January 29, 2012

Mount Jackson Revenge!

After a fun hike and a great weekend over the New Year's holiday, I wasn't sure when the next opportunity Katy and I would get to knock another NH 4000 footer off our list. Most weekends during the law school semester are extremely busy. However, during this past week, Katy mentioned several times that she was "really craving hiking". When she suggested yesterday that she was in a good enough position to maneuver a free day today for a day hike, I said: Sure! We looked at our list of remaining mountains, scoured the trip reports on New England Trail Conditions and Views from the Top, and settled on the shortest and "easiest" hike remaining: Mount Jackson.

I put "easiest" in quotes because there is a back story to Mount Jackson as it relates to our 4000 footer quest. Last year, during Katy's spring break in early March, the two of us took a trip up to Mount Jackson to make our first ever attempt at a winter 4000 foot summit. The forecast for that day last March called for partly cloudy with temperatures in the upper 20's and a chance of flurries. Doesn't sound too bad! We did not own snowshoes at this point so we rented our gear and headed off. When we arrived in Crawford Notch last year the snowbanks were well over 10 feet high and we had trouble even finding the trailhead on the side of the road. As you can see by the side-by-side trailhead shots from last year and this year, there was several more feet of snow on the ground at the bottom of the mountain. Regardless, we trudged our way in several feet of snow of an unbroken trail, fell into a spruce trap or two on the way up, and made our way to just below the summit cone. The final 200 meters or so of the hike up Jackson is extremely steep, and by this point we were up to about five or six feet of snow on the ground with heavy snow coming down. We weren't quite sure where the trail went from here (since it was completely unbroken) and tried several routes up the cliff of ice and snow in front of us. After several attempts we finally turned back. It was an adventure and I enjoyed the trip, but there was a twinge of disappoint in not reaching the summit.

So this year we were back for our revenge. The forecast for this morning called for, yes, partly cloudy with temperatures in the upper 20's and a chance of flurries. Perfect! The real barrier to our success last time, though, was not really the flurries turned blizzard, it was the sheer depth of the snow and the unbroken trail conditions that we faced. When we arrived at the trail head this morning, it was cold with a mix of sun and clouds, and of course much less snow than last year. The trail was well packed out by recent hikers but still with a decent enough depth and consistency to warrant snowshoes. We saw several groups out today, many using microspikes with a couple other snowshoers in the mix. By the time we were on the trail, it was close to 10AM.

We worked our way up at a decent pace, quickly getting into a good groove. The clouds and blue sky were swapping in and out, and we actually did get a few flurries during the hike, but it wasn't a flurry blizzard like the last time around. There were some reasonably steep sections of the trail up Mount Jackson, but we maneuvered through them with relative ease until we reached our nemesis: the summit cone. From here we could quickly see what happened to us last year -- We took a wrong turn and ended up attempting an ascent of a sheer cliff. With a packed out trail we could see that there was a wide sweep around to the right that we missed or were unable to correctly follow last time around. This time we followed the correct route, and made it up the still very challenging, but manageable final scramble to the summit. Mission Accomplished.

The summit was partially clear and afforded views in all directions. This final section of the hike was the only section that popped up above treeline and it was a noticeable difference. The wind was howling and the windchill was likely below zero. We snapped a few pictures, took in a few views, and then headed back down. We were back to the car before 2PM and headed back home after finally exacting our revenge! 28 out of 48 4k footers now complete!

January 2, 2012

Mount Waumbek

With the fall semester over, the holiday family gatherings complete, and the spring semester not quite upon us yet, Katy and I decided to take a few days for just the two of us. We both have brand new snowshoes that we'd really like to break in, so we headed north and spent New Year's weekend in the White Mountains. The weather for Saturday looked iffy, with freezing rain and rain showers in the forecast. So we decided to spend that day poking around Jackson, NH, and ice skating at Nestlenook. It turned out to be a cloudy day but with very little precipitation and just an overall good time.

After a low-key New Year's Eve, we woke up relatively early on Sunday morning for a New Year's Day hike up Mount Waumbek. Mount Waumbek is one of the shortest of the NH 4000 footers and is a relatively straightforward out and back hike, 7.2 miles round trip. Despite our desire to snowshoe, all of the trip reports seemed to indicate that there just wasn't enough snow on most of the peaks, even at the higher elevations. Several Waumbek hikers over the previous few days reported using microspikes all the way up, so that's what we used as well. At about 9:30AM we were at the trailhead, with only one other car in the lot and temperatures in the low 30's and climbing.

The early part of the trail was a mix of ice and bare ground but this quickly gave way to persistent icy conditions covering the entire trail. The microspikes handled this with ease, though, and we were able to move along at a good pace. As we continued to gain elevation, the temperatures dipped back below freezing with a good 4-6 inches of snow on the ground. The trail was well packed down, though, and easy to navigate. Blue skies were threatening at the start of the hike, but we hiked right into a cloud and were viewless at the minor Starr King summit and the tree covered Waumbek summit. We reached the peak before noon and grabbed a few pictures and a quick snack before heading down.

On our descent, we passed several other groups going up, and when we reached the trailhead, the small lot was full and the temperatures were well into the 40's. We stayed another night at the Town and Country Inn in Gorham, NH before heading back home today. Overall it was a great hike, a great day, and a great New Year's weekend getaway with my favorite person. Mount Waumbek is our 27th NH 4000 footer and our first official winter 4000 footer.