Monday, April 14, 2014

Mt. Cabot - 4170' (26/48)

This is to you, Mt. Cabot!
You may be wondering why this particular blog post is starting off with a pixelated photo of my middle finger at the summit of Mt. Cabot.  Maybe you aren't, however you will soon find out!

The forecast was looking beautiful for Saturday, so Paloma and I, joined by Julie and Joe, decided to head up to the mountains to hike the Wildcats.  The ride up Rte. 16 went relatively smoothly, though I did take one wrong turn but that was easily fixed.  As we approached Pinkham Notch we noticed a large volume of cars parked on the sides of the road and numerous cyclists with racing numbers attached to their jerseys.  Great - we chose to hike Wildcat during the famous Inferno race, a pentathlon of running, cycling, kayaking, hiking and skiing in the area.  No chance we were going to find parking anywhere near the trail-head.  Time for plan B.

York Pond Trail-head
The time was already later than usual, so we scrambled to find a nearby hike.  Since we had already driven quite a ways, we decided to continue up Rte. 16 all the way to Berlin, NH, to hike Mt. Cabot, the northernmost four-thousand footer.  Along the way we grabbed Subway sandwiches because it was already close to lunch-time. I had read about Cabot before and was quite excited to hike it because of the chances of seeing moose and bear.

We decided to hike from the Berlin Fish Hatchery, a rather unique looking facility nestled deep in the woods off of York Pond Road.  We asked a few gentlemen where the trailhead was and found it relatively easy.  There were a few cars in the parking lot, and a ton of snow still left.  I was the only person who brought snowshoes so I decided that I would lead the pack and hopefully flatten down some of the snow for the others to hike on.

Packing down the trail
Our route of the day had us taking the York Pond Trail to the Bunnell Notch Trail, following along this for about 2.8 miles to the Kilkenny Ridge trail and taking that to the summit.  We began the 9.4 mile out-and-back hike at 12:00PM on the dot - much later than we had hoped but still doable none-the-less.

The first 1.5 miles or so was relatively flat, hiking across some pretty open terrain.  There were hundreds of gigantic moose tracks in the snow, strange looking animal poops scattered about, and what looked like the remains of a massacred bird.  We were in the wild!  At one point I mentioned to Joe how cool it would be to see a bear, when all of a sudden an animal emerged from the woods about 50 yards ahead of us.  It was a giant, weasel-looking animal.  Turns out it was a Fisher Cat!  Cool!

Fisher Cat in the distance
Even though the trail was relatively flat at this point, the hiking was very difficult as the snow was quite soft and if you stepped off the narrow packed down path even an inch you would sink nearly three feet deep in slushy snow.  There were a few river crossings which were not difficult but did take a bit of maneuvering to get across.  Julie especially was having difficulties sinking into the snow often, rightfully earning her the nickname Bambi (have you ever seen a baby deer try to walk?). 

Snowy crossing
We finally made it through the field section, already well behind our time goal but the weather was so nice that we decided to continue.  We finally reached a section where we were gaining some elevation and hiking next to a steep ravine.  Still, the snow was extremely soft and only getting softer with the increasing temperature.  The language coming out of our mouths was more vulgar than the worst Eminem songs as we continued to fall, sink, and curse our way up.

A bit further on we encountered our first humans, a pair of raggedy looking guys on their way down.  Joe asked "how much further do we have," to which one of the mongrels replied "you are going to hate yourselves."  Gee, thanks for the insight buddy.  Things were looking promising!  We carried on, stumbling our way through the snow, post-holing nearly every five feet.  My snowshoes were useless at this point so I strapped them to my pack and decided to just go with microspikes.  We hiked for a few more grueling miles and saw some more people, each of them in about the same mood as us...borderline miserable.  Thank God for the nice weather, or this day would have really sucked.  One guy we passed while he was on the way down referred to the trail as "the trail of tears."  It was truly that horrible.  I imagine that in the summer or dead of winter this trail would be relatively easy, but not now.

Bambi double-postholing
We re-evaluated at this point as to whether we should continue.  We had already invested so much time driving and hiking to this point, no way in hell was I turning around.  We pushed on, finally reaching the Kilkenny Ridge trail.  Things were looking promising.  The trail began getting quite steep and we were exhausted and wet.  I had foolishly worn shorts, and everytime I postholed the icy top layer of snow acted like wax, ripping my leg hairs out.  Ouch.  After what seemed like an eternity, we finally came across the old Boy Scout Cabin near the summit of Mt. Cabot at 3:20PM.  We went inside to the grimy little abode to eat some snacks and take a much needed break.  I added a short entry into the hiking log that was left inside.  After a short rest, we headed towards the summit of Cabot, a few tenths of a mile further. 

Sweet cabin!
The approach to the summit was absolutely horrible.  The snow was nearly 6 feet deep in some spots, with spruce traps and tree wells just begging to suck you under for good.  We finally reached the summit at 3:50PM, where we took a couple quick photos and I flipped good ol' Mt. Cabot the bird for being such a pain in the ass hike.  With an eye on the time, we decided to head down right away.  Much like the hike up, postholing was inevitable.  One by one we would all fall down (isn't that a nursery rhyme or something?).  Needless to say, we were making decent time down, that is, until the accident.

Paloma and I at the summit
A bit of background information:  for about three weeks my left foot had been hurting a bit - nothing serious, but definitely not feeling quite 'normal.'  Well, about 3 miles from the car I post holed and turned what was apparently the start of a stress fracture into a full fledged broken bone.  I screamed as Paloma tried to take my boot off.  Thoughts were racing through my head - how was I going to get down?  It was already way later than we wanted...was the weather going to stay ok?  Was the sunlight going to disappear?  I tried to stand but could barely put any pressure on my now swollen left foot.  Damn!  Joe had some athletic tape which I wrapped tightly around my broken foot, and I managed to get my boot back on, tying it extra tight for as much support as I could get.

Wounds
Knowing that we had no choice, Joe, Julie, and Paloma divided up my gear, each carrying a bit of the weight.  Joe gave me his hiking poles to act as a bit of a crutch.  I then managed to hike, scream, and swear at a snails pace.  This was the worst.  Every step I took felt like I was walking on fire.  Everytime my right foot postholed into the snow, all of my weight was put on my broken left foot causing intense pain.  I now know why they say to hike with partners.  If I was alone I might have panicked but luckily Joe, Julie, and Paloma were all very supportive.  We were even able to joke a bit on the way down which helped raise my spirits.  I felt like I was starring in a war movie and was escaping some enemy base, wounded.  By the time we could see the car, the sunlight was nearly all gone.  The last hundred yards felt like an eternity, but finally, I was back at the car.  It was 7:45PM.  What a day.

Exhausted, wet, and hungry, we decided to find a place to eat in North Conway.  We chose the Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewing Company.  Thankfully we got a table by the door so I was able to hobble in.  I ordered some a sample of 9 different beers to help dull the pain and we engorged ourselves with burgers, pulled pork, and fries.  Finally I was feeling better!  We didn't end up getting home until around midnight.  A long, painful day it was but we were still able to joke around and have fun, and I have no regrets about the hike at all, just lessons learned:

1) Don't hike in warm weather when there is still snow on the ground.
2) Don't wear shorts when post-holing is inevitable.  You will lose copious amounts of leg hair.
3) Research local area events before planning a hike.
4) If something is hurting you, listen to it, and don't try to hike 10 miles.
5) Hike with others.

I visited the hospital on Sunday morning and was diagnosed with a fractured fifth metatarsal.  Today I visited the orthopedic doctor and was given a permanent cast that I will need to wear for a month.  Hopefully this thing heals up nicely so I can get back on the trails soon!

Hike Stats
Trails: York Pond, Bunnell Notch, Kilkenny Ridge
Total Time (Including Breaks): 7:45
Distance: 9.4 Miles
Elevation Gain: 2900'

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