Sunday, September 11, 2011

2011.09.11 - South Twin Mountain; An Inspirational Summit

This was day-2 of a weekend of hiking.  Yesterday we hiked Mt Willey (Mt Willey on a Whim) and today the goal was to make the somewhat long trek (~11 miles) to the summit of South Twin Mountain with a stop at the Galehead Hut.

Today was 09/11/11 - the tenth anniversary of 9-11.  More about that later.

The hike was to be 4.6 miles to the Galehead Hut and from there another .8 miles to the summit of South Twin.  The last portion would be a decidedly different hike than the first couple of miles out from the trailhead.  The trail begins with a very long slow almost unnoticeable grade for at least two miles.  It then steepens to the Galehead Hut and thereafter the last .8 miles from the hut to the summit is even steeper with 1,150' of elevation gain in that short distance.

In August of 2011 a new trail section about 1-mile long was opened.  I'm told this new trail is about 1/2 mile longer than its predecessor.  The old trail followed the Gale River more closely and crossed it twice.  One of those crossings was bridged and that bridge was destroyed in a flood a few years ago (2005 I believe).  I'm told in high water both crossings could be difficult (in particular without the now destroyed bridge).  Further, the Gale River feeds the water supply of some local towns so moving the trail further from the river banks onto a ridge was one of the goals of the new route.   

It was interesting hiking this new segment.  It was a bit like walking on a well padded carpet as the forest floor had not yet hardened from the traffic.  This new section also had many more small changes in elevation than the typical trail.  Five feet up, four feet down, three feet up, six feet down, eight feet up....and on it went.

Let me share some photos:

The morning sun was spotlighted on these three pools.  It was rather stunning.

 The roots of this very old birch tree had engulfed a boulder.

We are 4.0 miles in and have reached the Garfield Ridge Trail.  We have .6 of mile of left to reach the hut.  I'll bet you could have figured that out by reading the sign!

A view across the valley between Galehead Mountain and South Twin Mountain as seen from outside the Galehead Hut.

The minefield of boulders leading up the steep climb to South Twin.

Though it was the 10th anniversary of 9-11, we had no idea that any sort of remembrance was taking place in the White Mountains, in particular where we were hiking.  While taking a break on the front porch of the Galehead Hut we could hear a helicopter nearing us.  They flew very low over Galehead Mountain and as I peered more closely at the peak I could see a flag.  It was then that we learned from other hikers at the hut that a 9-11 remembrance was taking place on the summit of all 48 4,000 foot peaks in NH simultaneously from about noon till 2:00 PM.  Small groups had volunteered to hike each mountain and raise a flag for that 2-hour period.  The helicopter we had seen was from the Air National Guard and I believe they were attempting to take photos of all 48 peaks with their flags raised.

When we learned all of this it was a little after 12:30 PM.  We needed to make the summit of South Twin before 2:00 PM if we wanted to experience the event.  With only .8 of a mile to go that would seem easy but, the "book" time from the hut to the summit is 1hr 20 min. due to the rough terrain and steep climb.  So off we went.

We typically hike more slowly than book time so we really had to scurry to make it.  I was a huff'n and a puff'n on the way up.  We made it with barely 10 minutes to spare.

When we arrived there were 10-15 people around the summit and it was almost a party atmosphere.  At 2:00 PM sharp however the mood changed dramatically as the leader of the group gathered everyone and then he lead them in the singing of the National Anthem.  It was amazing to see it, to feel it and to take that moment to remember all who died on 9-11 and as well to remember their families.  It was also a time to reflect on all those affected both by death and injury in the wars we've engaged in since 9-11.  This was a truly sobering  moment.  May God Bless whoever spearheads the organization that puts together this remembrance.  To learn more, check out their website

I was lucky enough to find this photo of South Twin taken from the Air National Guard helicopter on the day we make this hike.

Here we are at the summit with the 9-11 remembrance flag behind us.  Smaller flags peppered the rocks all over the summit.

Now a few photos of the views from the summit:

The singing of our National Anthem.

We are now heading back down from the summit.  That is the Galehead Hut in the background.

We take a second break at the Galehead Hut before finishing the 4.6 miles back to the car.

This week's vegetation photo is of an area of large bushes, almost the size of small trees, covered in red berries.  I wish I knew more about plants so I could to tell you what they were.

Some 10 hours later our hike ended.  It was about 6:45 PM when we were packing things up at the car.  What a long but great day.  Seeing that ceremony at the summit is something I won't forget for a long time.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

2011.09.10 - Mt Willey on a Whim

If you follow my blog you'll recall that a long weekend of hiking was interrupted a few weeks ago (Darn Irene).  This trip was to be our 'makeup' weekend.  We traveled to the Whites on Friday afternoon, hiked Saturday and Sunday and had a leisurely day and return trip on Monday.  Originally we had hoped to hike for 3-4 days but work life cut our trip to a mere two days of hiking.  Just as well.  By Monday morning I was spent.  Watch for my next post coming soon covering our Sunday hike of South Twin.

So why the title of this blog - Mt Willey on a Whim.

Well...our original plan was to hike North Twin on Saturday and South Twin via the Galehead hut on Sunday.  We hit the North Twin trailhead at about 8:30 AM and began our trek shortly thereafter.  About .5 miles in we hit our first of three crossings of the "Little River" -- odd name for a wide and raging river.  The Little River was swelled from the after effects of tropical storm Irene as well as additional rains this past week.  We spent 45-minutes going up and down the riverbank looking for a suitable crossing.  We even did a little bushwacking trying to find a reasonable place to cross.  It was not to be.

Several hikers were in the same boat (odd way to put it as a boat would certainly have been handy).  We eventually watched two individual hikers cross in the vicinity of the trail but some long jumps across rocks and some boot soaking was necessary.  One of the two stumbled and nearly fell twice.  By this point we had psyched ourselves out with several attempts to cross where the waters were really raging hard.  To make matters worse we knew the trail crossed this river 2-3 additional times (x2 for the return) and we finally gave up.  That was a first for us.  We have never given up on a trail.  With our heads hung low we hiked back to the car.

Once at the car, we dug out our White Mountain trail map and assessed where we might find an alternate hike.  Route 302 through Crawford Notch was closed due to washouts, we wanted to hike something we had not done before and we had now lost a few hours of daylight so our alternate hike needed to be close by; all of those constraints made it challenging to find something.  So, therein comes the title of this blog post - Mt Willey on a Whim.

Before we move on to our Mt Willey hike, I do have two photos from the Little River to share.

Some of the rushing waters on the Little River of the North Twin Trail.  Here is a perfect example of one section where if we could only get past this raging section we could rock hop the rest of the river.  The photo does not do justice to just how hard the water was running through this opening.

An interesting boulder perched in an odd location.  I assume it came to rest here during the recent floods caused by tropical storm Irene.

We hit the trailhead of our second hike attempt of the day.  We did not arrive here until after 11:00 AM.

This was to be our route.  We learned an important lesson on this trip -- always bring your White Mountain hiking guidebook(s).  We use two of these books to select and plan many of our hikes.  When our plan was disrupted today, we had no alternates selected and having those guidebooks in hand would have been helpful.  Instead our guidebooks were sitting in Sue's office at home.

We had no idea what we were in for when we selected Mt Willey as our alternate hike.  Looking back, I did wonder why we had hiked so many other trails all around Mt Willey but had never chosen to do Mt Willey itself.  I now know why I had apparently been avoiding this hike.

This route is only 2.7 miles one-way but it climbs 3,130 feet over that distance.  To make matters worse, the last 1.1 miles has an elevation change of 1,620 feet.  That is pretty darn steep.

A shot from the Kedron Flume trailhead across Route 302 to the mountains on the other side of Crawford Notch.

We reach the Kedron Flume in about 1.3 miles.  This shot is again looking across the notch.  The river here makes a precipitous drop over the edge.

This shot looks up the Kedron Flume.  There is water cascading down as far as the eye can see and it is really beautiful.

A short distance later we reach the intersection of the Ethan Pond Trail which is a part of the Appalachian Trail.

Just down the road a piece we reach the Willey Range Trail and we have 1.1 miles remaining to the summit.  A tough 1.1 miles...

Your eyes are not failing you.  Those are staircases, or more properly called ladders.  This section is so step and full of ledge that these very well built ladders were necessary.  There are actually 10-sets of these nearly one after the other.

Time for this week's vegetation shot, an interesting looking mushroom.

Okay, how about mushroom #2/vegetation shot #2.  This mushroom had a perfectly round shape and a unique color so I couldn't resist the urge to take a photo.  I tried to brush away the bits of dirt and pine needles from the top before taking this photo but the cap was sticky and none of this debris could be brushed away because they were stuck to the cap.

2.7 arduous miles and 3,125 feet of elevation change later and this is it.  Yes, this was the summit.  Luckily, there was more to see a short distance away as reaching this summit without any view would have been a bit depressing.  There in fact were two restricted but beautiful viewpoints just off the summit.  One was just after the summit looking west and the other was just before the summit looking east.

View looking west-southwest.

That's the "big one" in the distance - Mt Washington (looking east-northeast).

Looking south along Crawford Notch.  In nearly 18-months of hiking the Whites I have never hiked on such a clear day.  We could see further and more clearly than ever before.

We think that way, way in the distance in this photo we could see Mt Chocorua.

Sue was feeding some friendly birds as we sat and enjoyed a late lunch.  These birds would take bits of bread right out of her hands.

All in all this was a wonderful hike but reasonably tough.  It would make a great fall trek when the daylight hours are cut short as it took just over 6-hours to make the round trip.


Monday, September 5, 2011

2011.09.04 - Mt Monroe

Last week we did not hike and it was tropical storm Irene's fault, or was it the generator supplier's fault?  You might need to check my previous blog to know for certain (Darn Irene).

On our list of hiking 'wants' was a visit to the AMC's Lake of the Clouds hut.  So we planned a trip where we would pass the hut while on our way to Mt Monroe (elev. 5,384').  We decided to travel up the night before where we spent the night at the Bretton Arms (on the Mt Washington property).  The Bretton Arms dining room has some of the finest food you can get anywhere.  You will pay dearly for it but their chef is amazing.

The next morning, after a great breakfast at the same restaurant, we departed and arrived at the trailhead around 8:15 AM. This hike leaves a larger parking lot (with bathrooms -- always important for a hiker to know the bathroom status) just below the Cog Railway station.  The total distance of the hike we did (which we cut short a bit due to weather) was 7.0 miles.  Eight and one-quarter hours later I will tell you that was the longest 7-miles I've ever hiked.  In all fairness, I spent lot's of time stopping to take pictures (I took well over 100 on this trip) and allowing the traffic to pass both up and down.  Yes, it was Labor Day weekend and hiking the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail is a bit like hiking on I-93.  I was expecting a toll at some point.  NH could solve some of its budget woes by adding a toll on this trail.  Alright, I'm exagerating but this is a popular route to Mt Washington and that was exacerbated by the fact that it was a holiday weekend.

That said, if you love water and water falls, this is the hike for you.  It could be that the sound of rushing water and the aggressive flow of the waterfalls on this trip was greater than normal because the White Mountains were hit only a week ago by tropical storm Irene.  I would assume however that the water flow down the center of the Ammonoosuc Ravine is reasonably strong in all but the driest of weather.

I cannot tell you how much damage was done by tropical storm Irene in this ravine.  I still cannot believe what I saw.  The photos below don't really do it justice. I could have easily put 25 more pictures in this post that all show the destruction. 

It was 3.1 miles to the hut and then another .4 of a mile to the summit of Mt Monroe.

This storm damage was found early in the hike and often thereafter.  This was the first water crossing (Franklin Brook).  A new path had been blazed around to the right of this photo because of this log jam.

I always love these signs.  We are 1-mile into our hike in the middle of the forest.  Should I call for a reservation now?

The water was flowing rapidly.  You can see additional storm damage on the left.

Look a this photo closely.  The entire bank on the opposite side of the Ammonoosuc River in this area is completely washed away.  All that is left are the roots of the trees.  You've got to believe that this entire section of what was the top of the river bank will fall into the water at some point.

The next few photos show more of the storm damage.

Here is a portion of the trail itself that was washed away.

It was amazing how much of the trail had been under water only a week earlier.  The evidence was everywhere.  From the debris in the trail to the sediment that had been left behind as well as the grasses that were flattened from the water flow.  Many of these trail sections were 10-20 feet higher in elevation than the current water level and 150'-200' or more from the current path of the river.  Just how much water flowed down this ravine a week ago?

A reasonably clear area of beautiful flowing water.

More of the trail that was washed away.

A particularly beautiful fall over a scalloped shaped rock.

More devastation, is it still necessary for me to say that?

We catch our first views of the ravine ahead of us and I zoom in on some of the waterfalls.  Beautiful, simply beautiful.

 Am I supposed to walk across that log?

Well, not really but, this is a spot where the trail had washed away and it is a straight drop to the river about 15' below.  There is a small ledge you can walk on (to the left below the log) and the log acts as a railing.  It is actually rather safe if you are careful and the log was a great idea for what is likely a temporary solution.

Never have I hiked where there are more waterfalls.  This is but one of many to come.

This photo and the next several are of an area that is a small distance off of the main trail at the foot of a gorge.  Here the water is falling about 600' at an angle of 45 degrees or more.  There is both a left and right flow of water meeting at a rather large basin.  It was a stunning place to be and we sat and had our first substantive break while taking it all in.  That was good timing as it was here that the climb really steepened.  You see, we had to climb alongside this ravine at just about the same rate of ascent.  It was like spending the next two hours on a stair stepper.  Enjoy a few more photos of these waterfalls.

The morning sun glowed perfectly on this upper portion of the falls.

Though you cannot see the train in this shot, the ridge in the distance is where the Cog Railway climbs Mt. Washington.

We are nearing the col between Mt. Washington and Mt. Monroe.  For those of you asking:
col - A saddle between two mountain peaks, from Latin collum, "neck."
I didn't know either so I looked it up.  I have so much to learn about hiking...

The imprint of the clouds on a mountain side always impresses me.  I'm a simple person!

We reached the Lake of the Clouds hut, took a break and have begun the ascent to Mt. Monroe.  Here I am looking back at the hut from the Mt. Monroe summit trail.  The Lake of the Clouds hut is the highest in the AMC hut system at just over 5,000'.  It is an extremely popular stop over for both day hikers and through hikers.  We met hikers doing the entire Appalachian Trail who where stopping here for the night.  On our way down we also met several families who were expecting to spend the night at the hut including one family of five with three kids whose ages ranged from 4-7 years old.  And these kids were happy to be hiking!  That was impressive!  God bless that family for introducing their children to these natural wonders this early in life!

It was clear, or not so clear, that we were going to have no view at the top of Mt. Monroe.  Both Washington and Monroe were in and out of the clouds the whole time and it was just our luck that we were "in" the clouds when we reached the summit.  We intended to do the Mt Monroe loop which would bring us down the other side of Monroe and then loop around the backside on the Crawford Path.  The clouds and the expected afternoon thunderstorms (which did arrive later) caused us to cut that portion of the hike thereby shortening this hike from 7.8 miles to 7.0 miles.

Two lakes -- is that why its called Lake of the Clouds hut?

This week's vegetation photo is of a rock.  Okay, so not every week is a 'vegetation' photo.  The marble on this stone was as white as freshly fallen snow.  It was really stunning.

Yet another fall we had not seen on the way up.

One last photo on the way down.  This particular area of the Ammonoosuc River was simply devastated.  There were trees down everywhere. Yes,there is a beautiful river under this bed of trees and branches - somewhere.

As Sue said earlier in our hike, "Something angry blew through here."