Saturday, July 02, 2011

Whiteface, Passaconaway and a Glass Half Full

Almost exactly 4 years ago Nat and I stood on top of our first New Hampshire 4000' peak - Mt Madison.  It was at the beginning of an amazing 4 day journey through the Presidentials and an introduction to the wonders of the high peaks of the White Mountains.  We knew how many others there were and that there were many who had the goal to climb them all (and some with a goal to climb them many times).  We were just getting re-introduced to being in the mountains and discovering how much we loved being there.  We really had no thoughts about any such lists.  Over those 4 years we've made many friends who spend much more time in those mountains than we do.  Some of them talk of numbers that I don't quite comprehend.  I can sort of grasp 100.  Then there are 4x48, 366, 576 and others that are totally incomprehensible to me.  It must be the new math.  The numbers that I have become comfortable with are 48 and 52.  These are nice numbers and have many good things associated with them for me.  Yesterday we spent a long, wonderful day hiking Mt Whiteface and Passaconaway - #23 and 24 of 48.  And thus the glass has become half full...

An 8 hour hike as a day trip from Rhode Island was a bit more challenging than usual.  The alarm went off at 3am and by 3:30 the dog was wondering just why we were out for such an early walk.  With the joys of pre-dawn empty roads our journey north was as pleasant as it gets.  At 8:00 we were on the trail.

Mt Whiteface over the beautiful wildflower fields by the trailhead

It was a beautiful morning and there were lots of other hikers heading out at the same time as us.  Even so, we had the trails to ourselves almost the whole day with the occasional meeting to stop and say hello and compare notes on our walks.  The lower sections of the Blueberry Ledge Trail were a nice warmup - gradual and soft.  The lower ledges were very nice as well and I wished that the many blueberry bushes that give them their name had a few berries to share, but no such luck.

Nice walking on the lower Blueberry Ledge Trail

Lone cranberry.  Wonder why the wildlife has ignored this.

Walking the "granite sidewalk"

The upper part of the trail gets much more serious (which is has to if we're going to eventually gain almost 3000').  First just steep and rocky and then the fun really starts with the ledges before the south summit.

Starting to get steep

First peek at the summit

Now the fun starts!

The scrambles before the south summit are a lot of fun.  The best is the steep slab with holes drilled in it (that I believe were originally to secure some sort of steps or rungs to the rock).  The holes work as finger grips and make the climb reasonable easy.  Wouldn't be so much fun if it was wet.

Doesn't look too steep in this picture...

The finger grips in the ledge looking down from the top.  Kind of like climbing a bowling ball.

Half way up the slab.  The incline is a bit more obvious here

After several more sets of steps and ledges with more fun scrambles the views really started to show.  Nothing but mountains, lakes and forests for as far as the eye can see.

Mt Passaconaway across the Bowl

Nat wondering what's taking me so long

Soaking in the views

Now I know where our Juncos went for the summer.  Don't blame them!

The pre-summit picture while we still have the views

We continued up to the south summit and took in some more of the views but didn't hang around long as there was still a long day ahead and we hadn't technically finished our first peak yet.  We headed off on the Rollins Trail and soon came to the Whiteface summit.  Glad we knew what to expect since it was just slightly anti-climactic after the amazing views from the rest of the way up.

Summit #23 - the incredibly scenic Mt Whiteface :-)

We headed off across the summit plateau and across the ridge.  The beginning of the trail was beautiful woods walking with peeks through to the north and south into the Bowl.  It feels a lot like the ridge between the Osceolas and the Tripyramids (no surprise).

Lovely path on the summit plateau

Mt Chocorua over the Bowl

After the summit plateau there is very little flat walking to be had.  The entire ridge seems to be one long series of PUDs (pointless ups and downs) which likely explain the discrepancy in elevation gain that is commonly given for this hike (3800') and that given by WMG Online which calculates the changes on smaller segments (4350').  It's still a nice walk along the ridge, but don't expect to make any record time on this couple of miles.  We got to the junction of Dicey's Mill Trail and stopped for lunch by the little brook before heading up the final steep climb of the day.

Peanut butter and honey - lunch of champions

We chose the clockwise loop over Passaconaway based on the descriptions of the ledges on either side.  I'm not really sure it would make much difference though - it's really rocky and steep both ways.  Before long we were on top and celebrating another viewless summit.  No matter - every one is great.  And this one was special.  Half way home.  Our glass is now half full.

Mt Passaconaway - #24

There were more beautiful views to from the back side of the summit on the ledges and by now the skies were clearing and we watched the clouds floating lazily over the valleys.  Very peaceful.

Views to the Presidentials

Mt Washington

Lazy clouds

It had already been a long and wonderful hike, but there were still 5 miles to go.  The climb down on the Walden Trail to the East Loop wasn't too difficult and we were soon back at Dicey's Mill.  The rest of the way down seemed to fly by.  I had expected tired knees and heavy legs but this is a trail that's just made for going down quickly (even for someone like me with bad knees that hates downhills) and before we knew it we were walking along the river on the way back out to Ferncroft.  We actually trail ran (OK, more like trail jogged) a good bit of it which is something I never thought I'd find myself doing.  I don't think I've ever felt better at the end of a hike.

We met someone who had come up this trail to Whiteface.  He pretty much confirmed what the sign says.  Hmmm.

Nice that the locals are hiker friendly

Last look back on a wonderful day

We finished our longest hike so far almost exactly 8 hours after we started.  We should have been tired but somehow we weren't.  There seems to be something in these mountains that restores aging legs.  We'll be back for many more doses.  It's been a wonderful four years since we set foot on that first 4000' peak.  I can only hope that the next four (and the next 40) come anywhere close.  I know that we will enjoy every one of the remaining 24 (and the many others in between and after that) just as much as each one so far.  Glass half full?  Seems more like it's overflowing.

P.S. - In an attempt to get my head wrapped around the "new math" used by our friends I did a quick calculation of our peakbagging pace.  Continuing at the current rate I will be able to comfortably complete the grid as long as I'm still hiking when I turn 146.  Somehow I like the sound of that...

The complete photo album is here:  Mt Whiteface and Passaconaway 7-2-11


  1. Mark,
    Great trail report and pictures! I really like the "lazy cloud" shot. That's such a great trailhead area with the fields, barn and backdrop of Whiteface. Looks like it was a great day and you guys made wonderful time. Congrats on making it over that halfway point on the list. I'm sure the second half will be just as much fun!


  2. Mark, great trip report. We both passed our halfway point on this Fourth of July weekend. Your pictures are great, and I think I've just planned my next hike, we'll see. I like the picture with the peaks in the background. Looking forward to it.

  3. I've been quite taken by your blog. I live in California and hiked the Whites for 18 years (72-90). Now I write stories and remember, your pictures certainly evoke a plethora of memories.

    Here is my homage to the White Mountains.

    Regards, Laudizen

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