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. 


  1. Joe, your report had me hanging on the edge of my seat while reading it! Your narrative did an excellent job of bringing the reader into the picture. And speaking of pictures, you got some beauties! I was particularly fascinated by the several mile long shadow that was cast by the Kearsarge North tower.


  2. Thanks John. It was great an experience.

  3. Very interesting report Joe - that is some seriously nasty ice! Seems like it's been worse than usual this late fall. You got some beautiful photos up there.

    Kidney stone - ouch! Had one of those back in '99. Hope it passes soon.


  4. Thanks for the comments Steve. And yes, it does seem that the ice conditions on trail are pretty bad this year.

    It was a nice sunset. Just not sure it was worth the risk.

    And the stone is still with me. :(

  5. Yikes! Glad you were able to descend safely. Lesson learned!

    What did you buy for a camera? Beautiful shots!

    Hiking lady

  6. Thanks HL. The camera is a Canon SX50.