water filter in my backpack, it felt surprisingly heavy given that it wasn’t even fully loaded.  I recently did a massive weigh-in of all my gear with Stud.  We weighed every little ity bity thing that we would most likely carry on the Long Trail in August and my base weight came out to 21.2lbs.  Base weight means everything before water, food and fuel which adds another 10-20 lbs depending on how many days worth of food I’m carrying.  Most likely my base weight will be less anyway cause I’ll be sharing a tent, cookpot, stove and fuel so I’ll only ever be carrying some of those items.  My pack felt heavy and I figured the extra weight must have been the micro spikes and the extra wintery layers I was carrying just in case it was still winter in the alpine zone.

The Nineteen Mile Brook Trail is a nice moderate well travelled path.  For the first couple miles it runs along a roaring brook.  I was in shorts and a T-shirt and felt warm enough to consider submerging myself in the cool brook but decided against it since I didn’t know what to expect at the higher elevations.  I read online from some trail reports that there was lots of ice but it didn’t seem like ice was going to happen and then just like that when we least expected it, we turned a corner and on the other side of a big boulder was a long shady stretch of trail socked in with deep thick solid ice with no slushy top layer that our boot tread could grab onto so we sat down and pulled on the micro spikes.  While we got ready for the ice, a hiker passed us who did not have spikes and he started tromping up the ice and then quickly slid backwards about fifteen feet before catching himself on a giant boulder before falling off a cliff.  Our hearts were pounding and I fast forwarded to the story where our hike was over and now we were part of a rescue mission but fortunately he was fine, just shaken, and was able to bushwhack thru the brush to find a way around the ice.

Micro spikes are amazing!  This was only my second time using them and its like magic being able to walk on ice and snow so easily with them.  We cruised up the stretch of thick ice and then turned the corner onto a sunny stretch and the ice was gone so we took our spikes off.  Then we did this dance of putting them on, taking them off, trying to hike on bare trail with them on and so on as the ice came and went.  We found the hut which was on a beautiful mountain lake surrounded by high peaks. We claimed our bunks, dropped our gear, filled our water bottles, ate some lunch and looked over the map deciding on an afternoon hike.  We ended up on a little section of the AT that brought us up to Carter Dome.  It was a 1.2 mile stretch with over a thousand feet of elevation gain and it was rugged!  It took us maybe two hours to get up to this infamous 4800 footer only to discover we were still in the trees.  Some hikers told us to follow the ridge another mile to Mt. Height for amazing 360° views.  So we did, but we were hesitant as it was almost 4PM and the sky was getting a little dark with rain-threatening clouds but we went on and it was so worth it.  Views galore and there stood Mount Washington clear of clouds.  We could see the snow chutes in Tuckermans Ravine and into Huntington Ravine as well as the auto road and the observation towers.  What a beast.  We shared the view with this group of hikers that we had been leap frogging with all day leading up to the summit.  They were going on over the ridge to camp so we said goodbye to our new friends and climbed back down to the hut taking our spikes on and off most of the way.

Back at the hut we cooked up our noodles and drank tea and admired our neighbor’s five course dinner complete with shrimp and vegetables and boxed wine.  And I thought my bag was heavy!

We crawled into our bunks and woke up to clear skies despite predictions of rain.  Had our oatmeal and coffee and made our decent down to the car enjoying a foot soak in the brook at the end.  Mission accomplished.  Now I really want to go back and do the Wildcat Ridge but not before the ice is gone.

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Going Up!

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Bridges

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Stairs

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lots of ice

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ice in shorts

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ice!

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Carter Notch Hut

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bunk

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Carter Ridgeline

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Mt Height

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Mt Washington!

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Loading up

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Morning Descent time

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Ayla on bridge

We drove into North Conway and ate lunch and then ran into the hiking group that we had been leap frogging with so we shared some stories before popping into International Mountain Sports (IME).  IME has a goldmine of a consignment shop in the basement and it is here that I purchased my first backpacking backpack in 2010 as well as almost all of my hiking layers for about $10 a layer.  I did find a Patagonia Nano Puff for $90.  I almost got it but decided to pass.  If it was $50 I would have snagged it.

This trip gave me a chance to try out my new backpacking backpack and I’ve concluded and confirmed that I just don’t love my new pack.  You see, I got my first pack at IME.  It was an Osprey Atmos 50 that was like-new when I got it very cheap.  I loved that bag and I had it for about 5 years until some of the seems busted.  I found out that Osprey has a lifetime warrantee and will repair your pack no matter where it came from. So I sent my beloved pack in for repairs and they couldn’t fix it so they sent me a brand new pack and were even willing to upgrade me to a slightly larger pack upon request as I’ve always felt like my pack wasn’t quite big enough for a longer hike.  I ended up with a different model built for carrying a heavier load.  I chose this bag cause its really comfortable.  The down side is that its a good half pound heavier then my old backpack and most of that weight is in the form of lots of annoying and unnecessary clips and straps and buckles and giant zippers which make getting in and out of it kind of annoying.  I am sure I could get use to it and I could also hack away at my pack and cut off a bunch of the these straps and buckles making it lighter but its hard to hack at a brand new bag even if I got it for free.  So I splurged and bought myself the pack I’ve been eyeing ever since I got one for Ayla last summer and was with Stud when she got one.  I borrowed Ayla’s once for an overnight hike last fall while I was waiting for my old pack to get repaired and found it easy to use and very comfortable.  I used my REI Dividend in combination with a giant sale and got 40% off the exact bag I’ve wanted.  Now I need to go on another overnight hike and try it out for real.