Saturday, September 29, 2012

48 x 3 + 67 = 1 Incredible Day on Mt Carrigain

A little over 5 years after our NH48 journey started, this weekend it was set to come to a close.  I'm not sure when along the way we finally decided that we were actually going to do all 48 - it just sort of happened.  It really hasn't been so much a goal as it has a guide.  The list has taken us to places that I know we wouldn't have gone otherwise - and they've all been wonderful in their own ways.  Now it had taken us to Mt Carrigain to write the closing page in chapter 1 of our journey.

We've done most of our hikes with just the two of us or in very small groups.  For this one though we wanted to invite all those that we'd shared the trail with along the way.  The only problem with this was that the date had to be planned well in advance.  We'd managed to go 47 for 47 in having clear skies and views on all the previous summits.  Pretty amazing, but helped significantly by being able to make last minute decisions when the forecast was good (and having some great luck in the cases where we planned ahead).  This time it appeared we wouldn't be so fortunate.  The forecast had been looking pretty good, but the closer we got the worse it looked.  The worst part of this was that we had more than 15 friends that were planning to join us that we would now be dragging 14 miles through the rain.  The 14 miles was also a part of the planning issues - Sawyer River Road was planned to be reopened by the end of the month, but the construction that had been going on since last year still wasn't done.  Rats!

This was the down side to the long term plan, but there was an up side.  Our good friend Rex had done a hiking blitz in the Whites during Seek the Peak week in July and knocked a bunch of peaks off of his 48 list and had only 6 to go.  He planned to come back in September and get the rest - one of which was Carrigain.  After trading a few messages we realized that it could all work out - he was coming up at the beginning of the week and was going to get his other 5 and we would then all finish together on Saturday.  We couldn't have been happier!  Rex had been at this for a long time.  He'd done a through hike of the AT over 20 years ago and had done loads of other hiking in the Whites as well as in ME, VT and NY but had never been focused on any lists.  About a week ago he had another realization - he'd already done all of the other 4000 footers outside of NH so this would not only be his NH48 finish, but his NE67 as well.  Awesome!!!

We headed to NH on Friday with the plan to get in a nice warm-up hike.  The Friday forecast had been good - the best day of the weekend - but by the time we crossed the NH border in the morning it was already raining.  OK, maybe it will rain itself out today and tomorrow will be better...  We made the best of things by stopping at the Gypsy Cafe for a great lunch and enjoying the beautiful foliage driving across the Kanc (at least what we could see through the rain and fog).  We drove across Bear Notch Road and went to check one last time on Sawyer River Road.  We arrived and found the gate still closed.  I stared at it as hard as I could for several minutes, but it still refused to open.  OK, 14 miles it is.

One of the nicest surprises for this hike was that our friends Mike and Donna had decided to drive up from MD so that they could join us for our finish.  We had planned to meet them for dinner on Friday night but when we arrived at the restaurant only Donna was there.  It seems that Mike had been struck by a case of vertigo and was not going to join us.  Worse, they would almost surely not be able to hike with us on Saturday and would have made the 10 hour drive in vain.  We felt so awful.  Nat and I had dinner with Donna and headed back to the hotel for a restless night of sleep.

It was finally time to go.  When we got up on Saturday morning the rain had miraculously stopped.  The forecast was for cloudy skies with intermittent showers throughout the day.  We'll take it!  We stopped at White Mountain Cider Company for breakfast (highly recommended) and picked up some warm cider donuts for the trailhead.  Yum!  We arrived to find most folks already in the parking lot and the last few arriving shortly.  We passed the donuts around, packed up and got ready to go.  Just as we were ready to head out Mike and Donna drove in to send us off.  Mike was happily feeling much better (but still not up to the hike).  It was so good to see them.  They wished us well, and it was finally time to go.

The air was cool and damp with a bit of misty fog, but it wasn't raining.  We headed up the road and were quickly at the Signal Ridge trailhead.

Ready to go! - Mark, Nat, Val, Tim, Ali, Roberta, Otto, Rex

Not sure what Tim said, but he sure had the girls laughing

Guess the construction on Sawyer River Road isn't quite done

Road looks good from here

Otto seems to be exploring alternate transportation

Brief views

Nice colors over the stream

Two miles in - now the trail begins

5 to go

We took a quick break and everyone got rid of some layers.  The rain was holding off so far and we were all warming up.  It wouldn't be long before we be starting to climb and really warming up.  As we got to the water crossing a short ways up the trail Dan caught up with us.  He'd sent me a message saying that he'd be a bit late and to start without him.  I knew he wouldn't have any trouble catching us.

Not sure what I said, but it must have been interesting

Gettin' ready to go again

Nat's enjoying the day

Tim directs the crossing

Ali says she's got it figured out

Roberta goes for the splash 'n' dash approach

After another mile we hit the beginning of the climb.  Most of the way up to Signal Ridge is a series of switchbacks.  The trail was a bit slick in spots from all the previous rain, but the footing was generally pretty good.  The first few of the switchbacks are fairly long and one of them has apparently been dubbed the VLF switchback.  I'll leave that to your imagination.  We also got the count from some of the veterans - 17 switchbacks in all. Ouch.  After the first few they get shorter (but often steeper).  We were finally on the last stretch before Signal Ridge and figured we were home free.  And then it happened...

Nat was in front of me and as she stepped up over a large rock she caught her foot on a cut off root sticking up in the middle of the trail.  She went straight down on her hands and knees and let out a couple of expletives.  I asked her if she was OK and she replied "damn, I'm bleeding somewhere".  She put her had up and it had a lot of blood on it.  I was afraid that she'd cut her hand on a sharp rock or something.  Then she turned around.  Blood was streaming down her forehead and dripping off of her nose.  I panicked.  The blood was coming from a cut somewhere in her scalp above the hairline and I couldn't see how bad it was.  Before I got a chance to look any more Ali stepped in and took over.  She's a nurse and it was certainly a good thing she was there.  She got Nat to sit down next to the trail and checked her out.  The cut was about an inch long and deep and was bleeding like crazy.   They got pressure on it and got the bleeding stopped pretty quickly.  It's amazing how much the scalp bleeds.

Nat said she was feeling fine and hadn't even felt the blow to her head.  She apparently looked down at her feet when she tripped and went head first into a rock on the trail.  Ali used one of our water bottles to wash out the cut and somehow managed to get it temporarily closed up with steri-strips that she had in her pack.  At this point all I could think was "how in the world are we going to get her 6 miles back down to the car?"  Tim had stepped in as well and was keeping an eye on Nat as Ali tended to the wound.  She continued to insist that she felt OK, but they weren't having any of it.  They got some gauze pads out of someone else's pack and held them on Nat's head with Ali's buff.  Amazingly, the bleeding seemed to have stopped.

All this had taken about 20 minutes (that seemed like hours).  The whole group was gathered around, all looking for ways to help and talking about options for getting her off the mountain.  Ali and Tim finally let Nat try to stand up.  She still said that she was feeling fine - not dizzy, no headache.  She stood for a minute and she said she was ready to walk.  She didn't want to walk down though - she wanted to go up!  We all kind of looked at each other and tried to decide what to do.  We all agreed that she really did seem like she felt OK.  It was a reasonably flat walk across the ridge and we'd be sure that the walking didn't get the bleeding started again.  If ANYTHING happened that didn't seem right we'd turn around immediately.

We started off very slowly.  Tim insisted on carrying Nat's pack (which we're incredibly grateful for).  Ali checked Nat's head every few minutes and the bleeding didn't start again.  We continued across the ridge at half pace with me in front of Nat and Ali and Tim in back of her.  I honestly don't know what was going through my head at this point.  I still couldn't fathom that we were heading in this direction.  It wasn't long before we reached the other end of the ridge and were on the final steep section to the summit.  Nat still was doing fine.  I simply can't believe how tough she is.  She's proved it to me so many times over the years, but never more than this.

Starting up Signal Ridge

Wow - look at those views!!!

Heading over the ridge

Hiker parade.  The walking wounded between Tim, Ali and me

And then we were there.  The last section had been a blur to me and now we were standing under the tower and looking down at the benchmark.  Rex, Nat and I gathered around it as the rest of the group cheered us on.  Nothing else mattered except that Nat was OK and that we were here, surrounded by our friends.

It's official!!

48 x 3 + 67 = AWESOME!

48 times together.  Love you honey!

The summit celebration began.  Everyone broke out the summit snacks to share and we filled up on cookies, candy other healthy treats.  There was only one other group on the summit and we joined them on the tower for a look at the incredible views and a group photo.  OK, so we had to use a bit of imagination to see the 43 other peaks that we'd previously climbed that are visible from Carrigain, but they were all crystal clear to me.

Summit cookies from Ali.  Yum!

The summit snacks are multiplying

Ali, Tim and Otto enjoying the break

Tim and Val

Dan enjoys a Headwall Alt - most appropriate

Ali gathering the troops for a group summit shot

Artist at work

What a great group to celebrate with!!

While we were on the tower we found a spot where someone had carved "48" into the railing.  We obviously were only three of the many that have celebrated their finishes here.  There were many other carvings as well.  Names, dates, thoughts.  Several weeks ago my friend Terry (aka Laudizen King), author of the White Mountain Chronicles, reminded me of the chapter on Carrigain.  During one of his visits to Carrigain many years ago he had found one of the carvings on the tower as well.  Here's his account from the chapter titled "My AMC White Mountain Guides"

I open my 1972 AMC guide and on the blank sheet facing the title page, find a few words I inscribed there over thirty years ago. Someone had carved the words into the wood on the inside of the old fire tower that once stood on the summit of Mt Carrigain. Many consider this centrally located peak to have the finest views in the White Mountains. On that trip, I had made the long hike to the summit with my dog in the rain and fog, and spent a memorable night in the shelter of the old tower as rain and high winds pummeled the structure. After a spectacular sunny and windy dawn revealed the wonder that surrounded me, I found these words and copied them into my guidebook that morning, on May 15, 1976.
The words said, “Sean and Lisa came back to life here. 8/10/73"
I know it to be true.

Terry also shared the Carrigain chapter in honor of our hike.  You can read it here:  Mt Carrigain Trilogy.  I do believe that I felt the spirit of Sean and Lisa on Saturday, and I know that you were there with us as well Terry.  Thanks.  Another page in the Carrigain chapter is turning.  As the original fire tower was removed and replaced with a platform that was later replaced with the current platform, so it is again.  The materials to replace the wood containing those latest carvings is piled next to the tower.  Soon those too will be memories and new ones will be carved.  Perhaps we'll add our names next time when we return on that perfect bluebird day.

Yup, 48 is the number of the day

New platform ready to go up.  Someone is going to have to start all that carving again

It was finally time to go.  Nat was still fine, but Tim insisted on carrying her pack and on limiting the speed of our descent to ensure that there was no new problem.  I'm sure this killed Nat since she always flies on the downhills.  It may be one of the only times that we hike together that I'll ever lead the way down.  We made it back to the bottom without incident and soon were on the road again.  My legs were tired and my knees achy on those last two miles, but I really didn't notice much.  I was too busy thinking about how lucky we were that everything had turned out as it did and about what an amazing journey this has been.

Almost time to go

Packing up - but first, one more cookie

Tim playing pack mule.  Thanks Tim!

Dan and Rex contemplate the new list - "48 with a Brew"

Heading back into the mist

Down the VLF switchback

Nice new bridges on the rerouted trail

Back to the flatlands

Nat and Val walking it out

When we got back we had a couple of nice surprises.  Dan and Janelle had stopped by on their way back from their 52WAV hike to leave us a finishing gift - a couple of lemonades.  How appropriate - "when it rains lemons, make lemonade" - guess we did that today.  Thanks guys, we really appreciate it!  A truck pulled into the lot right after we arrived and it was Mike and Ginny (Mountain Mama and Mountain Pa).  They were going to join us for dinner, but since we still had to go to the ER to get Nat checked out they just joined us for a beer in the parking lot.  We really appreciate you guys being there too!

I can't forget to say CONGRATULATIONS REX!  What an amazing week to get ready for this final summit - knocking off Cabot, Waumbek, Owl's Head, Isolation, North Twin and a couple more for good measure. We're so happy that we were able to share this finish with you.  I hope we get to share many more trails and summits in the years to come!

After our celebratory beer we headed out for the hospital.  Miraculously we were in and out in 45 minutes.  Can't say enough good things about the experience!  Nat wound up with 4 staples to close her scalp up and was otherwise given a clean bill of health.  The doctor just kept shaking her head in disbelief when we recounted the story.  Hey, I told you my wife is tough!

We called Mike and Donna on the way over and thankfully Mike was still feeling better and up to joining us.  They met us at Moat along with Rex, Pam, Otto and his wife for a great celebratory dinner.  It was a great way to end a pretty incredible day.

It appears the patient will survive

Toasting success

That's all folks...

And so chapter one is closed.  It's been so amazing - nothing that I possibly could have imagined when we did that first hike.  I've thought so many times over these years what the best things have been about all the days in the mountains.  It hasn't been walking the trails, although we've enjoyed most every step.  It hasn't been the views from all those summits, spectacular as they've been.  It's been two things:  Every one of those trails that we've walked and summit we've stood on, we've done together.  There is nobody I'd rather be out there with.  Most of all, it's been the amazing friends that we've made and shared the trails with along the way.  I have a hard time imagining a better group of people.  Thanks to Tim, Val, Ali, Rex, Otto, Roberta, Dan, Mike, Ginny and Pam for sharing this day with us and for all the other wonderful friends that we've shared other trails with along the way.  We're looking forward to turning the page and writing many more chapters together.  See you on the trail...

Here's a look back at the peaks along the way

Here's the record (for the record)
Doug , Hunter
Kevin, Judy, Emma, Rex, Madison
South Twin
Tim, Val
East Osceola
North Tripyramid
Val, Judy, Emma
Middle Tripyramid
Val, Judy, Emma
Tim, Val, Mark
North Twin
Mike, Donna
Mike, Donna
North Kinsman
South Kinsman
Mike, Donna
Randy’s Crew
Owl's Head
Kim, Huiyeng, Owen, Steve-O,  Christine, Geneva
Wildcat, D Peak
Carter Dome
South Carter
Middle Carter
West Bond
Kevin, Emma
South Hancock
Kevin, Emma
Tim, Val, Ali, Roberta, Dan, Rex, Otto

Thanks to Ali and Val for sharing their pictures of the moments I didn't capture for me to use here.


  1. What a wonderful TR. You had such a fantastic group of folks with you! (I'm SO BUMMED I could not come -- arg!!).

    I'm very glad Nat was/is okay. Can't imagine hiking with a gash that requires four staples. What a tough (and terrific) lady.

    Hope to see you both again sometime soon.

    1. Thanks Trish. We're sorry that you couldn't join us but we completely understand. Don't beat yourself up!! There are lots of trails and peaks ahead. Nat says thanks too. She's still feeling fine and looking forward to being "de-stapled" in a couple of days. She's definitely tough and terrific.

      We'll be in touch to figure out a plan to get together when you're back from SF. See you soon!


  2. CONGRATULATIONS! What a heroic tale as well!

    I'm really happy for you guys, and the collage is a great snapshot of 48 unforgettable adventures.

    I'm glad I was able to share one of those adventures with you...keep it up and I look forward to sharing a trail with you both again someday.

    1. Thanks Owen! It was fun putting the collage together and remembering all those days. We're glad you were there with us for Owl's Head and helped to make the one we dreaded most one of the best! Look forward to getting out on the trails with you again.


  3. Great report, Mark - even more epic a trek than expected, glad Natalie's OK. I've had a couple of head wounds along the way - she and I can compare boo-boos some day.

    I'm glad I didn't come along - seemed the rain and stormy weather were bound and determined to find me wherever I went on trail, and I spared you that (usually my luck with weather's pretty good, but not always). Every possible hike I considered for this weekend got a worse forecast as the date and time approached. Finally decided to go try and tag Mt. Frissell as a state high point Sunday afternoon.

    Thunder rumbled as I got out of my car, but I gave it a try - I'd driven two hours. Turned back as a thunderstorm came in, got to my car after running through the rain, and a heavy spate of pea-sized hail hit as I drove away - pulled over under tree cover to protect my car. Probably my shortest hike ever - 1.2 miles.

    Anyhow, I look forward to hiking with you soon - hope Nat's recovery is quick and am so pleased that y'all have successfully, mostly safely, bagged all 48. May you enjoy many more in the years to come, of whatever height pleases you.


    Chris S.

    1. Thanks Chris. I'm sure that you're not a weather jinx (although we seem to have made out much better than you did weather-wise this weekend). Sounds like you had an interesting adventure. We definitely need to get out on the trails together in the future. Lots of choices...


    2. You know, come to think of it, Mark, I've got a good one for you. We could do the from-the-valley-floor version of the peak-bag I tried Sunday, bagging Bear Mountain, Mt. Frissell, a tri-state marker - CT/NY/MA, the CT high point on Frissell's shoulder and great views of the Hudson and Housatonic valleys, the Catskills, Berkshires and Litchfield Hills. It's home country to me, but I've not done Frissell yet or the stretch west of it. Wonderful place. Doable, easily, well into fall. Food for thought.

  4. PS: I'm curious, Mark. How many NH4K's have you repeated? And if you had to pick two or three favorite trips, including repeats, what would they be? Doubtless this year's Seek the Peak was extra special. Wonder what others come to mind? I'd bet Cannon in the winter with the great Franconia Ridge views would be one.

    1. Not a large number of repeats. Southern Presis twice each, Moosilauke, South Twin (the only one we didn't have a view on the first time), three rounds of Franconia Ridge and 5 times on Mt Washington. Franconia Ridge will always be one of my favorite places. Bondcliff (and the way we visited it) is up there along with Liberty as our first winter 4K. Loved all of the northern Presis too. I really don't think I could choose just one favorite. Will have to revisit each a few more times to help figure it out :)


  5. Congratulations to all of you! Wow, Nat is certainly a tough and determined woman! What a way to finish the list, with such an epic adventure. Glad Nat is ok, and will be back on the trails in the future.

    1. Thanks Summerset. Epic adventure is a good way to put it. I think we'll shoot for something slightly less exciting next time though. :) Nat can't wait to get back out there - this definitely wasn't a deterrent. Lots of great fall hiking ahead.