Thursday, September 07, 2017

Hiking the Whites Day 7 - Return to Mt. Washington

Lake of the Clouds Hut was a welcome port in a storm. Our hut croo for the night was an energetic bunch of volunteers filling in for the regulars, but they were on top of their game, and doted over Carmel as she warmed up after the trek.

Lake of the Clouds is the largest hut in the Whites, sleeping about 90, and was filled to capacity with reserved hikers and thru hikers sheltering from the elements. We shoehorned our way into our assigned bunkroom and hung our wet gear up best we could. It wasn't long after dinner that I found myself snug in my bunk and drifting off to sleep with my book and headlamp.

Morning found us rested and ready to make plans. The weather forecast was good - the clouds were expected to break and the winds die down. We decided that Traci and David would wait with Carmel at the hut for the weather to clear and then accompany her up to the summit of Mt. Washington, a mile and half or so away. Meanwhile, I'd hike 7 miles along Crawford Path, passing several more of the Presidential Range peaks: Mount Monroe, Mount Franklin, Mount Eisenhower, and Mount Pierce. Once I'd gotten the car, I'd drive 30 miles or so around the Whites and take the Mt. Washington Auto Road to the top.

The trail south was still in the clouds as I started my hike. 

Blue skies were breaking through by the time I skirted Mt. Eisehnower.
 With our plan in place, I slid back into my wet gear and started up the trail. The first few miles were foggy, but slivers of blue started to appear as I hiked. As the sun started to break through, I reflected on the mercurial weather of the Whites, and regretted the spectacular scenery I'd missed seeing the day before.
Ridgeline hiking on the Crawford Path

An expansive view to the north, with the Mount Washington Hotel in the valley.

Hiker self portrait during a shoe-drying break on the slopes of Mount Monroe. Mount Eisenhower is in the foreground, with Mount Washington in the distance. Shoes are Altra Lone Peak 3.0.
Today's hike almost made up for the loss. As the clouds lifted, I enjoyed spectacular views. To the north I could see the Mount Washington Hotel (site of the 1945 Bretton Woods Conference, for you history buffs), and back over my shoulder the distant peaks of the Presidential Range, with Mount Washington looming above them all.

After skirting Mt. Pierce, Crawford Path cut off from AT and descended towards Crawford Notch. A little history lesson --Crawford Path is the oldest continuously maintained footpath in the United States, blazed through the woods in 1819 by some enterprising locals who hoped to cash in on the tourist trade. A national historic register plaque and informative sign mark the southern terminus at Crawford Notch.
Crawford Path plaque.

Posing at the trailhead - the end of the trail for me.
After finishing my 7 or so miles, I tossed my pack in the car and began the drive around the mountains towards the Mt. Washington Auto Road. Text messages confirmed that Carmel, Traci, and David had reached the top of Mt. Washington. Carmel's ankle, while swollen from the sprain, held up well enough to get up the mountain, and they'd enjoyed the same blue skies I'd encountered as the day cleared.
Carmel sets off for the summit. Lake of the Clouds in the background. 

Carmel and Traci on the way up.
Looking back towards Lake of the Clouds Hut from Mt. Washington.
Looking south from the summit of Mt. Washington.
As the rest of the crew took in the sights on Mt. Washington, I arrived at the Mt. Washington Auto Road. A private toll road that opened in 1861, its a daunting drive for anyone who doesn't like heights and narrow twisting roads without guardrails. Me, in other words. But eventually I reached the top and was reunited with the gang. A few summit pictures, and it was time to pack up the car and leave the trail.
Mt. Washington weather observatory. One of many buildings on the summit. 

The Mt. Washington Cog Railway.

High point of our hike, at over 6200 feet. 
She made it! 

Next time -- Epilogue

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hiking the Whites Day 6 - Bad Weather and an Injury

The weather had been a topic of discussion ever since we'd reached Madison Spring Hut. We'd enjoyed beautiful blue skies and calm conditions on the way up to the hut, but preliminary forecasts for the next day's hike looked dire, with hiking in the clouds, high winds, and possibly severe thunderstorms and hail. The eagerly awaited after-breakfast weather report brought some reassurance though. While we could expect to hike in the clouds and deal with high winds all day, the expected thunderstorms and hail were replaced by a chance of rain and showers.Temperatures for the summits were forecast for the upper 40s. Not fun, but definitely doable with the right gear.
You'll find a weather forecast bulletin at every hut, complete with a convenient wind-chill chart.

An appropriate warning.
With the weather in mind, we completed our packing quickly and shrugged into our rain gear for the day's hike. The hike from Madison to Lake of the Clouds Hut is usually one of the highlights of a Whites traverse, with extensive views and many sections above tree line. Today we'd miss the views, and miss the shelter of the trees as well.
Interesting morning lenticular cloud formation

Visibility was basically nil as we started up the trail. 

Carmel shrugs off bad weather.
As we began our hike, the clouds descended upon us and the winds began to pick up - steadily at first, then with increasing intensity. The moisture of the clouds gave way to intermittent showers, with an occasional patter of sleet thrown in. The only good news was that the temperature was holding around 50 degrees, unlike the bone-chilling dampness of a few days before, when we'd dealt with temperatures in the low 40s.

After a few miles of hiking, the moment you fear occurred. With a yell, Carmel pitched off of the slick rocks she'd been traversing and hit the ground in obvious pain. I feared the worst - a broken leg - but she'd "only" sprained her ankle badly. It was still a serious situation. I'd packed an ace bandage, and we wrapped her ankle as best we could. Fortunately she could still walk, albeit at a slow, limping pace. A bad day on the trail had turned dangerous, with five miles to go and deteriorating weather. Aside from her injury, there was the danger of hypothermia as we spent extra time outside.

The next six hours were a slow progression through the fog, rain, slick rocks, and wind, from one trail landmark to then next. We bypassed the summit climb to Mt. Washington on a bypass trail, and finally reached the final mile downhill to the hut. Traci and David went ahead to let them know we were coming, and we struggled along, soaked to the skin and starting to shiver.

Suddenly the hut loomed up in front of us, along with David, carrying a travel mug of hot tea. We'd made it!

Next time - A change in plans, and a return to Mt. Washington.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hiking the Whites Day 5 - Back to the Alpine Zone

Our short break at Crawford Notch was busy but productive. After showers, we drove a few miles south to a campground at Crawford Notch State Park, where we dropped off Carmel and Traci to do the laundry, while David and I headed to the small town of Jackson to resupply at a local grocery store. Cleaned up and resupplied, we enjoyed a nice buffet dinner back at the lodge and hit the sack early.

The plan for the next leg was to shuttle north, hike back up into the mountains, and then head south to return to our car at the Highland Center - three days of hiking with stops at Madison Springs Hut and Lake of the Clouds Hut. After fueling with another great breakfast, we caught our shuttle and were soon at the Valley Way trailhead.

No kidding folks - be prepared. At the Valley Way trailhead. 
 Valley Way Trail takes a direct route up to ridge line, paralleling the course of a brook to the top, where the trail pops out within sight of Madison Springs Hut. The 4-mile trail is relatively easy until a 1/2 mile rock scramble at the top, and passes through some quiet woods until you hit the alpine zone. Despite having to swat mosquitoes at the lower elevations, we enjoyed a pleasant hike, highlighted by a curious red squirrel that took great interest in us when we took a snack break.

Hoping to pick up a handout.

Bees load up on the wildflowers.
Madison Springs Hut occupies a dramatic location, directly on the lower slope of Mt. Madison to the north, with Mt. Adams looming overhead to the south. We'd arrived early, so had plenty of time to relax after snagging our bunks. We spent some time chatting with day hikers and thru-hikers, and while waiting got to see one of our croo members hiking in a packboard full of supplies.
Madison Springs Hut

Carmel and Traci arrive at the hut. 

Croo member arrives with supplies.

Traci looks on with awe.

After a little time for relaxation, David and I took off to summit Mt. Madison, while Traci and Carmel stayed behind to listen to a croo member give a talk and demonstrate the packboards.
Looking towards Mt. Adams from the summit of Mt. Madison. The rock cairns mark the trail.

Mt. Adams in the foreground, with Mt. Washington in the back.

Mt. Washington. 
Carmel (above) and Traci (below) try on a packboard.

Our day ended with a short nature walk to an small lake above the hut. Our croo member guide was a great guide to the plants and geology of the area.
Our croo nature guide.

Posing on a large quartz outcropping. You'll find them scattered throughout the area in the vicinity of Mt. Washington.
With that, we called it a day. Tomorrow's path would take us over Mt. Washington to Lake of the Clouds Hut, the largest hut in the system, sleeping nearly 90. In the meanwhile, we awaited the morning weather forecast - there was talk of bad weather coming in...

Next time - A challenging day

Monday, August 14, 2017

Hiking the Whites Day 4 - Return to Crawford Notch

After our rainy and cold hike to Zealand Falls Hut we settled in the the evening. We were the last group in for the day, so we scramble around to find empty bunks and places to hang up our wet gear before we could take the opportunity to relax.

Zealand Falls Hut wasn't my favorite. While the bunk rooms were recently remodeled, the common area was older and cramped, so it was difficult to find any place to relax. Even more difficult since the hut was full, and everyone was staying inside. A large number of our fellow guests were from a high school, participating in a pre-school year trip. Nice kids, once you broke the ice, which I did by taking on their ace chess player in a couple of games. He played a pretty scattered game, so I didn't have any trouble beating him.

We also killed some time getting to know a Dutch family who we'd first bumped into at Galehead Hut. Mom, dad, and three kids - they were having a great time in the mountains.

One other interesting sidelight of the evening was our guest "croo." The regular croo was off for the day to attend the annual all croos summer party at Galehead Hut, so a family of volunteers took over for them. While they tried their best, they didn't quite have the same polish and skills as our regular bunch, especially in the kitchen. Nonetheless, kudos to them for volunteering!
Cloudy, but at least no rain for today's hike!

Our school group hut mates at a morning meeting.
After breakfast we crawled back into our damp clothes and shoes and prepared to hit the trail. Today was a pretty short hike, mainly down, to the Highland Center at Crawford Notch. There we'd be able to shower, wash clothes, resupply, and get ready for the next leg of the trip.

For the first time in several days, our trail took us out of the alpine and sub alpine forests down into lower elevations. More streams were in evidence, including an impressive beaver pond, and we observed many more flowers in later stages of growth than we had at the higher elevations.
In the lowlands, after three days among the peaks.

Carmel and Traci take advantage of an excellent bridge.

A lovely beaver pond.
The lower elevations didn't end the rocks, which included a rough scramble up and over the shoulder of Tom Mountain, but after a while we began to descend along the stream leading to Crawford Notch. Encouragingly, we started seeing an increasing number of day hikers coming up from the Notch. We knew we were close!

Moss-covered rocks were a common sight. 

Time for a break!
A little after lunch time, we could hear US 302 carrying traffic through Crawford Notch, and we soon popped out of the woods near the Highland Center. Taking their ease and greeting us on the front lawn was our Dutch family, and we were happy to dry out in the sun with them while we waited on our rooms to be ready.
An international crew chills out at the Highland Center.

Four days in the books!
Next time - Back on the trail!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Hiking the Whites Day 3 - The Weather Turns

Our trip to this point had been a succession of glorious New England summer days. Sunny and warm, but never too hot. The forecast for our third day promised something different, though. "In the clouds, rain showers, winds 30-40 mph, and temperatures in the 40s" were promised for the high peaks.
A red dawn over Twin Mountain - the first climb of the day.

Clouds began lowering over the peaks as the morning began. 
Our hike for today was about 7 miles along the Twinway Trail, which the hut croo assured us was one of most scenic of the Whites. Although the first mile of the hike was a rocky scramble up Twin Mountain (4700'), the rest of the day promised ridge walking and a gradual descent to Zealand Falls Hut (2360'), the lowest in the hut system.
Rain gear on and ready to tackle the day!
Rain began falling during breakfast, and we dressed for the conditions, with rainjackets, pants, and extra layers. Climbing up the steep ascent of Twin Mountain, the extra layers  were a sweat-producing burden, but at the top we were happy to have them. Above treeline the temperature was 35 degrees, and we felt the full force of the 30-40 mph wind. No time to tarry - we were quickly ready to move on!
An inhospitable summit.

Summit selfie - photobomb by Traci.

Looking south towards Franconia Ridge and Mount Garfield. The only view we had all day.
Fortunately, the trail descended along the ridge and into the sub-alpine forest of stunted trees and krumholz. It wasn't much shelter, but it helped. Meanwhile the clouds descended upon us and we walked in a dense fog, with the views to either side only imagined in the grayness. Despite our rain gear, we were all wet and chilled, so the only goal for the day was to keep moving. Even a short stop to pass out sandwiches for lunch left us shivering and cold. 

As we descended the temperature gradually climbed, and we enjoyed some smooth even trail for large sections. Aside from one quick climb through gusty winds and sleet to cross a ridge line, we made relatively good time. 

Approaching the hut, we descended further into a forest of larger trees and warmer temperatures. But by the time we walked in the door of the hut we were a cold and bedraggled group. Zealand Falls Hut is next to a swift-flowing stream with waterfalls. It would be a wonderful location on a warm summer day, but we were content to get inside, claim some bunks, and shift into drier clothes. 

Next - Return to Crawford Notch