Sunday, June 17, 2012

#75 and #76 - The Horn, The Bulge, and Mt. Cabot, June 16, 2012

#75 The Horn (3,905'), #76 the Bulge (3,950') and Mt. Cabot (4,170'), counter clockwise via Unknown Pond, Kilkenny Ridge, Bunnell Notch and York Pond trails June 16, 2012

Mileage: 11.4 miles (loop)

Elevation gain: 3,538'

Trailhead: Berlin, N.H. (Route 16) then west on Rt. 110 for approximately seven miles towards Milan. Turn left at the Berlin Fish Hatchery sign onto York Pond Road. Follow paved road through a residential area and into the White Mountain National Forest. Continue straight and pass through a gate marking the entrance to the Berlin Fish Hatchery. You will then pass a small pond on your left and several hatchery tents. Continue going straight onto an unpaved road and the trailhead parking lot will be on your right. (Note: the fish hatchery is gated off hours with a locked gate - sometimes they close the gate but don't lock it. Hatchery hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  It's best to call them to make sure they will leave the gate open, 603.449.3412.)

Lesson learned: Upper body strength is key to rock scrambling.

Today I hiked with Bob and Matt.  This hike was scheduled by AMC leader and friend Bob, who'd done the loop many times.  I asked him in February if he was going to offer the hike this year as I wanted to bag Horn and Bulge for my New England Hundred Highest list.  I'd hiked to Mt. Cabot before (see previous report).

I've always had a great time hiking with Bob and looked forward to this adventure. He posted the hike on the AMC website as a hike to "Mt. Cabot, bagging two 'hundred highest' peaks along the way."  The plan was to hike the loop counter-clockwise to be certain we would get Horn and Bulge before we arrived at Cabot.

A group of eight dwindled down to three as participants dropped out the week before the hike (injury, illness, scheduling conflict).  The three of us met at McDonalds in Gorham on the most beautiful of days (weather is always a gamble when hikes are scheduled months in advance).  

We piled into Bob's van and headed out to the Berlin Fish Hatchery.  Just past the hatchery is the parking lot for the Unknown Pond trailhead (on the right).  Parking for the York Pond trailhead is a few hundred feet beyond on the left (across from the fish pool, walk over and peek into it - very cool).

Though we arrived around 8:00 a.m. (late for us) there were no cars in the lot.

The trail is flat and non-descript in the beginning. The grasses and ferns were high but you could easily see where to go; there are no blazes on this trail.  The trail eventually started going up, very gradually, with some muddy sections (with several bootsuckers).  

Trail is distinct but overwhelmed by ferns (no blazes).
There's a handful of stream crossings; the recent hard rain made for a healthy flow of water. Matt got his boot wet during one of the first crossings but kept on until we reached Unknown Pond.  By then the boots had drained out; Matt changed socks, putting his feet into plastic grocery bags before putting his boots on (moisture barrier).

Who knew?  Pristine Unknown Pond, 3 miles into the wilderness.

The Bulge and Mt. Cabot. I used to think they should call the Bulge the "Bugle" - just switch the letters around so visitors would summit the Horn and the Bugle - cute?  After seeing this photo, the peak is definitely a "Bulge!"

There is a trail junction at the pond which we found somewhat confusing.  Checking the map it was clear we skirt the pond and turn left on to Kilkenny trail.  We walked a few hundred yards down the path and sure enough there's another set of signs that pointed us left.  At this point we had had the trail to ourselves, surprising for a beautiful Saturday in the Whites.

Lichen on this sign makes it hard to read.
We headed left and started to climb (moderately). The Kilkenny trail has yellow blazes and is easy to follow. We hit the side path to The Horn in no time.  

A sweet, moderate climb on a well cut path.
I stopped to take a picture of the sign while Bob sprinted up the side path.

Horn side path on the left (right if you are coming from Cabot).
Our pace had been leisurely up to this point. I sprinted up the path to get my adrenaline flowing and discovered that I couldn't keep that pace for 3/10 of a mile - I was not in shape!  A group of cyclist/speed hikers (fit, thin guys) blew past me with their two dogs.  There is a bit of a scramble at the summit easily avoided by a side path in the woods. 

Except for the top rock that is the summit of the Horn.  

There I stood looking at a huge boulder with smooth steep sides and big vertical crack in the middle.  I had to get up this rock, which wasn't gigantic but big enough - with no handholds and only one foothold.  

I took off my pack. Matt wondered how we would get down from there once we got up. Bob was already up on top. I found a foothold but nothing for my hands - there is a metal ring in the rock (the top has four of them, not sure if there was a structure there at one time). I put my finger in the ring (bad move) and my foot in the hold but still I could not secure my hands anywhere to hoist up.  I just didn't have the core strength.  I cursed the days I blew off my upper body workout at the gym.  Thankfully Bob grabbed my wrist and I was able to make it up the rock.

This is the view of the rock from the top.

The side of the rock from the bottom.
It bugged me that I did not have the core strength to get up this rock on my own.  I vowed to do sit ups and push-ups every day for two weeks to get myself in shape for rock scrambling. The cyclist/speed hikers threatened to do push-ups right there on the top. Their trail names were Maddog and Dogman. The third one did not reveal his name so I nicknamed him Beerkeg which he either found hysterically funny or outrageously inappropriate - couldn't tell.  

Matt, Bob, Dogman, Maddog & Beerkeg, who thought I named him "beercan."  I'd never do that.
 Unable to let go of my failure to negotiate this damn rock without help, I asked Bob how he got up so quickly. He'd scouted around the rock and found an easier way up the back, where he was rewarded for his efforts by one of the dogs (who apparently had no problem getting up this thing).  Why didn't I think of that?!  My lesson learned on this hike should be to think before you scramble.  

At the top of my #75 - The Horn, with Matt and Bob
Getting down was so much easier.  We just sat and slid and we were off to bag the Bulge, my 75th Hundred Highest.

Back on the Kilkenny trail; it flattened out for a bit and then made a steady ascent.  We met several couples heading down; they'd already summitted Mt. Cabot.  The trail got steeper and we eventually came to a bump and a cairn: the Bulge.  

Really?  This is one of the New England Hundred Highest?
After a quick photo shoot we departed to hike our last "up" - the trek from the Bulge to Mt. Cabot.  

Terrain started out mellow but heavily wooded with a few old blow-downs.
It was evident that this section of trail is not as popular as the others.  As we ascended we saw some serious work done on a huge tree that had fallen in the path, all with hand tools - impressive!

The trail got steeper and, well, crappy.  There are signs of storm washouts, erosion and going is rough (though it was easy to tell where the trail was headed).  This is the toughest part of the hike (already forgot the scramble on the Horn) and we all struggled a bit.  Matt needed Mt. Cabot; his #36 of the NH 48. He went ahead of us and met us on the summit.  The summit was busy.  We stopped for lunch and met several couples.  About 30 feet behind the Mt. Cabot sign is the true summit.

Matt on the true summit, back in the woods about 30'.
After lunch we continued down the Kilkenny trail to the fire tower site and the cabin, heading toward Bunnell Notch trail.

I'd forgotten how beautiful this hike is.  The fire tower site.

Glad to see the wood stove has been removed from the area. Pieces of it used to be on the front lawn.

It was getting late and hot and we were ready to be off the trail and back at the car.

There's a small side path to a very nice overlook on the way down.
Around the junction of the Bunnell Notch trail is a sign for the Mt. Cabot trail.  This is an unmaintained trail of less than a mile, on private land. I don't know of anyone who has hiked it recently.  

Before long we were walking by a brook. The sun, the mellow trail, the gentle breeze and the sound of rushing water made us glad to be out on this day.  The trail spills out onto an overgrown logging road where we turned right. I remembered this from my first visit up Mt. Cabot.  

If doing this route clockwise, this is the entrance from the logging road into the woods.
Immediately we were walking through very tall grass and beautiful wildflowers.  No ticks, thankfully. There are several water crossings before you reach the junction of the York Pond trail. 
This is the path on Bunnell Notch trail The area has a history of logging - this was a road.
We were on the York Pond trail for less than five minutes, crossing a stream via a well built bridge.  We arrived at the York Pond parking area, crossed the street to look at the fish in the large rectangle cement pool, and then headed to our car (diagonally across the street at the Unknown Pond trail).  

The hike took us about eight hours, just slightly over book time.Some hikes you must do in good weather due to exposure or steep rocky conditions and smart hikers save the stellar weather days for such excursions. Since this is a very sheltered trek, you may opt to keep this loop in your back pocket for those times when weather is misty or wet.  It is just that much nicer to do it in the fine weather; I highly recommend it.