Monday, January 18, 2010

Liberty On MLK Day and W4K #1 - 1-18-2010

After a great day on Cardigan yesterday we were ready to take a big step up (or a few thousand of them). The plan for the day had been Liberty and our first winter 4K. We spent the weekend with our friends Tim and Val and Tim was planning to join us for the hike (while poor Val had to work).
We had plenty of confidence since Tim who at this point has 20+ 4Ks this season already (amazing) was with us. Trail reports from the weekend said that Liberty Spring trail was in perfect shape. Getting up to about 5 inches of new snow (and still snowing) on Monday morning made us second guess ourselves. Natalie and I have minimal winter hiking experience (and equipment to match) from our couple of years since we started so it didn't take much to cause that second guessing. After talking it over for a while we decided to go for it.

We got to the Basin parking lot around 8:00, geared up and headed out. The bushwhack from the bike path to the Liberty Spring trail was a bit tough to find with the new snow but Tim located it. After a near slip on the single log bridge over the brook at the start of the bushwhack and a nice save by Tim everything was smooth sailing. While our el-cheapo Tubbs snowshoes were less than optimal for a long steep day they held up fine. The trail was in good shape underneath and the new powder didn't cause any problem with trail breaking. 

It was still snowing lightly for about the first hour and then began to clear. Temps were probably in the mid 20s and rising and less than an hour in we were all down to our base layers and comfortable. I actually went without a hat and gloves for almost the whole day with the exception of the time on the summit. Amazing for a mid-January day. The hike up was beautiful with the new frosting on the trees. We stopped for an early lunch when we got to the tent site and immediately got a visit from a typically friendly Gray Jay. After we all shared our snacks and lunch with him we headed up and hit the summit just before noon.

The summit conditions were incredible. It was nearly windless (on Franconia Ridge in January, really!?!?) and still warm enough to just add a light fleece. The sun started to break through right after we reached treeline and the views were spectacular - mountains as far as the eye could see in every direction with wisps of clouds drifting in and out of the valleys. The sun peeking in and out of the clouds randomly lit up the surrounding peaks and the effect was spectacular. We hung out for at least 20 minutes soaking in the views and then headed down.

The hike down was great and the concerns about the el-cheapo snowshoes on the downhill steeps was unfounded. With the exception of a couple of minor butt slides (all short, well controlled and highly artistic) everything went smoothly. The only issue was the very sticky snow as the afternoon temps continued to rise that turned into what felt like watermelon sized balls under the crampons on our snowshoes. Natalie finally ditched hers about 2/3 of the way down and bare booted which worked out fine. Check the pic of her snowshoes when she pulled them off if you don't believe my "the size of watermelons" description. OK, maybe just cantaloupes ;-) 

It was just a fantastic day and a fantastic weekend. Liberty made 4K #14 for us and W4K #1. Each time up gets us more hooked (and now we've got the winter hiking fever big time). Our AMD is fully cured for the moment (see my Cardigan TR if you haven't heard of AMD) but I suspect that recurrences are likely to be more frequent and more severe. Thankfully for us the cure is only a few hours away...

Nat and Tim at an early brook crossing

Nice new frosting on Liberty Spring trail

Is he looking at our lunch?

Yes, and apparently peanut butter and honey sandwiches are just fine

Getting frostier near treeline

First views emerging from the trees. Kinsmans on the horizon

Sun breaking over the summit

Frozen summit

Nat almost to the top with Lincoln and Garfield in the distance

Tim relaxing on the summit and contemplating the views

Me on the summit

Nat and I celebrate our first W4K

He's following us!

Blue skies for the trip down

How in the world was she hiking on these???

Full album here:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cardigan Provides the Cure for AMD - 1-17-2010

It had only been 10 weeks since our last trip north but it somehow felt like 10 years. Clearly we were suffering from AMD (Acute Mountain Deprivation). Happily we were able to find a cure this weekend.

We left the house at 6:00 Sunday morning and had clear sailing all the way up. We pulled into the parking lot at Cardigan Lodge at 9:00 and were raring to go. The day was cloudy and the forecast called for wind (is it ever not windy on Cardigan) but at that point there wasn't a breath of air moving. We had to skip the summit when we were at Cardigan last January since we didn't have traction but this time we were prepared with our new microspikes which we were dying to put to the test.

The trails were all well packed (no surprise) and were perfectly fine for either bare booting (at least until the ledges) or traction all the way. We headed up the Manning trail to Firescrew. The temperatures were perfect and we had (of course) overdressed. After several stops in the first 1/2 hour we were down to just base layers and light fleeces. Even with no new snow in a couple of weeks the trees were still coated and the hike up the Manning was very pretty. When we got to the first ledges (where we had to turn back last year) the microspikes got their first test. Perfect - these things stick like glue! 

At the top of Firescrew it got a bit windy but not uncomfortable. We headed across the Mowglis to Cardigan and enjoyed the views. The last set of ledges up to Cardigan summit were the toughest spot of the day. Steep and very icy with just enough coating of snow to make them tricky. We got up fine as did the group of 8 behind us who were all bare booting (I have no idea how they made it though). The wind picked up as we got to the summit and we shared a spot behind the base of the tower with the other folks on the summit and had lunch. 

Since it was still early we decided to head over Orange Mt on the way back. We headed down the West Ridge trail as everyone else on the summit headed down Clark. It was a bit nerve wracking at first going downhill on the icy ledges but the traction worked great and we were soon comfortable again. As we were approaching the junction of the Skyland trail we met a couple coming back from that way who told us that it was unbroken and that they hadn't been able to find blazes to follow it. We decided to give it a shot anyway. We switched to snowshoes and headed in. After a few hundred yards we found where they had veered left just before turning around and to me it appeared that the trail went straight. Turned out that straight was correct and even without blazes the trail was pretty easy to follow. The blazes finally started again right before the Rimrock junction. Looking ahead we could see that Skyland wasn't broken leaving the junction and probably the whole way to Orange Mt. I knew from BarkingCat's post a couple of days ago that it was broken from Orange to the lodge but with a long day ahead for tomorrow we decided to just head back down the Clark. So back up to the South Summit, across to Clark and down to Cathedral Forest and Holt back to the lodge. Kept the snowshoes on the rest of the way down even though we really didn't need them. Overall a really nice hike.

This great day of winter fun provided an almost complete cure for our AMD. We finished off the day with a wonderful dinner and hanging out with our friends Tim and Val who graciously hosted us this weekend. We spent the evening scheming our Monday mountain plans and the remainder of our cure. But that's another story... 

First views of Cardigan from the Firescrew ledges

Frozen "weeping" boulder

Still good views even with the clouds

Nat on the icy Firescrew summit

Cardigan summit ahead

Frosty on top

Happy to be back on a mountain. Photo courtesy of South Summit cairn "tripod"

Full album here:

Saturday, January 09, 2010

A White Day in Blue Hills - 1/9/2010

Not having been out for a "real hike" since Moosilauke in November was really starting to get to us. It's been nice having snow on the locfal trails for our morning walks since before Christmas, but it's just not the same. When we found out that our prior commitments for yesterday had been canceled and our daughter had to be at school play practice all day we knew we had to find some way to get a hike in. Not enough time to get too far nort so we took the next best option - Blue Hills. 

We've been to Blue Hills a number of times before and done quite a few different trail combinations but we haven't been in the winter before. We usually use it for "spring training" hikes (which it is great for). Turns out that it's just a fantastic place in winter.

Our time was limited yesterday and we lost a bit of time having to park at the lot down to road from the Trailside Museum (due to the ski lots being full). We wound up doing a leisurely loop around the north and south Skyline Trails between Rt 138 and park headquarters. It was an absolutely perfect day for a winter hike - mid 20's, sunny and clear. The trails were perfect and were a great chance to give the new microspikes a workout. We just love the microspikes and loved them even more when we watched others in bare boots slipping on the steep spots that we had just walked down with ease. 

The best part about Blue Hills is the diversity. You can get all the elevation gain you want with lots of ups and downs or you can take many more level routes. The main trails are all well packed out but if you want to snowshoe just use the side-trails and you can have new snow to your hearts content. While the views (and the trails) don't compare to being in the Whites it sure beats missing another day of winter hiking!

We even got to hike to the Weather Observatory (OK, just the Blue Hills OBS)

Nice views

Good chance to try out the microspikes

Great Blue Hill observation tower

How far south is that parking lot???