June 30, 2012

Madison and Adams

After the last minute change of plans on last week's hike, Katy and I were itching to reload and conquer Madison and Adams in short order. Mount Moosilauke was a great hike, but it felt like just a teaser compared to some of the other hikes we have left on our 4000 footer quest. Brian really enjoyed the trip up Moosilauke as well, and with his schedule clear for the summer months, he was up for coming with us again this week. With the weather forecast for today looking perfect, we made plans that were identical to last week's: Meet at the Park-And-Ride in Nashua at 6AM, and continue on together to hike Mount Madison and Mount Adams. We met as scheduled where Brian parked in the same parking spot as last week, we stopped at the same Dunkin Donuts, and we filled up our gas tank at the same gas station. It was deja vu, with just a lower chance of death by lightning. We made it to the overflowing Appalachia trailhead before 8:30AM with the skies clear, the temperature warm and rising, and the Presidential peaks looming above.

We began our ascent up the Air Line Trail with the goal of reaching Mount Adams' summit first. This trail was in good shape, but right from the start was relentless in it's steep grades. There's no free lunch when going up Mount Adams - every route requires at least 4500 feet of elevation gain to reach the top. We powered through this first section, though, and made it to the Alpine Zone in good time. The Air Line Trail is a fantastic route to take on clear days as there is a prolonged section above treeline with unbelievable views. Today was one of those days, with just a few fair weather clouds floating by and visibility for miles. We continued on up the "mini knife's edge" and soon could see the Madison Hut nearby to our left. The last mile or so of the final ascent up Adams' summit cone was probably the most difficult with the trail sporting large, jagged boulders that required careful footing and scrambling. In addition, the winds were whipping all day long above treeline, with the prediction of 35-50 mph winds appearing to be just about right. With care and concentration we tackled the boulders and eventually reached the top at about 11:30AM. The views from Adams are pretty cool, with Mount Washington dominating the southern landscape. We stopped for some pictures and some lunch before heading back down.

In order to get over to the summit of Madison, we had to backtrack for about a half mile before heading over to the Madison Hut. We stopped for another break to fuel up and just generally enjoy the day. It was nice to be sheltered from the wind for a bit before heading back out to tackle Madison. Just 0.4 miles from the hut, the summit of Mount Madison is about 400 feet shorter in elevation than Mount Adams, and is an easier ascent. The boulders were smaller and less jagged, the trail was smoother, and we navigated our way to the top without too much difficulty. Again we spent a fair amount of time at the peak, soaking in the views and the sun. A few snacks and ninja jumps later, we were backtracking our way back to the hut to begin our route back to the car.

We took Valley Way down from the Madison Hut, a generally smooth, sheltered, and well maintained trail. It was at this point that knees started to ache and joints started to stiffen, but we remained in good spirits through the "death march zone". I'm not sure I could say the same about the three croo members that we passed hauling supplies up to the Madison Hut, though. One guy and two girls, each with large wooden frames on their backs carrying probably about 50 lbs worth of gear passed us as we were going down. Thanks to them, hikers filling the hut tonight will be enjoying a complete turkey dinner! In any case, we arrived back at the car just after 4:00PM with a magnificent day on the Presidentials behind us. That's now 39 out of 48!

June 23, 2012

Mount Moosilauke

All week long, Katy and I had been planning to take today to continue our assault on the Presidential peaks with a loop hike over Madison and Adams, two of the five highest peaks of the NH 4000 footers. For this hike, my brother Brian and my sister Mo were interested in coming along as well, so we coordinated to meet at a Park-And-Ride lot in Nashua at 6:00AM this morning and continue up in one car. Unfortunately, Mo wasn't feeling well and she decided to bow out at the last minute, but Brian was still in and we were still in, so the plan was on. We woke up at 4:45AM and began to organize our gear. We had been tracking the forecast all week and while it looked like there might be a chance of a shower or storm in the afternoon, it didn't look like a washout of any sort. I glanced at weather.com this morning and the forecast was similar, but I also decided to peak at the "Higher Summits Forecast" from the Mount Washington Observatory. That forecast was slightly more alarming.

The Higher Summits Forecast was detailed and specific and called for mostly cloudy skies in the morning, with "a high potential for severe activity by the afternoon" including "torrential downpours, gusty winds, strong hail, and frequent lightning." Hmmm. I called Brian and he had just left for the Park-And-Ride. We still wanted to hike and the weather looked fine at the time, so we decided since we were packed and ready to go anyways we would continue with the plan and meet him as scheduled, and think of possible alternative options on the way. Katy and I talked it over, and decided that the best alternative of our remaining hikes would be to go up Mount Moosilauke. We had been planning on saving that mountain for last, but given the situation, it was our best choice. It was a closer drive so we could be on the mountain earlier, it was not a very high mileage hike, and we would limit our above treeline exposure to any potentially severe weather. We arrived at the Park-And-Ride and told Brian our plan, and he was on board so we headed off.

As we approached the Kancamagus Highway, the skies began to clear, and we saw fair weather clouds and blue skies all around. I began to doubt if aborting the Madison and Adams hike was necessary and was tempted to go for it anyways. We were still 50 miles away from the Presidentials though, and the conditions could not only be different there, but change in the time it takes to get there. Ultimately, we decided to trust the forecast and got off 93 at the Kancamagus Highway and made our way over to the trailhead for Mount Moosilauke. Mount Moosilauke is a unique mountain. Not only does it sit all on its own in the southwest corner of the White Mountains, but it is also near Dartmouth College and the trail network is maintained by the Dartmouth Outing Club. Right away you could get the college-y feel with the snarky parking and trail signs and the mazy trail network near the Ravine Lodge at the base of the peak. We finally found the beginning of the Gorge Brook Trail and began our ascent.

The Gorge Brook Trail was wide, well maintained, and had consistently steady grades all the way to the summit. The peak is lofty, just over 4800 feet with a large open area above treeline near the top. We made it to the top at around 10:00AM and were treated with mostly clear skies with some wispy clouds above. We could see the Presidentials in the distance under cloudier and hazier conditions, but still relatively in the clear! "Should we have gone there instead?" "We wouldn't have reached the summits until a couple hours from now so it's hard to say." "True." In any case, we enjoyed the warm, calm, and clear conditions on the Moosilauke summit for a while, and then continued down the backside to make it a 9.5 mile loop hike over Mount Jim as well (not an official 4000 footer). Again, the trail was well maintained and easy to navigate, and we reached the bottom by about 1:30PM. It really was a simple, pleasant, and enjoyable hike all around with good conditions and great views. We still wondered if we missed out on a top day in the Presidentials.

When we stopped back in Lincoln for pizza we got our answer. While we were still enjoying clear, blue skies above, we could see darker conditions in the distance. I checked my phone for the current weather conditions on Mount Washington, and found that there were severe weather alerts up with flash flooding warnings. A large line of thunderstorms had appeared on radar seemingly out of nowhere, and was hammering the area. In fact, it seemed that we had gotten down off of Moosilauke just in time, as storms had appeared in that area as well, just after we left. Overall, it appears that on this day, we found the perfect window of time, in the perfect location, to enjoy clear, calm, warm, and dry conditions for the entirety of the hike. While we missed out on Madison and Adams this week, they'll be there next time, hopefully under less threatening skies. That's now 37 out of 48 done!

June 17, 2012

Mount Jefferson

Several months ago, Katy asked me if I had any interest in going to a Sugarland concert on June 16 at Meadowbrook in Laconia, NH. I'm not sure if I really knew who Sugarland was, but I said sure why not? Her dad then got wind of this and since Meadowbrook is right down the road from the little cabin he is renting in NH for the summer, he grabbed four tickets to the concert and gave them to us for a pre-birthday present. So it's been on our calendar for a while now that we would be up in NH this weekend, and we had coordinated that Katy's brother and sister, Tim and Anne, would be coming along to the concert with us. Given the proximity of Laconia, NH to the White Mountains you can imagine what this might mean -- another hike up a 4000 footer! And so it was. In choosing a hike for this weekend, we strived to accomplish three goals: 1. Give ourselves enough time to reasonably do a hike and still fit the Saturday night concert in, 2. Convince Tim and Anne to come along with us, and 3. Leave room to spend time with Katy's dad for Father's Day. Given this and all of the remaining 4000 footers on our list, we chose the shortest hike on our list, a five mile out and back up Mount Jefferson via the Caps Ridge Trail.

I've hiked Mount Jefferson before many years ago on a camping trip with my dad, brother, and uncle. While the mileage numbers look tame, I do remember this trail being a tale of two hikes with the lower half being relatively simple and the upper half being steep, rocky, and tough. My perspective as a younger, scrawnier, and smaller kid may be much different than now, though, so I was interested to see how this trail looks to me today. Tim, Anne, Katy and I arrived at the trailhead at around 9:00AM yesterday after getting up somewhat early and departing from our overnight stay in Laconia. The weather was absolutely perfect for an above treeline hike with temperatures in the 60's and climbing, no clouds in the sky, and a calm, clear day forecast for the higher summits. We geared up and SPF'd up before heading off. The first mile, as expected, was cake. With the trailhead at such a high elevation, it wasn't long before the trees starting shrinking and the views of Washington's nearby summit were peaking through the leaves. With Tim and Anne along for the hike, we took our time for the first mile and made it to a ledgy viewpoint in under an hour. From this viewpoint you could see the three distinct "caps" of the Caps Ridge Trail that makes this tricky little trail a challenge. We continued on and the trail quickly got steeper.

Just as I remembered, after passing this ledge, we quickly emerged above treeline and encountered a rocky, bouldery, trail the rest of the way up. It was at this point that Tim decided he was going to slow down and let us go on ahead. Anne, Katy, and I continued on over the three caps which featured some real steep sections and some tricky scrambles. Once past the third cap, it was a steadier grade for the last three quarters of a mile but requiring rock-to-rock-to-rock navigation almost the whole way. We took our time and made it to the top after 11:00AM. It was a crowded summit with many other hikers capitalizing on this Top 10 above-treeline day. The forecast held true as we enjoyed sunny skies, clear panoramic views, and a windless hike. We saw other groups head off to Adams and yet others heading over to Washington, but we stuck with the plan of a simple out and back for the day. After some summit pictures and some time at the top, we headed back down.

We returned the way we came and found Tim waiting for us on the trail. He had made it to the top of the third cap and called it a day there and decided to lay down in the warm sun and take a nap while waiting for us. We continued down the trail, navigating the tricky scrambles once again, and made it back to the car before 2:00PM. It was a simple hike, on a beautiful day, at a leisurely pace, with some challenging features. Ironically, this simple hike is the tallest we've bagged together so far. On the return trip to Laconia, we stopped for some pizza and were back in time for the Sugarland concert. We spent today with Katy's father and took a ride on his boat on Lake Winnipesaukee before returning home. All in all, a great weekend and another mountain down!

P.S. Funny tidbit for the day. It was "Biker Week" in New Hampshire and among other things, everywhere we went we saw thousands and thousands of motorcycles on the roads, everywhere. Given New Hampshire's "Live Free or Die" motto, I would say less than 5% of them were wearing helmets. When we hit traffic close to the Massachusetts border coming south on 93, I joked to Katy that the slowdown was because of all the bikers who were stopped at the border putting their helmets on. When we drove past the border what did we see? About 20 bikers, pulled over, putting helmets on!