Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Mt. Adams 5774' - Mt. Madison 5367' - (48/48) - The Finish!

Well folks, that’s a wrap!  Paloma and I officially finished the 48 New Hampshire 4000+ footers list after completing Mt. Adams and Mt. Madison on Sunday, September 24th.  I am going to split this post into two.  This post will be about the hike, the next post will be a “reflection” on the past several years of our pursuit.

Appalachia Trail-head
We had plans on Saturday, so decided to finish our quest on Sunday.  Bonus – the weather was looking absolutely gorgeous, unseasonably warm for the time of year, so we were excited to take advantage of it and get on the trails.  Weather this time of year in the Presidential Range can be tricky so we absolutely lucked out.  70+ degrees and sun in the forecast.  Paloma and I set off for the Appalachia trail-head at approximately 6:15AM, and after making a quick stop for a coffee, arrived at the trail-head at 8:45AM.  It was a bit later of a start than we had wanted but that was ok.  There was an AMC worker and Park Ranger at the trail-head – we talked to them a bit about our plan for the day and the ranger was kind enough to take our pre-hike photo.  They both congratulated us on our upcoming completion of the 48.

Airline Trail
We officially hit the trail at 8:55AM.  Our route for the day was to take the Airline trail to the summit of Mt. Adams, then descend to the Madison Hut via the Airline and Gulfside trail.  From the Hut we would the climb the Osgood trail to the summit of Mt. Madison, and descend via Watson Path and Valley way back to the trail-head.  A total distance of just shy of 10 miles.  We knew this wasn't going to be an easy hike as the elevation gain is pretty significant but we were excited to finish our final two mountains.

Steep Trail!
After crossing some power lines, the Airline trail immediately begins to climb.  I wasn't feeling that great at the start of the hike - I think it was a combination of the warmth/humidity, the multivitamin I had just taken on an empty stomach, oh and the 15lbs of Chipotle I had consumed at a birthday party the day before.  Yep, definitely the Chipotle.  To cool myself down I decided to hike without a shirt on for a bit (don't worry, I won't post any shirtless photos) - this seemed to do the trick and I started to feel better about a mile or so in.  I quietly apologized to the hundreds of chipmunks that seemed to be in this area as they had to witness me topless.

Gorgeous Ridge
Once we passed the intersection with the Randolph Path the trail became steeper.  We were hiking now!  The Airline Trail doesn't mess around.  It is basically a straight shot to the top of Mt. Adams, meaning that it is decently steep the entire way.  We passed the Scar Trail intersection at 10:30AM and then finally broke tree-line at a few minutes past 11.  Wow - once you break tree-line you are treated to the most amazing, yet intimidating views I have ever encountered.  At this point the Airline Trail crosses a ridge, in front of you looms Mt. Madison to the left and Mt. Quincy Adams and Mt. Adams to the right.  Off to the far right you can see Mt. Jefferson.  The ridge is flanked by King Ravine. Amazing views all around.
Rock Pile Leading to Mt. Adams
The terrain across the ridge is quite rocky and requires a bit of scrambling at different points.  The sun was beating down on us which felt great but induced some serious sweating.  We plodded along the ridge until we met up with the Gulfside trail and continued on Airline.  Yikes - ahead of us was nearly a mile-long, steep rock pile. Thankfully the trail skirts along the side of Mt. Quincy Adams instead of going over it, which saves you some in the elevation department.  We decided to stop and have our sandwiches before summiting Mt. Adams, as we could tell we would need as much energy as possible.  We soaked in the views for a few minutes before proceeding.

Summit of Mt. Adams
The final half mile or so to Adams is brutal.  Very steep and very rocky.  We took our time climbing
up as we knew we still had to summit Mt. Madison after and didn't want to completely run out of energy.  We officially reached the summit of Mt. Adams at 12:40PM.  We sat down for a quick breather and took a few photos at the top.  The views over to Mt. Washington were nothing short of amazing.  I could have spent hours on the summit, especially considering the weather was remarkably calm for this elevation - only a little bit of wind.  The view over to Mt. Madison was absolutely gorgeous as well, and it was extra special given that we were able to look at our final peak!
View from Mt. Adams to Mt. Madison
We started our descent at 12:48PM.  The going down was much easier but we still weren't able to go too fast, as you literally have to jump from boulder to boulder.  We reached the intersection with the Gulfside trail at 1:25PM and proceeded down the short path toward the Madison Hut, reaching it at 1:40PM.  We stopped in to check out the Madison Hut and fill up with some water.  Much like the other huts throughout the White Mountains, this one was set in  gorgeous spot between Adams and Madison, with a small pond a few hundred yards behind it.  The AMC caretaker generously offered us a free meal of leftover roasted turkey and mashed potatoes - it took all of our might to pass it up but we figured we still had a ways to go and a big meal might weigh us down.

We left the hut a 1:48PM and began our climb to the summit of Madison via the Osgood trail. 
Madison Hut & Mt. Madison
Similar to the ascent to Adams, the Osgood Trail is rocky and steep but relatively short at only a half of a mile.  About halfway to the summit the trail turns a bit to the right and flattens out somewhat.  When we finally caught a glimpse of the summit we were both filled with joy - not only were we reaching our final summit but we were also done gaining any serious elevation for the day (though little did we know that the descent would be tough as well).  We held hands as we "crossed the finish line," officially reaching the summit at 2:25PM (aww, how cute).

Summit of Mt. Madison - we did it! 48/48!
We quickly threw down our packs and began to celebrate.  Thankfully there was only one other group on the summit and they were hunkered down behind some boulders so we basically had the place to ourselves.  I had brought two mini bottles of champagne in my pack to drink at the top and we enjoyed them with some goldfish crackers (how classy)!  We took a bunch of photos with a sign Paloma had made marking our final peak.  It felt as though we were meant to finish on this day as the weather was absolutely perfect.  We spent 20 minutes or so at the top, soaking in the views and the sense of accomplishment we had.

We had originally planned on descending back to the hut the way we came up to meet up with the Valley Way trail, but in looking at the map it appeared we could cut off some mileage by taking the
Champagne to Celebrate
Watson Path down and meeting up with Valley Way further down the mountain.  We started down the Watson Path at 2:45PM.  We quickly realized that maybe we hadn't made the best choice.  The top part of the Watson Path was incredibly rocky and fairly steep, making our descent quite slow.  When we finally got into the trees the trail was quite rough and seemed to stretch on for an eternity.  The trail was also deserted - which normally I would enjoy but to me it indicated that this wasn't a very popular path - I wonder why!  As we approached the river I could tell that we finally nearing the intersection with the Valley Way trail, officially meeting the trail at 4:38PM. 

Watson Path
By this point we were both pretty exhausted - that descent was rough!  Thankfully the remaining hike out via Valley Way was incredibly easy - so much so that we were able to break out into a slow jog for most of it.  We passed numerous trail intersections and had to look at the map a couple of times to ensure we were going the right way, thankfully we didn't get lost.  I'd love to return to this trail as there are a number of paths leading to different waterfall viewing points that seem like they would be neat.

We reached the parking lot at 5:30PM.  We were both wiped out.  This was easily one of the, if not the, more challenging hikes we have done on our journey.  We shed our sweaty boots and hopped in the car and began the drive back home, reflecting on all of the great hikes we have done.  We finally reached our commitment of hiking them all!

Hike Stats
Trails: Airline, Gulfside, Osgood, Watson Path, Valley Way
Total Time (Including Breaks): 8:35
Distance: 9.7 Miles
Elevation Gain: 5000'

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Zealand Mt 4260' - West Bond 4540' - Mt. Bond 4698' - Bondcliff 4265' (46/48)

Zealand Trail-head
I am writing this post with my feet up and some Advil Liquigels running through my system.  My feet are covered in blisters and every muscle in my body is aching - but was it worth it?  Absolutely!  On Saturday, September 16th Paloma and I decided to take advantage of the unseasonably warm September day and beast a traverse of Zealand and the Bonds.  For those unfamiliar with the Bonds, they are by many considered the "crown jewels" of the White Mountains.  The Bonds are three unique peaks (West Bond, Mt. Bond, and Bondcliff) set deep in the Pemigewasset Wilderness - they are the most remote peaks in the White Mountains.  To reach them requires significant mileage - most people opting to do them over two days.

Zealand Trail
Paloma and I had been toying back and forth as to whether we wanted to backpack it or tackle it as a day trip, and ultimately ended up with the latter.  Knowing what we were about to embark on, our Friday was spent relaxing, hydrating and carbo-loading.  We got to bed relatively early on Friday night so that we could get an early start.  I would be lying if I said I wasn't a bit worried about the hike, mainly what would we do in the event we were too tired to finish.  That being said, I slept pretty well and before I knew it, Saturday was upon us.

After handing off Vivian to my parents for the day, Paloma and I began the drive up Rt. 93 to the Zealand trail-head located on Zealand road.  We arrived at the lot at 8:10AM - it was already quite full - guess everyone wanted to get out on this nice day.  We parked and made our final preparations and officially hit the trail at 8:22AM.  The weather at the base was 65 degrees and sunny.

Our route for the day can be seen in the image on the left.  Our plan was to take the Zealand trail to the Twinway, passing Zealand falls, the Zealand hut and Zeacliff on our way to the summit of Zealand Mt.  After summiting Zealand, we would continue on the Twinway to the Bondcliff trail, follow that over the summit of Mt. Guyot (which unfortunately doesn't count on the list due to the prominence rule) and take the West Bond spur to the summit of West Bond.  After summiting West Bond, we would backtrack on the spur and continue on the Bondcliff trail over the summits of Mt. Bond and Bondcliff before beginning the long trek back to the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center via the Wilderness and Lincoln Woods trails.  All in all, this is a 19.5 mile traverse climbing 5 mountains (though Mt. Guyot doesn't count)!  Thankfully my parents agreed to get our car at the Zealand trail-head and drive it to the Lincoln Woods visitors center where we would end.

Paloma @ Zealand Falls
Knowing that we had significant mileage ahead of us - 19.5 miles - we knew that keeping a good pace was critical so that we could finish in a reasonable amount of time.  The Zealand trail started off pretty mild, and we quickly were putting mileage behind us. The trees had started to change color indicating that fall had arrived, and there was an interesting smell of decaying leaves in the air.  Even though it was the middle of September, the air was quite thick and humid in the woods, and we were both sweating pretty good.  Before we knew it we passed by Zealand pond and began to climb as we approached the Zealand Falls hut.  We reached the hut at 9:26AM and took a quick peek at Zealand Falls which were beautiful.  I would have loved to spend more time exploring the Falls  but we were only 2.8 miles into our trek and we had to continue on.

View from Zeacliff
Nearly immediately past the hut the real climbing began.  We had done our research and knew that this was going to be the steepest section of the trail so we were prepared for it.  For the next mile or so we gained over 1100' of vertical.  This got our heart rates going and sweat flowing.  Thankfully we brought a lot of water because we were drinking quite a bit at this point.  We reached the Zeacliff outlook at 10:15AM and took a short spur trail to take in the views.  Definitely do this - it is worth it!  We figured this was a good point to break into a snack so we both devoured some Nature Valley Granola Cups with Almond Butter.  Holy hell these are amazing.  After our quick snack we navigated back to the Twinway and continued our trek to Zealand Mt.
Summit of Zealand Mt.

We reached the Zealand spur at roughly 11:08AM, and after a short jaunt through the woods officially summitted Zealand Mt. at 11:12AM.  One mountain down! We snapped a quick photo with the Zealand sign in the background then headed back to the trail.  The summit of Zealand is in the trees, nothing worth spending any time at.  We continued on the Twinway heading towards Mt Guyot.  As we approached Mt. Guyot and emerged from the trees the scenery was gorgeous.  It is a bit deceiving as it looks like you could just walk across the clearing towards Mt. Guyot, but the trail actually curves around to the right and links up with the Bondcliff trail.  We turned onto the Bondcliff trail, went through a small pine forest and re-emerged on the side of Mt. Guyot, reaching the summit at 12:07PM.

West Bond Spur Sign
Keeping an eye on the time, we once again decided to keep on going but Mt Guyot is certainly a place I would like to visit again.  At 12:20PM we reached the junction with the trail that takes you to the Guyot tent-site.  We would have taken this trail down to the tent-site to set up camp had we decided to do the traverse over two days, but given that we decided to do it in one day, we continued on.  Ten minutes later we reached the spur to West Bond.  This "spur" was deceivingly long.  For some reason I had in my mind that it was only a few tenths of a mile but in researching it after the fact, the spur is actually a half mile each way.  After descending a bit then climbing back up, we reached the summit of West Bond at 12:50PM.  Two mountains down!

Summit of West Bond
Wow.  The views from the summit of West Bond might be my favorite out of all of the mountains we have hiked.  We were treated to 360 degree views of the surrounding peaks and were given a fantastic view of Mt. Bond and the ridge over to Bondcliff which we would be hiking across.  Being so remote, you couldn't see any roads or buildings except for the summit of Mt. Washington.  I could have spent hours just taking in the views.  It was quite warm and sunny on the summit and I could feel my face burn in the sun but damn, I didn't care!  We met two girls who were to be completing their 47th peaks after reaching Bondcliff later that day, and we chatted with them and played photographer for one-another.  We had another snack and snapped a ton of photos before heading back up the spur to get back on the Bondcliff trail.

Summit of Mt. Bond
We continued on Bondcliff and began climbing towards the summit of Mt. Bond.  From West Bond, Mt. Bond looked quite far, but before we knew it we emerged from the trees onto the summit of Mt. Bond, only about 40 minutes after leaving West Bond.  The time was 1:35PM, three mountains down!  We decided to eat our lunch here but unfortunately were bombarded by little black flies, so once again we decided to continue on our way after only a quick ten minute break.  We took our summit photos and got back on the trail.

Ridge to Bondcliff
The hike from Mt. Bond to Bondcliff is breathtaking.  After a short descent through the trees you emerge onto an exposed ridge flanked by West Bond.  We looked up to the right and saw where we had been just about an hour before.  While the elevation gain across the ridge isn't anything crazy, the jagged rocks require you to take your time.  Bondcliff is covered with really cool rock formations and steep, rocky cliffs.  I commented to Paloma that what made this hike so amazing was that all of the summits were very different and the terrain along the way changed quite a bit.

We reached the summit of Bondcliff at 2:33PM and I quickly ran back to the rock outcrop that I have seen so many people take photos of.  Paloma snapped some pretty cool pictures while I risked my life on the edge of the cliff!  Four mountains down!  Much like West Bond, I could have spent hours up here as well and will definitely be returning.  I can only imagine what sunset or sunrise would look like from the cliffs.

Obligatory Bondcliff Photo
After all of the hiking we had already completed, we still had a LONG way to go - 9.1 miles to be exact.  Ugh!  Not to mention we were basically out of water at this point - I did have my filter for emergencies but we didn't want to stop.  We continued over Bondcliff via the Bondcliff trail and began to descend quite rapidly through the trees.  We were cruising pretty quickly and began to pass a number of people hiking in the opposite direction.  I am glad we decided to take the route we did because coming up the Bondcliff trail from this direction did not seem fun at all.  It was a pretty steady climb for nearly four miles, and those that we passed that were hiking up didn't seem amused.  After 4.4 miles we finally reached the Wilderness trail at 4:35PM and began what some refer to as the "death march" back to the Lincoln Woods Visitors Center.

Why is it the death march, you ask?  Well after all of the hiking we already did, we still had 4.7 miles
to go on the Wilderness and Lincoln Woods trails.  While these trails are incredibly flat, they are never ending.  So much so that when we reached the Wilderness trail we encountered a guy hiking solo who was dumbfounded as to where he was.  He was trying to hike to the Visitors Center as well but had gone for a few miles and wasn't sure if he was going the right direction so he turned around.  Sorry bud - you were going the right direction, you just have to KEEP going.  We got him back on track and he took off.  The worst part of these trails is the fact that they are on top of an old railroad track, so you can't even zone out or you'll take a digger over a railroad tie.

At 5:10PM we reached the junction with the Lincoln Woods trail and began the final 2.9 mile walk to the Visitors Center.  By this point we were both starting to feel the effects of the previous 16+ miles.  I was basically just letting my limbs go, barely under control.  I wanted nothing more than a cold beer and a pile of greasy food.  Paloma and I kept talking about what we were going to eat on the ride home.  For those that follow my blog, you'll recall that the Lincoln Woods trail is the same trail we used when hiking Owl's Head.  On the Lincoln Woods trail there are two signs 200 feet apart to help you pace out the appropriate distance from the trail you should camp put.  When we hiked Owl's head I took 75 steps between the two - this time it was 68.  Pretty close!

We finally crossed the bridge to the Visitors Center at 6:02PM - nine hours and forty minutes after we started.  19.5 miles done.  Four mountains off the list.  Only two remain!  I was proud of us.  I considered this hike to be quite an accomplishment.  After meeting up with my parents and Vivian in the parking lot, we quickly shed our boots (thank God!) and downed some water and seltzer that we had stashed at the car.  We were beat.  On the way home we stopped at McDonald's and crushed copious amounts of food.  I am not even the slightest bit ashamed.

All in all this was an amazing hike, perhaps one of my favorite hikes we have done.  The scenery is gorgeous, the remoteness is relaxing and the varied terrain makes this hike worthwhile.  I know I will be returning to the Bonds in the future.  Till next time...

Hike Stats
Trails: Zealand, Twinway, Zealand Spur, Bondcliff, West Bond Spur, Wilderness, Lincoln Woods
Total Time (Including Breaks): 9:40
Distance: 19.5 Miles
Elevation Gain: 3700'

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Mt. Jefferson - 5712' Mt. Washington - 6288' (42/48)

Bundled-up Vivian
Paloma and I finally committed to getting back on the trails and finishing up our quest to hike the 48.  We had our sights set on summitting Mt. Jefferson via the Caps Ridge Trail on Sunday, August 20th, however poor weather and the fact we were hiking with our 16-month old, Vivian, caused us to turn around about a half-mile from the summit.  We were bummed but knew that we made the right decision, especially after talking with others who did go to the summit and told us it was miserable.  I will say, though, she looked pretty cozy bundled up in my Deuter Kid Comfort Air carrier!

We decided to return to conquer Jefferson less than a week later, on Saturday, August 26th.  This time, however, we decided to up the ante and add Mt. Washington to the plan.  Given our experience the week prior, we decided that hiking in the Presidential's with a 16-month old might not be the best plan given the unpredictability of the weather and the long hours we would be hiking, so we recruited my parents to join us on our trip to hang with Vivian while we hiked.   We arrived at the Caps Ridge trail-head at just after 9:00AM, made our final preparations and were on the trail at 9:25AM.  The weather at the base was just above 50 degrees and the skies were clear.
Beautiful Day

Our route for the day was to take the Caps Ridge Trail up to the summit of Jefferson, then take a short jaunt down the Jefferson Loop Trail to connect to the Gulfside trail across to Washington.  To reach the summit of Washington we would take the Trinity Connector.  Our plan was to descend to the Lake of the Clouds hut via the Crawford Path, and finally return to the base of Washington via the Ammonoosuc trail.  A total distance of 10.5 miles or so.

Climbing the Caps
The Caps Ridge trail is unique in that the trail-head starts at such a high elevation that you break treeline within a short period of time.  The trail is relatively mild early on but was a bit overgrown - surprising since it seems like it is well used.  You are treated to some decent views pretty early on - this particular day was nice and clear so the views were fantastic.  Quite a difference from the week prior.  Once you break treeline you begin to climb over the Caps - a series of rock outcrops that require some bouldering to get over.  It is actually quite a fun trail to climb on.  As we climbed to around 5000' the temperature started to drop significantly, so Paloma and I both put on our fleece jackets and rain shells.

Summit of Mt. Jefferson
We reached the summit of Jefferson at 11:30AM.  It was quite breezy at the top and we were in and out of the clouds.  When the clouds cleared we were treated to amazing views over to Mt. Adams and Mt. Madison, as well as over to our destination - Mt. Washington.  Woof - it looked like quite a trek to get over there!  We spent only a few minutes on the summit of Jefferson as we were eager to begin our trek across the range to Mt. Washington.

The Cog Railway
The Gulfside trail is actually quite pleasant and easy going, though even though were were keeping a pretty good pace Washington still looked quite far.  Halfway between Jefferson and Washington is Mt. Clay, which although is over 5000' tall, doesn't qualify for the 4000 Footer list due to the prominence rules.  We were tempted to take the Mt. Clay Loop to bag this mountain as well, but given the time we decided to stick to the Gulfside Trail and skip the elevation gain to bag Mt. Clay.  The views along the Gulfside trail were phenomenal, and it really highlighted the scale of the Presidential Range.

 Paloma on the Gulfside Trail
After we circumvented Mt. Clay, we emerged onto the shoulder of Mt. Washington and quickly came to an intersection with the Cog Railway.  We reached the tracks just in time to see one of the trains going by - this was pretty cool.  As we waived to the passengers descending via the train, half of me was thinking about what wussies they were taking a train to visit the summit of Washington, though the other half of me was tempted to hitch a ride down.  We got a bit turned around at this point and had to backtrack a bit to get back on the correct path to the summit.  This involved climbing alongside the train tracks, which got the legs burning as the ground was quite soft and the pitch was quite steep.  We finally found our way back to the trail and began climbing steadily to the summit of Washington.  The final approach was via the Trinity Connector, and before we knew it we were standing on top of the tallest of the 48 4000 footers, the mighty Mt. Washington.  The time was 1:40PM.

For those unfamiliar with Mt. Washington - lets just put it this way...the summit is a shit-show.  I've purposely put off hiking Mt. Washington because most people who climb it end up being disappointed because they have found the summit to be swamped with people who either took the Cog Railway or Auto Road to the top.  Well folks, that is exactly what we experienced.  We had to wait in a twenty minute long line to get our photo with the sign at the summit.  It was not enjoyable.

Summit of Mt. Washington
Now - I am not knocking people for driving or taking the railway up - just a few months ago Paloma, Viv and I drove to the summit of 14k foot Pike's Peak in Colorado and had a great time.  But it is quite a let down to have hiked for so long and to not be able to enjoy the summit.  Oh well - I knew what we were getting into.  After we snapped our summit photo we decided to get the heck out of dodge, and began our descent to the Lake of the Clouds hut at 2:00PM.

Lake of the Clouds
The hike down Crawford Path to the hut was relatively mild.  As we hiked we watched someone fly a drone, presumably taking some cool aerial shots of the Lake of the Clouds.  We reached the hut at 2:45PM.  If I could turn the Lake of the Clouds hut into my full-time residence I would do it in a heartbeat.  What a gorgeous setting.  Flanked by Mt. Washington and Mt. Monroe, the hut sits on the shore of a crystal clear lake that Paloma pointed out almost resemble those infinity pools you see at high end Caribbean resorts.  We stopped in the hut to use the facilities and I was tempted by some delicious smelling brownies that must have just been made by one of the crew members there.  I was good though and passed.  I wanted to spend more time at the hut but it was now 3:00PM, so we decided to begin the final section of our hike via the Ammonoosuc Ravine trail.

Swimming Hole
The Ammonoosuc Ravine trail skirts down the ravine alongside the Ammonoosuc river.  It was a bit steep at the top so we had to take some care in our descent.  What a beautiful trail, though.  There are a number of small waterfalls and swimming holes along the trail, and great views back up towards Mt Washington.  We kept a decent pace as we got lower on the trail, and reached the Cog Railway parking lot at 4:50PM.  What a great but exhausting day of hiking.  We reunited with my parents and little Vivian and began the drive back home.  I was pooped!

All in all this is a fantastic hike.  It is decently strenuous but the hike along the Gulfside Trail is mild and gives you a decent recovery period before ascending Washington.  Make sure you check the weather before doing this hike, though, as you are exposed for several miles.  42 down, 6 to go!

Hike Stats
Trails: Caps Ridge, Jefferson Loop, Gulfside, Trinity Connector, Crawford Path, Ammonoosuc Ravine
Total Time (Including Breaks): 7:25
Distance: 10.5 Miles
Elevation Gain: ?? (If anyone has an accurate Elevation calculation of this route, please let me know!)

Thursday, May 11, 2017


Well folks, a lot has happened since I last posted.  Paloma and I welcomed the newest (and cutest) hiker to our family, Vivian Elena, just over a year ago and have been so busy over the past year that tackling any big hikes has been impossible. 

We have, however, gotten out on some local trails including Pawtuckaway State Park, Middlesex Fells, Mt. Watatic and Harold Parker State Forest to satisfy our need for the outdoors and to get used to carrying a 20+lb. passenger in my backpack. 

This coming spring/summer we hope to continue on our quest to finish the list and introduce Vivian to our love of the White Mountains.  Sorry for being M.I.A!

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Owl's Head - 4025' (40/48)

Beginning our Adventure
Owl’s Head.  Possibly one of the most talked about yet least enjoyed hikes on the NH48 list.  The time had come for Paloma and I to tackle this hike.  While this hike is certainly doable as a long day-hike, Paloma and I opted to split this hike into two days to make a weekend of it.  We had initially considered hiking up to the 13 Falls campsite on the first day, then around the north-side of Owl’s Head to the summit on the second day before returning to the car, but decided we wanted more of a backcountry camping adventure.  We instead chose to hike directly out to Owl’s Head, set up camp just before the slide, hike the slide, return to camp for the night, and hike out in the morning.  This proved to be a great choice.

We set off on our adventure on Saturday morning at around 6:30AM.  The ride up 93 was uneventful, per usual, until we reached the Concord, NH area and saw the remains of about two dozen pumpkins that appeared to have fallen off a truck earlier that morning.  Welp, guess that was as good of a sign as any that autumn is here (my favorite season)!  When we reached Lincoln, NH and merged onto the Kancamagus Highway we began to see some traffic for the Highland Games that were taking place at Loon Mountain – a giant Scottish festival complete with bag-pipers and whiskey tastings.  There was something funny about seeing people walking along the side of the road wearing kilts and funny hats, but I will be honest it seems like a pretty awesome weekend!  We got through all of the hoopla and arrived at the bustling Lincoln Woods Visitor’s Center at just after 8:30AM.

Pemigewasset River
We made our final preparations and I spent some time adjusting my hefty backpack and began our hike at 8:47AM.  We encountered a forest ranger at the trailhead who asked us a few questions about where we were headed and reminded us to camp at least 200 feet off of the trail, hang our food to deter bears from rummaging through our tent, and to leave no trace – all items that should be common sense to anyone hiking in the Whites.  As we crossed the iconic suspension bridge over the Pemigewasset River the reality of the adventure we were embarking on truly hit me – I was filled with feelings of excitement, wonder and apprehension as we made our first steps onto the Lincoln Woods Trail.

How Many Paces?
The Lincoln Woods trail was a wonderful warm-up and allowed me to continue to adjust my backpack into the most comfortable position possible.  This was my first time using this bag and first time hiking with quite a bit of additional weight.  I was, after all, carrying: a tent, a sleeping pad, Paloma’s sleeping bag, my sleeping bag, 4 liters of water, 2 days’ worth of food, a mini propane tank and stove, a change of clothes, a rain jacket, flip-flops for the river crossings, a water filter, nylon rope to hang our food bag, a map, a head-lamp, two lighters, a knife, a compass and a mini cedar fire-starter.  This trail was more or less completely flat and offered some beautiful views out over the Pemigewasset River.  There were a few other people hiking along the trail – some just out for a quick day hike while others were hiking out with us towards for Owl’s Head or to the Bonds.

There were a few signs along the trail highlighting ways to stay safe in the woods – and I thought it was pretty neat that they placed a pair of signs two hundred feet apart so that you could pace out exactly how many steps you should take off the trial before setting up camp.  I counted 74 paces.  Before we knew it we passed by the Black Pond Trail (which offers a popular bushwhacking opportunity for those looking to shorten the trek out to Owl’s Head – but we weren’t equipped to try) and the Franconia Falls trail and officially crossed the bridge entering the “gateway” to the Pemigewasset wilderness.

Water Crossings
We reached the point where we bared left onto the Franconia Brook trail, splitting off from the Wilderness Trail that led out towards the Bonds at 9:45AM.  This section of trail continued to be relatively mild – only gaining a slight amount of elevation over its 1.7 miles.  We were hiking at a decent clip but took a few minutes to admire some of the boggy areas off the side of the trail, hoping to see some sort of wildlife.  Fail.  We reached the junction with the Lincoln Brook Trail at 10:28AM – only 3.4 more miles till I could ditch some of my stuff!  First though, we had to navigate ourselves across two major water crossings – first crossing the Franconia Brook, then the Lincoln Brook. 

We took our shoes off to cross Franconia Brook, and the ice cold mountain water was quite refreshing on our feet.  When we got to the other side though, we found ourselves a bit turned around, as there were a number of “could-be” trails veering off in different directions.  Needless to say we chose the wrong trail, multiple times, and found ourselves backtracking after a few hundred yards in the wrong direction.  Note: follow the orange hang tags on a few of the trees – they point you in the right direction!  We got back on track after a few minutes and shortly thereafter came to the second crossing.  This was a bit easier and we were able to rock hop to the other side without removing our boots.
Home Sweet Home

The Lincoln Brook Trail is a little bit rougher than the first two trails we hiked on, as it skirts alongside the Lincoln Brook with many pointless up and downs, wet portions, and washed out sections.  Still, though, we were able to maintain a decent pace as at no point was there any big gains in elevation.  The Lincoln Brook provided a nice soundtrack of rushing water to our hike.  We encountered a few individuals along the way and inquired about potential “stealth” camping spots – all of them said there were plenty closer to the slide once we passed the final water crossing.  We easily rock-hopped the final water crossing and began to look for a good spot to set up camp.

Beginning the Slide
We wanted to follow the 200 foot rule as best we could – unfortunately most of the nice spots we were passing looked to be well under that.  Finally, at 12:45PM we found a spot off of the left side of the trail right on the shore of the Lincoln Brook that looked promising.  We bushwhacked through the woods for 200 feet or so and came into the clearing – it was apparent that someone had camped there before as there was a make-shift log bench and remnants of a fire ring.  The Lincoln Brook would provide us not only with a water source so that I could filter water for dinner, breakfast, and the hike out, but also some “white noise” to help us sleep.  It felt great to get my pack off of my back and we took a few minutes to survey our new home for the next day to find a good spot to set-up our tent.  We set up our tent on a nice flat spot, ate some lunch, and transferred some items to Paloma’s bag that we would take with us up the slide to the summit.  We figured this way I could carry Paloma’s pack with only the essentials and she could carry nothing up the steep slide.

Owl's Head Slide
We left our tent at 1:40PM and began the final push towards the summit.  Now, up until this point we were hiking on maintained, relatively flat trails for over 8 miles.  That quickly changed as we reached the cairn marking the start of the Owl’s Head Path - an unmarked, unmaintained scramble up loose rocks, ledges, and giant boulders.  There were a few people at the beginning of the slide eating lunch, gaining the energy needed for the final mile or so to the summit.  We passed them and began the ascent.  The first part of the slide is made up of tiny loose rocks and the trail is quite steep – I’d guess approximately a 60-70 degree angle.  Fun!  Every step you took up you’d slide down half a step.  After this section the smaller loose rocks dissipated a bit and we came out onto some open air rocky ledges.  You have to be careful of your footing in this section as the rocks are still loose, and at this point much bigger in size.  Many times one of us would step on a rock only to have it slide down hundreds of feet below.  Thankfully no one was behind us to catch on in the face!

Summit of Owl's Head!
This open section provided us with amazing views over the backside of Franconia Ridge, and we could see some people far across the valley hiking along Mt. Lincoln.  No time to soak in the views, however – we were less than a quarter of the way up the slide.  After skirting along the ledges the trail finally enters the woods, though it maintains its steepness.  By this point our legs were shaking and we kept saying “how much further?!?!”  Finally the trail began level out and we began the final push towards the summit.  For those who are unfamiliar, up until around 2005 the summit of Owl’s Head was basically where we were at this point – close to the top of the slide.  In 2005 it was declared that the “real” summit was actually about a quarter of a mile further, accessed by following somewhat of a maze through the woods.  Whoever pushed the summit further away is a sick, sick person!  We encountered a couple of hikers on their way back and they offered us encouragement that it wasn’t too much further.

Paloma Coming Down
At 3:10PM we finally came to the make-shift cairn in the woods marking the summit of Owl’s Head.  I wish I had something good to say about the summit but in reality, it is just a pile of rocks in the woods with no views or ledges to relax on.  Someone had scribed an “Owl’s Head” on a piece of bark and left it on cairn which offered us reassurance that we were, indeed, on the summit.  Even though the summit was unremarkable, knowing the effort it took to reach gave Paloma and I a great sense of accomplishment.  We were happy to be able to cross the Owl off of our list – both agreeing that this would probably be the first and last time we hiked it.  We spent no more than 10 minutes at the summit and turned around.  A word of caution to those hiking Owl’s Head – when you leave the true summit, for some reason the hike back the way you came is harder to follow – so pay attention on your hike up!

Going down the slide, while less physically exhausting, was still quite difficult as you have to be extra careful with your footing to avoid face-planting down the slide.  Paloma deployed her usual “crab-walk” down the slide at some points to avoid falling.  Also, don’t get too distracted by the views of Franconia Ridge that are now in front of you – pay attention to your footing!  We were quite exhausted when we reached the base of the slide at 4:55PM.  Time to return to camp and cook some dinner!

Picante Chicken Ramen
Back at camp I fired up our MSR Pocket Rocket stove to cook some Ramen Noodles.  For those that haven’t had the Spicy Chicken Ramen – you are missing out.  It absolutely hit the spot.  Once we got our fill of noodles it was time to filter some water from the Lincoln Brook so that we would have ample water for breakfast and the hike out in the morning.  This was my first time using the Sawyer Mini Filter that I bought, and boy, am I in love.  I ended up drinking more water than saving but with a water filter and river – you can virtually never run out!   After filtering our water it was time to hang our bear bag – basically making sure that all of the food we had brought with us was suspended from a tree away from our tent to deter bears from making an unwelcomed visit to our tent in the middle of the night.  It also helps to keep smaller animals such as mice and squirrels out of your bag.  I spent far too much time trying to get our nylon rope over the perfect tree branch, and even knocked over a massive dead tree in the process – thankfully it didn’t come crashing down on our tent.

Our Camp
Paloma and I both cleaned ourselves up in the river which was quite refreshing and I rummaged the woods for some sticks and kindling and built a small fire.  We sat around the fire eating Oreos and hydrating before calling it a night at 7:45PM.  What else were we supposed to do in the middle of nowhere once it became pitch black?  It took some time to get comfortable and I finally was able to doze off around 11PM, only to be awoken at 2AM to the pitter-patter of rain on our tent.  Thankfully we had put the rain fly on as shortly thereafter the skies opened up and it began to downpour.  Save for a few wet spots at the corner of the tent, we stayed relatively dry and were able to catch at least a little shut eye.  Our alarm rang at 6:30AM and boy was that too optimistic – we quickly agreed that we wanted more sleep and ended up waking up at 9AM instead.

Long Hike Back
The morning was spent drying off and packing up our tent and other supplies while eating some oatmeal and peanut butter and filtering some more water for the day.  It was sad to see our adventure coming to an end but we knew we should hit the trail as we still had 8 miles to go back the way we came the day before to reach our car.  It was 10:45AM when we began our trek back.  The hike out was relatively uneventful and we were absolutely cruising.  We did see some moose tracks but still no wildlife.  I had mentioned to Paloma that I wanted a burger and fries once we got back to civilization and that gave us the motivation to kick it into a higher gear.  We crossed the river crossings with no issue – thankful that the rain hadn’t made the river crossings more difficult.

By the time we arrived at the Lincoln Woods trail it was 1:10PM and the trail was filled with people taking advantage of the beautiful Sunday afternoon.  Not going to lie, it felt quite manly to be hiking among these tourists with my massive backpack on.  We passed the 200 foot pacing signs and I was only one step off of my calculation on the way out, 75 paces.  We reached the lot at 2:00PM after taking an “after” photo on the suspension bridge.  What an adventure it was!  We quickly shed our gear and used the facilities before hitting the road for our ride back home. 

On the way home we stopped at McDonald’s and ordered an embarrassing amount of fast food.  Actually, scratch that – I am not embarrassed, we earned it!  We reflected on how fun our weekend in the woods was.  Even though Owl’s Head is a relatively boring mountain – the adventure of getting there, camping, and enjoying a weekend in the wild made it a great trip.  I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking to escape reality for a while!  Can’t wait for our next backpacking trip!

Hike Stats
Trails: Lincoln Woods, Franconia Brook, Lincoln Brook, Owl's Head Path
Total Time (Not Including Breaks): 10:30
Distance: 18.2 Miles
Elevation Gain: 2,850

Monday, September 14, 2015

North Twin - 4761' South Twin - 4902' (39/48)

Paloma Mapping the Route
On Sunday, September 6th, Paloma and I decided to head back up to Rt. 3 to tackle North and South Twin.  We were both a bit intimidated to do this hike as South Twin looked absolutely massive from the view we had of it when we hiked Galehead.  Never-the-less, the forecast was looking great so we made our way to the trail-head.  The ride up was relatively uneventful and quick, save for the few spots where the fog was so thick you could cut it with a knife.

The trail-head was easy to find, but that was only because we made a correct guess as to where Haystack road began.  There is no sign whatsoever marking this road but we somehow took the correct turn - keep this in mind if you are heading up there.  Even though we arrived relatively early there were already a number of cars in the parking lot - it was, after-all, Labor Day weekend.

North Twin Trail-head
We started our hike at 8:42AM.  The weather was a nice, crisp 60 degrees at the base with very little humidity.  My kind of hiking weather.  I forgot how much I love late summer/early fall hiking.  Our route for the day was to take the North Twin Trail up to the summit of North Twin, continue along the North Twin Spur to the summit of South Twin, then return the same way - a total distance of 11.2 miles.

The first half mile or so provided a great warm-up to the hike - a nice and flat trail through the woods – up to the water crossings.  I had read that the water crossings of the Little River on the North Twin Trail could be tricky, and those descriptions were correct.  The first crossing wasn't too difficult but at the second crossing I completely ate it on a slippery rock and wound up in knee deep water.  It figured that this was right in front of the first two people we encountered on the trail as well.  Oops!  Luckily we got Paloma across with no incidence.  The third and final crossing was also a big one but I learned my lesson from my prior fall and avoided wet rocks.

Water Crossings!
The next section of trail became incredibly steep.  Suddenly we were paying for the first few miles of flat hiking that we had just enjoyed.  Our blood was pumping and lungs burning as we made our way up this section towards the summit of North Twin.  As we climbed higher we were treated with some nice views through the trees, which culminated in a beautiful lookout point just below the summit.  A family was sitting down enjoying their lunch on the giant boulders overlooking the beautiful, untouched Pemigewasset Wilderness.  We snapped a few photos and continued on our way to the summit of North Twin, reaching it at 11:25AM.  The summit of North Twin is a pile of rocks in the woods – nothing memorable at all.  We snapped our obligatory summit photos and continued onto the North Twin Spur over to the summit of South Twin.
Great Lookout Below Summit

The North Twin Spur trail begins by descending quite steeply onto the ridge between the two Twins.  From here, the view over to South Twin looks incredibly intimidating.  I thought to myself “this can’t be right, that looks WAY further than 1.2 miles.”  I was convinced that we weren’t going the correct direction, even though we were following the signs exactly as they were pointing.  Sure enough, we were on the correct trail, and in all honesty it wasn’t that difficult!  Don’t be fooled by your initial view of South Twin – it goes by much faster than you would imagine.

Summit of North Twin
We reached the summit of South Twin at 12:10PM – the perfect time for lunch.  I would have to say that the summit of South Twin ranks near the top of all of the summits we have hiked to thus far.  The 360 degree views were nothing short of spectacular.  It was a bit breezy at the top so we decided to hunker down on a ledge overlooking the Pemi.  It was the perfect lunch spot.  I took my boots and socks off to let them dry in the sun as they were still soaking wet from my dip in the river.  We typically spend no more than 10-15 minutes on any given summit, but this was so beautiful that we decided to spend a few extra minutes to enjoy it.  We took some great photos from the top before heading back over to North Twin and ultimately down to the car, beginning our descent at 12:35PM.

Summit of South Twin
The hike back over the North Twin Spur went by quickly, and before we knew it we were on the top of North Twin again, ready to head down to the car.  The descent from North Twin was even steeper and longer than it had seemed on the way up, which made me truly appreciate the fact that we were hiking down and not up at that point!  We made pretty good time on the descent, reaching the car at 3:35PM.  We quickly changed out of our stinky hiking clothes and started on our drive home.  We needed to stop in Danvers on the way home to feed my parents cat, so we took Route 16 home, stopping in North Conway for a delicious dinner of pasta and bbq chicken pizza at Delaney’s Hole in the Wall.  If you can avoid Route 16 on Labor Day Weekend, do it…I’ll just leave it at that.

Overall this was a long, relatively tough hike but one that rewards you with fantastic views.  Take extra care on the river crossings and you will love this one!

Hike Stats
Trails: North Twin Trail, North Twin Spur
Total Time (Including Breaks): 7:00
Distance: 11.2 Miles
Elevation Gain: 3,700