Monday, August 6, 2012

#79 and #80 North, Middle and South Weeks Mountains August 5, 2012

North (3,901’), Middle  &  South Weeks (3,885') via York Pond & Kilkenny Ridge Trails August 5, 2012

Mileage:  12 miles RT

Elevation gain: 4,192'

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 and pass through a gate marking the entrance to the Berlin Fish Hatchery. 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 left across from the "raceway." (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:  Some hikes are just more fun than others.

Today I hiked with Rich and Charlie.  The original plan was to hike Mt. Washington but unsettled weather was predicted (thunderstorms/high winds) so we chose instead to do one of my “back pocket*” hikes: the Weeks Mountains.  

That we opted for a lengthy, viewless walk in the woods just to reach three uninspiring peaks when we had planned to hike Mt. Washington on this beautiful summer day should in itself cause you to burst into tears for us.

The Weeks Mountains are part of the Pliny Range in northern New Hampshire, named to honor the Weeks family, a very prominent White Mountain family (Weeks Act of 1911).  North and South Weeks are on the New England Hundred Highest list and we needed to bag these peaks at some point anyway.  

I’d planned the Weeks trek several times before  - to check them off my list.  Each time I chose a prettier hike instead, figuring I'd get to them eventually.  There is no short and sweet way to summit them.  The shortest options are to traverse the Kilkenny Ridge trail from Jefferson to Berlin (Starr King, Waumbek, through to the Fish Hatchery), or as an up and back from York Pond trail (both about 12 miles).  We opted for the up and back. 

There's not a lot of information on these peaks.  They're farther north and less popular than most of the Whites.  But if you’ve hiked to Unknown Pond or Cabot or the Horn, you know how beautifully remote this wilderness is.

Parking area (fence of fish "raceway" on the right).
The trail starts on an old gated logging road.
One of the dam planks is missing so we hopped some very slippery rocks to the other side.
In no time we were at the trail junction.
We got to the parking area at 8:30 and immediately started down the old logging road. After two water crossings (which can be bushwhacked by going left), bog bridges, some muddy areas and a few miles of easy, soft trail, we arrived at the Kilkenny Ridge trail junction. It was hot, humid and buggy but so far so good.

Hiking the Weeks are like dropping in on a neighbor unannounced. Not inhospitable mind you, but the trails are messy and none of the summits have so much as a cairn or any type of distinguishing mark to welcome your arrival - like the mountains weren't expecting eager peakbaggers.   Moreover, one mile blended into the other without a view or a pond or any kind of change in terrain; we were going up, then down, then up and so on.  

Most of the forest was crusty and looked old but even the tallest trees' trunks were small (hairy though, like old goats watching us go by).   Moss is everywhere.  Bugs ruled most of the time – there was a gentle wind from time to time that lessened their assault.  

The summit of North Weeks. The sign is gone.
We could tell when we were nearing the peaks as the grade mellowed and we found ourselves wading through fields of ferns.  Then the peak rounded out and we were headed down again. It was too buggy to stay long on the summit of North Weeks so we snapped a few photos and started our descent toward Middle Weeks.  

On the flat between the mountains, just before starting our ascent up Middle Weeks we lost the trail.  A tree with an arrow carved in it lies across the path.

This tree lies in the path, hop over it.
We hopped over the tree and saw that the trail ahead had branches placed in front of it, indicating that was not the way to go. We couldn't see any other path so we hopped over the branches and headed up the path, which fizzled out after a few minutes.  

Branches in the path. Don't cross these branches, go hard right!
We backtracked and finally found the trail, which is a hard right up through some scrub.  The path between North and Middle is messy and unkempt - few travel this way.

These messy splinters of wood are actually on the trail. To the left is the overturned root system of a fallen tree.
Middle Weeks is nondescript with no indication of where the high point is. No matter. It was hot, we were bored and had another peak to hit.  

The trip down Middle and up South is riddled with old blowdowns but is quick and soon we hit a quick side path to the summit (at least the GPS thinks that's the summit, no sign, no nuthin!).

Ho hum summit of South Weeks.
We had lunch, took a few photos and headed back.  

On the way to Middle from South we saw two moose femur bones creatively placed on a tree stump. Interesting. 

We passed the spot where we got confused earlier without trouble, and headed back up North weeks.The trip was uneventful, we counted the descents and ascents til we got to the trail junction.

Bones are mossy. Other trip reports refer to them so they've been around a while.
From the trail junction it's smooth sailing and we could just taste that ice cold draught beer.  The wind was making noise in the trees. It's loud. No, wait that's rain, lots of it and we quickly put on our covers and jackets. We got to the car, took off (hatchery gate was still open) and headed for dinner and a beer.

The rain added a little spice to the hike. We needed it.
Okay, so this was not a really fun hike, particularly considering our original plans.  

But the day is not without its positive points:

1.      Any hiking day with fine weather is a good day.
2.      Trail grades are mellow to moderate (no steeps, no scrambling).
3.      Fern fields are beautiful
4.      The woods are devoid of crowds.
5.      Water crossings were low.
6.      We were able to get a glimpse of Middle Peak several times though the trees. We saw one fairly good through-the-trees view of Cabot, Bulge and Horn.
7.      We bagged two more on the NEHH list.
8.      Moose bones – very cool.

Although unexciting and monotonous, it was still an adventure to explore the Weeks and we can cross them off our NEHH “to do” list. 

*Back pocket hike: Hikes you can offer up as a “plan B” if bad weather interferes with your beautiful “plan A” hike.