Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Baldfaces, Eagle Crag and a Grand Plan

Plans have a way not always working out - at least not right away.  This day was the intersection of a number of plans.  The oldest was probably our plan to hike the Baldfaces.  It began several years ago when Kevin started talking about "Kevin's Notch" and the wonderful overnight backpacks they'd done on the Baldfaces.  It sounded great to us, so we made a plan.  We were set to do an overnight with Kevin, Judy, Tim and Val in October of 2009.  Only thing was, the weather didn't cooperate.  The ledges on the Baldfaces are no place to be in the rain (or so I'd heard).  Backpacking in the rain isn't much fun either.  We wound up still having a great weekend with somewhat soggy hikes to Thoreau Falls and on the Belknaps.  The Baldfaces would have to wait.

Since the time Dan and I began corresponding through the online hiking circles several years ago we'd been trying to plan to get together for a hike.  Circumstances never seemed to work out quite right though.  When we went to Trish's book signing event at the Harvard Coop last spring Dan and Meena were there.  It was great to finally meet them and we once again said that we really needed to plan a hike sometime.  Over the summer Dan and Janelle began really working in earnest on their way through the 52 With a View list.  Dan had gotten a book deal for "The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie" - a guide through the 52WAV and a chronicle of their journey. (Go check out their blog HERE)  Since we really wanted to start hitting these peaks too as we wound down our own NH48 this gave us an even better reason to get out on the trail with them.  Somehow though, we just couldn't seem to sync up.

Since last fall when we finally got to hike with Mike and Donna after corresponding online for several years we knew we wanted to get out with them more often.  We managed to meet up in February and spent a couple of fun days in the mountains.  They were coming up north for their usual fall trip to the Whites last week and we definitely planned to get in at least one hike with them.  Weather and other logistics would dictate what would work though.  We needed another plan.

Last spring we finally got to hike with Trish, Alex and Sage for the first time after talking about it for several years.  We had a great day and said we needed to plan to do it again soon.  We discussed possibilities numerous times over the summer and early fall, but somehow couldn't make anything work.  Plans and more plans.

About a week and a half ago Trish sent me a message.  They were planning to hike the Baldfaces this fall and wanted to know if we'd like to join them.  Of course we would!  The plan was for last Thursday, as long as it was a perfect weather day - not going to tackle those ledges in the rain.  The long range forecast for Thursday actually looked good at that point - a sunny day in the midst of not so great ones.  We of course never trust the long range forecast (and I don't know why I ever even look at it).  So we'd wait and see.  At the same time we were trying to work out plans with Mike and Donna.  Last weekend didn't work for us and we decided to see if they'd like to join us with Trish and the girls.  We gave them a call and they said they'd be happy to.  By the beginning of the week the forecast was still good and Trish sent me another message.  Would we mind if Dan and Janelle joined us for this hike?  It would be four of the peaks that they still needed for the 52WAV list that they want to complete this fall.  Would we mind?  We'd love it if they came along!

And so the Grand Plan was set - almost.  Trish, Dan and I must have traded 50 messages working on last minute logistics.  Dan and Janelle would be taking a bit different route so that they could tag Eastman before meeting the rest of the group on the Baldface Circle trail below South Baldface.  The rest of the group would  be doing the Baldface Circle loop.  After much debate about starting times, hiking times, sunrise times and who knows what else, we finally worked out a plan.  There was just one small issue.  We were planning to start pretty early and it was looking like we'd need to leave home by 2am for the 4-1/2 hour drive to Evans Notch.  Ugh.  We also found out that Nat's Mom and Dad were away for a couple of days and wouldn't be able to stop by and take care of the dog.  Now what?  Trish offered to have us stay at their house on Wednesday night, but we still had to work out the dog care.  Luckily Nat had a brainstorm and got one of Jamie's friends to come and watch the house and pets.  The plan was starting to work!

We headed up to Campton on Thursday afternoon and spent a nice evening with Trish and the girls.  We're so appreciative of them sharing their home with us.  Trish also let us know earlier in the day that there was another nice surprise - Hugh would be joining us for the hike too.  He arrived from Cambridge later in the evening and we all turned in early to get some rest before our early start.  We had settled on an 8am starting time, but even from here we had a 2 hour drive to the trail. No easy ways to Evans Notch.  

As we're well aware, long range weather forecasts seldom hold and this was no exception.  It was no longer going to be partly cloudy and mid-50s.  It was now going to be sunny and 60.  Amazing!  We were up at 5 and on the road at 5:30.  It was strange driving across the Kanc in the dark and seeing the sun come up as we neared the other end.  Mike and Donna were waiting for us when we got to the trailhead and there was a note from Dan and Janelle. They had gotten a bit later start than planned and were going to hustle to meet us at the Baldface Circle trail trail junction at 11.  That works.  We're off!

Packing up

Sage is ready to go

Group shot before we hit the trail

We headed out through the beautiful morning woods.  When we got to Emerald Pool we took the short detour to check it out.  How beautiful!  I'd love to go back there in the summer for a swim.

Crunching through the leaves

Emerald Pool

It really is emerald

We were quickly at the first trail junction and turned left on Baldface Circle.  Sort of...  After walking for about 5 minutes the trail seemed to disappear and we weren't seeing any blazes.  We headed back to the junction and found that the trail doesn't really go in the direction the sign points.  We were obviously not the first ones to do this.  We got back on the trail and made our way up to the shelter.

Break time

Prodding the "puffballs"

Baldface shelter

As soon as we left the shelter we hit the beginning of the South Baldface ledges.  It the beginning they're just smooth and somewhat steep.  Kind of like walking the ledges on Welch and Dickey.  Alex and Sage were very excited to get to this section and the promise of scrambles ahead.  They danced up the ledges like little mountain goats and the rest of us did our best to keep up with them.  Ah, youthful energy and enthusiasm!

And now the fun begins - slab highway up

Starting up

Sage and Alex are loving it!

South Baldface ledges beginning ahead

Getting steep

Finally remembered to turn around and check out the views

It wasn't long before the slabs ended and the real challenge began.  I'd read some things about this route and recently looked at some photos, but I really hadn't expected this section to be as tough as it was.  I suppose I should have realized - this is one of the hikes on the Terrifying 25 after all.  We had expected the rock to be dry after a couple of days without rain, but no such luck.  Several of the ledges in the lower section were very wet and quite slippery.  It made for some interesting going.  One thing I know for sure - I'd never want to do this trail in the rain.  We used hands, feet, knees, bushes, trees and every aid available.  It was tough, but it was also lots of fun.  We're definitely ready to go back and do it again!

Alex starting up the ledges

Figuring out the line

Slippery when wet!

Interesting scrambles

Mike on the ledges

Trish and Hugh catching up with the girls

Mike and Donna

Feet, hands, knees - all required

Mike surveying the view

Almost to the top

Still steep

Our plan was to get to the Baldface Knob trail junction to meet Dan and Janelle at 11:00 per the note they'd left us in the parking lot.  When we were at the shelter we figured that this timing would be just about perfect.  We underestimated the difficulty of the ledges however, and it was 11:30 by the time we got to the plateau.  Dan and Janelle weren't there and we hoped that they hadn't gotten there earlier and finally given up on us.  We decided it was worth waiting for a while and watching the trail from Baldface Knob and the trail to South Baldface to see if we could see them.  In the mean time, we sat down for a snack and a much needed break.

Time for a well earned break!

Huge cairn at the trail junction

Mike capturing the views

Bald Knob and Eastman beyond.  Dan and Jenelle are over there somewhere

About 10 minutes after we arrived we saw Dan and Janelle over on Baldface Knob waving to us.  Seems that they'd underestimated the toughness of the trails on that side as well.  Good news was, the timing was perfect and we were now together for the rest of the day.

Aha!  Buffalo and Tough Cookie arrive

Enjoying the break

What a view!

South Baldface plateau panorama

We hung out on the plateau for quite a while while everyone got rested and refueled.  Janelle, Alex and Sage were all thrilled to finally be together.  It's so great to see kids that are so happy being out on the trail!  

Knowing that we had a long day ahead, we finally go packed back up and headed up to the summit of South Baldface.  It didn't take us long to get to the summit, but with the amazing new views that now included everything to the west including the Carters and Mt Washington, we had to stop for another extended break to enjoy this amazing spot.

Heading for South Baldface summit.  How'd they get up there so fast?

Almost there

Carters and Mt Washington from South Baldface summit

Hugh captures another 52WAV summit celebratio

Nat and Trish on the summit

North Baldface ahead

#38 for Dan and Janelle

Alex, Janelle and Sage celebrate

Nat and I enjoying a great day

Breezy up here!

Hugh and the girls

Please don't make me look into the sun

Mike setting up for the group summit shot

The gang on South Baldface
(Photo courtesy of Michael Serdehely)

While we were hanging out on the summit Janelle found an interesting rock that seemed just right for climbing up and sitting on.  Soon Alex and Sage had joined her.  They just sat there for a long time staring off at the distant views and talking about things that we will never know of.  I could have sat there and watched that scene all day.  These were my favorite images of the day...

Mike setting up for the group summit shot

Yup, this is it

Alex is going to check it out too

Investigating the geology?

The perfect seat


All good things must come to an end and we finally gathered and headed for North Baldface.  The walk through the col between the summits was one of the nicest parts of the day.  Pretty amazing to say that when it's a place in the viewless woods between two spectacular summits, but I think that many of these places are just magical.  The way up to North Baldface has some more fun scrambling and soon we were on our next incredible summit.

Time to move on

Reindeer lichen

Mike heading into the col

Beautiful walk between summits

North Baldface ahead

Quick break

South Baldface

Mountain bonsai?

North Baldface

Looking back

More steep ledges

Mountain gardens

Donna and I enjoying the views

Almost there

This view reminded me of the cover of "Up"


On North Baldface we once again took a long break and enjoyed yet another set of amazing views.  The day was actually getting nicer and the temps were now in the mid 50s and the sky was a beautiful autumn blue.  This is the kind of place that you want to just hang around for hours.  On another day we'll come back and backpack this spot so that we can do just that.

North Baldface summit

What a day!

Girl Power!!

Serious silliness!

Trish, Hugh, Sage, Alex & Janelle

Another group shot setup

The gang on North Baldface
(Photo courtesy of Michael Serdehely)

#39 for Dan and Janelle

A summit picnic

Donna joins the girls

It had already been a long day, but it was only half over - there were still 5 miles and another summit ahead - so we moved on.  It was another nice walk between North Baldface and Eagle Crag.  On another day we might have skipped Eagle Crag, but Dan and Janelle needed it for the 52WAV list and we were very glad they did - it was another really beautiful spot and well worth the extra few tenths walk.

Time to move on

Following the conga line

South Baldface ledges - don't look so tough from here

Down with the shadows

Heading for Eagle Crag

Grab that fleece Sage

Strategy session?


Nice new bog bridges

Mountaintop or sea floor?

Sun starting to sink beyond South Baldface

We hung out again when we got to Eagle Crag.  This made #40 on the 52WAV for Dan and Janelle - a great accomplishment since they started less than a year ago.  They plan to knock off the remaining 12 in the next few weeks and finish just over 52 weeks after they started.  Awesome!  

Me on Eagle Crag (center) after I ran over ahead of the group
(Photo courtesy of Dan Szczesny)

Views from Eagle Crag

Long shadows

Summit salutation?

#40 for Tough Cookie!  WooHoo!

Alex completes a portrait of Mother Earth

Alex on Eagle Crag

Number Four-Oh for Buffalo and Tough Cookie!
(Photo courtesy of Dan Szczesny)

WooHoo Janelle!
(Photo courtesy of Dan Szczesny)

Dan and Jenelle taking a well deserved rest on #40

Mike and Jenelle

Me taking a picture of Dan taking a picture of Donna taking a picture of me.  Nat says "Wut?"

Dan capturing the day

Nat and I on Eagle Crag

There were still over three miles to go, but it was all downhill now.  The sun was beginning to sink behind the peaks and we knew we'd have to hustle to beat the darkness.  We surely didn't want to be overcome by it (inside joke).  The hike down went quickly - a steep beginning knocking off most of the elevation and then a flat last 2 miles.  As we got to the trail junction for the last 0.7 section the darkness finally overtook us.  Janelle got the chance to hike with her headlight (which she'd apparently been hoping for an opportunity to do) but the rest of us walked on through the darkness, feeling our way along the trail as our eyes adjusted.  It was a very nice and peaceful way to end the day.

Time to head down.  Still a long way to go

Donna on the last of the steep descent

One last break as darkness descends.

It was just a fantastic day.  We got to hike with some wonderful friends and spend the day in one of the most beautiful places we've ever been.  We also got to bring together a whole slew of plans that had been brewing for a long time.  This was a Grand Plan that definitely worked out.  And in the immortal words of Hannibal Smith - "I love it when a plan comes together!"

Dan and Janelle - Good luck with your last 12!  You guys are amazing.  Hope to see you at the finish.

Mike, Donna, Trish, Hugh, Alex and Sage - thanks for a great day!  Can't wait to share the trail with you again soon.

Here's the route and some aerial images from Google Earth


  1. Fantastic trip report!!!

    We had a great day and I hope we get to hike with you two (and everyone else) again soon.

    Good times.

  2. Fantastic Mark, great pics, great writing! And thanks for the shout out! We're going to link this post on our site as well. We hope you'll join us again.... and again... and again!

  3. Nice documentation and pictures.

  4. Great report. Loved the pictures and writing. This is my husbands favorite hike. I can't wait to hike it.

  5. Great report, Mark - looks like you all had a ball. I'm happy that my birthday was so beautiful for your hike and wish I could have been there, too. Next year!