July 31, 2011

Liberty and Flume

libertyflume1After a very busy July, Katy and I thought it would be nice to take a weekend off from scheduled activities, and just leave one open for a change. We had already been hiking, swimming, kayaking or some combination of the aforementioned every single weekend in July so far. So yesterday we laid low, caught up on chores and to-do's around the house, and just generally relaxed. However, a funny thing happened: "I'm kind of craving hiking" Katy said. The weather for both yesterday and today was perfect. Warm, in the 80's, not a cloud in the sky. So on a whim we decided that today we would continue our 4000 footers and finish off the Franconia Ridge, hiking Mounts Liberty and Flume.

libertyflume2We got up around 6:00AM this morning and managed to quickly pack up our day packs and be out the door before 7:00AM. The weather was perfect as predicted, and we arrived at the trailhead in Franconia Notch around 9:00AM with completely clear skies, temperatures in the 70's and warming, and calm conditions. We were on the trail at 9:15AM to begin the 10 mile loop hike over Mounts Liberty and Flume. There are a couple of options when hiking Liberty and Flume. I had never done them before but most guide books and trip reports indicate that the Flume Slide Trail up Flume is a class 3 trail, has an unbelievably steep section that rises over 1800 feet of elevation in about 0.7 miles. Most suggest that you should only ever ascend the Flume Slide Trail and if conditions are wet or slippery, consider skipping it altogether by ascending Liberty via the Liberty Spring Trail and doing an out and back to the top of Flume. It was a perfect day and we didn't really think conditions could get any better, so we opted for the loop option up the Flume Slide Trail.

libertyflume3The descriptions of the Flume Slide, generally, were accurate. I would not say any part of it was "fear for your life" steep, but there were many sections in that final 0.7 miles that were difficult to navigate, and pretty much all of it was hand over hand relentless rock scrambling. There were several sections where Katy decided to forgo the actual trail and forged left or right into the bush. She found that she often had better luck with the denser roots and branches to grab onto and power her way up rather than the sometimes steep and sporadic foot and hand holds of the rocks. We eventually made it to the top, though, and it was certainly worth it. The summit of Flume opened up into an expansive cliff outlook looking down into the southern edge of Franconia Notch and also back down to the Kancamagus Highway. On a perfectly clear day there were a lot of views to soak in.

libertyflume4We ate our lunch on top of Flume and then continued on with an easy mile between peaks to the summit of Mount Liberty. Out of all the peaks we have visited so far, this is easily one of the best if not the best in the bunch. Liberty is completely exposed with a large rocky summit peaking out barely above the treeline. From the roomy peak, you can see the large and intimidating Lincoln and Lafayette peaks to the north. You can see the rocky cliff walls of the Cannonballs. You can see the unassuming ridge of Owl's Head and the larger, scarred slopes of the Bonds in behind it. You can see down to the Kancamagus Highway and over to the ski slopes of Loon Mountain. You can see Washington and the high Presidentials peaking out from a distance behind the Bonds. You can see a lot more, but those are the highlights, and the pictures don't really do it justice. On a day like today with warm temperatures at the summits and calm, clear skies, I feel like I should've brought up a grill, some lawn chairs and a cooler of beer. Maybe next time.

Our descent was simple and straightforward in comparison to the Flume Slide. We passed by a large group of backpackers and some folks staying at the Liberty Spring tent site down the trail and made it back to the car around 3:30PM. A great hike on a perfect day, we grabbed some food on the way back home. Numbers 22 and 23 done!

July 28, 2011

Whiteface and Passaconaway

whiteface1We've spent a lot of time up in New Hampshire this summer, piling up 4000 footers, enjoying time at the big lake, and spending time with family and friends. This past week was no different. My family has a generally annual stay up at Lake Winnipesaukee in Moultonborough, NH and this year they were up there once again. Being on the north side of the lake meant that we would be only a half an hour from the trailhead of the two southernmost 4000 foot peaks, Mounts Whiteface and Passaconaway. So we packed up our gear and made our way to the very isolated and picturesque Wonalancet, NH.

whiteface2Mo was jokingly upset that she was not invited on our last trek up the Osceolas. She described that hike as "Katy and O minus Mo". Well we were plus Mo once again for the 11.5 mile loop over Whiteface and Passaconaway and the three of us were at the trailhead at around 9:00AM. When we arrived we bumped into another young couple from Nashua, NH in the parking lot. They were peakbagging too and had done 14 up to that point. We saw them several times throughout the hike along with a few other groups. Generally the trail was pretty quiet, though, on a clear day but hazy with temperates well into the 90's in the valleys. We worked our way up the Blueberry Ledge Trail in the heat with some of the trail exposed to the sun. The climb was relatively straightforward with the exception of the last half mile which consisted of some pretty significant rock scrambling. Fortunately it was dry, though, so we were able to scramble up without too much trouble. We made it to the open and exposed viewpoint just below the true summit at about 11:30AM.

whiteface3We had good views of Lake Winnipesaukee from the top, and stopped for some lunch, snacks, and pictures before continuing on over the true summit of Whiteface and then onward to the summit of Passaconaway. It was over three miles of hiking between the peaks but the trail was pretty easy with just the final three quarters of a mile offering some steep grades. Passaconaway had a wooded summit, but there were several ledges and viewpoints close by. After another quick stop we headed back down the Dicey's Mill Trail to complete the loop. We motored down with Katy setting her typical blistering descent pace. I think her new hiking poles helped as well. We arrived back at the trailhead at around 4:00PM for the completion of numbers 20 and 21!

whiteface4This was a fun hike in a neat area. The trailhead is actually home to a network of trails that all kick off from private property at the end of a dead end road. It had a bit of a different feel to it then the notches to the north and there definitely may be more worth exploring once our 4000 footers are complete. For now, though, the beat goes on as we continued the rest of a relaxing week at the lake and are trying to coordinate getting to the halfway point of 24 peaks before Katy goes back for her second year of law school and our schedules quickly fill up once again!

July 14, 2011

Mount Osceola and East Osceola

osceola1Katy and I spent another extended weekend away earlier this week up at Lake Winnipesaukee with her family. It was a fantastic vacation with time spent swimming, boating, golfing, and relaxing. And since we were already well north in New Hampshire, we decided to throw in some hiking as well. We had originally planned on grabbing another couple 4000 footers on Saturday with her two sisters, her sister's boyfriend, (plus Mo). However, those plans fell through and we did a hike on our own on Tuesday morning instead.

osceola2The Counihan family tends to be early risers and on this past Tuesday, early morning commotion had already begun around 6:00AM. Katy woke up and said to me in a somewhat sleepy state "I really want to go hiking. Let's go before I don't want to go anymore." I guess we better go then! We got up, grabbed some breakfast, threw some water and granola bars into a backpack, and headed to the trailhead for Mount Osceola and nearby peak East Osceola. It was about an hour's ride from where we were staying in Alton Bay, and the forecast said partly sunny with a chance of an afternoon thunderstorm. We arrived at the trailhead at 7:45AM and were the only ones in the parking lot.

The hike up Mount Osceola was a very steady grade and a relatively easy 3.2 miles. Unfortunately, the partly sunny forecast did not pan out as we were completely in a cloud when we reached the summit and had no views. We continued on for another 1.0 mile with a couple of very steep sections over to the summit of East Osceola which had a wooded summit in the clouds. We retraced our steps back to the car and had completed 4000 footers 18 and 19 by 12:45PM. Overall it was an enjoyable hike that was part of just a generally really nice time away in New Hampshire.

July 4, 2011

The Wildcat-Carter Traverse

wildcatgroupThis fourth of July weekend has been targeted for quite some time now for us to tackle a few more 4000 footers on our list. We had another visit planned to AL and UP's condo in Bartlett, NH and we had been debating which hike we were going to do. For a while we contemplated doing a Presidential Traverse, or a half Presidential Traverse, but in the end we decided to knock off the remaining mountains on the Wildcat-Carter-Moriah ridge in one fell swoop. On Saturday, Katy and I plus Mo hiked over the top of five 4000 foot peaks in a 15 mile traverse of this ridge.

Whenever you do a long, end-to-end hike like this one, it's often tricky because you need to coordinate dropping a second car off at one end of the hike. Fortunately, Brian, Kate, and UP were willing to come along with us up the first peak (Wildcat D), and help us spot a car at the other end of the trek. (In fact, Mo was not originally planning on coming the entire 15 miles with us, but she changed her mind a mile into the hike and rather than turning around to return with the other group, decided to continue on with Katy and me). All six of us were up at 5:30AM and left the condo at 6:30AM to make our way out to the hike. We had two cars so we dropped Mo and UP off at the Wildcat Ridge trailhead and we continued on to the Imp trailhead to drop off our car. Brian brought Katy and I back to the Wildcat Ridge trailhead, and all six of us began our trek up at about 7AM.

wildcattopNot even 1 minute into the hike, we hit our first snag. We crossed the road via an underpass to get to the trail, and immediately were faced with a difficult river crossing. The water was fairly high and moving fast, but everyone was able to eventually make it across rock hopping (except for UP who got a bit wet). We continued on up the fairly steep Wildcat Ridge Trail and made our way to the top of Wildcat D (and the top of the gondola and ski slopes). Brian, Kate, and UP decided to turn back early, while Katy and I plus Mo continued on to the main summit of Wildcat Mountain, Wildcat A. At this point we were more than four miles into the hike, and had bagged two peaks.

wildcatninjaWildcat A contained a great outlook looking over Carter Notch. We could see about 1000 feet down to the rooftop of the Carter Notch Hut (which was on our route), and then back up to the peak of Carter Dome. "We're going all the way down there??" Maureen said when she saw it. Yes indeed. We made the steep decent down into Carter Notch and then climbed all the way back up to the top of Carter Dome after a short break at the hut. From there, we soldiered on over the top of South Carter and Middle Carter Mountains to bring our total peaks for the day up to five and our total peaks overall up to 17! By the time we had made it back to the car at the bottom of the Imp Trailhead we had traveled 15 miles in 11 hours over 5 peaks.

This was a long and challenging hike but it was a perfect day for it and well worth it. Single day Presidential Traverse? Perhaps it is in our future.