Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Baldpates Gathering

If you've read my previous post you know the story of what happened to this year's Seek the Peak event.  The "weather delay" was unfortunate, but it was the right call.  It sadly meant that a number of people that were heading home on Saturday night or Sunday wouldn't be able to do their Mt Washington hike.  In our case we were staying until Tuesday, but had made plans months earlier to do a Sunday hike on the Baldpates if the weather was good.  As bad as the Saturday forecast had been, Sunday was equally good.  The warm front that had been hanging around and making things generally miserable had moved out overnight and was replaced by cool, crisp air and blue skies!  It was reminiscent of the day we hiked Mt Isolation after STP last year.  We'd hiked Mt Washington many times before, and although it would have been the perfect day for it, we couldn't pass up a day like this for the Baldpates.  Kevin and Judy had already decided to join us.  They'd done it for the first time last year and Judy had declared it to be her new favorite hike - high praise indeed.  Erich and Gloria were also going to be around for another day before their long drive home and decided to join us as well.  Although we've know Erich since our first Seek the Peak and have seen him every year since, including a chance meeting in Yosemite a few years ago, we still hadn't hiked together.  It was shaping up to be the perfect gathering.

I had made the drive from Gorham to Grafton Notch multiple times in the last two weeks for the car spots and pickup for our Mahoosucs backpack.  I was looking forward to returning and having a hike that I could remember a bit more fondly.  I wasn't going to be disappointed.  We got a leisurely 10:30 start, but we had no place to be and a beautiful day ahead.  We scoped out the many pies at the "pie lady" stand as we went by and promised to return to get desert for the evening meal on the way back.  With another day of white blazes ahead we were off...

Typical trail (at least when there weren't steps)

Never saw one of these before.  Very cool!

We took our time on the ascent of Baldpate West Peak. The trail was pretty nice with no real features of note in this part except the MANY stone steps up the final steep sections to the summit (and the AT benchmark along the way).  It's a nice enough trail and another testament to the experience we've had on all the trails in Maine so far.  When we got to West Peak things got a bit more interesting.

Reaching the summit of West Baldpate - East Peak ahead

Love these Maine views!

Mountain Cranberry

Trail down to the West Baldpate ledges

Sheep Laurel

The path awaits

We took a long lunch break on West Peak, enjoying the amazing views and anticipating the fun ahead.  The path up East Peak follows the line of ledges at the far left.  What a great path!

Lunch break

Kevin heading into the col

The walk across the col between the peaks is just gorgeous.  I could walk in places like this forever!

First ladder

Looking back to West Peak from the col

Bog bridges through the col.  What a beautiful section!

East Peak ahead

After crossing the col we were treated to a wonderful walk (and occasional scramble) up the East Peak ledges.  They're quite steep, but very manageable and the views along the way make you forget where you are.  These are the kinds of places in the mountains that I love the most.

Old Speck on the other side of Grafton Notch over West Baldpate

Going up!

Yes, the West Peak ledges are pretty steep

Another cool AT marker

Kevin coming up

The Mahoosucs over West Baldpate

Ledge views

Cairns leading into the sky

Mountain Sandwort

The summit plateau is no less spectacular than the ledges.  The actual summit of East Peak is on the opposite side and the walk across is simply gorgeous.  More of the 360 views open up the further across you get.

Approaching the summit plateau

Kevin and Old Speck

Summit plateau

Nat and Judy on the summit

On Baldpate East Peak summit with Old Speck in the distance


Wind farm with Mt Blue beyond

We hung out on the summit for a long time.  Kevin, however, declared that it had not been long enough.  He decided that it would be easier to die up there and have the helicopter remove his body sometime later.  If you had to pick a place to die, this wouldn't be the worst choice...

Kevin, Erich and Gloria

Kevin waiting for the evac chopper

Nat and I on Baldpate East Peak.  Another NEHH...

Despite the prior caption, we have no aspiration toward the NEHH.  Repeat three times - "I will not start another list, I will not start...".  Oh, who knows - the lists haven't lead us any bad places so far.

All good things must come to an end and we finally headed back.  While I generally prefer loop hikes to out-and-backs, I didn't mind this one at all.  Lots of great spots to revisit the second time of the day (and the promise of a visit to Table Rock as well).

Heading back

West Peak, Old Speck and the Mahoosucs


Warning - kilts and ladders ahead!

Nat on the ladder

Back on West Peak

The walk back to West Peak was really nice.  The walk down the rest of the way was long.  Somehow those many stone steps from the way up had managed to double or triple on the way down.  Not sure how this happens.  About half way down the steps I almost made a serious mistake, slipping and taking a head first plunge that I somehow managed to catch with my arm, shin, hip and toe wedged under multiple downhill rocks without more than a couple of minor scrapes.  This serious lack of grace on my part is why I always take my time going downhill.  We made our way back to the Table Rock junction without further incident.  We now had a decision - 0.9 down to the car or an additional 0.7 out and back to Table Rock.  The views were rumored to be excellent.  The MATC sign at the junction sealed the deal.  During our prior Maine hikes we've been learning the MATC "view rating system".  Any view that is described with an expletive beginning with "E" (Excellent, Exceptional, Extraordinary) is NOT to be missed.

MANY stone steps

Another day of white blazes

We've learned to trust the MATC view rating system

Final climb onto Table Rock

The walk out to Table Rock involved regaining a bit of the elevation that we'd just lost and then a climb up a set of iron rungs on the final section to the ledge.  We emerged from the trees to find the view which was, well, Extraordinary!

View from Table Rock.  The MATC was right again!

Judy and I on Table Rock looking across Grafton Notch

Close to the edge?  Yes.

Me on Table Rock - too close to the edge!

Erich on Table Rock - WAY too close to the edge!!

Nat - dancing on the edge!  :-O

After enjoying the views and taking our turns hanging on the brink, we headed down and demonstrated our respective approaches to down-climbing a ledge with iron rungs.

Kevin's approach to the rungs

Judy's method (mine too)

Nat's method.  Show off!

Erich too.  Must be something about people in skirts - uh, kilts

The last mile to the car seemed longer than it was.  It had been an amazing day, but we were ready to get back for a much needed shower our swim and get together for dinner (and the soon-to-be-purchased pie).

The huge AT crossing symbol in Grafton Notch

Hike on...

Our stop at the pie lady stand was disappointing - everything was gone for day!  We stopped at the other stand back near Sunday River and found two remaining pies and a few whoopie pies left.  An apple pie and a whoopie were secured and we headed back to camp.  That night we got together for a great community meal and looked back on a most excellent day.  It wasn't Mt Washington, and we never even made it above 4000 feet, but it couldn't have been a much better gathering of friends in a more beautiful place.  Thanks Kevin, Judy, Erich and Gloria (and Nat of course) for making this a day to remember.

Here's the interactive GPS track:

And the map of the route.  Interesting that the GPS track seems to differ significantly from the map of the AT.  This is the third time in the last month or so where we've done an AT section hike with this result.  I really don't think the GPS is off.  In this particular case the path that we were on was definitely flatter and along the contour lines as the GPS track would indicate and not up and down over the "bump" shown on the map along the trail.  Is it possible that the AT map is out of date?  This is consistent on both the Open Cycle Map version shown here and and the USGS topo maps as well.


  1. Awesome Views Mark and a very nice narrative of your trip!!! Thanks for sharing!!!!! Lisa

    1. Thanks Lisa, glad you enjoyed it. It was really a wonderful day.