Sunday, August 11, 2013

67 in 67, Hike #7: Tripyramids, NH

Hike #7: Mount Tripyramid
Elevation: 4,180 feet (North Tripyramid), 4,140 feet (Middle Tripyramid), 4,080 (South Tripyramid)
Date: June 1, 2013
Location: The Waterville Valley, NH
Distance: 11.1 miles
Time: 7:35 (41:00/mile)

It’s go time! It’s early June, the weather’s sunny and warm, and we’ve got our last training hike before our traverse of the seven Presidential Mountains in a couple of weeks. Road trip to New Hampshire? Check. Consume a 55-gallon drum of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee with empty carbo loading (also known as “donuts”)? Check. Hit the Chamber of Commerce tourist for a bathroom break and “Live Free or Hike” picture? Check. See a wooden moose with chalkboard paint in front that was asking what we’ll do to keep cool today, and respond with “gaining elevation”? Check. We. Are. All. Set!

By mid-morning we were parked and ready to hike the Tripyramids. This would be an eleven mile hike, the longest I’d ever done, which would be a test of my balky knee and foot. It would be only my second time bagging more than a single peak, which would test my variety of celebratory two-steps. It also purportedly had a sharty section with a lot of tough rock climbing on the way up, and another one descending, which made Sara nervous and me excited. Before setting forth, Sara scampered down to the river to stash some Gatorades for a cool rehydration when we got back. Slipping on the steep riverbank, she hadn’t even begun to hike when she had a foot soaking wet. It was our first challenge with our drinks, but it wouldn’t be our last. Yes, this is major foreshadowing!

But Sara shook off the irritation and excess water better than I would have, and we started the hike. The Livermore Trail was a pleasant one: not too steep, not too exposed to the sun, and within earshot and sight of the river. The trail’s width made for easier conversation between me and Sara as we cruised alongside each other. As an old logging area, we came upon some clearings, an old apple tree, and serene surroundings. Reading up on the trail reports, severe washouts were described. But as we ventured further into the woods, we didn’t see anything problematic for hikers. Certainly, a jeep would run into challenges, but not us bipeds.

We hit a fork about 3.6 miles in, representing the end of the first leg. We’d have a long loop to get back to this point, and didn’t want to hike with a lot of water weighing us down. So we stashed some water packs by the trail side, taking care to camouflage with branches and leaves. Heading on, our pace remained quick until we stopped for a snack and water break at a steep river crossing. Temps had already begun to climb, so I wasn’t happy when I realized I’d kneeled on the end of my Camelbak’s water tube, spilling a bunch of water that I couldn’t get back. I said nothing to Sara, opting to berate myself in silence.

Continuing on the Mount Tripyramid Loop trail, we initiated the steeper climb to the North Tripyramid summit, via the north slide, with Waterville Mountain and its ski slopes serving as a picturesque backdrop. It was nothing exciting at first, until we approached the base of the scar, a long, boulder-strewn ascent most of the way up to the summit. Sara began climbing, somewhat nervous. I gave her time before initiating my nimble clamber up, only a bleating or two short of complete billy goat status. Once I caught up to her, we repeated the process. At first, they were large boulders, offering plenty of fun routes and handholds. In the next section, the rocks morphed into smooth bedrock faces. Sara became more nervous, and I recognized that it was time for me to either be quiet, or only murmur my moronic but entertaining self-talk, such as it being “time to scoooooochie scoooooochie!” The last part of the scramble was much more of a scree field. Trying to climb 1,200 feet in a half-mile is hard enough, at about a 45-degree angle. But trying to climb it in, essentially, a mountain of gravel, with intermittent rocks rolling past? Not so easy, my friend. Oh, and it didn’t help when we were instructed to head for the cairn, only to find someone built a fake one off to the side, leaving us having to scout for the correct one to pursue. But, in a sign of the indefatigable human spirit – or a sign of the effectiveness of the 5-Hour Energy shot we were trying out – we made it back to a normal trail.

The smooth bedrock section
of the North Tripyramid

With sweaty high-fives, we were under the canopy again and knew we were near the summit. Sure enough, a few minutes later we stomped on the rock that constituted the peak, plopped down on it, and dug out our smushed PB&J sandwiches from our packs.

The final scree field under hot sun
before summiting North Tripyramid

Climbing up the rock scar hadn’t been as challenging as I’d wanted, although we’d moved significantly slower than on the prior trail. But that made for a good benchmark, realizing I’m capable of most things not requiring carabiners. And now, with one peak in the bag, we had renewed energy to work towards the Middle Tripyramid. We encountered some tricky spots, needing hands, trees, and poles to assist our descent. But this was more entertaining than the ascent that followed, from the saddle between peaks up to the second summit. In actuality, the hike wasn’t rough, but the climb up the north slide had sapped some of our strength.

When we stood atop Middle Tripyramid, we caught our breaths, ate some more, and realized we needed to ration our water a bit. Temps had reached the mid-80’s, and the humidity was tangible. But with several miles back to our stashed water, we needed to be careful. Lingering over our view of the Osceolas and hawks soaring in the distance, we recharged as best as we could for the next leg. 

Enjoying the view from Middle Tripyramid. I sure am
looking forward to the water cache at the end of the loop!

Luckily, the traverse from Middle Tripyramid to South Tripyramid is mild. All three summits are over 4,000 feet. But this leg doesn’t have at least 200 feet of elevation change to qualify for credit for “bagging” a 4,000-footer. Normally, I’d indulge in a rant – after all, 4,000 feet is 4,000 feet. How you get there, or why you don’t get credit when a climb from the opposite direction would have included lots of elevation change, strikes me as a wee bit nit-picky and arbitrary. But in this case, I grabbed onto “not much climbing”, and set out.

It was only a few minutes before we were on the final peak, having wound our way through pretty but fragile terrain, almost all in the blessed shade. En route, water under some rocks also provided radiant cooling, a musty pine smell, and blissful relief. Another snack and water break made sense, but we kept this one short. We had momentum from the realization that we just had to finish going down, and some of the trail was the same flatter section we first came up. We also knew we were behind schedule. Now, hiking isn’t like work; there’s no boss who dings you in your annual performance review if your pace isn’t what you wanted. There’s no interdepartmental team to do a root cause analysis about why you’re such a slowpoke. However, the thunderclouds that were forming on a humid day were a sign that dilly-dallying may not be prudent. And since it was a viewless summit, the lack of breathtaking views wasn’t motivation to linger.

The descent had its own challenge, with a scar on the south slope similar to the one we’d climbed. But the pitch didn’t seem as bad, and this was more of a gravel field. Sara and I avoided being in straight lines so as to not send rocks hurtling at each other – hardly the way to bond – and we sometimes sank into the gravel as we continually stepped and slid down the mountain. It took some time, and the thunder and some fat raindrops kept us hustling, but we finally retreated back under cover of trees without the sky opening up. In fact, the cloud cover began to look less ominous, hinting at cloudiness instead of downpours.

At a lower elevation, the trail leveled out. We didn’t know when the loop would end, as our sense of distance and timing was shot, but we believed we were covering ground quickly. Still feeling pretty strong, and in good spirits, we chatted a bit. A couple of stream crossings offered the chance to cool ourselves off with a cold bandana or ball cap. But eventually, our hydration packs went dry. We both settled in mentally to just focus on finishing the loop and replenishing our water supply.

After passing through or alongside creeks plenty of times, we suddenly turned a corner and found ourselves ending our loop. High stepping across the shallow, rocky river, I bounded over to the water stash… only to discover that the covering was there, largely intact, but the water packs had been stolen. Stolen? Sara was in disbelief at first, wondering if I were looking in the right spot. I was, I knew it, and I used a lot of really naughty words. I wished bad things on the hiker-thieves, and my potty mouth was limited only by my imagination and my swollen tongue. Realizing we had a three mile hike out with no water, and having already been hiking over six hours, I was pissed. Or, as my mother exclaimed one time while driving her VW Bug when my sister and I were misbehaving as kids, I was livid!

The silver lining was that my pace was stellar for the next half-hour, anger providing great fuel. After, adrenaline having worn off, I once again relied on Sara for perseverance. Her endless succession of steady steps in now-mostly-dry boots gave me a focus, and as she silently soldiered on I fell in step.

Back at the truck, finally, I flopped into the open bed of the pickup and peeled off my boots and socks, freeing anguished feet. When Sara returned with the cool Gatorades, I was happy as a kid on Christmas. “Lemon-lime? It’s my favorite! Just what I wanted!” The change of clothes allowed for a smelly but dry return trip, and after hitting a convenience store, the soda and Combos hit the spot until we got to the house, where Sam Adams Porch Rockers awaited us.

Despite the jackasses who stole our water, we both felt good about the hike. I had a new personal best for distance, and my body wasn’t providing reasons for anxiety. Sara had every reason to feel confident, hiking like a machine and handling her fears on the rock scramble. We knew the Presi Traverse would be an arduous hike covering twice the distance and several times the elevation gain, and the weather would be out of our control, but we’d done all we could to prep. Driving home, I was nervous but excited at the thought of the next and bigger success.

See you on the trail,
Jay Bell, AKA Rock Hopper

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