Sunday, July 9, 2017

Mt. Madison & Mt. Adams - #42, #43 & #1

Lots of numbers to consider on this trip.  This was a 2-day trip with our having reached the summit of Mt. Madison on the first day.  Madison was #42 of the 48-4,000' summits in NH that we've accomplished thus far.  That night we stayed at the Madison Spring Hut, our first ever hut stay (#1).  The following morning we hiked to Mt. Adams, the second highest summit in the Whites for #43.  

Hike Stats & Info
Distance:  Day 1: 4.9 miles -- Day 2: 5.2 miles
Elevation Gain:  Day 1: 4,117' -- Day 2:  1,075' (then 4,550' of descent)
Total Duration:  Day 1: 3.5 hrs to hut + 1.5 hrs hut-->summit-->hut -- Day 2: 6 hrs.
Trails Used:  Valley Way, Osgood, Gulfside, Airline
Difficulty:  Challenging
Water Availability:  Sporadic minor flows along Valley Way that may not be dependable, plenty of potable water at hut, Airline very dry with a few water crossings within a mile or so from the trailhead.
Directions to Trailhead:  From the intersection of Rte 2 & 16 in Gorham, NH, follow Rte 2 West for 6.7 miles.  Trailhead parking lot (and much needed roadside parking) are on the left.  Easy to find.

About this hike:  Many accomplish these two peaks in a single day but that would amount to nearly 5,200' of elevation gain over a distance of just over 10 miles if using the same route we chose.  My old knees and hips would find that difficult so a hut stay was the answer for us.  Staying at the Madison Sprint Hut made this an extremely doable hike.  For the last year or more we sweated about doing these two summits but the hut made it much easier.

This was our first ever hut stay and I found that the AMC does a great job.  The Madison Spring Hut was reconstructed in 2011 and I'm told the bunk rooms here are much more comfortable than some of the older huts.  

One thing I had not planned for was just how cold it would be at night.  Outside temps fell to the lower 40's and there's no heat in the hut, in particular the bunk rooms.  Even before hitting the sack it would have been nice to have long pajamas or some other form of pants as it was rather cold.  I had nothing but shorts with me.  Once in bed however the three wool blankets provided with the bunk kept me comfortable.  

Speaking of pants, I probably made a rookie mistake by not carrying either pants to hike in or rain pants.  We lucked out on the weather but with Mt. Adams being the second highest peak in the Whites, I should have carried some sort of leg cover (zip-offs, rain pants or long johns).

There are many horror stories out there about sleeping in hut bunk rooms, particularly with those who snore loudly.  My wife is a light sleeper so she was worried about being kept awake by those snoring or moving about.  She did some research and bought us each a Sleepphone headband ($39.95).  Purchase some looping white noise, hookup your iPod, go to sleep.  These are wonderful!  Yes, you can accomplish the same thing with ear buds but I find that they are not comfortable and I need to deal with the cables all night.  With the Sleepphones I wrapped the cable around the headband several times and I also clipped my iPod directly to the headband.  It was perfect.  Bluetooth models are also available for more denaros.

Food is plentiful at mealtimes at the hut with breakfast (7:00 am) and dinner (6:00 pm) served family style.  Not only was it plentiful, it was rather tasty extremely tasty!  They try to accommodate food allergies but, my wife being a Celiac, struggled with all the family style dishes passing her by and having to miss several of the courses.  And, when they made a special plate for her they erred and put something in it that made her ill (though not extremely so).  We think it may have been their use of a non-gluten free soy sauce.  Other than that our hut stay was a great experience and we will do it again.

As to the hike itself, I think the photos below will speak for themselves:

 Having just started, we seem so happy and energetic.  

 As we near the end of the Valley Way Trail and are approaching the junction near the hut, we were treated to several nice views of Mt. Madison.  In this photo I find the clouds outlining the profile of the summit somewhat unique.

 Black pine cones abound as we reach the edge of the treeline.  Why are they black I ask?

 Our first views of the Madison Sprint Hut, our home for tonight.

 Simply a pretty shot of the valley below. I love the shadows caused by the clouds.

 Here you can see Mount Washington and the auto road (thin lite line).  The annual auto race to the summit was being held today and we could hear the cars shifting and rev'ing as they wound their way up the mountain.  Travis Pastrana set the record (again) at 5 minutes, 45 seconds!  If you want a thrill, watch this YouTube video of his run. 

 Clearly happy to have reached our summit #42 of 48.

 This photo is from the following morning as we head towards Mt. Adams.

 The tiny prick punched marker representing the summit of Mt. Adams.  A similar marker exists at Mt. Madison.

 Now happy to have reached #43.

 Yes, you can text from the summit of the second highest peak in NH.

 Mt. Madison is "this big."

 This is the pace slowing minefield of rocks one must traverse to reach both summits.  The young'ns zoom right up this stuff but we need to pick and choose every step as well as trekking pole placement.  We are really slow on this terrain.

 Approaching the cone of Mt. Adams.

 As we climb towards Adams we look back at the hut and Mt. Madison.

 King Ravine sits on the RH side of this image and the spine on the left is the route the Airline Trail takes for our descent.  I am afraid of heights (go figure) so there were parts of this trail that were giving me the willies.

 This is one of those sections that I was less than comfortable with; the narrow dirt path with severe drops on the right.  For most this is a cake walk but I literally stopped, took a few deep breaths and crossed it as fast as I could.  Again, most would be perfectly fine here.

This is the sign marking the turn to go down the King Ravine Trail.  Not a trail for me. 

Just an interesting shot as we leave the area above treeline and reenter the woods.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Belknap Range Traverse - Did I Ask For This?

Starting last summer we began hiking a bit more in the Belknap Range.  When our hiking season began this year we recognized that we could easily earn a patch for hiking 12 of the peaks as chosen by the Belknap County Sportsman's Association.  We've made substantive progress and in debating options for today's hike, my wife and I discussed the fact that only Mt. Rowe remained to reach our Belknap patch goal.

Doing Mt. Rowe alone though would only involve a 1.8 mile round trip with about 900' of elevation gain.  That hardly seemed like a lofty goal for an Independence Day hike.  So, foolish me, I suggested instead that we do a Belknap Range Traverse which would take us from the parking lot at Gunstock Mountain over Rowe, Gunstock, Belknap, Klem, Mack, Anna, So. Straightback and Major.  That is a trip of 12.6 miles with 3,850' of elevation gain. 

Darn it all; she said yes.  Oops!  What have I done? 

Why did I raise the option of the Belknap Range Traverse?  Though I've thought about the traverse before, last week when hiking in this area we picked up a gentleman who was hitch hiking from Mt. Major to Gunstock in order to do the traverse.  We chatted with him as we drove and that conversation got my juices going about doing the traverse myself.  Voila, done!

Hike Stats & Info

Distance:  12.6 miles (we added an additional .2-.3 miles to this for side jaunts)
Elevation Gain:  3,850
Total Duration:  9 hrs. 40 mins.
Trails Used:  Too many to list.  For a complete route description click here.
Difficulty:  Difficult (due to distance & elevation gain; most trails are moderate)
Water Availability:  Round Pond (roughly mid-way point of trip) and there are 3-4 sources on the Brook Trail later in the trip, at least one of which has good flow and from which we stopped to gather some water (always filter or chemically treat your water).

Directions to Trailhead:  Find your way to the main parking lot of the Gunstock Ski area.  After parking follow the road (walking only - no public vehicles allowed) between the back of the ski lodge and the pond.  Bear right at the end of the pond and watch for a trailhead marker on your left.  From here to the summit of Mt. Rowe the trail is a steep dirt road.

About this hike:  After making a somewhat last minute decision to take this long hike, I invited some hiking friends and their dog to join us.  They agreed!  What were they thinking?

It was a perfect day from a weather perspective; low humidity, temps hovering around 80 degrees and a nice breeze.  We spotted a car at the Mt. Major trailhead and continued on to Gunstock Mountain's main parking lot to begin our adventure.  We decided to start at Gunstock and finish at Major as opposed to the reverse only because it seemed that we would accomplish some of the more difficult climbs earlier in the day.  That proved to be accurate according to the actual elevation plot of our hike (image below).  Our GPS track is after the elevation plot.

There are intermittent views at or near the summits in many places on this hike.  We saw very few people all day, at least until we reached Mt. Major which is an extremely popular summit.  Even at 4:00 PM there were 15-20 people at the summit of Major.  I'll bet that there were periods today where 50 or more were there.

There are more trail junctions along this route than most hikes.  Many of the junctions are marked with this special Belknap Range Trail (BRT) symbol:

Don't depend solely on the markers above because they don't exist at all junctions.  Instead, have with you the AMC Southern NH Trail Guide descriptions and map as well as this publicly available map which denotes the blaze colors for each trail.  We found the latter colored map to be particularly helpful but it must be printed on 11x17" paper to be readable; at least for my old eyes.  We referred to our maps and descriptions more often during this hike than most so unless you are intimately familiar with the Belknap Range you'll need these resources.  

Here are just some of the rainbow of trail blazes you will encounter:

I guess I would describe this hike mostly as a goal to attain as opposed to a hike you are accomplishing to reach a new view or summit.  One could argue that every hike is a goal hike but this one is different.  In our case we had already hiked all of the summits crossed today except for Mt. Rowe but for me there was a draw to doing the traverse.  I suppose for those younger or more fit it is much like wanting to do a Presidential traverse or the Pemi Loop.  Those two are beyond my reach today so the Belknap traverse is my mini version of those extended hikes.

Though I rated this hike as difficult in the stats above, many would likely disagree with that assessment instead opting for a moderate rating.  My rating is mostly because of the distance covered and the PUDS (pointless ups and downs) that begin to wear on you after hiking seven or eight miles.  In any case, if you are looking for a nice challenge without having to drive all the way to the White Mountains, this might be the hike for you.

Here are a few other photos:

Is this it?  We did not find a cairn at the summit of Mt. Rowe and as best we could tell, this piece of rock was the highest point.

 Our group photo at the top of the ski area at Gunstock Mountain.

Here we are at the Belknap Mountain Fire tower and this shot is looking down from the tower to the concrete pads below. 

 A pretty shot of Round Pond with Belknap Mountain in the background.

 One of the many views of Lake Winnipesaukee and the mountains to the West and North.

Here we are descending the Boulder Trail.  Wonder how it got its name?  Just a week or so ago someone got hurt on this trail (broken leg I think) and they needed to be rescued.  After hiking this it is clear how easily one could get injured here.  Pick your way through carefully.  It is not outrageously difficult but you will need to pay attention.

My wife celebrates the fact that we are nearing Mt. Major after a very long day. 

We finally descend our last summit using the blue trail descending from Mt. Major.  We would have preferred taking one of the lesser traveled descents but 'some' in our group insisted on sticking with the official BRT route. 

Yep, we could have been boating on the lake on this Independence Day, as you can see many were, but instead we beat our bodies with this long hike.