Monday, June 3, 2013

#81 Scar Ridge June 2, 2013

Scar Ridge (3774’) via Loon Mountain Ski Trails, Herd Path, Bushwhack June 2, 2013.

Mileage:  8.5 miles (RT)

Elevation gain: 2,600'ish

Hiking time: 8 hours

Trailhead: Hike starts at Loon Mountain Ski Resort, Route 112 east of I 93 (exit 32) on the Kancamagus Highway in Lincoln. 

Lesson learned: Stay on the westerly side of the ridge.

If you plan to complete the New England Hundred Highest list you will at some point come face-to-face with the Scar Ridge bushwhack.  Known for being the “hardest bushwhack" on the list, just the mention of the peak can cause bruises, scratches and bug bites to appear.  

My husband would not accompany me to the canister, stating “one bushwhack in my lifetime is enough.” He loaded his GPS with two borrowed Scar Ridge tracks and presented it to me for the trip - to use as a guide should I become disoriented (me - disoriented in the woods?).

None of my seasoned bushwhacker friends would join me; those working on the list had already bagged it (“never again” one said) and those not did not see the value in 'whacking to this homely bump.  Thankfully my friend Gary needed it to complete the list and was willing to do it with me.  In fact, he was hot to “get this one over with” and rejected my last minute suggestion to hike Vose Spur instead.

So it would be Gary and me. We had planned to hike this late last year but cancelled due to weather.  Severe thunderstorms were predicted this time and Gary left it up to me to decide whether or not we go. With the exception of our time on the ski runs the entire trip would be in the woods partially protected from bad weather. And since the forecast called for "isolated" storms, I chose to go for it.

Besides, I’d been studying trip reports and felt we might as well do it now. 

I met Gary in the parking lot of Loon Mountain Ski Resort under blue skies; not a cloud in sight. I was hoping for some cloud cover as I wasn’t about to wear my good sunglasses bulling through the woods.  The Brookway ski trail is located on the far left of the runs.  The trail starts out as a maintenance road. Keep left when the road splits. 

Brookway is a maintenance road off season.

Usually there's an area on ski runs devoid of grass, where facility vehicles travel off season.  Some ski runs even have defined hiking trails (like Saddleback, ME). Not these runs.  We trudged on what resembled plowed earth in semi-tall grass (with an overabundance of ticks).  

Camp III Lodge comes in to view on your right and the climbing effort begins with Lower and then Upper Walking Boss trails. 

Gets very steep above this lodge.
The sun was beating down, the runs are steep and the bugs were fierce both in and out of the sun (particularly those greenheads). 

It's steep but the views are breathtaking. Still not much for clouds.

Huffing and puffing we ascended and none too soon we arrived at the quad chair. It took us about an hour and twenty to get to this spot, longer than we'd expected.  It's a lot of elevation gain!

The top of the run. Finally!
A back country ski trail left of the quad is the path we take and it's plainly marked with a cairn.  We ducked in and made our way down the back country ski cut (rougher than I’d thought it would be). 

Looky there!  A cairn marking the herd path!

About ten minutes in I set a waypoint on the GPS so we could make our way back to the back country ski trail.

Herd path/back country ski cut.

Twenty minutes in the path curves slightly to the left.  Seemed as good a place as any to duck into the woods. Beyond this point it looks like the path deteriorates as it heads north. We started our bushwhack here.

It was a good choice. We headed southeast and started to climb.  Woods are thick but somewhat open.  Our hike was close to the GPS tracks and we were heading up. It was hot and our long pants and shirts were drenched. I was sucking wind, sweating as we climbed through the trees, periodically checking our elevation on the GPS. 

The bugs were unrelenting.  I'm thinking I should've had a bigger breakfast; we should’ve taken more breaks.  We were trying to stay ahead of the storms and keep the bugs from eating us alive.

Things leveled out and our ascent slowed as we reach what was clearly an area of higher ground.  The sun gave way to thickening clouds.  We saw the canister. 


Never saw a herd path until we got here - missed the rock and baby cairn.  

Try as we might we could not get that canister open.  We tapped it with Gary’s Leatherman, wiggled it, moved it up and down but the cover wouldn't budge.  The bugs were crazy biting, impervious to the quart of DEET I slathered on. It was too unpleasant to linger. Before heading back down we took some photos and I quickly ate half of my lunch.  

The woods on the ridge.
Gary took a compass reading and we headed down the summit herd path for a short distance before turning off into the woods. 

That was not a good choice. The next hour was spent wrestling with spruce, sometimes using all our weight to push through.  Spruce are a tight knit group of conifers - literally.  Tree branches seem to "knit together" with branches of neighboring trees forming a dense wall of torture. 

When battling the spruce traps on Scar Ridge I thought of my friend Marie's description of a tough hike.  She'd say, “The bowels of hell opened up and they put a trail there.”  Today, the spruce traps were the bowels of hell. I couldn't see Gary in front of me just several yards ahead. It was like swimming in spongecake (really should've eaten more on this trip!).

We could hear the occasional rumble of thunder. Within half a mile of the back country ski trail we passed a stream.  I cleaned my bloody face and neck.  We eventually closed in on the GPS waypoint which was the back country ski trail.  Once on the trail it would be smooth sailing to Loon, down the runs and to a well deserved beer. Couldn't wait.

But I would have to wait.  The GPS indicated the waypoint was reached but no herd path was in sight. GPS tracking is not that accurate; both the waypoint I set and navigation to it could be off by 20 feet.  We had no idea how close we were to that path. I imagined us walking in circles until way after dark looking for a path that was just a few feet away. I thought of the "Find My I-phone" app on the cell phone in my backpack and wondered, just for a moment, if I could text my husband and get him to locate where we were.  If he could see on the map exactly where the phone was in relation to the quad chair we could simply head in that direction. 

But just then Gary took the lead and we headed north – stumbling onto the trail in less than 3 minutes (I knew we would all along..... sheesh).

Back on the ski runs we stripped down to short sleeves (to hell with the bugs!) and blew down those runs (to hell with our knees!).  A dark cloud appeared.  When we reached Camp III Lodge a storm was upon us.  I ducked into the woods for ten minutes while Gary braved the bolts, enjoying the cool rain.  We continued on. 

The storm passed and all was calm.  A Loon Mountain facility worker came up to us on an ATV, wanting to give us a ride down to safety but we were almost at the bottom.  A little late, guy - the storm had passed (or had it?).

When I rounded the corner I realized why he'd offered.  Past the trees was a midnight black sky - a swirling, angry, boiling purple mess of storm.  I broke into a run and dove into a building as lightning was crashing around me, deck furniture and branches taking flight outside, Gary right behind me.

My filthy sweaty bug-bitten-bloody self had landed in the resort's indoor pool area!  I timidly asked a group of about 10 women in bathing suits if we could ride out the storm there - if we stood on the welcome mat.  They came over to us with towels, wanted to hear all about our adventure and insisted we go in to the locker rooms to clean up.  In the meantime they sat with their drinks by the windows and cheered every time a bolt of lightning crashed nearby.  A warm reception for two really cruddy, smelly strangers.

Overall I was very glad that:

1. I didn’t run out of water on this very hot day (had about 5 tablespoons left in my Camelback).
2. I remembered how to set waypoints on the GPS and head for them.
3. We didn’t get lost (not for long, anyway).
4. The horrendous t-storm arrived when just as we reached the lodging facilities.


Storm over, view of Loon from Common Man (mmmm, beer).

Looking back at our GPS route, it was clear we descended too far to the east.  Spruce traps were abundant; we had no view of Loon Mountain to get a visual bearing. The compass and sun helped us out, and of course the GPS was a good reference.   

Looking back at other trip reports, it appears the "spruce route" down happens to many who venture out to check this off their lists. We are in good company!