Monday, July 21, 2014

Mt. Moriah and Mt. Surprise, July 19, 2014

Mt. Moriah (4,049) and Mt. Surprise (2,194') via Carter-Moriah trail, July 19, 2014

Mileage:  Mt. Moriah summit: 9.3 miles RT (Mt. Surprise: 4 miles RT)

Elevation gain:  Mt. Moriah summit: 3,482' (Mt. Surprise: 1,394')
Trailhead: Route 16 N to Gorham, then east on Route 2 out of Gorham (right turn at the "T").  At .6 miles take a right turn onto Bangor Road (trailhead sign). The parking area is about .5 miles in on the left (a dirt turnout by a cleared corridor - do not park by the trailhead sign).
Hiked with a group from the Worcester chapter of the AMC.
I'd hiked Mt. Moriah in 2009 via Stony brook trail as part of my NH four thousand footer list (see previous trip report) and was looking forward to revisiting the summit, this time hiking it from the Gorham side. 
And I got to bag Mt. Surprise as an added bonus.
Mt. Surprise is a small, nondescript peak on the C-M trail, with a lovely view just below the summit (no summit sign or cairn).  Surprise is on the "Listless Peaks" list (a list I am relatively certain NO ONE is working on!).
Trailhead is a hundred feet from the parking area (you can't park here).

We walked down the road and onto the trail. Immediately the trail goes up without any consideration of our desire to ease into this hike gradually.  It's cool out but we found ourselves layering down quickly. The ground evens out further in, with sweet lush woods and a leafy path.

The trail mellows out a bit after the first hump.

The group fell into a rhythm and a few miles later we were walking on angled slabs.  A wonderful view of the northern presidentials stopped us. We were at the viewpoint just below the summit of Mt. Surprise.

Stopping for the peaks.

Why's it called Mt. Surprise?  My guess is because you have no idea you just summited it!  Rich's GPS beeped; that was the only indication. No cairn, no sign, no nothing.  The true summit of this little peak is most likely just above the trail's height of land, a scrubby, dead tree littered knoll to the left.  I hopped up to that area in hopes for some marking and found nothing. 

Most of the group blew by  the summit before we realized we were there. I called them back for a summit photo. (It is a summit after all.)

Not everyone has a summit photo on Mt. Surprise, you know.....

The trail turns to slab after this point; steep at times.  Some slabs required looking for the best way up (and down).  This area reminds me of Mt. Kearsarge.

Flat slab.
As things got steeper we could see views - bits of mountains and the town of Gorham.

Steeper still.
And very steep.

The slabs are never ending (seems that way anyway) - but none required scrambling.  The rocks up high are damp, mossy and required more oomph to get up. 

There is evidence of recent trail maintenance near the summit. The trail is in excellent condition with just the usual signs of erosion and foot traffic. 

The trees get shorter and the whole area has that hush of being up high, close to the top.  We reached the junction of the turnoff to the summit.

Junction of the Carter-Moriah trail and the summit turnoff (little path to the top).

We scampered up to the summit rock to have lunch.  There was a bit of a haze but the view was clear enough and everyone enjoyed it.

Lunch on the terrace....

Just part of the 360° view.

A cohesive bunch (and good looking too!)

When the time came it was tough to head down - the bugs were minimal, the sun was warming us, there was just a bit of a breeze.  But we got vertical, hoisted our packs behind us and made our way down that slabby, often steep trail (at times a very interesting descent). 
Heading down.

It took a little longer to get down the part of the trail with the damp slabs.  As we got lower the rocks were drier, and it became warmer and more humid.  The air was still; clouds had rolled in. 

Once back at the summit of Mt. Surprise we spread out and headed back to the cars at our own speed.
Nice ferny area around 2,000'.

This is a great hike in dry, clear weather. The trail is interesting, the views spectacular and reward worth it (360° summit). Use caution in wet and icy conditions.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mts. Major and Straightback (Belknap Range), July 20, 2014

Mts. Major (1,785') and Straightback (1,890') via Boulder Loop, Belknap Range, Brook and Mt. Major Trails
Total mileage: 5 miles (loop)

Elevation gain: 1,400'

Trailhead: Route 16 to Route 11 to Alton, 4.2 miles north of Alton Bay (large parking lot). Boulder Loop trail (orange blazes) begins on the left side of the lot (Mt. Major and Brook trails begin on the right). 
Hiked BMS today (By My Self).  I wanted a five mile loop and this combination of trails worked nicely.  And I was excited to revisit Straightback Mountain (haven't been there in years). 

The Belknap mountain range is a favorite for local hikers, and our "go to" area in the late fall and early spring (lower elevation and latitude than the White Mountains, and a shorter drive).  There is a Belknap Range Hikers patch available for hikers who summit all of the range's twelve peaks. 

The Boulder Loop trail is an easy up over the boulders, with peeks of view through the trees.  The summit was very crowded today, with many in sneakers and jeans (and a few in sandals).  This hike is a must do if you plan to visit the Lakes Region.

Mt. Major's summit's incredible views attract hikers year round.
The view is spectacular: lakes, hills, mountains.  I continued on the Belknap Range trail to Straightback Mountain, easily found by the yellow/blue blazes.  It appears these blazes have been repainted and this area (open and slabby) is very well marked.  In fact, the paint is so bright it's almost a detriment to the beauty of the area. But with so many visitors making the jaunt up to Major without the thought of a map, it's very helpful. 

Bright blue and yellow blazing.

Trail junction Belknap Range and Brook trails.

Plenty of blazes and signs.
At the Brook trail junction the yellow blazes head down to the parking lot, leaving the bright blue to point the way to Straightback Mountain (.7 miles from the junction). 

Blue blazed trail to Straightback Mountain.
As busy as the trails around Major are on a summer weekend, that activity comes to a screeching halt once you head past the junction of Brook trail. The first .1 mile is dark and woodsy.  And muddy.  I heard a noise and glanced back. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something bright blue right behind me.  I swung around to find it was one of those big bright blue blazes!
As the trail ascends, clearings appear, well marked with blazes on the rock slabs (may be harder to find in winter).  There are angled slabs in the path, fun to negotiate up and down. 

Alternating woods and open clearing path.
Summit sign on Straightback.
The summit is a clearing with a view.  After a few minutes and a few photos, I headed back to take Brook trail down.

Nice views on Straightback!
Brook trail is well marked with bright yellow blazes in the beginning of my descent. Further down there's evidence of trail rerouting and in places its hard to figure out which way to go.  In fact, it looks like the crew repainting the blazes were also unsure of where to go in these areas as yellow blazes (particularly the newly painted ones) are few and far between.  There's evidence of paths right and left and some serious erosion on this trail.  At one point the river must be crossed but where?  I finally found where a small path went to the water, then back up and onto the wider path.  I figured if I did stray off the path, if I kept heading down I would wind up either at the parking lot or somewhere on Route 11 (so I wasn't too worried).
Families with tired children were trudging up this way.  The trail is not pretty, though it's nice to have the sound of the brook as you go by.    I couldn't understand why anyone would want to bring their kids up this particular path where there are other options up to Mt. Major's summit.  Options with fun boulders, with views!  I assume many opted out of the steep route of the Mt. Major trail at the last minute and by default chose the Brook trail.  (The Brook trail meets the Mt. Major trail, which leads hikers out to the parking lot.)
Lots of newly painted blazes just below the junction.

Several shallow water crossings on Brook trail.
There's a washed out area just before the parking lot; I walked in the middle, seemed easier.  Got back to a very full parking lot. 
This is a great hike for beginners,or if you have a few hours to kill and want to be outdoors. The view is the reward for your efforts - year-round!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

#92 Vose Spur, NH July 12, 2014

Vose Spur (3,862’) via Signal Ridge and Carrigain Notch trails and bushwhack, July 12, 2014.

Mileage:  8.9 miles (RT)

Elevation gain:  2,575'
Trailhead: Trailhead and lots of parking are located two miles down Sawyer River Road, which is off Route 302 north of Bartlett, NH. Note: this road is gated in the winter.
Hiked with Gary and friends today. I'd done research on this peak, loaded a friend's track in my GPS and my friend Ken was bringing one of his friend's routes on his GPS.  Armed with copies of trip reports, I figured all bases were covered. 
Frankly I was nervous about the route.  Some report a well-established herd path; others indicate continually finding and losing herd paths, super steep ascents and spruce traps.  I wasn't sure what we'd find.
We got onto Signal Ridge trail at 8:50 am. It took about 80 minutes to hike the 3.4 miles to the Rock that marks the bushwhack.
Signal Ridge and Carrigain Notch trails are relatively flat.
There's one notable water crossing and beds of rock.

This rock is sentenced to forever remain in a low, wet area.

The area around the Rock is muddy  (once flooded by beavers).  Stepping stones are arranged around it. A sharp left turn (and about 10 steps later), there are several birch logs on the ground.  The one on the left marks the start of the bushwhack. 
Start of the bushwhack.

We peeked past the log and into the woods to see a definite path.  This is the drainage area discussed in many trip reports.  We followed it just so far and were stopped by blowdowns. 

Perhaps we should have found a way around the blowdowns and continued in that direction. Instead, Ken and I looked at our GPS tracks and headed right (northwest). We were no longer on a path.

Immediately the woods become thick and our progress slowed.

Our friend, D. was particularly good at finding paths-of-least resistance as we forged up, and even better at finding herd paths.  It got to the point where we would find a path, lose it, yell for D., she'd get up front and find where it continued. 

It got steep pretty early on. The higher we got, the steeper it got and in mid-July it's mighty hot wearing long sleeves and long pants as you're yanking yourself up to the next step by roots, handholds and those mighty little spruce (thank you, deep root structure). 

Much of our route was steep.

We could see incredible views of Mt. Lowell through the trees, and the promise of spectacular views at the talus field spurred us on.  Ken and I checked tracks often to be sure we were headed in the right direction. 

D. found the herd path just below the talus field. And, we could see where it continued back down (we had been bushwhacking just south of this path).  Stifling a whinny of joy, I set a waypoint here and continued up, this time of a well defined path.   

I remember one trip report describing looking up and seeing trees and more trees and wondering where the talus field is.  I expected I would see it coming up in the distance, or evidence the woods were ending. But it appears without warning -  just a few yards of rock on the trail and there you are!

The field is smaller and narrower than I'd expected.  It's quite the odd thing, like a rock necklace on the throat of the mountain. 
Steep and unstable (the rocks rock).
There's a cairn marking where we entered the field. It took a bit of searching but we found the other cairns (hey, it's hard to find a pile of rocks in a pile of rocks!). 

We found another cairn in the middle of the field, pointing the way to a third which marks the entrance to the upper herd path (which leads to the summit).

This cairn marks the entrance to the upper herd path.

Looking down from the upper herd path, arrows show middle & bottom cairns (route to lower herd path).
As we stepped onto the rocks, they moved every which way.  I gingerly placed each step without weight to make sure the arrangement of rocks would hold me before moving forward.  But it's a short jaunt and we were up at the third cairn in no time.
The view is amazing!  We stopped briefly to take it all in and then summit fever got the best of us and we continued.
Yes, the upper herd path is steep but well defined and straightforward. Roots were our friends and we hauled ourselves up and toward the summit.  D. found the canister and the chair and we all gathered there for lunch. 

Summit cairn.
Gary and me at the summit.

We opened the canister to find the register drenched. We signed in anyway and put a dry note pad in a plastic bag. 

The sun was shining down on the summit chair, the winds were calm and the bugs seemed to stay away. We lingered, a pleasant summit experience.  Then we packed up to head back.

At first, we couldn't find the path from the summit. Eventually we did and descended - carefully at times - back to the talus field.  Below the field we hopped on to the herd path and headed down.

Going was a lot easier. 

At first. 

Halfway down we started losing the path again. But down is down and we just kept plugging toward that low point. 

As we trudged along, hot and getting tired, the woods became snarky.  It seemed every fallen log (and some standing trees) were ready to impale us in the most creative of ways.

And, in some places the ground was just an illusion. At one point the ground swallowed up Ken's leg.  But Ken has two of them so he gave one up (kidding).

As our elevation fell, the woods changed, sweeter and more open and with Gary leading, we popped out onto the trail right by the birch logs.  On the trails and back to the car in record time!

We were able to avoid spruce traps, stay close to the GPS track and get down by 5:40 p.m., in plenty of time for a draft beer at the Red Parka.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Mt. Zealand, July 5, 2014

Mt. Zealand (4,265’) via Zealand and Twinway trails, July 5, 2014

Mileage:  11.4 miles (RT)

Elevation gain:  2,400'ish

Trailhead: The Zealand parking area is at the end of the Zealand Road (gated in winter). The road starts at the Zealand Campground, on NH Rt 302, approx 5 miles east of the junction with Rt 3 in Twin Mountain. A WMNF parking pass is required ($3 day).
Hiked with Rich today.  We were looking for a long but moderate hike and hadn't been to Mt. Zealand in four years (see previous trip report).
It rained heavily the day before (ruining many Fourth of July picnics) and we expected the hike to be wetter than it was.
Trail is very mellow (flat) until just before Zealand Hut.

View from the bridges

The boardwalk by the pond has been extended since we last visited.  Most of the water crossings have bridges on them.  We were only concerned about one: the crossing just above Zealand Hut.

New signs. Probably auctioned the old ones.

One of the many busy falls on this hike.
Zealand Falls Hut. 

Bunk rooms have been remodeled. Hut is open year-round.

More falls by the hut (we don't cross this).

We stopped at the hut to ask about the water crossing and the answer wasn't good but when we got there we found people crossing on a log (sketchy at best).  I made it over with help; Rich put on water shoes and braved the rushing water to cross (he said he had really good footing and it wasn't bad at all and frankly crossing was no big deal). 
This water crossing is tricky in high water.

The trail ascends moderately for what seems like a very long time, and a few trail junctions later we reached some steeps, which we welcomed (we were getting bored!).

Up Twinway.
Ladder up a steep spot. No scrambling really, just steep slab.

It levels out and soon we came to the junction of Twinway and Zeacliff trail (we didn't go down to Zeacliff - we were running late).  This area has nice views from a trail of rock slabs and bog bridges.  We rolled up to about 4,000' and then down and then up before finally arriving at the turn-off to the summit (sign is a little worn). 

It seemed to take forever to get to this sign! 

Got to the summit around 3, fed the very fat gray jays and headed back. 

Summit apple (gray jays don't beg for fruit apparently).

We were able to rock hop that snarky water crossing on the way back; the water had subsided. 

View from hut.
Back at the hut we took a break before moseying down to the car and a draft beer at Woodstock Inn Brewery.