Monday, February 11, 2013

Mt. Waumbek, WINTER 4K (3/48) - February 10, 2013

Mt. Waumbek (4,006') and Mt. Starr King (3,907') via Starr King Trail February 10, 2013.

Mileage:  7.8 miles (RT)

Elevation gain:  2,950'

Trailhead:  Trail starts in Jefferson, .2 miles up the the Starr King Road off Rt 2, 1/4 mile east of the junction with NH Rt 115A. There are hiker signs on Route 2.  Winter parking is across the street (on Route 2); it's about 3/10 of a mile walk to the actual trailhead.

Lessons learned:  1) Many feet can break out 4 miles of trail with relative ease, and 2) check out the view at the overlook!

We couldn't believe our eyes.  The weather app on my phone indicated -20° outside. 


Were we really hiking 8 miles today?  The temperature alone was reason to pack up, check out and go home - so we thought. But fools that we are, we'd signed up and were going through with it.  We packed up, made peanut butter sandwiches, grabbed breakfast and headed out.

Hiked an AMC group hike today. There are advantages and disadvantages to hiking an official group hike. 

Advantages: Leaders see to it all emergency supplies (stove, sleeping bag) are on hand and carried at all times, they know the trail (particularly important in winter when snow can make the way confusing), and they're friendly and fun hiking buddies.  

Disadvantages:  If you like to hike fast or slow you will need to keep to the group's pace and if you decide you're not having fun (too cold for instance) you have to suck it up and stick it out as the group stays together.  So we knew we couldn't hike a mile and say, "it's too cold, I want some cocoa with Baileys in it," and head back down.  The group won't turn back unless conditions are unsafe or someone is sick or injured.   Stepping out onto the trail meant we were committed. 

Mt. Waumbek is considered one of the more mellow NH 4ks and Mt. Starr King, a "bump" just before Waumbek's summit, is on the "52 with a View" list (a list I'm not working on but you may be).   I'd hiked to this peak once before in late summer (you can read the report here) and remember a wooded, viewless summit.

It snowed almost two feet at home on Saturday and it looked like Jefferson, NH received just 8-10 inches.  We were pleased to see Starr King Road plowed; the winter hiker parking lot across the street was not however (we parked there anyway).  A dozen hikers gathered and the plan was to break trail in a "pace line," rotating trail breakers every 40-50 steps so as not to burn out anyone's legs.  

Heading up to the trailhead.
Our feet made a crunching (no, a squeaking) sound as we walked up the road to the trailhead. We stopped at the trail sign to put on our snowshoes.

The Starr King trail ascends quickly; our pace was slow to minimize overheating.  There wasn't a lick of wind and the sky was that bright (but cold) blue that symbolizes a beautiful winter morning.  We passed the well and continued for about a mile plowing through the powdery snow on what was clearly the trail. 

Breaking trail

After stopping to layer down we started back up the trail; temps still below 0° but it was sunny and the forecast promised "warmer" temps as the day progressed.  

(We were disappointed after last weekend's failed attempt to hike to the summit of Mt. Cube.  But the outing gave us a chance to try out some new things we'd purchased for winter hiking: a silk long sleeved undershirt and leggings from EMS, Grab Bag by Osprey, waffle layer half zip from OR, and water bottle parka -also from OR.  Rich was trying out his Wet Rib from Mystery Ranch. Last weekend served as a "practice run" for today's hike.) 

The Starr King trail narrows and navigation becomes more difficult. The landscape before me was disorienting, just a smattering of trees on a thick white blanket.  Several trail breakers took a wrong turn but were soon back on track; the leader has done this hike many times.  

Our route wound around the shady side of the mountain. The wind picked up and my hands and face started to hurt. We stopped and layered up.  I wondered if the rest of the trip would be this cold and windy and an uneasy feeling crept in.  As part of the group I'd committed to the hike and there were still five miles to go.  My spirits brightened though as we neared the summit of Mt. Starr King (the summit represents the lion's share of the trip's elevation gain).  When we arrived it was sunny, warming our faces and jackets.  

Coming down from Mt. Starr King

Viewpoint just past Mt. Starr King.
There's a view at the fireplace (part of an old shelter) just past the summit of Starr King.  We stopped, celebrated the sun and took photos.

Love that fireplace!
A hiker (the first one we'd seen) arrived and thanked us for breaking trail.  He continued to the summit of Mt. Waumbek, breaking the rest of the trail for us.  My legs were heavy as I approached the junction of the Kilkenny Ridge trail.  The group didn't stop at the summit cairn, but continued down the Kilkenny where there's a wonderful view of the Presidentials.

The group enjoying the overlook just past the Waumbek summit.

Beautiful view of the Presidentials.

I realize now that I never went beyond the Mt. Waumbek summit cairn to the viewpoint when I summitted this peak years ago. It is beautiful!  We stopped for food and water, took a few photos and enjoyed the sunshine.  

Heading down the trail was easy and fairly fast, even the small trek up Mt. Starr King seemed effortless. We arrived back at the trailhead, removed our snowshoes and headed to Fabyans for coffee and beer.  

For such a cold start conditions on the mountain wound up being quite favorable today and we very much enjoyed hiking this peak.  Frankly, I never thought we would reach the summit with so much trail to break but many strong legs made it possible.