Monday, May 28, 2012

Mts. Eisenhower and Pierce - Revisited

Mts. Eisenhower and Pierce via Edmands and Crawford Paths Traverse, May 27, 2012

Mileage: 7.9 miles traverse

Elevation gain: 2,830'

Trailhead: Edmands Path trailhead is located on Clinton Road, 2.3 miles from Route 302 (near AMC Highland Center).  Crawford Path trailhead (where your hike will end) is right across the street from AMC Highland Center. Please park at Crawford Depot.

Lesson learned: It's a small world!

The plan was to hike North and South Weeks on this day but as was the case last weekend, things changed. We were hiking with our friends Sandy and Joe and after doing Peak Above the Nubble I wanted some serious fun and viewage for our Memorial Day weekend hike.  This hike did not disappoint.

It was cool but warming up fast when we parked one car on Route 302, and climbed into the second car for the trailhead for Edmands Path (no fee was required here today).  Sandy and Joe had not done Edmands Path before.  Sandy bagged Eisenhower and Pierce during a Presi hike years ago, and this was to be Joe's 34th and 35th NH 4k so they were excited. We were happy to revisit this hike, we remembered our 2008 visit fondly (see previous report).

The route started out uneventful - there was one log that was across the path - just high enough - that everyone had to straddle to get over and it was pretty worn in one spot - I put out of my mind how many others had to straddle before me - ew!  

The day was blue, warm and sweet and soon we were gaining elevation.
The path starts off gradual but steepens, as we knew it would.
As the day warmed up and our effort increase, we were all breathing heavy, sweating, which alerted the black flies (we had applied some serious repellent but they manage to find places to munch).  We took breaks - we had no schedule, and before long we were upon the side of the range, catching glimpses of the views, which were good on this day - a bit hazy.
View from an overlook - here the trail steepened.
We had forgotten how wonderful the views are on this hike. At the Crawford Path/ Eisenhower Loop trail junction we were totally exposed on the ridge, along with many others. After all, it is Memorial Day weekend and a beautiful day to be up above tree line!
The upper portion of Edmands Path skirts the side of the mountain. 
We headed up the loop trail to the summit of Mt. Eisenhower where we met a couple from Stratham (which is where we live), and another group from Exeter, the next town over. What are the chances that the folks on the summit are all from the same area two hours away!  One couple remarking on their quest to complete the NH 4ks indicated how hard it is to get motivated to drive up to the Whites to do the hikes.  For me, the problem is convincing me that the pouring rain and harsh winds outside are indicators that maybe the hike should be postponed!
Mt. Eisenhower summit
After lunch, we headed down the loop path to Crawford path and over to the summit of Mt. Pierce.  The path had changed; there were several steps installed in certain areas. These were not there in 2008, at least we don't remember them. We met many hikers and dogs on this path.  Bugs were out in full force too!

Look closely for steps - lower left is a tiny one, a larger one in the middle.
A sign pointing to Webster Cliff trail led us to the summit of Pierce.  It was quite crowded on this summit.
Joe celebrating #35 on the summit of Mt. Pierce
We were ready to head back down to Crawford Path and back to the car.  The hike down was uneventful, with the usual "wish we were there already" mumblings.  We got back to our car, picked up the other car and headed to the Moat for a beer.

This is the entrance to the Crawford Path by the Highland Center, and where our hike ended.
The Eisenhower Pierce loop does not disappoint if you plan to do it on a day where skies are clear.  We are thrilled that we got such great views and look forward to next week's hike which we hope will be Mts. Weeks (N&S).

Sunday, May 20, 2012

#73 Peak Above the Nubble, May 19 2012

New England Hundred Highest #73, Peak Above the Nubble Bushwhack (3,813'), New Hampshire, May 19, 2012.

Distance: 4.6 miles RT

Elevation gain: 1,920'

Trailhead: Drive 1.7ish miles on Haystack Road off of Route 3 in Bethlehem, NH; you will see a logging road with three boulders on your right (see photo below).

Lessons learned: 1. Gaiters can only take so much. 2. Don't underestimate the amount of actual whacking you may have to do. 3. Don't overestimate your compass orienting skills. 4. When off the herd path retrace your steps.

Bushwhacking 101.  For over a year I knew Peak Above the Nubble (PAtN) would be my first significant bushwhack.  New England's Hundred Highest List has three peaks in New Hampshire that require bushwhacking* and from my research, it seemed that PAtN would be the best choice for a first bushwhack (Merriam Webster defines bushwhack as to "cut or push one's way in a specified direction through dense vegetation").

I researched the hell out of this hike, viewed websites and trip reports, and also wrote to the authors for details (and even got a GPS track of a previous trip).  In April I scouted out the trailhead and part of the logging road route in an effort to demystify the challenge.

We had planned to hike the Osceolas with Sandy and Joe. Sandy wound up working and they had to cancel.  The weekend's weather prediction was "spectacular" and so our "Plan B" quickly became PAtN.

What extra stuff a hiker needs to bring for their first bushwhacking experience.  
  1. Water purifier (normally we would not consider this on a five mile hike but I wanted to be extra prepared)
  2. Plenty of water - don't look at trip mileage, look at trip time - if it is 5 miles and 5 hours, bring enough water for a 10+ mile trip.  And check to see if there is available water in the area.
  3. Gaiters
  4. Gatorade 
  5. Old sunglasses or some other type of eye protection
  6. Older long sleeves and pants (I wore knickers and gaiters but the combination did not work that well)
  7. Compass and good orienting skills
  8. Pen (you will want to register your name in the little book located in the summit canister and the pens may not work)
  9. GPS (I highly recommend this - it made our day, however you must also be knowledgeable in compass orienting enough to at least get back to your car without a GPS should you need to)
  10. Lots of information about the hike (terrain, water availability, elevation gain, cliffs, vegetation)
  11. Just enough items to spend an uncomfortable but not impossible night in the woods (I bring these items on all my hikes)
  12. Lots of daylight! - just in case
  13. Shin guards (kidding, though we could have used them)
I thought Rich would balk at the idea of a bushwhack (he is not working on the Hundred Highest list) but he seemed up for the challenge. We got to the trailhead at 9:30 and headed down the logging road.

Three boulders mark the logging road off of Haystack Road. 
Vegetation had really grown since my re-con in April; I was thankful I'd made the earlier trip to check out where to start.  We went about 3/10 of a mile down the road and at the sand hill we went right at the fork. (We'd used this sand hill as a visual to find our way back to the road and the car.)

Bear right here, you will see the sand hill on your left.
About 500' after bearing right we took a skidder road, well hidden in vegetation, that went up hill to the "overgrown clear cut."  Here, if you step back you will see Nubble in front of you, beyond the clear cut.  That is where you are headed.  You'll also see a tall dead tree with lots of woodpecker holes in it to your right.

Here is where I made our first mistake. I grossly underestimated the amount of vegetation in this area, having read descriptions as "clear cut" and not "overgrown clear cut."  Instructions from a friend indicated we follow the left edge of this clear cut to the woods and go up.  It was like being in a corn field in August; we could not see where we needed to be. Immediately we started bulling through the thick vegetation. Our poles caught on everything and were a huge annoyance.

Children of the Corn?  No, Rich and I trying foolishly to whack the thick part of the clear cut!
Pushing through vegetation this thick is what bushwhacking is all about right?  No, not right, the smart thing would have been to find a less thick area of the clear cut and get to our destination.  We expended a huge amount of energy getting through this area (not even a mile into the hike). At one point I felt a tug on my pack and as I yanked myself through it, my Camelback mouthpiece popped off and my water started pouring onto the ground.

Dealing with the distraction and frustration of the thick vegetation at the clear cut, I forgot my friend's advice to stay to the left of the clear cut and start the ascent from the left side.  Once we got through the clear cut we immediately headed up into the woods, thrilled that the heavy stuff was over but we would soon find out we weren't "left" enough.  The wooded area is fairly open with saplings, hardwoods and lots of debris to hop over but we could at least see where we were going.

Rich checked the GPS track we borrowed.  We were on their track (we were trying to incorporate two different routes: one from my friend's description, the other from the GPS track we borrowed ).

Then we saw it.

A HERD PATH!  Great!  We jumped on it and headed up with total abandon, ignoring what we knew and the route on the GPS track.  We got to the top of a ridge that wound up being too far right. Second mistake!  We had to hike down and then up to correct our error, avoiding small cliffs and boulders to get where we need to be.   This cut about 35 minutes into our time and we were both annoyed, particularly when trying to whack through a spruce trap.

Navigating in the woods is taxing.  A thought kept creeping in, "we are in the woods, gotta get back on trail." There is no trail. As the hill steepened we were forever placing our foot on iffy ground, trying to guess where the rotting fallen trees are hidden.  My stiff, reliable gaiters were falling down, baring my calves, which the bugs loved.  In fact, several bugs found their way in and just kept biting and biting.
During my trip research, I wondered why there were so few photos of hiking in the woods on the way to  PAtN.  It's because no one wants to stop for photos when slogging up a hill of thick woods and iffy ground.  

After a while we reached an area described in other reports as "open hardwoods."  There was a lot of moose scat (lots).  Herd paths came and went and we kept heading up (we started calling our herd path sitings mirages because they appeared to be there, then weren't). I wondered if we would ever see that canister at the summit.  Eventually there was a discernible herd path and we followed it, checking the GPS track we had borrowed to at least stay close to where others had trekked (no more wrong turns for us).

Just before the summit of Nubble, we came across a left hand trail that led to nowhere; it seemed to disappear down a cliff.  I had read about this trail in reports.  We went right and the herd path led us to the top of Nubble.  It doesn't have a view and at this point we have not seen any views so we determined that we missed a much easier, more pleasant way to this peak by heading into the woods too far to the right.

After lunch, we felt renewed and headed on the herd path to Peak Above the Nubble.  Along the way we did have one nice viewpoint and we had no problem following this path to what?  The CANISTER, that's what!

Finally the canister!  I could not get the top off to sign the register without a struggle, though.
After signing the register, then taking photos of each other with great views of North Twin in the background, we headed down the herd path back to Nubble. Here is where our poles came in handy, as the area was steep and rooty. There were several gnarly blowdowns we had to navigate around on the way up. These turned out to be a big problem on the way down.

As we skirted around the last blowdown we lost the path and headed down another (or maybe it was a "path mirage").  Once we realized our mistake, we tried to cut into the thick, littered woods to pick up the path but found this to be just a waste of time.  After accepting that we had lost the path, we were able to retrace our steps and find it.  Another 25 minutes wasted.

We were past Nubble and down to the end of the path in no time.  The GPS was constantly checked to make sure we were close to the track.  We were. We avoided the spruce trap this time, and stepped over all the moose poop, thanking the moose for clearing a lot of the way for us in their travels.  We hit the lower section of the woods (2500') and descended through younger trees, following a small stream part of the way, closely following the GPS.  Just when we were decided we were so over! picking our way through fallen, rotten logs, the clear cut appeared directly in front of us. At the high end of the clear cut there are beautiful views of Waumbek and the northern peaks.  And, we could see the sand hill in the distance - the logging road where our car was.

This time, we were smart and quickly found our way through the smaller tree growth, following a stream along the way, keeping the tall trees and that one tall dead tree in our sites. This led us to the skidder road back to the sand hill, and to our car.

So glad to see the car!

We picked up a few hikers needing a lift back to Gale River Road and took their advice for dinner:  Woodstock Inn and Brewery in North Woodstock.  We earned our beer on this hike and were amazed the whole experience yielded just 4.6 miles!

Casualties - Be prepared to sport some war wounds from bushwhacking. Bug bites aside, I hit my head on edgy, broken off branches five times (once hard enough to bleed), smacked my shins countless times (big egg on my left one), received no less than a dozen scratches, and Rich has a small puncture wound on his left arm.  Our clothing is in rough shape too, with pulls and small tears.

Final note:  We relied heavily on the GPS and the track we borrowed from a previous hiker.  If you choose to borrow a track, check the date of the track; winter hiking routes have an advantage with regards to vegetation. More importantly, don't rely on this method of orienting without a back up plan.  Many times, Rich had me look at my compass to determine which way to go -  once the GPS wanted us to go left when we clearly were not to go that way.

Final final note. We made some amateur mistakes on this hike that made the trip about 90 minutes longer than it had to be. Next time we will be smarter.  Rich was clearly the day's hero with his GPS navigation and frankly we were glad to have this helpful tool.  But, regardless of our time and our mistakes, another NEHH hike was bagged .

Rich said would do it again, but only if it was someone's dying wish......

* the other two bushwhack peaks are Vose Spur and Scar Ridge