Monday, December 30, 2013

Mountain Therapy and Mental lapses. Mt.'s Major & Straightback 12/28/13

It had been nearly a month since my last hike. Two things kept me on the sidelines. One, I was battling a stubborn kidney stone which I ended up having to have a procedure to take care of. And two, I took a bad fall at work catching the top step of a step ladder right across the small of my back. And more on the problem kidney side. To say the end of 2012 was not going well would be a huge understatement.

There was no serious injury to my back other than very bad contusions, thankfully. Which were going to take time to heal. I finally passed the stone, in pieces, Christmas eve. And by Saturday, I felt my back was healed enough to withstand the pressure of a backpack on it.

I did not want to push things so I was looking for something relatively short and lower in elevation. I did not want a typical heavy winter pack. I'd never done Mt Major so that would be the pick.

In the title the "mental lapses" refers the lackadaisical approach I took to researching this hike. I did a quick search online for a downloadable trail map and found none. That was it in the research department. I normally would not bother with my GPS on hikes such as this but it would be the maps I'd have. I have mentioned this before but will repeat it. The set of Garmin maps I have are at least 25 years old even though purchased in 2008. A very good example is they show the Osseo Trail in it's old location. So, they showed one trail heading up and over Mt  Major and towards, but not to the summit of Straightback. This is said map.

Even on a hike like this, I look at G.E. to see if there are any hidden treasures. I could see that Straightback was loaded with open ledge. What I saw for a trail did not go to the summit but if I felt good enough, would do the short bushwhack to it. 

Now the tale of the stupid hiker. I found the lot where I thought I would. I pulled in and went all the way to the right, back end, near a couple other cars and got geared up. I was about 20 feet a packed out trail. Great, this is it. But as soon as I started. I saw this sign.

Now I was confused. Is this a low level snowmobile trail? I then noticed a guy come out of the woods with a dog on the other side of the lot. I walked over there, did not talk to the gentleman, and saw this sign. Bingo.

I assumed this was the one trail I had on my maps and headed out. I came came to a junction. The signs said Mt Major Tr. and the Brook Trail to Mt Major. I did not have the Brook Trail on my Garmin maps but that nothing new. I figured that was added and possibly a longer loop to the summit so I stuck with the Mt Major Tr. The grades started getting steep and icy so I put on my Microspikes. With maybe 1/4 mile to summit, to go, I came across this sign.

I was feeling fine, pain wise, so went for the ledges. Which took me to this.

What I found very amusing is the fact that this detour could not have been more than feet in length. Because once past the photo above, I looked down and could see the entire detour. At least in winter, it doesn't seem to make much difference. 

Nearing the summit, I ran into my first hiker. He said, "are you doing the loop?" I said, "which loop? He told me he ascended the orange trail, (Boulder Loop Tr.). and was descending the blue trail, the one I was on. I said I didn't know about the orange trail but said that's sounds like a good way to descend to change things up. I also asked him about a trail to Straightback. He knew nothing about a trail, nor even heard of Straightback. It was at this point, I figured there was no trail to Straightback.

Something I've neglected to mention is the forecast I saw as late as when I headed out in the morning was mostly sunny. What had was mostly to all cloudy, and an odd haze for the time of year. I believe it was probably a very thin fog from evaporating snow. At any rate, not great views once I reach the summit of Mt Major.

While taking photos on the summit, I noticed tracks heading towards Straightback Mtn. Great there is a trail. I started following it and saw blazes. Perfect.

I neglected to take a photo of them but just past this tree, was another with 2 signs. One said Brook Trail back to parking on Rt. 11. The other said to Jesus Valley Rd., No parking. And that was the only info. on them. Bummer, looks like I'm bushwhacking after all. But at least I could follow Jesus Valley Rd. Tr. as it was heading right for Straightback which you can see in the back.

 I could at least take it to the col. Once whacking a came across this beaver pond.

Then followed a deer run. Which with them, as with moose, they'll often take you on a easy route through the woods. Which were quite open anyway.

Nearing Straightback,on some semi open ledge, I could look back and see Mt major.

Then soon on the wide open ledge I hoped I'd find.

But as I reached the middle of the ledges, I could see definite signs of a trail. Some small cairn and tracks. Coming up form the south, and heading north towards the high point. I had no idea what to make of them at this point. But followed them.

Nearing the high point, I could see a large cairn with a sign post and several signs. Some pretty faded but the second one down says Straightback Link to Mt Major. What???

I almost wanted to retrace my steps not knowing what to believe as there was no sign on Mt Major mentioning Staightback Mtn. at all. But curiosity got the better of me to see exactly where this trail came out on Major. But first I did a loop on the ledges for some different views. 

Now time to find out what's up with these trails. So off on the Straightback Link.

Which eventually took me hear. A junction with the Brook Trail. Which while on the link, is what I assumed it would do. Yet no mention of this junction on the summit of Major.

On the way back to the summit of Mt Major, I got my only rays of sunshine for the day, which were very short lived.

I found the Boulder Loop Trail that fellow mentioned earlier which had a good view of Alton Bay.

At the top of the trail, just before it descends steeply, I spotted this guy/gal 50 yards bellow. 

After a slightly tricky descent on the icy steep section Boulder Loop Tr., which was well blazed, I arrived back at the lot. And it was now where I found out how unobservant I was. First, on my way from the trail I thought was just a snowmobile trail, to the Mt Major Tr., I passed this sign without noticing. Which would have explained some of my questions. 

But more important I completely missed the kiosk, complete with map, that explained everything. D'oh!

Not only does it have the primary trails to Mt Major, it also shows the trails to Straightback. And not only the one I took back to Major from it, but it shows that the Jesus Valley Rd. Tr. that I started on to do the whack in fact loops around and ascends Straightback from the south which is the trail I saw coming up from the south. This is a great map but it doesn't explain, to me, why the signage on Mt Major is so nondescript. Just 3 laminated paper signs was all I saw. When it was very descriptive on Straightback. Only thing I can think of is that Mt Major is such a huge tourist hike that all the old wooden signs were taken, and kept being taken so they gave up.

No matter, all objectives obtained. The most important one being the test of back issues. Which I had no "Major" problems. 8)

I made I quick stop, at a tourist stop, at Alton Bay on the way home. Pretty nice area that I'll have to check out on a summers day. A week day I'm assuming will be better. ;-)

The route. Yellow being the bushwhack.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunset hike to Kearsarge North 11/29/2013

My friend Bob contacted me last week to see if I wanted to do a hike Friday. I hadn't been out for the 2 prior weekends waiting for a kidney stone to pass so I was ready to get back into it. And by the way, it's still stuck in there somewhere. We tossed some ideas around and came up with doing Iron Mtn first in the AM, then The Doubleheads, staying on South for the sunset. To make long story short, we encountered a blow-down on Iron Mtn Rd. Not knowing do to poor research, how close we were to the trail-head plus no good place to park, we headed for The Doubleheads. You can see Bob's report on those here. THE DOUBLEHEADS 11/29/13

Bob doesn't get the chance to hike as much as he'd like to these days so he declined to join me for a sunset hike up Kearsarge North. I arrived at the trail-head at 1:15, had a quick bite to eat, on was on the move by 1:40. Given the time of year, long shadows were already visible.

Doing the Doubleheads we encountered enough ice on the ascent to warrant Microspikes. Basically to make things go faster by not having to search out good footing. But I'd done Kearsarge North in April once and the trail once you hit the ledgey area was very icy. Given what we'd had for weather as of late, I figured that could be an issue and put the spikes on from the get-go. Those conditions presented themselves soon into the hike.

Once on the real ledgy areas, the ice was becoming an issue. Getting around it was more challenging. This was the first of many times I thought I should scrub this idea.

Past the open ledge section of the trail, the ice just got worse. This trail is obviously susceptible to runoff. One of the problems for me was I was using my old Microspikes. The reason being is I figured there to be more rock than ice today and did not want to ruin my new ones. So between The Doublheads, and what I'd encountered to this point on this trail, they were starting to be all but useless because they'd gotten so dull. And as I gained elevation the ice was getting more solid. At least at the lower elevations, it was some what soft. The next 2 photos show just how bad the ice was getting.

The latter of the 2 photos is where I had my only fall on my way down. Not bad for this hike, but if I were anywhere with an open run, it could have been ugly. It was here I absolutely should have turned around and given up on summiting. Knowing what I was going to have to deal with by headlamp, and still pursuing my objective, was just plain stupid. 

I was about 1/4 mile form summit when I could see Adams through the trees and it was lit up with Alpenglow. When I could see the summit it looked like I was going to be in time to see it.

The ice had slowed me down so much that the Alpenglow was all gone on the Northern Presi's but I had made it in time for the sunset. 

Normally I love cloudless skies but for a sunset, I think they enhance it greatly. It was nice but not great. One of the more interesting things I saw which was a first for me, was the several mile long shadow cast by the tower. Quite noticeable in the center of the photo.

While waiting for the sun to set I took some shots of the interesting light patterns.

It was getting cold but I managed to take several photos of the sun setting. None of which I'm that pleased with. New camera. :(

Finally the last of it.

After the sun had gone behind the mountains, I took a few more pictures. But the colors just weren't what I'd hoped for.

It was getting dark fast and I was not looking forward to what lied ahead. Descending an extremely icy trail, in the dark. One last shot down into Glen.

The descent was the white-knuckler I thought it would be. I knew I'd be doing a descent in the dark so I had 2 headlamps with me. I ended up wearing both of them as to get as much light on the ice as I could. I also for the first time in a while brought my trekking poles with me. Purposely for this situation. Without them, the outcome could have been worse. But the fall I mentioned earlier was the only one I had. And once past the real difficult spots, I manged to get a shot of North Conway.
Even though the descent seemed to take forever, I was out by 6:00 PM.

One could say I'm making a bigger deal about this than necessary. But for myself, I feel this is one of the worse decisions I've made while hiking. Once I encounter the severe ice, I never should have continued. One, I was solo. Two, my traction was questionable at best. And three, I knew it would be pitch black by the time I was descending on ice. My legs were sorer than they've been in years after a hike. That's how tense I was on the descent. 

Lesson learned? Let's hope so.