Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tortured and Broken on Whitewall Mtn. 9/18/15

As many know, I broke my ankle in April of this year. The ankle is coming along but still gives me issues with any aggressive walking. AKA, hiking. I was told it could be a year before I can't tell I'd broken my ankle.

But what many do not know is, I now have an issue with my left knee. The leg apposite the broken ankle. I'm not going to get into the whole story of how this injury came to be, but it was in directly related to the ankle. And, it happened at work. Long story short, I'm having minor surgery on it Thursday. I'm told it's usually 3 week rehab. Could be worse.

So I decided last Friday, and I have no idea why (I'll be saying this a lot), I should do one good hike before the surgery. Insert a huge, rolling eyes emoticon, here. I'll try and keep it as brief as possible how I ended up bushwhacking Whitewall. I had 2 plans. One was a very easy backpack to a spot I'd found years ago just outside the 1/4 mile restriction east of Thoreau Falls on the Ethan Pond Trail. I'd planned to go very light since the weather outlook was great. That would have been Fri. - Sat. The second was hiking the Rainbow Trail again via Bog Brook Tr. just to the height of land. Possibly further if I felt OK. I've been having PT for the knee for a month now and it's helped a lot. Someone wanted to join me on the Rainbow Ridge hike so that was the plan for Friday. Unfortunately he had to cancel last minute. I'd just driven to Jackson the week before and didn't really feel like doing the painstakingly slow ride on Rt. 16 again. I have no idea why. 8)  Having gotten up at 4, and found out my friend had canceled at 4:15, I really didn't want to start packing for an overnight then. What I decided to do was the overnight plan but as a day hike. Just hike to Thoreau Falls and back from the Zealand Tr.

Got to the trail-head at 8:00 AM and heading out.

I love the Zealand Trail for the most part but hate that rocky-rooty section that comes after the initial, railroad grade? I'm usually real cautious there because it always seems damp. But I was extremely cautious on this day.

That, finally after a 1/4 mile or so, gives way to easy walking again.

I was hoping to see some fall colors. I have found, pretty consistently, that Zealand Notch seems to be one of the places, for what ever reason, that starts to turn first. But only thing that was in it's fall garb was the hobblebush. 

Even though I was taking it easy, I reached the first views on trail soon enough. Just love this area.

The once "Z" bridge.

The view from it.

Looking back at Mt Tom.

I reached the junction with the A-Z Trail. 

Here, I had an epiphany (stupid idea). That was to bushwhack up Whitewall Mtn. Which,  I have no idea why, given my physical condition. Except for maybe remembering it was easy. So off I went. Pretty much on a moose herd path just after the small crossing. Looks pretty good.

On my last trip there in 2011, I'd found a good route on the descent. Whitewall has some outstanding birch glades. But what it also has is some killer hobblebush. I mean of the 6' tall variety. And since my 2 previous trips were in mid fall, I didn't realize it also has waist high ferns. Anyway, by staying just at the edge of the ridge before it drops off sharply, I'd found this in 2011. Looks like a trail.

Even though it was in the conifers, and not the beautiful glades, it was far easier walking. I have no idea why but I could not find that line. This may be a bad example of bad woods but those ferns are waist high hiding all sorts of hazards. 
I was running into all sorts of ugly woods. From pretty bad pencil woods to being forced into the man eating hobblebush. I took no pictures of the ugly woods. I recently bought a DSLR which is heavy and cumbersome. So why'd I take this very expensive camera on a bushwhack? I have no idea why.

I did eventually pop out for some air. 

I have no idea why, but I could not be happy with just heading to the main ledges. I wanted to head over to the top of the slide and work my way south. But that meant fighting through some very tough, thick, scrub. Basically straight that way.

But I made it. Twice at this spot but no nerve to climb down to where you can look down the slide. Finally, a bit of good sense. :)

From here, it still was not a cake walk to the larger open ledge. But here's some shots along the way.

Looking back.
A zoomed Zealand Hut
A mix of scrub and ledge along the way.

Found this lying flat so I sat it up. Good dog!  8)

Getting closer to the prize.


That was the lower of the large ledges. This is the upper. Same view but a little more open. 

And few of the choice shots from here. Bonds, Guyot, Zealand, Hales.
Stairs, Resolution, Crawford and Parker Mtns. in center distance.
Field and Willey
The awesome 180* view.

Now I have no idea why since I'd done it twice, but I was going to head to the actual summit and sign the log. It's a pretty scrappy 1/4 mile trek. Luckily, I heard what I'm pretty sure was a bull moose grunting, out of site, in the direction I needed to go. No need to butt heads. I let out a couple yells and headed out, but away from the moose.

On the descent, as you see in the screen shot of my tracks, I fell or was forced by the woods, off the ridge a bit. In regaining it, I had a bit of an incident. First, something that I've suffering from for years is bad cramps on my inner thighs. These generally happen once ascending, or lifting my leg/legs up to get over something, during the second half of any given hike. Very debilitating. So while I was trying to regain the ridge, they started. Then, my right foot (yes, the broken one) got firmly wedged between 2 logs causing me to fall over. My still healing right ankle was pretty twisted. No pain though. But it was wedged so tight that lying down, I couldn't free it. I also, couldn't stand up. The cramps had set in real good now, and my left knee was toast. No strength at all. I managed to get my pack off to get to some mustard packets. These seem to work for the cramps fairly quickly about 60% of the time. So I lay there, underneath all the vegetation waiting and hoping for the cramps to subside,
watching my life pass by. Well not really  ;), but it was a scary few minutes. I finally manged to pull myself up by doing the hand over hand on a small spruce keeping me company. Got my foot unstuck and just sat for about 15 minutes. Then, recomposed, I headed down with still about a mile of whacking left.

Hears some shots of the lower glades I either passed though or went by. As you can see in the G.E. image, I was just outside the glades most of the time. You can tell that by the darker green I was in. These may look awesome but this whole bushwhack was a struggle, because of the woods.

Well, I did manage to get back on solid ground, but I'd gone through the entire 4 liters of fluids I had and 2 miles to go. I'd just finished the last 1/2 liter and wasn't really worried about that. Made a quick stop on the bridge at the northern end of Zealand Pond. I have no Idea why. I've dozens like it. :)

Now back to rocky-rooty. But this time, with absolutely no strength at all to deal with it. I really wanted to just sit down and stay there. Ahhh, 1 person may have missed me.  ;)

Practically crawling now.

And Done!

As many do, I to love to share my hiking experiences with others. But I wasn't going to this time. This is clearly something I should not have done, especially alone. This is the kind of stupid decision making you hear about novice hikers doing on Franconia Ridge.

So why am I telling this tale of monumental stupidity? I have no idea why! 

The route.


  1. Joe, I'm so glad to see you're back on the trail (but I have no idea why!) ;-) I've wanted to hike up Whitewall but never got around to it. Through your excellent trip report and photos you gave us a taste of what it is like. Thanks so much for your efforts, and please don't lose your great sense of humor! :-)

  2. Thanks-you. Always happy to entertain. :) I hope you get to make it there on your own someday. It's a very special place.

  3. Joe, "I have no idea why", but it's completely understandable to me why you'd do such an adventure given your recent injury! :-) I suppose it's sort of like cabin fever, i.e. after a while, you just have to get outside and enjoy all there is to enjoy in the great outdoors.

    As always, very entertaining report, and excellent photos!


  4. Thanks John, although I am convinced this something I should not have done, the "Cabin Fever" excuse is certainly a good one. ;-)

    And, mostly likely the culprit. :)

  5. Joe - You've had a hard year! It's been frustrating. But there was nothing stupid about this trip. Stupid would have been if you went up Whitewall the way two certain ladies (not mentioning any names :)!) did in July! I did not read this until now, otherwise I would have given you some encouragement earlier! Your photos and stories are always good! You should post more of them on this blog!

  6. Thanks Beckie. I remember reading about your adventure. I wouldn't have done the slide if I were in tip-top shape. ;-)