Wednesday, October 14, 2015

67 in 67: North Twin Mountain, Grafton County, NH (summit #31)

Hike: North Twin Mountain
Elevation: 4,760
Date: September 20, 2015
Location: Grafton County, NH
Distance: 8.6 miles
Time: 6:52 (47:54/mile)

Ugh. Blah. Congrats on being wrong, National Weather Service. It wasn’t a sunny start to part two of this unexpected hiking road trip. It was rainy and foggy, with a wet chill in the air. Our hotel window had a view of North Twin, today’s goal. Only, instead of sun and clouds, it was wet and we couldn’t even see the summit. If either of us pushed to cancel the hike, the other probably would’ve agreed to skip it, sleep in, and head home. But instead, we gamely got ready to tackle the mountain.

Sara's expression tells you all you need to know about the weather. Ugh.
We started hiking as the rain picked up, having to use the waterproof jackets. The hoods helped keep us dry but prevented conversation as we trudged along. The out-and-back route involved about two miles of flat terrain with three river crossings, a mile-and-a-half of uphill, a half-mile of steep uphill, and a half-mile of flatter trail to the wooded summit, with a great view shortly before the summit’s cairn.

After the prior day’s ten mile hike up Mount Carrigain left me with a second balky knee, we moved at a slower pace, with the wetness contributing to our slower pace. The stream crossings were running a little higher than normal from the overnight rain, and we needed some care in crossing them. But the flat leg of the hike still allowed for fairly good time. As predicted, the climb started right after the last crossing and we began sweating as we worked our way up the lengthy staircase.
Sara found her route across one of North Twin's three river crossings. Yay!
Luckily, we never noticed the really steep section’s beginning. So, before we knew it, we were close to the levelling off point. Time had passed more quickly than it seemed, and we found ourselves well over three hours into the hike standing on a rocky outcropping with an incredible view. Well, on a sunny day it would be incredible. Like the prior day’s hike. But on this day we were in the middle of a cloud, staring at an impenetrable wall of gray. It was like painting a windowless room all gray and then trying to find something to admire. So we trudged on to the summit, declared summit number 31 of our 67 4,000-foot New England mountains “bagged”, and returned to the alleged view to have lunch.
What a beautiful view... the sunny day before.
Alas, some wet wind had kicked in and we found ourselves cold and uncomfortable. We decided to get back below treeline to cut the wind and moisture before breaking for food. I only had one knee brace on as I only had one bad knee until the day before, so I switched it to the other knee as I began my descent.

The wet cold had penetrated us both, but Sara was having a tougher time with it. She had packed in some added layers and stopped to swap out wet clothes for dry. I gave her my gloves to warm her hands because I’m a fantastic hiking partner and an even better guy (if I do say so myself), and in no time she was toasty and comfortable.

We finally found a nice boulder to sit on and eat lunch. But the weather left us wanting to soldier on. My knees had this pre-ache feeling, as if they were just waiting to flare up again. Sara trudged on ahead of me, finding it painful to watch me. I used my hiking poles, limped, alternated which leg I’d use to take initial steps down, took weird lines to keep my legs as comfortably straight as possible, and even walked sideways for a quarter-mile to compensate for the movements that hurt the most. My wipeout protected my knees but left me with a wet derriere. With the weather and distance between us, we walked in much more silence than the day before.
Sara navigated all three river crossings really well. Me? Not quite so lucky (or skilled)!
We moved steadily along, and I found myself excited when we finally arrived at the first return crossing of the river. It meant we’d flattened out and my knees would be fine. We focused and found good routes across the river.

Arriving at the second crossing, I remembered a blogger I read the night before, who fell in on this crossing, with onlookers witnessing his fiasco. I used extra care as I worked my way along, but nevertheless slipped myself, and immersed my left leg. I hate-hate-hate wet shoes, with squishiness on every stride. I found myself stuck, on all fours, except for the wet one thrashing in the air as if I were a bucking bronco. But luckily my waterproof boot and the gator to keep my lower legs dry actually kept my foot almost completely dry. Sara laughed but luckily just missed capturing the fall on camera. She used to be more nervous on downhills and water crossings, but has grown a confidence that matches her skills, as evidenced by her effortless crossing and dry clothes.

We finished off the hike at a fast clip and without further incident. After high-fives, changing into dry clothes, cranking the pickup’s heater, and grabbing drinks at a convenience store, we headed home. Not every hike can be beautiful or phenomenal. But hikers hike, and we’ve now hiked 31 summits. We might have one hiking weekend left in the season, and are finding glad we made the most of our spontaneous trip into the Whites!

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

Sunday, October 4, 2015

67 in 67: Mount Carrigain, Grafton County, NH (summit #30)

Hike: Mount Carrigain
Elevation: 4,682
Date: September 19, 2015
Location: Grafton County, NH
Distance: 10.0 miles
Time: 7:16 (43:36/mile)

Due to some unexpected events, Sara and I found ourselves with a completely free weekend with a beautiful forecast. So, clearly there was only one solution: road trip!

Good view of North Twin from the motel!
In our quest to summit all 67 4,000-foot mountains in New England over 67 months, we’ve accumulated a few loose ends. We wanted to cross a couple of single-summit hikes off the list. North Twin was orphaned from its South Twin summit during our Labor Day Weekend hike with the girls across Galehead, South Twin, and Zealand.  Mount Carrigain just sort of hangs out there, all by its lonesome. So this formed our itinerary for the weekend. We’d start with Carrigain, the longer, tougher hike, and follow it up with North Twin before heading home.

Sara helpfully pointed out the extremely large map. It was too big to fit in
my pocket, so we stuck with the small, folded paper version we'd brought.
There aren’t a lot of hotels in the North Twin area, even less that have a refrigerator or microwave. By process of elimination, we found a place, the Profile Deluxe Motel; despite being a 60-year-old motel, it’s clearly been upgraded while retaining a nostalgic vibe, and it turned out to be inexpensive but with some great touches. We set ourselves up Friday night, and Saturday morning we found ourselves at a crowded trailhead at 9:00 a.m.

The first couple miles of the ten-mile, out-and-back hike were easy, and we chatted across a mix of topics as we made good time. Then Carrigain began rising significantly from its immediate surroundings. It became an ongoing climb until we were half a mile from the five-mile halfway point. At that point, the trail opened up and we began to get great views. Two weeks earlier, we’ hiked the north side of the Pemigewasset Wilderness with the girls, and had views that were amazing, at times with Carrigain at the southern end. Most of the amazing views we normally have still include condos or towns dotting the landscape. But in the Pemi, the landscape is pure wilderness; nothing but nature. Now, we began seeing across it to our prior hike.

The views from Carrigain's Signal Ridge begin to show a slew of summits in the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
When we finally hit the summit and found a fire tower, we were able to sit on the platform and see for miles as we snacked. We spread out our map and Sara began pointing out the summits we’d already crossed off the list, as well as some in our future.
Looking back from the summit at the trail across Signal Ridge that would return us to the parking lot. 
The hikes we’ve done and those remaining were part of a meandering conversation that, for the first time, touched on what we might do after our “New England 67” personal challenge. We explored the idea of a hiking bucket list; no lengthy challenge but maybe a series of particularly interesting hikes, such as a Pemi death march across a slew of summits; a winter overnight hike; a week-long hike including stays at all of the AMC’s high mountain huts; a group hike with a couple of friends’ families… the topic made for an interesting distraction from the grind, and to think about how hiking might look after May of 2018. And then…

My knee flared up on the descent. Not my occasionally gimpy left knee. No, that would be predictable and mitigated by the knee brace I’d bought. Nope. Life throws you curves, and sometimes you get plunked by those pitches. At first I thought I was imagining things. But as it kept worsening, I soon realized my right knee was doing the same thing my left normally does. Seriously, this is ridiculous. I’m already trying to protect two bad feet, a bad knee, using hiking poles. Does it count if I just parachute to the summit, plant a “Jay was here!” flag, take a picture, and get airlifted out? I used to hate the uphill grind. Now it’s the only reliable part. It’s as if I’m part of some cosmic experiment, and I can only imagine what’s next: “let’s see what happens this time if we… dislocate his kneecap!” “How about now he rips his groin muscle off the bone?” By the end of the descent I could barely walk. Then I had a 1.7 (allegedly) flat hike back to the parking lot on the final trail.

Early signs of Autumn. Boo...
When we hit that trail intersection, we saw a guy sitting there. It turns out we saw him at the summit with friends, and he’d sped past them on the way down. He was waiting for them, as they were about fifteen minutes behind us. Sanjay had recently come to the U.S., was working on his doctorate from Dartmouth, and this was his first summit. One of the friends Sanjay was accompanying was finishing his forty-seventh New Hampshire summit, leaving just Mount Washington the following weekend before finishing all that were in New Hampshire. It was refreshing to see someone so excited by life, finding new ways to explore the world around him and making the most of his experience. He was so enthusiastic and optimistic that we couldn’t help but wish him all the best.

Fabyan's Restaurant at Bretton Woods was the
perfect apres-hike spot to enjoy a last touch
of summer and some laughs with Sara!
After lingering in a pleasant conversation, we headed on. Every little descent led to bone-on-bone shooting pains up my leg. Sara let me set the pace, but as we neared the end of the trail we heard some hikers approaching us. She noted them and we got a bit competitive, making a dash for the finish line. We had a great but stupid pace for the final stretch, bursting back into the parking lot and high-fiving each other before I limped to the truck.

We felt we’d earned a reward, and knew we’d pass Fabyan’s restaurant on the way back, across from the Bretton Woods ski resort. It appeared to be a good place, named after one of the prominent historical figures in the area and converted from a former train depot but retain that old-time feel. Although we hadn’t brought a change of clothes, Sara had some layers she hadn’t used that she could change into. I had to resort to hanging my sweaty, wet hiking shirt off the back of the truck to at least be air dried by the time we hit the restaurant. We sat outside, enjoying some great food and view, soaking in one of the last summer-like days of the season.
Another summit,
another problem.
That evening, as we laid in the hotel room, my legs a sore mess, we were still happy. We’d hit our thirtieth summit and had some great conversation along the way. My knee pain had subsided once we hit flatter terrain and then finished hiking, leaving me comfortable trying for a hike the next day. We knew the season was nearing an end, but had picked up some hiking momentum and now felt a renewed connection to the mountains. All in all, it’s hard to call this a bad day!

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