October 15, 2012

Mount Carrigain Finale!

We've done it. On Saturday, Katy and I hiked Mount Carrigain to complete our goal of hiking all 48 of New Hampshire's 4000 footers! Our original plan for the finale was to hike on Columbus day weekend, but with scheduling conflicts and sub-optimal weather, we decided to push it out one more week. The result of this move had several positive side effects. First, Sawyer River Road, the access road from 302 to the Signal Ridge Trailhead, has been closed to vehicle traffic since it was damaged during Tropical Storm Irene over a year ago. Hiking the road turns the normally 10 mile out and back hike into a 14 mile slog which is something we were fully expecting and prepared to do. However, to our pleasant surprise, the road opened just this past week! We didn't do anything and we were already four miles closer to our goal. Second, the weather on Columbus Day weekend was ok, but plagued with clouds and showers. Saturday, on the other hand, turned out to be a perfectly clear day, and an early preview of winter with crisp temperatures and snow on the summits. You couldn't have ordered up a better New England blend of the seasons if you tried. Finally, with our original schedule, our most frequent hiking participant would have been unable to make it. With the delay, however, my sister Mo was now available to join us for "The Final Thing!" Like we've done in the past, we coordinated an early meeting time of 6:00AM at the Park-And-Ride lot in Nashua on Saturday morning. We met Mo there in the dark of the pre-dawn hour and continued north to begin the last adventure of this hiking chapter!

We arrived at the trailhead at the end of Sawyer River Road before 9:00AM to a mostly full lot. It looks like we weren't the only ones glad that the road was open! The skies were clear but the temperature was a brisk 28 degrees. After gearing up, we took a few photos and then were off to tackle the five mile trail to the summit. The first two miles or so of the Signal Ridge Trail are easy and mostly flat. I had read that the first quarter mile of the trail had been rerouted very recently to bypass a difficult river crossing. This first section of trail was clearly in its infancy but in good shape and easy to follow. After following it we quickly joined up with the much wider and more pronounced original trail and continued at a leisurely place through the fallen leaves. There was one fairly straightforward river crossing about a mile and half in which we navigated without issue before reaching the only trail junction on this route at 1.7 miles. We continued on, at this point starting to see some signs of snow on the trail.

After pushing past the trail junction, we started climbing. The grades on this trail were easy, with moderate steepness the rest of the way. It wasn't long before the trail was mostly covered in snow. There was less than an inch for the most part and not really a need or use for microspikes, but there was just enough to make the trail a bit slick and icy in spots. We carefully continued on, and began to bump into a few other hiking groups on the trail. It was at this point that an interesting phenomena began to happen. Now, we've definitely had conversations with other hikers in the past about the 4000 footers, how couldn't you? Certainly not everyone you see hiking these trails is a peakbagger, nor has everyone even heard of the 4000 footer club, but when you hike all 48 of them, you're bound to have a conversation here and there with someone who has this common goal. Up to this point, though, we haven't bumped into anyone (that we know of) that was finishing their list on that very hike. When we reached the semi-exposed ridgeline about a half mile from the summit, two girls were coming down who had just finished their 48 list that day! Congrats! we say, and we're finishing too! We were nearly there and the celebration was on.

When we reached the summit, there was a crowd of over a dozen people there. Katy and I high fived and then began to ascend the summit lookout tower to take in some of "the best views in the Whites." As we started up the stairs, we heard the cork of a champagne bottle pop. Another group finishing their 48 at the same moment as us! I knew that Carrigain was a popular peak to finish on, but this was quite the coincidence. Maybe everyone was just holding out until Sawyer River Road opened up? Whatever the case, it was quite the party atmosphere at the summit despite the snow, the cold, and the wind. We went up to the top of the lookout tower for the panoramic views and for the summit photos on the 48th. It's no joke about the views, they are definitely some of the best and we braved the icy wind chills for as long as we could before seeking shelter down below. Also, for those who have been following along you may have noticed that Katy is likely the first person to do a "ninja jump" at the top of all 48 4000 foot peaks. While I can't claim the same, I did promise Katy that I would do a ninja jump with her on our final peak. Now you've seen the proof!

After some time at the summit, we ducked a little ways down the trail under the shelter of some trees away from the wind to eat some lunch. At this point another group of hikers came that also had some 48 finishers among them! Somebody on the trail tallied it up and by his count there were at least 15 individuals who finished their list of New Hampshire's 4000 footers on that very day. Incredible! All of this summit celebration was very exciting, but there was still one important piece of administrivia to take care of -- getting down. It's important to note that we weren't actually finished until we reached the bottom under our own power and were safely back at the trailhead. After our lunch we continued on, taking care on the snowy, and still slippery upper section of the trail. We continued through the seasons and gradually made it back into the autumn conditions with the snow gone, fallen leaves on the ground, and slightly warmer fall air. After a bit of a slog through the last couple miles, we finally "emerged victorious" at the trailhead as the newest members of the AMC 4000 footer club! (Well, until about 2 minutes later when one of the other finishers on that day came off the trail right behind us!)

It's been just over three years on this journey and I couldn't have picked a better teammate to tackle this goal (Love you Katy!). Looking back over a constant thread like this makes you realize how quickly time can go by and how much things can change in such a seemingly short period of time. It's not just the mountains that have been the constant, though, it's the friends, the family, and the loved ones that have joined us, laughed at our stories, followed our progress, and cheered us on. Special thanks, of course, goes to Mo, Brian, Anne, Tim, Kate, and UP on coming with us, some for just a few miles, others for many many more. A lot lies ahead for me and Katy, and there will still be hiking with the 67 New England 4000 footers as a potential long term goal. For now, though, here's a look back at our adventure.

Mount Lafayette2009.10.04
Mount Lincoln2009.10.04
Cannon Mountain2009.11.15
Mount Tecumseh2010.04.24
Mount Moriah2010.07.24
North Kinsman2010.09.05Mo, Anne
South Kinsman2010.09.05Mo, Anne
Mount Tom2010.10.10Mo
Mount Field2010.10.10Mo
Mount Willey2010.10.10Mo
Mount Hancock2011.05.28Mo, Brian
South Hancock2011.05.28Mo, Brian
Wildcat D2011.07.02Mo, Brian, Kate, UP
Carter Dome2011.07.02Mo
South Carter Mountain2011.07.02Mo
Middle Carter Mountain2011.07.02Mo
Mount Osceola2011.07.12
East Osceola2011.07.12
Mount Whiteface2011.07.23Mo
Mount Passaconaway2011.07.23Mo
Mount Flume2011.07.31
Mount Liberty2011.07.31
Mount Hale2011.08.06
Mount Pierce2011.09.04
Mount Eisenhower2011.09.04
Mount Waumbek2012.01.01
Mount Jackson2012.01.29
North Tripyramid2012.02.19
Middle Tripyramid2012.02.19
Mount Garfield2012.04.07
Mount Isolation2012.05.12
North Twin Mountain2012.05.26
South Twin Mountain2012.05.26
Galehead Mountain2012.05.26
Mount Jefferson2012.06.16Anne, Tim
Mount Moosilauke2012.06.23Brian
Mount Adams2012.06.30Brian
Mount Madison2012.06.30Brian
Mount Monroe2012.07.21Mo
Mount Washington2012.07.21Mo
Mount Cabot2012.07.28
Mount Zealand2012.08.04
West Bond2012.08.04
Mount Bond2012.08.04
Owl's Head2012.09.02
Mount Carrigain2012.10.13Mo

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