Sunday, January 18, 2015

Mt. Cube 1/17/15

Mt. Cube (2,909') via Mt. Cube Trail (AT), January 17, 2015.

Mileage:  7 miles (RT)

Elevation gain: 2,300' ish

Trailhead: I-93N to exit 26. Left onto Route 3 and go 4 miles. At roundabout take the first exit to Route 25. Proceed 11 miles on Route 25 to Route 25A. Continue for 4.6 miles on Route 25A. Small parking area is on the left (just past the bridge).  Note: the Appalachian trail (AT) crosses the road here but the trail continues several hundred feet up the road.  You will see a hiker sign well before you get to the bridge near the parking area.  Mt. Cube trail is at the far end of the parking area. 

Hiked with Rich and members of the Boston Chapter of the AMC.  Ten of us braved the cold weather to hike this popular peak, which just so happens to be on the "52 with a View" list (a list I'm not working on but you may be!). 

According to The White Mountains: a Handbook for Travellers, Mt. Cube is so named to honor a hunting dog named "Cuba," killed while fighting a bear near the summit of the mountain. (In other words, the name has nothing to do with the shape of the mountain.)

We tried to climb Mt. Cube in the winter of 2013 during a particularly warm spell and had to turn back at the Brackett Brook water crossing. The swirling mess of ice and high water made crossing impossible.  We turned around and headed back to the car, driving to Baker Road to try to continue our hike via the Cross Rivendell trail. But ice covered the way and soon our hearts weren't into trying anymore. We headed home vowing one day we'd return. 

Mt. Cube through the trees (we're headed there). 

Two years later we're back on the Mt. Cube trail hoping Brackett Brook had a snow bridge (it did). 

Trailhead is at the far end of the parking lot. 
The trail starts out pretty flat with a collection of bumps up and slopes down. We crossed an unplowed road within the first mile.
The trail is across the road.
Equipment check.

Here the trail dips down to a wet (icy) area and then continues to meander in mellow character. There were about 6 inches of snow around us, just the beginning of the usual winter snow cover. The trail was packed down for the most part. 
Then, a steep descent and there it was - Brackett Brook, complete with a fine snow bridge!  
The brook is mostly frozen over.

A fine snow bridge over the brook.

The trail angles up from here with alternating steeps and flats. We went up at a steady pace to keep warm, keeping our breaks to a minimum. 


Plank bridge.

One of three blowdowns we encountered just below the summit.
In the summer, northbound AT hikers reach Mt. Cube on their way to the White Mountains (their next peak would be Mt. Moosilauke).  They know the serious climbing is ahead of them. As we hike this trail I think of all the excited, slightly nervous thru-hikers that have been this way, wide-eyed with anticipation of the ups and downs yet to come. 
Through the trees I could see what views we were in for as our ascent continued. Fortunately we were sheltered from the wind.  We passed through a beautiful fir grove and reached the summit trail junction.
Sweet grove of fir trees.

The trail forms a "T" at this point. The south summit is the true summit.

The group gets ready for the treeless summit.
We got our goggles out in preparation for the wind.  A short walk and one icy big step up and we arrived at the south summit. On top we were treated to plenty of sunshine and just a slight breeze (great news considering a forecasted wind chill of -10° to -30°). 

Though the sun warmed us, it was still very cold (around zero°).  We stayed just long enough to take of few photos and then headed back down the trail to hike to the north summit.
The north summit is further from the trail junction than the south summit and after a few ups and downs we were on top of the snow covered slabs of the second summit.
Heading over the slabs to the ledges of north peak.

The views are absolutely stunning. Between the two peaks we could see in all directions.  A few more photos and we headed down the trails to the cars.  After warming up, we drove to the Common Man for draft beer. 
This peak is so lovely it's no wonder it's such a popular destination. We were surprised to be the only ones on the trails today. Can't wait to check it out in summer!


Monday, January 12, 2015

Wildcat D (WINTER 4K 9/48), January 11, 2015

Wildcat Mountain "D" Peak (4,062') via Stray Cat, Middle Polecat and Upper Polecat Ski Trails, January 11, 2015

Mileage:  5.5 miles (RT)
Elevation gain: 2,213'
Trailhead: Wildcat Mountain Ski Area (halfway between the towns of Jackson and Gorham, NH - GPS Coordinates: 44deg 15.8883min / -71deg 14.4298min). From Boston/Manchester, NH: I-93N to exit 23. Turn right onto Route 104 to Meredith. Turn left on Route 3 to Route 25. Turn right on to Route 25 to Ossipee, turning left on Route 16N to Wildcat and Pinkham Notch. From Portsmouth, NH take Route 16N to Pinkham Notch.
Hiked with Rich, Sandy and Joe. Once again I've convinced my friends to hike up a ski slope, an adventure that always ends with "never again" (see my trip reports for Saddleback, Sugarloaf and Scar Ridge [Loon]). 
The trick is to convince them that it'll be fun, easy, no big deal. 
If you've hiked up a ski slope in summer you know that the ground is choppy, like plowed earth with tall grass and never ending monotony. You're out in the sun or bad weather, with just "up" ahead of you.  No way to truly know which run you're on until you get to the top of it, turn around and see the trail sign (the slopes are designed for skiers after all). 
But this time was different, I told my friends.  In winter the trails are covered with groomed snow; no worry about deep grass with phantom ruts, and no fretting about winter trail conditions or wondering if the path is broken out.   We figured this was an easy "peak grab", a short round trip on consistent terrain  - not much elevation gain. 
I'd hiked Wildcat D before.  In fact, "D" was my 48th NH 4k (see previous report), a traverse from Nineteen Mile Brook trail (which included Wildcat A). And yes, we walked down the ski slope to get to the other car.
Wind is a consideration in winter and ski trails are wide open and unprotected.  We'd tried to do this hike last year but the wind was so fierce (and bitter) that we barely got from our car to the lodge. (We chose a lower peak that day.)
Today the winds were calm.  We got to the ski area around 10:15, purchased our access passes in the lodge ($10 each), and grabbed a map.  The staff gave us a rundown on the conditions of the slopes, and the summit trail (there's a short, steep trail up to the observation tower from the top of the ski runs).
Stray Cat trail starts just beyond the Tomcat lift.

Snowshoes definitely, no matter what the conditions!
The ski area designates the uphill hiking/skiing route as Stray Cat, Middle Polecat and Upper Polecat trails.  The Tomcat Triple lift wasn't running so we figured the trail was closed but we didn't know for sure until we saw it roped off at the top.  We reached Lower Pole Cat trail and continued to stay to the left, making our way uphill to Middle Polecat trail. 

Sandy and Joe heading up the slope.
There are some blind corners with narrow chutes (watch out for skiers) and a few steeper bumps but overall it was just a walk uphill with incredible views of Mt. Washington.
The wind picked up a bit as we ascended so we put our goggles on for the last push to the top of the Express Quad. From there we headed up the trail to the summit observation deck (trail is located left and behind the first aid building).
Trees are getting shorter as we near the top.
Summit trail is to the left of the first aid building (sign in distance).

"Wildcat Ridge trail, Carter Notch and Pinkham Notch."
Heading up the short but steep trail to the summit.
It was great to get on a hiking trail, if only for a few hundred yards.  It's a steep ascent, easy in snowshoes but the odd patch of ice made for a slower, more cautious descent.  It started snowing.
Nice view to the right.

The steps up to the observation deck were covered with snow (more like a ramp up).  Once on the observation deck we layered up.  A few summit photos later we were headed back down the trail and the slopes. 
Snowing on Mt. Washington.

Hiker among the skiers.
"Never again" wasn't uttered once!  Our group felt that this was not the typical drudge up a ski slope.  The skiers were friendly and interesting to watch and several were interested in what we were doing and why. 
Down at the Moat by 2:45.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Mt. Passaconaway, WINTER 4K (8/48) - January 1, 2015

Mt.Passaconaway (4,042') via Dicey's Mill Trail January 1, 2015

Mileage:  9.2 miles (RT)

Elevation gain: 2,950'
Trailhead: Route 16 to Tamworth, left on Route 113, and right onto Chocorua Road for 2.9 miles.  Turn right on Route 113A East (Chinook Trail) for 5.6 miles. Ferncroft Road is on the right where the road takes a 90° turn (past a church). Drive .5 miles down Ferncroft, large parking lot is on the right. 
Hiked with Rich and Sandy.  Hiking on New Years Day is a tradition for us, though conditions are always a crap shoot this time of year and temps can range from 10° to 60°.  We felt fortunate to have decent temps and stellar conditions upon which to ring in this new year!

We'd hiked Mt. Passaconaway in June, 2009 (see previous report) and were excited to revisit this quiet peak again, this time in winter. 

But, not so quiet today. What a beautiful day it was! Temps started out in the teens and promised to rise into the 20s and we met more than a few groups out taking advantage of the day and conditions.
The alarm went off at 5 a.m. and Rich and I met Sandy at the Gulf/Fancy Foods station in Tamworth at 8:00. We drove to the trailhead, got our packs on and were headed out by 8:40.  The trailhead is a short walk out of the parking lot - turn right and walk down Ferncroft Road to the end.  (Lots of signage here).

We're headed to that spotted bump in the distance.

Sign on the tree. Left takes you to Blueberry Ridge trail - stay straight.

You'll walk past several houses and through a gate.

Sandy and Rich doing an equipment check before heading into the woods.
It was a mild walk in the woods; the trail mostly bare with part-time snow. We barebooted to the water crossing.

Blueberry Ledge Cut-off Trail junction (stay on Dicey's Mill trail).

Large ice patches, easily walked around.

Trail is marked with just a few blue blazes.

Tom Wiggin trail junction (continue on Dicey's Mill).

At 2,000' snow covered the trail. Footing was good and the ascent was very gradual with just over a 700' gain for the first two miles.

As the trail swung northwest into the Bowl, we found the wind in our faces (not much protection from the bare, spindly trees).  But, the skies were blue and when not behind a cloud, the sun warmed us as we made our way through the forest.

We descended briefly to the East Branch Wonalancet River water crossing (where the old Dicey's Mill used to be); a rock hop in good conditions but we chose the strategically placed tree to cross.

Sandy climbing up on the big log (which was a bit icy).

We took a break at the river and put our Microspikes on.  Good move, as the ascent up the ridge got more serious (but still relatively comfy) for the next mile.  At 3.3 miles the trail gets momentarily steep and then levels out passing through a beautiful grove of spindly evergreens.  We could see the summit off to the right.  

Woodpeckers must've found goodies in this poor tree!

Sandy heading up the steeper section.

It gets steeper still to junction of the Rollins Trail, where hikers doing the Mt. Whiteface/Passaconaway loop meet Dicey's Mill trail - still about 750' of elevation gain to go for us. We went right and headed up the summit cone.

We reached an odd little water crossing and a few yards from there the junction of the East Loop trail (straight ahead), which loops around to meet the Walden trail. It didn't seem well broken out so we went left and up, continuing on Dicey's Mill trail. (Had we gone the East Loop we would have eventually reached the Mt. Passaconaway summit spur on the left.)

Small water crossing.  East Loop coming up.
Today the overlook near the summit spur trail offered a partial view of mountains obscured by low clouds; it was snowing in the distance.

Viewpoint offers mad views usually.

From here the trail is on the right and a few yards in is the junction of the summit spur (directly opposite the Walden trail sign).  We saw no sign indicating the right turn was the Passaconaway summit but we headed that way anyway.
End of Dicey's Mill trail. This sign faces the spur to the summit.
Spur trail to the summit.

The spur trail ends in a few hundred yards, indicating the summit.  I didn't see a cairn under the snow, nor a sign of any sort so we traipsed around and hoped it was the summit.  We even walked a bit down the Walden trail to the other viewpoint before figuring we'd topped out and were satisfied that we'd hit our mark.  (At home we compared GPS tracks and in fact the end of the spur trail is the summit.)

Summit smile ( hoping we were in the right place!)

Hands got cold and daylight was waning so we headed back to the car.  The wind picked up and we were glad to be heading down. 

Heading back over the water.

We got into heated car seats by 3:00 p.m., and headed to Hobbs Tavern for a beer. 

This hike is a wonderfully moderate workout and for me the only downside was waking up so early to drive to the trailhead.  We had great conditions and good company.