Saturday, July 20, 2013

Seeking the Peak of Pine Mountain

It was once again the time for one of our favorite weeks of the year - our annual pilgrimage to Seek the Peak.  This was to be our sixth straight year hiking for the Mt Washington Observatory and spending a few days with many of the friends that we've made through this connection over the years.  You can see the progression of our previous hikes on this blog if you haven't already heard the stories.  They are truly some of our most memorable times in the mountains.  This year we were once again staying at Moose Brook campground in Gorham, surrounded by a number of our friends.  It was going to be hard to improve on last year's series of wonderful hikes and impossible to repeat the wonderful event that was the tribute to our friend Brad.  We were ready to try though...

As the event approached the word from the MWObs observers looked grim.  The forecast for Saturday was not looking good and there was a chance that the event might not happen for the first time in its 13 year history.  We drove up on Friday morning and arrived in North Conway to a sweltering 95 degree afternoon - reminiscent of the 100 degree day two years ago.  We got lunch at Flatbread (our favorite N.C. eatery) and then met Kevin and Judy at the registration event.  We had hoped to perhaps get in a short hike on Friday to warm up our legs, but it wasn't happening in this heat.  We instead headed to Moose Brook and set up camp and then headed back to the swimming hole by Stony Brook Rd on the Peabody river.  It was a great way to escape the heat.

An omen (based on the Saturday forecast)?

Cooling off on a hot afternoon

That night we had dinner at the campsite and then went out for a walk.  We'd never explored beyond the sites and Kevin mentioned that there was a snowmobile trail that went to a spot with nice views.  He was definitely right.  If the weather was going to get ugly tomorrow there was certainly no evidence yet.

Moose Brook sunset

Moriah on the horizon

On Friday night we got the message from the Obs - the STP participants were being asked to not hike on Saturday due to the weather conditions.  Heavy rain, very high winds, frequent lightening and large hail.  OK, that's enough for us.  We've all been to the summit of Mt Washington enough times that we don't need to risk life and limb to do it again.  Time for plan B.  We didn't actually have a plan B at this point, but there were plenty of options.  Kevin suggested Pine Mountain in Gorham.  A close drive, easy hike in the still very hot temperature and an easy escape if the predicted weather kicked in.  The bonus was to be a great view of where we would have otherwise been hiking.

There are multiple approaches to Pine Mountain and we chose the Ledges Trail that goes from the road to the Horton Center to the summit.  The parking area is about half way between Rt 2 in Gorham and Dolly Copp campground on Pinkham B Rd.  The hike is about a mile or so of road walk and another 0.6 miles on the Ledges Trail to the top.  Perfect for a day like this.

Time to leave the road

Walking the ledges

We were quickly out on the first set of ledges below the summit and got all the views that were promised.  What a beautiful spot!  The clouds were looking a bit ominous, but there were still breaks of sun and blue sky.  So far, so good.

Presi views from the Pine Mtn ledges

Judy taking it all in

Cloud cap on Mt Washington

Ominous clouds

Carters and Wildcats

Sun on Washington

After a break we moved up the ledges to the summit and more of the great views.  The weather was actually starting to look better!

Nat heading up the ledges

Beautiful morning!

Nat , Kevin and Judy

Old fire tower foundation


We left the summit and headed over to Chapel Rock.  This is the location of the Horton Center (a UCC camp) outdoor chapel.  They hold services here in a place as beautiful as any cathedral.

Chapel Rock


Pulpit above the notch

On top of Chapel Rock

Presis over Pine Mountain

Heading into the clouds

Chapel views

I didn't really feel like heading back down the ledges and suggested that we continue through the Horton Center and down the road and the others agreed.  It was still a nice walk and we got to check out the yurts and other features of the camp - including the bell.  Perhaps we didn't need to check out everything...

Horton Center yurts

It would be fun to ring this!

Oh, guess we shouldn't

We were back at camp in the early afternoon (after a stop along the Peabody river to check out the views) and escaped to the pond in Moose Brook to cool off.  After hanging out for a while we headed over to the Seek the Peak after party for the traditional turkey dinner and a few hours to visit with the rest of the friends that we hadn't seen yet.  In the end, the extreme weather that had been expected never materialized.  There were severe storms all around the region, but Mt Washington was spared - much the opposite of a typical day.  I'm glad that the observers and the STP organizers erred on the side of caution.  This mountain is no place to get caught in extreme weather.  We were also happy for the nice evening for the party and the promise of a beautiful day on Sunday.  Although that was now the official hiking day and would have been a great day to be on Mt Washington, we already had other plans (and another story).  We were happy to still be able to support the MWObs and thanks to our wonderful friends contribute another $1200 to the cause.  We truly appreciate everyone's support!  

Mt Washington over the Peabody River

What a spot for a house! (arrow center)

At the STP party

Snow cat

Beautiful evening

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