Monday, February 13, 2012

Mt Cabot Deep Freeze

Between the wonderful bookends of our three day weekend in the Whites (see the previous post) we got in our long anticipated hike of Mt Cabot with Mike and Donna.  We had talked about this when we hiked with them in September and ultimately the stars aligned and put us together in Jackson for three days during their annual winter NH vacation.  Monday was the planned day since it was in the middle of our stay and didn't involve a drive to or from RI along with the hike.  Last weekend in the mountains it was more than just cold - it was by far several of the coldest days of the winter.  On Sunday the temps in the valleys were struggling to get above the single digits and Sunday night on Mt Washington the wind chills reached 70 below zero.  Definitely not a good time to be above treeline!  When we got together with Mike and Donna on Sunday afternoon to discuss the hike we debated whether it would simply be too cold and windy on Monday to try, but knowing that most of this route is in the trees and well protected it seemed pretty reasonable.  The temps were also expected to moderate a bit on Monday - the Berlin forecast said low to mid teens with just 5-10 MPH winds.  OK, it's a go!

Mike and Donna picked us up at 7:30 on Monday morning and we had a quick drive up to the Berlin Fish Hatchery.  It was snowing lightly and the wind was blowing but the forecast was for partial clearing later.  York Pond Road was snow covered and slippery and we were glad we had Mike and Donna's Subaru since my car would not have been much fun in those conditions.  We arrived at the parking lot a bit after 8:30 and were the only ones there.  We geared up as much as we could in the car to avoid a freezing start and had boots on trail at 9:00.  There was one car parked at the trailhead by the road and that was almost the only sign of life we saw all day.  

The hike out through Bunnell Notch was pretty and we weren't too bothered by the fine snow that continued to blow around us.  The trail down here was still a white paved sidewalk as had been reported for the last week or so.  We all wore our microspikes and they were perfect for most of the day.  Bare boots would probably have been just as good most of the time.

Nat, Donna and Mike bundled up and ready to go at the trailhead

Heading up Bunnell Notch Trail

Winter sculpture

Into the snowy woods

Trekking across one of the many streams

It was a quick walk through the notch and we were at the Kilkenny Ridge Trail junction.  The climbing had been just moderate but I'd still worked up enough body heat that I was down to just a base layer and a light fleece.  Amazing how warm you can feel on a very cold day!  Heading up Kilkenny Ridge things got steeper and we all dragged a bit from our lack of hiking legs.  The upper portions of the trail were more exposed to the wind and a number of spots were considerably drifted in.  We thought about changing to snowshoes but decided to just go ahead in the spikes and it was fine.  A short way up we met the two guys with the car at the trailhead already on the way down.  Not sure how early they started.  They mentioned that it was "rather cold up there".  Hmmmm.

And we came to a fork in the road...

Frosted trees on Kilkenny Ridge

Some views starting to peek through (Terrace Mountain)

Snowy corridor before the top

We arrived at Cabot Cabin a bit after 12:30.  At that point the wind had picked up and it was really good to get into some shelter a warm back up.  We had some hot tea and cocoa and ate our lunch and felt really revived.  I changed into my snowshoes (and kept them on the rest of the day) while the rest of the group opted to stick with the microspikes.  We left our packs, bundled back up to prepare for the arctic blast and headed for the summit.

Getting warm and refueling in the cabin

Jack Daniels and rosary beads left by a previous group.  Hmmm....

Icy trees on the summit ridge

The trail across the ridge was drifted in considerably.  About half way across we actually lost it for a few minutes and I had to find it with my feet by walking around until I found a spot where I didn't sink.  We got back on course and were quickly on the summit.  This was number 35 for us and 39 for Mike and Donna.  We're both nearing the finish line...

Donna heading through the porcelain trees

Blue skies ahead!

We're here!

Self portrait

Mike and Donna on #39

Nat and I on #35 (winter #4)

I look forward to following the rest of the ridge someday...

Semi group shot.  We both forgot our tripods

Mike capturing the views

Me enjoying being on the top

Donna inspects Mike's work

It was too cold to hang out for long and we soon headed back to the cabin.  Just before we reached the summit the clouds had broken and we were greeted with blue skies and sunshine.  Not sure how we've continued to be so blessed, but this is 35 of 35 summits that have been like this for us (although we've had to wait it out on a couple of occasions).  Amazing!  

Porcelain and blue

Sugar frosting

Trail across the summit ridge

Valley views peeking through

Cabot Cabin

We stopped back in the cabin to get our gear and warm up again.  When we went out Donna checked the thermometer on her pack and it read 0 degrees.  We guessed that the wind (which had now picked up even more) was blowing around 30 MPH.  Checking the tables when we got back showed that this was a wind chill of about 25 below.  Nippy!

What's that hat Mike is putting on?

Ah, that makes sense!  We should have brought some cheese along too.

Donna starting to head down

The walk down was nice and the clear skies persisted the rest of the day.  We stopped at the Bunnell Rock viewpoint and got a great look at the surrounding peaks.

Terrace Mountain

Views from Bunnell Rock

Nat heading down Kilkenny Ridge

I believe her comment here was "woooohooooo"

Heading into the blue

The walk back out through Bunnell Notch went quickly and we were back at the trailhead at 4:00.  About 2/3 of the way down we ran into a solo hiker on his way up and we stopped and chatted for a few minutes. It seemed a bit late in the day to be headed up, but he told us that he'd done Tom, Field and Willey in the morning and was now running up Mt Cabot to grab one more peak.  I asked if he was working on a SSW48 and he said yes, and was now thinking about a possible SSW67.  Oh, to have young legs again...

Trekking out through Bunnell Notch

One last stream crossing

View back to Cabot through the trees

Mike and Nat want to know what's taking Donna and I so long

Sun setting behind the mountains

On the drive back to Jackson we were treated to a spectacular sunset show - particularly through Pinkham Notch.  Not sure why we didn't think to get any photos, but I did grab this one in Gorham through the car window.

We were so glad that we decided to brave the elements and go for this hike.  The more winter hiking that Nat and I do the more we fall in love with it.  We're hoping that we can maybe squeeze another weekend or two in between now and the end of March.  Sure couldn't hope for any better than we had this trip...

Maps and aerial views of the route:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Jackson Weekend Bookends - Eagle Mountain and Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge

On Sunday we headed for the Whites for a long awaited long weekend.  This was our tenth trip north since last June but only the third that wasn't a day trip.  I'm not complaining - we're truly blessed to have been able to spend so much time in the mountains in the last year.  As we drove through Boston at 8:30 Sunday morning Nat commented how strange it seemed to not have crossed the NH border in the dark.  It was a nice change.

The plan for our three days revolved around a relaxing stay at the Inn at Thorn Hill which we had booked through a great deal from Google Offers and as much hiking as we could fit it.  We also had planned to meet up with Mike and Donna, our friends from Baltimore (Jimmy Legs and Little D on the forums) who happened to be staying in Jackson for their annual winter trip at the same time.  When we hiked with them in September we had talked about the possibility of getting together for a hike of Mt Cabot when they came up this winter and it looked like we were going make that work.

While my original hope had been to get in several long winter hikes, my knee was acting up from the jog down Tecumseh last Sunday (note to self - just because it doesn't hurt while you're doing it doesn't mean it won't later).  I figured that a nice flat warm-up hike on Sunday would be a good way to loosen up for Cabot on Monday.  The plan was to drive up and grab lunch and then head to Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge for a chance to photograph some winter views.  We stopped at Fabyan's as planned and had a nice lunch but when we got out there was still some snow falling and Crawford Notch was pretty well socked in.  Pondicherry would still be a nice walk, but we opted to delay going there till there might be more views.  A quick check of the current weather said clouds in Twin Mountain and clear in Jackson.  Since that's where we were heading anyway we figured we'd find somewhere to hike over there.

We considered several options but settled on Eagle Mountain.  We actually hadn't even heard of it before.  I somewhat randomly picked it on the map and then looked up the description in the WMG.  This little mountain ascends from the village of Jackson with just under a mile to the top with views of the surrounding peaks including the Doubleheads, Moats, Iron Mountain, etc.  The trailhead starts in the parking lot behind the Eagle Mountain House on Rt 16B.  Although it's only .9 to the top there is 600 feet of elevation gain and it is surprisingly steep and rugged in sections.  Not the easy stretching for my knee that was planned, but it worked out fine.

As anyone who was in NH on Sunday knows, it was bitterly cold with sub-zero wind chills even in the valleys.  As promised the skies in Jackson were clear and blue.  We layered up, donned our microspikes and headed up the trail.

Beginning up into the blue

Nat heading up as the trail steepens

We quickly reached the top and were greeted by some beautiful views.  Still hard to believe it's February with this little snow on the mountains though.

Views over Jackson village from the summit ledges

Nat on the summit

We went across the summit to check out the views to the north and west (sorry, no pictures worth posting) and then headed back down to the ledges to enjoy our thermos of hot tea and a snack.  Although very cold, we were out of the wind and the sun felt great in the crisp winter air.  We sat for a long time just soaking up the sun and the views and talking about our plans for the rest of the weekend.

Doubleheads rising over Jackson village

Moats in the mist

Heading down

This was a great little hike a a perfect way to spend a couple of hours on a sunny winter afternoon.  John Compton (1HappyHiker) was kind enough to post a link to a story about Eagle Mountain in the current edition of the Mountain Ear.  It was fun reading and hearing some of the history of this little mountain that we hadn't even heard of before that day.  Thanks John!  Here's the link.  The article is on page 26 of the PDF.

We checked in at Thorn Hill and as we were getting settled in our cottage Mike and Donna appeared at our door.  They were actually staying close enough that they had walked over to find us.  We sat and chatted and caught up on things since we'd last seen them and discussed our plans for Cabot on Monday.  The forecast was for more bitter cold and winds.  The Sunday night wind chills for Mt Washington were expected to reach 70 below zero!  We knew that the Cabot route was quite protected though, and we eventually agreed that it was worth a shot.  We could always turn back if things got too bad (and it wasn't going to be much warmer anywhere else we went).

The full story of the Mt Cabot hike will be saved for the next post.  In the mean time, here's the story of the rest of the weekend.

The Inn at Thorn Hill was a wonderful place.  The owners and the staff took such good care us.  We stayed in the Forest View Cottage which is one of three small cottages next to the Inn by the Carriage House.  It was a two floor setup with a large living room with views out onto the surrounding woods and the cross country ski trail that comes right up to the inn.  There's a gas fireplace and a big bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub that has shutters next to it that can be opened to provide a view of the fireplace.  Nice!  Upstairs is king bed layered in down comforters and windows and skylight with more forest views.  I would highly recommend this for anyone who stays at the inn.  Sunday night we ate in the dining room at the inn and were treated to a fabulous meal.  The daughter and son-in-law of the owners are pastry chef and head chef and they clearly both know what they are doing.  We tried the steak and the duck - both of which were excellent.  I wish we had more days and a chance to try more of the things on the menu.

Morning view from our bedroom window

Fast forward to Tuesday morning...

The forecast for Tuesday was for blue skies, sunshine and much warmer temperatures (back in the 30s).  This provided the perfect opportunity to head to Pondicherry as we had originally planned on Sunday.  First though we'd get to try the breakfast at the inn to see how it compared to the excellent dinner.  We weren't disappointed.  I've long said that if I could only have one last meal before I die it would be eggs Benedict.  The version that I was served at the Inn may have well been the best I've ever had.  It didn't hurt that we were seated by the window next to the fireplace and got to gaze out at the views of the mountains while we ate.  We will definitely return here someday.

Front porch of the Inn with the mountains beyond

Mountain views from the porch.  Mount Washington peeking over in the center

Views from our table at breakfast

We reluctantly packed up and headed out.  On the drive through Crawford Notch we stopped at the scenic viewpoint and again at the Mt Washington Hotel to get some incredible views of the Presidentials in the morning light.  You don't always have to climb a mountain to find amazing views!

Presidential views from the Crawford Notch scenic viewpoint

Sun spreading across the summit

Washington and Monroe

Presis over Mt Washington Hotel

From Washington to Ike

Lenticular over the summit

The clear blue skies provided great hope for what we'd find at Pondicherry.  A few more clouds had gathered by the time we arrived but it was still spectacular.  The Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson provides a great set of flat trails for exploring the ponds and marshes including sections of the Presidential Rail Trail and Cohos Trail.  We parked at the parking area on Airport Road and did the 5 mile loop that includes the Pondicherry Rail Trail, Shore Path and Little Cherry Pond Trail.  There is a great map on Hike New England that has this route highlighted HERE.  I also used Trimble Navigator GPS app on my phone (my current favorite GPS alternative) to track the route and you can see that HERE.

When I say this route is flat, I mean FLAT.  The entire 5 miles has a total of 50' of elevation gain.  This was actually a great prescription for shaking out our legs from Monday's Cabot hike and we certainly weren't disappointed by the views!  After the 1.5 mile walk down the Rail Trail our first stop was the viewing platform on Cherry Pond.

Pondicherry Rail Trail

Pliny Range over Cherry Pond
Mt Joseph Whipple, Mt Starr King, Mt Waumbek, Mt Pliny (left to right)

Presidentials over the marsh

We continued along the Shore Path to the point on Cherry Pond where you're provided with a full frontal view of the Presidential Range.  It's an interesting and beautiful perspective from over here (much like that from Starr King and Waumbek).  With the clouds setting in it wasn't as clear as it could be, but spectacular none the less.  We will definitely find a clear fall day to return here.

John's River

Presis over Cherry Pond

Another perspective

Above the cattails

Mountains, forests and snowy pond

We continued along the railroad tracks and took the loop around to Little Cherry Pond.

Following the tracks along the tracks

Little Cherry Pond

Little Cherry Pond shoreline

Little Cherry Pond Trail

On the way back we stopped a one more spot along the shore of Cherry Pond for the view of Cherry Mountain and the Presis.  I'm sure we'll return here many times in the future.  Today's hike was proof that lack of elevation gain does not equal lack of elation gained!  This was the perfect end to a wonderful three days in the mountains.  We're already dreaming about the next trip and more snowy peaks.  Oh, and I'll be back soon with the account of our Mt Cabot hike...

Owl's Head and Mount Martha (Cherry Mountain) 

One last look...