Mount Washington, NH ~ through the hiker’s lens

At 6,288 feet, Mount Washington is the highest mountain in the northeastern United States, and one of the 48 New Hampshire 4000 footers. Home to a weather observatory, a cog rail, and an auto road, it’s accessible to anyone in the area that wants to visit. For those who choose to hike to the summit, it’s an entirely different experience – one as beautiful as it is dangerous. The view as seen from the trail:

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North and South Twin Mountains

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We recently hiked North and South Twin Mountain, making us officially 50% done with the New Hampshire 4000 footers! We began the hike off Haystack road, approaching from the north. There were some crazy river crossings on this trail, including a scoot across a fallen log over a raging torrent of rushing water – perhaps approaching from this side is a better idea when there hasn’t been heavy rains in the area?

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After what seemed like forever (but was really only 3.5 hours), we reached the overlook for North Twin. Although only 1.3 miles from the summit of South Twin, the distance looked long and daunting, especially since this hike was and in and out instead of a loop, which meant hiking over to South Twin, then back over to North before heading down. Basically hiking up – down – up – down – up – down. There’s no way your legs aren’t going to feel that :-/

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At 4902 feet, South Twin is the 8th highest of the 4000 footers (North is 12th). This hike was a challenge, but the views were incredible! The 11 mile hike took us just under 8 hours, which would have been shorter if my knee had been a little more agreeable on the way down. All in all, an awesome hike with breathtaking payoffs at the top. If you approach from the south, the AMC’s Galehead Hut is about a mile from the South summit, providing an alternative for those who don’t want to tackle the hike in a single day.

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Mount Jackson ~ Presidential Range, NH

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Although part of the Presidential Range of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Mount Jackson was named after 19th century Geologist Charles Thomas Jackson and not President Andrew Jackson.

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At 4052 feet, it is the 38th tallest of New Hampshire’s 48 4000 footers.

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This is a moderate hike with numerous river crossings and rock scrambles.

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There’s a great view of Mount Washington in the (not so far) distance.

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In mid-May, there was still quite a bit of ice on the trail.

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The views from the summit are wonderful, if very, VERY windy.

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 It was our first 4000 footer of the season, and I’m not going to lie – it was rough.

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The 5.6 mile hike took us about 4.5 hours, though I have no doubt that the hike could be done much faster.

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Mount Garfield ~ Winter Wonderland at 4500 feet

garfieldI could see snow in the distance on Mount Washington, but it had yet to stick in the valley, so I really didn’t expect to encounter much of the white stuff on our hike up Mount Garfield. Shortly into the hike, however, I realized that I was in for a surprise. Our boots crunched over a light dusting of snow. Then they sank into an inch of slush. Soon, we found ourselves marching through a winter wonderland, surrounded by ice frosted trees and snow banked trails.

garfield2At 4500 feet, Mount Garfield is the 17th highest of the New Hampshire 4000 footers in the White Mountains. The trail starts easy enough – for the first two of three miles, it’s like walking up a wheelchair ramp – a constant but not too steep incline. There are several river crossings which were quite easy to traverse, although I imagine that in late spring/early summer garfield6when the water level has risen from the thaw that they may prove more difficult.

Once you stop hiking straight up and start winding your way around the switchbacks, the trail takes on that endless feeling where you expect to see the top come into garfield3view around every corner, but it just doesn’t. The hike is in and out, five miles each way. Maybe it was the snow, but this was a VERY long five miles in. I’ve gotten pretty good at estimating how much ground we’ve crossed, but I was off by a good mile on this one. Just as I had garfield5convinced myself that we’d missed a turn and were hiking on to the next mountain, we finally reached a sign marking a split. Going straight would take us to the summit in .02 miles. Turning left would take us to a hut in .02 miles. Energy renewed, we hiked on to our destination.

garfield4At the very end, as usual, it gets a bit steeper and requires climbing some rocks, but for the most part, this was an easy, if long hike, with no slides, scrambles, large expanses of bald rock to cling to or any other more challenging features to garfield7conquer.The view was amazing, made all the more bewitching by the snow and ice. The summit was incredibly cold and windy, the kind of weather that claws at you, where your skin is whipped raw and you quickly lose feeling in your fingers and toes, so we snapped a few pictures and garfield8began our retreat.

 

It was too cold to stop and there was nowhere dry to sit, so lunch consisted of stuffing our pockets with food to eat while walking. With the short fall days, we were also pressed for time if we wanted to get off the mountain before nightfall. We did the ten mile hike in just under six hours.

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This seemingly endless hike was definitely worth the views, and even though I succumbed to the sniffles over the next couple of days, it was one of my favorite hikes of the year. I highly recommend this mountain.

 

The Lower Falls ~ An Enchanting Stop Along the Swift River

lowerswift7lowerswift16The Lower Falls recreation site on the Swift River is one of the most popular stops along the Kancamagus lowerswift12Highway. Located in Albany, New Hampshire, everywhere you look there lowerswift15is a postcard lowerswift13worthy view of sparkling water spilling over granite rocks, collecting
at the bottom into a pool that is packed with swimmers during the lowerswift9summer months.  It’s a great place to stop for a picnic, complete with picnic tables and charcoal grills. The parking lot is on the right, about seven miles in from the Conway end of the Kanc, and is definitely worth the drive!lowerswift14    lowerswift4

Walking Over Presidents ~ Mounts Pierce & Eisenhower

mountpande1It was a beautiful August day in New Hampshire and the time had come for us to venture into new territory – the much anticipated Presidential Range. We started our hike at the first parking lot off of Mount Clinton Road, just a few hundred feet from route 302. The plan, and we were determined to not be deterred from the plan, was to hike Mount Pierce, backtrack to Crawford Path, hike up, over, and down Mount Eisenhower to the road, where we would walk a couple of miles back to the car to make a loop.

mountpande6What sets the Presidential Range apart from the rest of the White Mountains, (in essence they are the elusive holy grails of the New Hampshire 4000 footer mountains), is not that they’re much more difficult to climb. Rather, the prestige lies in the greater risk, and the risk comes from the weather. Being so far north, and at such a high altitude, the weather can change quickly.
mountpandeIt’s possible for it to snow in July and August. Even a bit of wind and rain can turn conditions deadly for the unprepared hiker. The warmest daily maximum temperature for Mount Washington, the tallest mountain in the range (and New England), is only 54 degrees at the height of summer. mountpande4
Thus, hiking the Presidential Range calls for a bit more preparedness on the part of the hiker. It means packing extra food, extra water, and extra gear. Carrying cold clothes and rain clothes. All while still being able to hike with the added weight in your pack.

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Although the range is said to have the worst weather in America, and for this reason is used by climbers to train for K2 and Everest, we were fortunate enough to have ideal conditions for our hike. The trail up Mount Pierce was well maintained, and almost entirely within the treeline, making for an mountpande7enjoyable trip. The 1.6 miles between the summits of Pierce and Eisenhower, however, was mostly exposed. At times, with the sun beating down on you, it felt like being lost in a rocky desert wasteland (without being lost, or in a wasteland, or a desert for that matter). All drama aside, when you’re over 4000 feet closer to the sun than usual, you can feel it.

mountpande8The small amount of discomfort was worth it, however, when we finally reached Mount Eisenhower‘s peak. The view from Pierce was great, but from the top of 4780 foot Eisenhower, it was AMAZING. Well worth the climb. Note ~ when hiking up Eisenhower from Pierce, the trail to the Edmands path is to your right. It’s not marked, but a junction about a half mile from the summit will point you in the right direction for the rest of your descent, a hardscaped path to the left.

mountpande2This was a great loop, challenging at times but not at hard as I expected. We did the 10 miles in 6-7 hours (I forgot to check the end time) and this includes a break at each summit and several stops to talk with other hikers. Besides being a beautiful day, it was also a friendly day on the trails which is always a great bonus that adds to an enjoyable experience. This was by far my favorite climb of the year.

Mount Tom

tom2tomA couple of months ago, we intended to peak bag Mounts Willey, Field, and Tom to knock three more 4000 footers off our to-do list. It didn’t happen. We hiked up Willey and then over to Field, but by then it was too late in the day and the dark clouds churning in the sky told us to not push our luck, so Tom remained free of our bootprints. There was also the little issue of starting on the more difficult side, on the most difficult trail. I hate leaving things unfinished, so this past weekend, when we finally got the time to hike, we returned to Crawford Notch State Park to conquer Mount Tom.

tom4The trail for Mount Tom, which is also the MUCH easier trail to take if you want to peak bag Tom, Field and Willey, can be found at the Crawford Depot Station, a tiny yellow building where the train stops in Crawford off of 302. The beginning of the Avalon trail is home to several trailheads, which makes it a great path for people watching. Men in loafers, women carrying purses, tourists not accustomed to traveling far from their car – these are not the type of characters you usually see on a trail leading up a mountain. Listening to people complain about the dirt, the rocks, the bugs, the trees – basically everything that makes a wooded mountain trail a wooded mountain trail – makes for some amusing eavesdropping.

tom1tom3The Avalon leads to the A-Z trail which will take you to the Mount Tom spur. At 4052 feet, Tom was one of the easiest 4000 footers I’ve hiked to date. There are several shallow river crossings that can easily be traversed without getting wet. The trail is almost entirely wooded, leading to lovely, if limited, views. The true summit is marked by a stone cairn and can be found by taking the path to the left. We took our time, had a snack break, and were trapped several times behind slow moving groups of sightseers, and still made the hike in less than four hours. I would recommend this hike to those looking for an easy introduction to the  White Mountains.

Mount Willey & Field

willey10The last weekend in May, we set out to bag three more 4000 footers. The plan was to hike Mount Willey, Field and Tom, all part of the Crawford Notch section of the White Mountains. It may have been overly ambitious so soon into the hiking season, but we felt confident going in. willey9

The GPS took us to the Willey House Site, which wasn’t exactly where we wanted to go, but which was home to one of the trailheads that would lead us to Mount Willey. The most strenuous, direct way up. In fact, it’s suggested that if you take this way up, that you get dropped off at the trailhead after parking at the other end, as there was no loop to this hike. After hiking over the mountains one way, you’d have to hike them all again the other way to get back to your car without a drop. Whoops.

willey11So we took the Kedron Flume Trail, which wasn’t too horrible. The flume itself was neat, a stream of water that disappeared over the side of the mountain. We then hiked the Ethan Brook Trail the rest of the way up Mount Willey, which I thought was brutal. Most trails get steep the last half mile or so to the top. This one was crazy steep for an entire mile. There was a series of ten or so ladders on one area of the trail that you had to take to ascend the trail, sometimes over bald, smooth, vertical rock face. willey8I couldn’t see exactly how many ladders were in the series from the bottom, and it was much too perilous to stop in the middle for a picture, but by the end I felt like I had climbed up a twenty story building. And the trail just kept going up. After pretending to be in a movie (visions of the Chinese temple from the last Karate Kid came to mind), after pretending to be in an episode of Night Gallery or the Twilight Zone where I was caught on a trail that would never end, after telling myself that I was a machine and I had this, I was still climbing up with no end in sight. My patience, my temper, and my sanity were in short supply.

willey1And then we reached the tiny outlook that would provide the only view to reward us for our efforts. Next we reached the stone cairn that marked the wooded summit of Mount Willey. We grabbed a quick bite and then continued on towards Mount Field, as the day was growing old and there was no time to waste.
willey7It took almost an entire hour to reach Mount Field. At a slightly shorter distance than that to Mount Tom, I was worried. At the rate we were going, we wouldn’t be done and off the mountain until after dark. And due to the strenuous nature of the hike, I knew I couldn’t maintain our current speed.

willey2I fed the birds on top of Mount Field as I pondered the situation, their creepy strong talons twisting around my fingers with indian burn force as they ripped the food from my hands. For some strange reason, maybe the novelty of it, I kept subjecting myself to the experience. And then I heard the most beautiful thing ever – my husband’s voice suggesting that, due to the time, the weather, and the two pups who would be waiting at home for their dinner, that we climb Tom another day. The only thing that could have made me happier was already being down the mountain.

willey3It was an arduous (for me) trek back to Mount Willey. Somehow, with ankles wobbling and knees knocking, I got safely down the mountain with only one mishap – I paused for a moment, and the lack of momentum caused me to tip straight over to the side. I caught myself before falling and remained in a weird yoga stretch for a minute while I gathered the strength to right myself. I’m known for doing all my own stunts. I’m working on knowing exactly what stunt I’m going to do before it’s actually done. It’s a skill in progress.

Adopting an, “I’m NOT a little teapot,” matra, I continued to stumble down the mountain, listening to the cars pass on the road far below while knowing – KNOWING – that there was a willeypizza traveling in one of them. Several (seemingly endless) hours later, we were once again at the trailhead where our journey began. So while we ended the hike without conquering the three peaks we had set out  to climb, we did bag two, which should have earned me a pizza, but it didn’t. I got to go home and cook dinner instead. (Maybe I should have toughed it out to the third summit after all.)

Starr King to Mount Waumbek

waumbek2waumbekMay 23rd found us hiking over Mount Starr King to reach Mount Waumbek – one of New Hampshire’s 4000 footers. Waumbek would put us one peak closer to our goal of joining the AMC’s 4000 footers club. It would also be our first 4000 footer of 2015.

waumbek1We drove to Jefferson, NH for the hike, which was part of the Pliny Range of the White Mountains. While there were rumored to be outlooks near each peak, neither was known for its views. Perhaps to compensate for this, the lower trail was waumbek3 lined with a beautiful array of wildflowers. The trip was easy, but as we hiked along the crest that would lead us to the first summit, it got incredibly cold. It was hard to believe that the previous week waumbek10I was worried about heat stroke as we rummaged through our packs to add clothing layers and, since we didn’t bring gloves with us, to find anything to wrap our hands in so that the feeling would return – it was honestly that cold. waumbek7

Luckily, we quickly reached Mount Starr King, named after the Unitarian minister Thomas Starr King. It was surprisingly, but wonderfully, warmer at the top and after a few minutes in the sun our hands were able to defrost. A short mile later and we had conquered the 4006 foot summit of Mount Waumbek, too.  waumbek6

After a quick break, we began our descent, finishing the hike in only four hours – a full hour less than the suggested hike time. Which meant that after running full speed after a giant both up and down a mountain, I was home in time to cook dinner. Joy :-/

Champney Falls to Mount Chocorua

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chocuruachocurua17It was a beautiful, summer-like day when we set off to hike Mount Chocorua. There are several trails you can take to the summit. We chose the Champney Falls trail, named after renowned White Mountain artist Benjamin Champney, for the view. The trailhead was easy to find, located right off the scenic Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire.

chocurua12chocurua15We began the 7.6 mile hike in high spirits, stopping for lunch near the falls under the shelter of an overhang hidden in a chasm off to the left of the trail. Although it was May 10th, a thick layer of ice covered the ground, making our little picnic spot much cooler than the surrounding area.

chocurua9We then resumed our journey up the trail, the day becoming hotter and hotter, my skin frying under the boiling sun. The trail is in the tree line until you reach the bare, craggy rock at the top. Unfortunately, most of the trees along the lower 2/3rds of the trail were just beginning to sprout their leaves after winter.

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Just when I thought I couldn’t handle any more heat (pretty sad for a Florida girl, huh?) we reached the pine lined switchbacks of the upper trail, occasionally crossing ice patches with their lovely little pockets of cold air. By the time we reached the treeless reaches of the upper realm, I had recovered from the heat.

chocurua8chocurua10It was clear, sunny, and best of all, windless when we arrived at the 3490 foot summit. The easternmost peak of the Sandwich Range, Chocorua’s views spread far and wide,
providing a gorgeous view of the surrounding landscape. After chocurua7a quick break, we began an uneventful descent. All in all,  Chocorua was a lovely hike, the falls were gorgeous, and it was another day well spent in the mountains.