Monday, February 17, 2014

Mt. Hale (WINTER 4K 6/48) February 15, 2014

Mt. Hale  (4,055') via North Twin and Fire Warden's trails, 2/15/14.

Mileage:  8.8 ish miles RT

Elevation gain:  2,400'
Trailhead:  WINTER parking:  Little River Road, Bethlehem. Take I-93N to Route 3N, 9.3 miles on right; the road has a 7 Dwarfs Motel sign on the corner. Vehicles can park along the side of the road (on the pavement) before the bridge at the end of Little River Road.  The turnaround at the end of Little River Road is private property and parking is not allowed.  SUMMER parking:  Parking is at the North Twin Trailhead at the end of Haystack Road in Bethlehem (I-93N to Route 3N, 7.9 miles on right) .

The bridge is private property but the owners allow hikers to cross it to access the herd path to the trailhead.  No spikes, snowshoes or crampons are allowed on the bridge.

Lesson learned: Many feet can break out even the snowiest path!

Hiked with an AMC group today. The Fire Warden's trail is an unofficial path off of the North Twin trail. I was excited to summit Mt. Hale this way; I haven't been on the peak since 2008 (see previous Mt. Hale report). And, it seems lately there's a lot of buzz about this particular trail.

We parked on Little River Road.  Lucky for us an earlier group left for North Twin, breaking out the shortcut to Haystack Road and the North Twin trail. 

We crossed the gated (in winter) bridge and made an immediate left onto the shortcut.  The shortcut follows closely along Little River  - on an old railroad bed - all the way to Haystack Road.  Left (again) across a bridge gets you to the North Twin trailhead kiosk (about a mile from our cars). 

The shortcut popped us out onto Haystack Road and the North Twin trailhead.

The Firewarden's trail begins one mile from this kiosk and about .2 miles from the first water crossing.  We avoided the water crossing by ducking left into the woods. The path meanders, skirting the river in a few spots.

There's a skinny tree in the middle of the path which marks the Firewarden's trail but this is a problem when a thick covering of snow hides exactly where the path is. 

"Where's that skinny tree?"  Right next to you, Norm!

If you miss the skinny tree, you'll see this arrow carved into a tree on your right. 


The trail is left up the embankment.  We left the nicely broken trail and scurried up the bank.  Once up, we looked to our left and back to find a fairly distinct wide path.  We headed up.

Here is where the new snow lay waiting for us.  We started our pace line, each working to break the path for the next person.  Eight in our group allowed for plenty of recovery time before our turns came back around. 

Taking turns breaking trail.

Quite a nice path if I do say so......

The grades were moderate with switchbacks keeping things mellow.  We were ascending for sure and I waited for some steeps; they never came! 

We were chatting and breaking trail and having a good time.....

Suddenly we found ourselves in the birch glades. A never-ending display of elegant hardwoods adorned with snow made for the most serene of environments.

The birches seemed endless; varying shades of brown on white - magical. It started to snow lightly.

We found a sharp right and forged up only to find that we just broke out one of the many back country ski runs in this area. No matter; we'll break out the real trail when we head down.

The way ahead is pretty evident; no blowdowns or uneven ground (it may be an unofficial trail but it doesn't appear to be an unmaintained trail).

The snow got VERY deep as we ascended. One wrong move off the path and we were hip deep in snow (or face first depending on how we fell in!).

I've never hiked in so much snow!
Things became, well, "winter-4K-ish;" that peaceful, snow-lush heavy branched, shortened trees kind of woods.

We could see glimmers of view and sky above us - and the trees closed in. It was snowing onto the hills below us.

Open sky (as open as it would get) and heavy trees (about 3800').

Those who'd been to Hale's summit in winter held back, allowing the others to be first.

The cairn is buried.

Not the most impressive summit but on this day it was a thing of beauty!

Not much for wind; we stopped to layer and take pictures.

 Heading down was quick and painless.

We broke that little piece of trail we missed, met two skiers who thanked us for the break-out, and were back on to the North Twin trail and to our cars by mid-afternoon. 

Can't wait to go back and explore more of this trail!