July 29, 2012

Mount Cabot (plus Bulge and Horn)

After our trip up Mount Washington last weekend, Katy and I had been planning all week long to finish off our vacation by hiking Owl's Head and checking off one of the most elusive peaks on the NH 4000 footer list. Which day we would go would all depend on the most agreeable weather forecast of the latter half of the week. Unfortunately, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday all had similar forecasts -- cloudy, showers, thunderstorms, unsettled weather. After some debate, we finally decided we would modify our plans and hike Mount Cabot on Saturday. Mount Cabot is the northernmost 4000 footer in New Hampshire, and is off the beaten path of the typical hiking crowds in the Presidentials and Franconia Ridge. As we made the drive up early yesterday morning, the skies were cloudy but clearing, and I was anticipating this would be a simple, pleasant hike. The route we were taking was a loop hike over the top of Mount Cabot and also two lesser peaks, Bulge and Horn, which are not 4000 footers but are on the New England Hundred Highest list. I mistakenly thought that this route was about 10 miles in length, but upon closer inspection I later realized that it was about 11.5 miles instead. Given the scale and size of recent hikes that we've done, though, this miscalculation seemed to make little difference.

We arrived at the trailhead at the end of York Pond Road in Berlin, NH at about 8:15AM. The gate to the hatchery was wide open (even though the sign said it opens at 8:30AM). I had read recent reports that the gate was being left open 24 hours for the time being, but that was not too relevant for us since we would easily finish before the posted 4:00PM closing time. We geared up and headed off up the Bunnell Notch Trail under partly sunny skies with no real signs of rain. It was at this point that we quickly encountered the weeds. The first mile or so of Bunnell Notch Trail was very narrow and overgrown with three to five foot tall weeds on either side. It appeared to follow some type of old logging road that has been overtaken by the vegetation in the area. Somebody with a free afternoon and a machete could do wonders to this part of the trail. The bugs were also swarming something fierce even after we doused ourselves in bug spray. My anticipation of a simple and pleasant hike appeared to be dashed! We moved along at a quick pace until we finally reached a reprieve where the trail makes a left turn off the old logging road and into a nicely maintained trail in the woods.

At this point the trail began to really climb. We were so happy to be out of the weeds, though, that we didn't really notice. The upper sections of this trail were a much nicer walk in the woods and we made good time to the Cabot Cabin and then past it to the summit at around 10:40AM. The clouds were a little darker at this point, but still no rain. We took the requisite summit photos on the wooded peak and then continued on towards the Bulge. We seemed to reach the cairn marking the summit of the Bulge in no time at all and then pressed on to the trail junction of the spur path to the peak of the Horn where we took a right to climb this peak as well. The hike up Horn was quick but required a very tricky scramble up the final boulder to the official summit. Of all the views we got all day, the views on the Horn were definitely the best albeit under some now darker clouds in the sky. In addition, we finally encountered another hiking group on this peak who we talked to for a few minutes. They were on the same loop as us except coming from the other direction. We told them of the overgrown sections of Bunnell Notch Trail and they seemed to suggest that the lower elevations of the other side on the Unknown Pond Trail were not that bad. Hopeful news! We headed back down eager to complete the loop.

The hike down the rest of the Kilkenny Ridge Trail to the Unknown Pond was fairly uneventful. We took a right turn at the Unknown Pond to trek the final 3.3 miles back to the car. As we descended, we began to encounter short sections of overgrown trail similar to the way we started the day. I don't believe any of these sections were as bad as the first part of the Bunnell Notch Trail but the final two miles or so of the trail was definitely a walk in the weeds which made things a bit less pleasant. To make matters worse, Katy twisted her ankle in a fall and was concerned that she had sprained it. Fortunately, though, she was able to walk it off and appears to have escaped without a serious injury. We powered through this final section of the loop and actually were surprised when we arrived back at the car at 2:20PM, about 20 minutes earlier than I was estimating. We packed up and headed home, with Mount Cabot complete and in our rear view mirrors.

Most of our hikes in this 4000 footer journey have been fun adventures. I don't think that Mount Cabot left an impression on either of us as one of our favorites. It wasn't particularly strenuous, and even offered some good views and vistas; I guess it just wasn't our day. We both noted that a winter ascent may have been really nice, with some wide trail corridors (the weeds packed down by snow of course), gradual grades, and sheltered trails. Alas, though, we made it up the peak on this day and took solace in the fact that not 10 minutes after we got off the trail and began the ride home it started raining. And not only did it rain, but it rained buckets all the way home. It's probably a good thing that we decided to forego the much longer Owl's Head in favor of Mount Cabot for number 42 out of 48!

July 28, 2012

Washington and Monroe

It's been almost a month since I last reported additional progress on our 4000 footer goal. In that month, though, a lot has happened. First, in early July, Katy and I decided to plan a "hiking free weekend" for ourselves and take a trip up to Acadia National Park in Maine. We hiked up Dorr Mountain while we were there (oops!). The following weekend, my sister Megan got married to her long time boyfriend/fiance Chris, and we partied hard to celebrate their day (and a great day it was!). Finally, this past week my family took their annual trip up to Suissevale at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Just like last year, we targeted this Suissevale trip as an opportunity to get not only some beach-going and relaxation in, but also to continue tackling the 4000 footers. With the weather looking good for last Saturday, the 21st, we decided it was finally time to have a go at the daddy of them all -- Mount Washington. We were also super excited about this hike because for the first time in about a year, my sister Mo had decided to join us. The rag-tag team of Owen and Katy "plus Mo" was reunited and with our plan to hike up the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail and looping back down the Jewell Trail, we would be bagging the summits of Washington "plus Monroe."

I had not realized until the night before that last Saturday was actually the annual Seek the Peak event on Mount Washington. For Seek the Peak, volunteers raise money for the Mount Washington Observatory and then all hike up Mount Washington on this single day. It appeared as though the main festivities kicked off from the Pinkham Notch side of the mountain, but Mount Washington is always busy on summer weekends, so clearly there would be high traffic on all trails leading to the top on this day. I suggested that we try and get there as early as possible, and since we were all heading over to Lake Winnepesaukee after our hike, we decided to meet Mo way up at the Park-And-Ride lot off 93 in New Hampton, NH at 7:00AM. After a quick pit stop at Dunkin Donuts and the gas station, we all continued on together to the Ammonoosuc Ravine trailhead near the cog base station and arrived to a nearly full parking lot before 8:30AM. The sun was out, the temperature was comfortable and warming, and the summit forecast called for partly sunny skies with temperatures rising into the 50's and nearly calm conditions -- an ideal day. We geared up and headed up.

Personally I've hiked up Mount Washington at least three times in the past and have been up Tuckerman's Ravine Trail, Lion's Head Trail, and the Jewell Trail. However, I had never hiked the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. The trail starts out quite easy with smooth grades and is predictably well maintained. With our faster than average pace we quickly started encountering trail traffic with some large groups and some undoubtedly seek-the-peakers. After an easy mile or two we finally reached the base of the headwall of the ravine and begin climbing. There are some decent scrambling sections on this trail but it was very dry and so we didn't have much trouble navigating at all. The irony, though, is that just as we were discussing how nice and dry the trail was, Mo slipped on one of the few wet rocks and scraped her knee! A minor mishap, though, and so we continued on. We went right past the Lake of the Clouds Hut on our ascent in order to head over and bag Mount Monroe before returning back to the hut for a break. Monroe is a stone's throw away from the hut and offered neat views of the southern Presi's and Mount Washington from its perch. After a snack at the hut, we motored up the Crawford Path, passing several groups of hikers on the way to the summit of Mount Washington. The Crawford Path is a really nicely maintained trail and is like a paved sidewalk in comparison to some of the other bouldery trails that you will encounter at the summit cones of the other Presidentials. When we reached the top, we joined the swarms of other hikers, seek-the-peakers, cog rail go-ers, auto road drivers, and observatory staff that were up there.

We were very surprised to discover that the high volume of people on the mountain meant we had to wait in line to get to the true top and get our summit picture! We waited for probably about 10 minutes to get to the top and then another friendly hiker in line snapped a few photos of the three of us at the top. We then wandered around the summit sites for a while, stopped in at the Observatory building and ate our snacks, and just generally took in the views. It's always busy on the top of Mount Washington, but the beautiful day and the Seek the Peak event made it a real zoo up there. After we finally decided we'd had our fill, we began the trek back down towards the Jewell Trail. Hiking down the Gulfside Trail and then the Jewell Trail was a real treat. We were treated to clear views of the northern Presidentials for the first mile or two and also hiked over and alongside the Cog Railroad tracks for ways as well. Continuing down the Jewell Trail we could see into the valley with the Mount Washington Hotel and the Cog Base Station far below. On a clear, calm, warm day, it was great to be above treeline for so long. We finally dipped back down into the trees and continued the several miles to complete the loop and arrive back at the car.

Mount Washington is the clear king of the Whites and the summit that gets all of the attention. I've hiked it from several angles, and it's a challenge from all sides. As far as hikes go, though, it's not the toughest mountain to bag. Our previous hike up Madison and Adams was more grueling and had more elevation gain; peaks like the Bonds, Owls Head, and Isolation are more elusive; but you've got to respect the lure and might of the tallest. We checked this one off which sits at the top of our list -- 41 out of 48 now complete!