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.

 

 

Black Cap Mountain

 

blackblack7May came to New Hampshire bringing a much awaited spring with it. After a rough, snowy winter, flowers and bird songs and days where you can venture outside without a thick winter jacket on seem like the things that dreams are made of. black10We were anxious to find something to climb. I was more anxious to wake my muscles gently from their long winter nap, as no amount of hiking flat black3terrain – even when it’s covered in waist deep snow – can prepare you for the change that occurs when you go from walking onward to walking upward.

black5I chose Black Cap Mountain for our first climb of the year. At only 2369 feet, Black Cap offers a huge payout in amazing views in exchange for minimal effort. The 2.2 mile

round trip hike can be accomplished in just
an hour or two. Sounds perfect, right? Only
when we got there, the road the trailhead was black12
black14off of was still closed for winter. Argh. But the trailhead was only 2.3
miles from the gate – what’s an extra 4.6 miles added to the trip, especially when it’s paved road and the actual hike is so easy? Yeah. black6Hurricane Mountain Road is a very steep stretch of asphalt.

black2After walking up the road, hiking up the mountain was easy. The day was beautiful  and the view was definitely worth it. We
had the mountain (almost) to ourselves with the exception of a mountain biker, an Ukranian couple, and a baby black bear we missed seeing. After such a harsh winter this climb was a perfect re-introduction to what I hope will be a season full of fantastic adventures.

Cathedral Ledge

wp23It started the way so many of our adventures do. “Let’s take a quick hike before lunch,” he said. “It’s a half mile. It’ll only take a few minutes. Then we’ll eat.”

wp28Uhuh. So my husband (who knows better than to risk making me late for a meal) and I attempted to visit Diana’s Bath. It would have been a short walk with a payoff of beautiful waterfalls in frozen splendor and glory. It would have allowed for a timely lunch. I think it would have been a lovely excursion.

Only it’s us. And it’s still winter up here, and roads are closed, and GPS goes wonky in the mountains, and a million other excuses. Long story short – an hour and a half later we found ourselves at the top of Cathedral Ledge enjoying an amazing view while the growling of my stomach echoed over the valley below.wp26

Obviously there was a point when we realized that the GPS had led us astray and we were on the wrong path. A point when we could have called it a day, turned around, and wp24returned to the car. But neither of us handles defeat easily. We figured we must have been on the road that led to Cathedral Ledge, which meant only a mile of hiking up (after the hike from where we left the car at the base of the closed road.)

So we pushed on. And on. And I know they say it’s only a mile, but when we had finally reached the top of the long, winding, snowy road, it felt like we’d been hiking all day. Looking out, over the ledge at the valley below, it was worth it. Every ankle twisting, sinking deep snow and slick icy step. (That said, I have vowed to never, ever go sailing with my husband. I’ve seen Gilligan’s Island. I know how that three hour tour turns out.)

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The Lollipop Loop

hale3This past weekend found us hiking the Lollipop Loop that would lead us over the summits of North and South Hancock in the New Hampshire White Mountains. The hike itself was enjoyable, the trail rambling through the woods with leaves just beginning to gain their fall colors and over shallow river crossings. This trail was much easier than the hikes of the past few weeks. Until we got to the top, that is – but that’s often the case.

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The trail is called a Lollipop Loop because it resembles a lollipop. A single path leads to a divergence – you can go left and ascend North Hancock or right to South Hancock. Whichever you choose, you can hike to the other once you reach the summit, creating a loop at the top of the trail you have to take back down. Thus the lollipop.

hale1The last .7-.5 miles, depending on the direction you chose, is a steep hike. I would suggest hiking up North Hancock, and down South. The north side had a large stretch of loose rock – I’d rather climb up a sliding trail than surf down it. There are ledges at each summit that provide nice, if limited, views.

hale5The trail is located on the hairpin curve of the Kancamagus Highway. The parking lot is a few hundred feet after the road straightens out. A sign at the far end of the lot will point you in the direction of the trail-head. Even if you don’t hike, if you’re ever in the area, you should take a cruise down this road. There are plenty of places to stop for amazing views, like the vista from this lot, shown right.

 

Defeating Mount Whiteface

whiteface   whiteface8

I’ve finally conquered my foe and marched across the summit of Mount Whiteface. It took plenty of planning (making it to the right Whiteface is half the battle) and lots of hard work (no one said it would be easy) but this mountain has been slayed and my vendetta settled. It only took four attempts, but who’s counting?

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whiteface10The steep climb led to some ridiculous scrambles over bald rock. Large stretches of stone with limited holds that left you dangling a few thousand feet over open air. Not the most comfortable moments I’ve spent on a mountain, but the views from the ledges were spectacular, as was the view from the false summit. The true summit of Mount Whitehead is a small stone cairn nestled in the woods.

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After conquering Mount Whiteface, we hiked over to his neighbor, Mount Passaconway. The trail between the two was long and full of PUDs (Pointless Ups and Downs). After hiking halfway down over a three mile stretch, we had to gain all of our lost altitude in a one mile hike straight up. Like Whiteface, the true summit of Mount Passaconway was in the woods, but a small ledge nearby offered a nice vista.

passaconway   whiteface9

This was a long, arduous hike – a little more than twelve miles done in eight hours, and we were dragging our feet by the end. The journey was a struggle, but well worth the effort, and we’ve bagged two more of the White Mountain 4000 footers!

whiteface1   whiteface5

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