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Road Tripping and Peak Bagging

By: Will Babb

I’m lucky enough to have a job at RRT that encourages me to dream big. As a result, I have a bucket list that keeps growing and the opportunity to follow my dreams. My passion for climbing mountains led to the addition of one of my more ambitious goals to that ever-growing list. Reaching the highest point in each of the 50 states is an alluring goal, and one that might take a lifetime to reach. It was this goal that led to my most recent adventure, a two week long road trip through the Northeast, climbing several high points in the process.

A twelve hour drive brought us to Adirondack Park in northern New York. My old high school friend, Brian, had somehow been crazy enough to tag along on this trip. We hadn’t talked much in the two years since we’d graduated, but this road trip was a good reason to check a few things off my bucket list and reconnect with an old friend.

Mt. Marcy’s treeless and rocky peak rises above the surrounding peaks and a beautiful green valley. The highest point in New York is a challenging day hike, what proved to be a long 7.5 mile slog up the mountain. A cool, early morning start after an uncomfortable night of sleeping in the car had us on the summit by 11 AM. The climb up hadn’t seemed too difficult despite nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain. The final half mile of the climb was completely exposed, above the tree line and on barren slabs of rock with jaw dropping views in every direction. The wind whipped across the exposed summit, so Brian and I hunkered behind a boulder for a quick lunch.

I was surprised that I didn’t feel tired after the long climb, but I mistakenly underestimated the mountain before the descent began. If I wasn’t tired at the summit, I was completely exhausted by the time I had staggered the 7.5 miles back to the car, my knees throbbing from the steep, technical descent. Still, by 4 PM we had bagged the first peak of the trip and were driving towards the second.

Somehow, in the brutality of the day’s hike, Brian and I had forgotten how miserable sleeping in the car the previous night had been. As a result, we spent another night in the car, this one at a movie theater parking lot in a small Vermont town. And as had happened before, the 5 AM sunrise woke us up long before our alarm went off.

Even with sore legs, the 3 miles to the summit of Vermont’s highest peak was a breeze. The technical, exposed scramble to the summit was as beautiful as the day before, a reminder of why we climb mountains to begin with. Mt. Mansfield rivaled Mt. Marcy for one of the greatest hikes I’ve ever done, but the road trip had only just begun. Hours later and we were in New Hampshire, where we finally got smart and set up a tent just off the road.

 

I’ve learned after numerous backcountry trips that being flexible is just as important as having a good plan. So after a day of rain disrupted our plans, we set off up Mt. Washington, the highest peak in New Hampshire and the highest mountain we’d climb on the trip. After surviving a 15 mile hike on the first day, we incorrectly assumed the 8 mile round-trip of Washington would be easy. Even the “family friendly” Tuckerman’s Ravine trail and Lion’s Head route were steeper and more technical than I had imagined, but I loved every minute of it.

As we climbed higher, again breaking above tree line, fog washed over the mountainside. We continued our climb, the fog growing thicker as we ascended. I figured the summit was close, but visibility was so poor it was impossible to tell. The clouds were so thick it was difficult to see from one cairn to the next, but we managed to find our way to the museum at the summit by mid morning and enjoy a few hours out of the elements.

We’d climbed the highest point of 3 different states in a matter of four days, and now Katahdin and its infamous Knife’s Edge remained. Apparently the allure of the Knife’s Edge appealed to RRT’s own Olivia, because she flew from Cincinnati to Portland, Maine to join a now sufficiently smelly duo. She stunk upon arrival and fit in with this gnarly group.

One would think that this far into the trip Brian and I would’ve learned that our expectations tend to be wrong, but we still hadn’t. You won’t be surprised to hear that we spent another night curled into wildly uncomfortable positions in a parking lot in Maine, and our expectations of pleasant, cool weather in Maine were also wildly wrong. The “pleasantly cool weather” turned out to be the perfect temperature for swarms of bugs in Baxter State Park which tormented us the moment we stepped out of the car. With the bugs so bad, cowboy camping was no longer a good option, so the three of us squeezed into a two person tent and rested for the following day’s hike.

Two miles into the hike up Katahdin we passed tree line, and from then on we were continuously pummeled by heavy winds. Winds that made traversing the bouldery slope very difficult and cumbersome. When arriving at the top of Pamola Peak we regrouped and discussed our options considering the winds were likely to continue and get worse as clouds were rolling in. Brian was weary and decided to turn around with another group of hikers, fearful of the winds and satisfied with his peaks bagged thus far. Olivia and I pressed onward down and up the 60/70 foot saddle-scramble to the Knife’s Edge. Something about the 20-30mph winds was appealing especially on this butter knife. It was technical hiking and the winds made us question our chances of success, but we pressed on despite a narrow margin for error.

After somewhere close to an hour of precarious scrambling, we crouched behind a boulder, out of the wind, for a quick calorie boost. We chose the perfect snack spot because we reached the summit within a few minutes of leaving. It was intensely gratifying to reach the summit, a feeling of accomplishment that is hard to describe. I had first climbed Katahdin via the Hunt Trail almost two years prior, and now was fulfilling a two year dream of summiting Katahdin via the Knife’s Edge Trail. I wasn’t disappointed at all in the lack of a view, I was completely content with standing back on top of a mountain that means so much to me. It was exciting to share the summit with Olivia, but wet weather put an end to our summit celebration. After a few pictures and jumping jacks, we began the long, wet descent.

As temperatures dropped, the combination of wind and rain left rime ice on plants and rocks that added a new challenge to our descent. We traded complaints about sore joints and bruised ankles throughout the four miles back to camp, where we found Brian asleep in the car. With our goal accomplished, we continued our travels the following morning at Acadia National Park.

Sometimes plans fall into place and work out better than you could have imagined. For our trip, Acadia was one of those times. We were lucky enough to stay in an oceanfront cabin owned by a friend of mine just a short drive from Mount Desert Island. We spent our short visit checking out Bubble Rock, Thunder Hole, Sand Beach, and a serene lighthouse. We also managed to explore Bar Harbor, try out bouldering at Otter Cliffs, and become a kid again at a pirate themed mini golf course. It wouldn’t be a trip to Maine without lobster, so we let our host show us how to properly consume one. I managed to enjoy all the best of Acadia with some great friends and meet up with an old one.

The road trip I had spent months planning and dreaming of had finally arrived and gone by in a blur, and was now nearly over. All that remained was an 18 hour drive in a poorly air conditioned and temperamental ‘99 car back to Cincinnati. We prolonged the trip with an night in Massachusetts to check out a spectacular natural waterfall and enjoy pancakes cooked by former RRT gear expert Louie. Every climb on the trip had been worth the reward at the top and every long stint in the car worth the memories made. The trip had been an absolute blast, less of a vacation and more of an adventure- just how I like it.

My bucket list hasn’t gotten any shorter since that road trip. Truthfully it’s probably longer and growing faster than Pinocchio’s Nose. But even if I never complete a bucket list, that’s not the reason we make them. We make bucket lists so we can go off on adventures we otherwise might not and make memories that aren’t soon forgotten. In the end we realize, as I did somewhere in those wild two weeks, that what’s important isn’t checking goals off a list but enjoying all the time spent outdoors working toward them.

Mt. Washington

by: Brandon Behymer

Bryan and myself recently returned from a winter ascent of Mt. Washington (wiki link).  Known for having some of the worst weather in North America and the fastest recorded wind speed ever, the highest peak in New Hampshire’s reputation stands much higher than its actual elevation of 6,288 feet. Having done some winter mountaineering out west prior to this trip, I never thought much of it. How demanding could a mountain under half the elevation of Colorado’s highest peak be?  Fairly demanding it turns out.

We departed Cincinnati at 5:30am on Tuesday, February 6.  Groggy, and excited to be on the road, we started off with a few podcasts in a futile attempt to keep our minds occupied during the ‘too early for conversation’ hours of the morning.  Bryan drove for the first six hours through light snow and fog.  We started calling his wife’s Honda Accord the Magic Carpet since every time one of us looked at the gas gauge, it appeared that it hadn’t moved. And yes, we borrowed his wife’s car because neither of ours will make it confidently out of the tri-state area. I’m curious to find out when the stench of four of the most outrageously smelly feet attached to ankles will finally dissipate to a tolerable level in that Magic Carpet. Sorry Laura…

After paying our tolls through Pennsylvania we passed through a small portion of New York, through Hartford, around Boston, and up into New Hampshire.  Tuesday night was spent in great company at the friend of a friend’s cabin on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. Going over maps and forecasts at the dinner table while exchanging stories reminded me that the feeling of home has a lot to do with the company kept there, and the cabin quickly felt comfortable and warm. The view the following morning was incredible, and I can only imagine the good times had on the lake both winter and summer.  In fact, Wednesday morning a brave soul driving a Chevy Silverado went barreling across the frozen surface of the lake, presumably to an ice fishing shack, at a speed indicative of their lack of confidence in the thickness of the ice.

Bryan and myself were eager to get closer to Mt. Washington and decided that with the impending snow storm, reaching Harvard cabin (Harvard cabin website) early Wednesday afternoon would be the best course of action.  Snow began to fall just as we lost cell phone reception on the drive into the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.  It didn’t stop for the next twelve hours.  Our hosts from the night before accompanied us on the snowshoe hike up to Harvard cabin and then turned back to the vehicles, leaving Bryan and me to enjoy the 14-degree cabin, soaking wet from the steep hike up Huntington Ravine Trail.  We began building the fire promptly at 3:55 joking about how rebellious both of us were being for ‘ignoring’ the sign hung discreetly and directly over the wood burning stove saying that no fire shalt be built prior to 4pm.  The fire gods would punish us immediately for our haste.  The cabin filled rapidly with wood smoke, to the point of me opening the doors, fearing smoke inhalation issues.  Later that evening, a caretaker from the Hermit Lake cabin stopped by to check on the cabin. Upon walking in her only greeting was “Holyshit, you guys have clearly never seen a wood burning stove before”, and then demonstrated how not to kill everyone from asphyxiation overnight.

Five other men joined us in the cabin Wednesday night, two from Atlanta, their guide, and two hardcore skiers from Canada.  Like camp in forty below zero with a smile kind of hardcore.  We had a couple beers and entertained each other with stories of past travels to the hills and some goals we had for future adventures.  I could tell Bryan was getting tired, sitting quietly with a beer in hand is a sure sign of his exhaustion. As for myself, I wasn’t far behind.  Being lulled to sleep by the wind in a 65-degree cabin is not a difficult thing to do.  The guide and his two clients rose at 6am and were out the door by 7.  Bryan and I opted for a later start time to avoid the high winds in the morning forecast. At 10 below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50mph wind, any exposed skin would be frostbitten in 10 minutes.  It feels as if Mother Nature is trying to cut capicola ham from the flesh of your cheeks, under the bottom edge of the sunglass lens, and above the top of the buff protecting your nose and lips.

While the normal winter route isn’t very difficult, little more than a walk up past the Lion’s Head feature and on to the summit cone, the cold and wind are relentless. We left the cabin at 10:30am and snowshoed as far as we could before we put on our crampons. I stopped above Bryan on the slope and repeatedly pushed fresh powdery snow that had accumulated the night before down onto him and his pack.  Only one of us found this lightly entertaining.  Shortly after the crampon comedy we ascended a steep section of trail where both piolet and crampons are required. This section was quite fun and reminded me of how much I enjoyed climbing ice a few years ago in Colorado.  The next bit of trail extends up through the tree line, where the wind really picked up and leads to an outcrop of large rocks supposedly resembling the head of a lion. Neither of us saw the resemblance but the outcrop was impressive in its own right.

From here you can see the summit and exhaust pipes of the weather observatory, the current one taking weather readings every day since 1932.  Mt Washington is the first mountain I’ve summited that the summit looked as far away as it actually was.  No deception here.  2 miles give or take and 2 hours of biting winds and bitter cold.  Honestly it wouldn’t have taken quite as long had it not been for a cleverly placed cairn, on the far corner of a steep snow field that we both failed to see.  Instead we opted to follow two skiers and their skins tracks across the Alpine Gardens, post holing the ENTIRE way, and then up a very steep snow field about 200 meters from the proper route.  Several times along this poor choice of a route we stopped to laugh and take in the discomfort that our lack of observation skills had brought us.  Discomfort would have found us either way. Blaming ourselves only took the attention off the wind cutting our faces and the steepness of the snow field.

We reached the summit at 2:30 Thursday afternoon, and a goal that’s been on my mind for three years had been accomplished.  Both of us were pretty spent by the time we summited.  I had to cajole Bryan the last 400 feet to the top and that was about all that kept me going.  There is a familiar and exotic feeling about being above the clouds, on the highest point in sight in any direction.  Explaining it is difficult.  I tend to get a bit emotional and existential when standing atop a summit.  Why did I come here?  Why would anyone come here?  Is this what an outsiders’ perspective of Earth would look like? It’s so cold. I’m so tired.  My face hurts.

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Starting down is an exercise of patience for me. I want to stay at the top to admire the beauty.  The cold convinces me otherwise.  Knees protest the increased force of gravity.  Crampons pierce the fabric of my softshell pants and I stumble several paces forward, cursing loudly at my own coordination. Attention to detail must be at an elevated level.  My attention descended faster than my feet.

There are two other options to ascend to the summit and both require more technical skills than Bryan or myself currently have; however, after this trip I hope to become confident in those skills to climb the Ravines next winter.

We make it back down to the cabin at 4:30, after two hours of walking and glissading and laughing hysterically from the joy of sledding down the hill on our butts, trying to stop before colliding with an unfortunately placed rock or tree.  Once back inside the safety of the cabin we got the fire roaring and the interior heated up to 70 degrees by the time the second of our three dinners had been devoured (about an hour). I will absolutely have a wood burning stove in the house I build someday.

 

Want another perspective? Check out Louie’s Mt. Washington blog here.

The White Mountains: Mt. Washington

by Louie “Sunshine” Knolle

Greetings and salutations from New England to all of you RRT dudes and dudettes out there in the cybersphere! This is Loubear Sassafras (one of many RRT alums) checking in with some winter adventures that I was able to enjoy this past January and February. The topic for discussion today is Mt. Washington, located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. For those who have not heard of this beast of a mountain, allow me to elucidate the finer details of this wonderful place. Mt. Washington is the highest peak in the northeastern United States at 6,288 feet, Wikipedia even goes so far as to label it the most “prominent” peak in all of the eastern US due to its altitude relative to the land around it. Don’t worry peak purists, Mt. Mitchell is still the highest peak east of the Mississippi, but I digress. Washington is home to some of the worst alpine weather in the world. In 1934 the Mount Washington Observatory observed a recorded wind speed of 231 mph! That’s more than 3 times the minimum for hurricane force wind. The official record low temperature for the summit is -50 degree Fahrenheit and that was without accounting for windchill! There have been wind chills of 140 degrees below zero. Even as I’m writing this my mind is riding the boggle bus. Due to its location, Mt. Washington is at a confluence of many major air streams and weather patterns, hence it’s unpredictability and slightly erratic nature at times.

12778722_10207784457224690_1665729167757751404_oNow if that doesn’t put you in the mood to go and summit this baby, I don’t know what else will. The most popular time for hiking up Washington is during the summer when the weather is slightly less inclement (note the italics.) Even in summer, you can get caught in some snow up top when it is perfectly warm and sunny down in the town of North Conway. It is highly recommended that even for a summer summit attempt, you bring water and windproof hard shell pants and jacket, both a thermal and fleece layer, and it would probably be a good idea to include a light mid layer in your pack, just in case. You can wear shorts and tank tops back in town, but you don’t want to get in a sudden rain storm in 30-40 degree temps mixed with 75+ mph winds. Those are all conditions that can quickly lead to hypothermia if you don’t watch it. However, if you pay close attention to the weather and plan accordingly, it can be quite the amazing hike and so worth the effort. The most popular trail is Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. It is about 4.2 miles to the summit and you can always switch it up by coming down the Lion’s Head route if you’re looking for a little more exposure or a change of scenery. Tuck’s is considered a Class 2 route, so there a few places where you might be required to use your hands for climbing up some rocks, but the moves are simple and you are not at any risk if you take your time and mind your P’s and Q’s. During winter, Tuck’s is usually covered in ice and snow so it is highly recommended you take the Lion’s Head winter trail.

People call these mountains “The Whites” for a reason. They are a giant, snowy wonderland for winter sports enthusiasts. Whether it be cold weather mountaineering, alpine or ice climbing, backcountry or telemark skiing, the Whites has it all. I was recently there on a Wednesday in mid-February and the place was a-hoppin’. Coincidentally enough, most of my experience in the Whites comes during the winter time. As of 2 weeks ago, I have summited Mt. Washington in the winter on 3 separate occasions. My first two summits, in January 2013 and in January of this year were by way of 12819386_1101705653226154_7284161733876819870_othe same route. Starting from Pinkham, we hiked up the Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail for almost 2 miles where we hopped off and went up the Lion’s Head Trail. This trail goes around a large rock feature (called the Lion’s Head) and takes you up along a beautiful ridge looking down into Tuckerman’s Ravine. On a clear day you can just make out the weather station on the summit (which is about another mile and a half away.) Both times, we were required to put on crampons before breaking tree line due to snow and ice on the trail. Over the years I have seen some people summiting with just microspikes, but those will not hold up as well in truly gnarly conditions. Also required for this winter hike is a mountaineering axe of some kind, whether it be a true mountain axe, glacier axe, or even an ice tool. It is an invaluable piece of gear for safety reasons, in case you find yourself in a tight spot and need to use it to self-arrest to keep from sliding down a steep, icy slope. Ski goggles are also a great idea teamed up with a balaclava to protect your face.

Once on the summit, there is a very clear summit post and a couple buildings usually covered by lots of snow and ice. People live and work on the summit year round studying the weather since it such an amalgam of weather patterns and one of the most unique climates in the states. During the summer, there is a visitor center open to the public, mostly due to the fact that the Mt. Washington Auto Road allows people to drive their cars to the summit. And I know what you’re thinking: nobody needs to be “that guy” with the bumper sticker claiming they sat on their bum while letting a machine take the fun away from hiking up this wonder. You were born with feet for a reason! In winter however, this road is closed and so is the visitor center. On two of my three summits, the kind people at the observatory left a bay door open for us to huddle inside of away from the dangerous winds. Both times, we came down the same route we had summited by. In summer you have more trail options to do more of a loop to get a change of scenery.

My third and final summit (just a few weeks ago in February) was by far the most exciting to date. My friend Lee and I hiked up Tuckerman’s Ravine as usual, but we took a side trail toward Huntington’s Ravine where usually we would begin the ascent up Lion’s Head. At this juncture, we stayed at the Harvard Cabin (owned and maintained by the Harvard Mounta12805812_10207784457904707_7029352592099974397_nineering Club) where you can pay $15/night for a spot in the loft for your pad and sleeping bag, access to propane burners for cooking, and best of all a wood burning stove that they keep going from 4-10 pm, making this a nice alternative to sleeping out in a tent where it is likely that there will be negative temps overnight. The next morning, we hiked into Huntington’s Ravine where there are numerous technical ice climbing routes that go up the mountain, ranging from 500 to 800 feet in length. Lee and I chose Odell’s Gully which was an easier intermediate route in which we climbed 4 pitches of ice and topped out after several hundred yards of steep snow/rock scrambling. Then we were able to meet up with a trail that took us to the summit after about another mile of hiking. In addition to summiting after climbing up almost 800 feet of solid ice, it was actually a clear day and we could see out from on top of the mountain. On both of my previous trips, it had been cloudy and snowing on us so we weren’t able to see more than 50 feet in front of us at times.

And now come the disclaimers12779201_10207784457744703_743328778429584511_o! I am in no way an expert on this mountain at all! If you decide you want to climb up this mountain, which you totally should because it’s rad as can be, make sure to thoroughly research the paths you are taking, have all the necessary clothing and gear (I wonder where you might be able to get that ;),) and above all watch the weather like a hawk!! The Mt. Washington Observatory has its own website where they update the summit weather forecast daily and it will change on a day to day based on my experience. Don’t forget to talk to people who have hiked it. Almost everyone at the RRT has done it to the best of my knowledge. That’s one of the easiest ways to first start gathering intelligence on the hike. I’ll leave the lecture on calories and hydration to the rest of the team now that they are all Wilderness First Responders too. I’m sure they have a backcountry safety blog in the works or reprising one of the old ones. And if you’re still reading this, I know you are dedicated to informing yourself about the trips you take and the places you go because I have rambled on for far too long now. Happy trails and I hope to bring y’all more tales of the adventures I am having while in New England. Slainte!

 

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Southbound: episode 5

October 10th 2006
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

   It has been a while since you last heard from us in Andover , Maine . I’ll start from the beginning I guess. The first few days out were also our last in Maine . The first day, the weather was incredible and we tackled two 4,000 ft + peaks in 15 miles. We were so excited to have done so much over that terrain, but the following day put us in our place. The Mahoosuc Notch, the hardest mile on the whole trail, took us 3 hours to do a mile. It was nothing but climbing over, in between and under boulders, of course it was wet too. We had a few close calls, but only a bumped head and some scratches. That day we only went 5 miles before we called it a day.the Mahoosuc Notch

The following day was soiled with bad weather, yet crossing into New Hampshire and finishing our first state kept us in good spirits until Ice Man fell into the mud. His right leg missed a board and sunk into the mud up to his thigh. Luckily, his left leg was still on the board, otherwise, I don’t know how he would have gotten out. We called it an early day and stayed dry at the next shelter. We stopped in Gorham , NH for a dollar menu feast at Mcdonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts in the morning.White Mountains

We had 2 and a half days until Pinkham Notch, which is the gateway to the Presidential Mountains. They were spectacular mountains to say the least. They are called the “wildcats” and the views the gave of Mt. Washington were incredible. Our second day in the wildcats, there was ice covering the whole north side of the mountains(the pics turned out great). We have had nothing but the best weather since we left Pinkham Notch. Locals say that the weather we had going over the Presidential Mountains and Mt. Washington , was by far the best all year. This was the place we expected to be having the worst weather. We had warm days, clear skies, 120 mile + visibility, and winds of less than 10 mph for days. Not even the Columbus Day weekend crowds and tourists on the mountain could make us wish for better. We were down right spoiled. We hiked 2 and a half days above treeline in the White Mountains with unimaginable weather. Mt. Washington put us over 6,000 feet at exactly one month since we had made the summit of Katahdin, a nice coincidence.Zeacliffs

A couple nights ago, we camped right on some cliffs, watched the sunset after dinner, and relaxed under the stars with hot apple cider. We stayed up swapping trail stories with a going to be “3 time” thru-hiker named Doc Knarley. Oh, he had some crazy stories. Last night, we spent a few hours relaxing on top of Mt. Garfield . We are going to miss these mountains. We rolled into North Woodstock today to refuel, and send you guys an update. We hope you enjoy these pictures. We love you all and wish you could be here. We have to catch a ride back to the trail soon. We figured we would “troll camp” tonight under the I-93 bridge. We hope to update you again in Hanover in less than a week.Troll Camping

This exert was originally published on atwishhikers.com. It’s content has not been edited from the original post.

Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

This is a big section to stop and reflect on and I feel like there are many untold stories. For starters; Mt. Success.  I am over 6 feet tall and almost all legs, when we reached the top of cloudy Mt. Success the last thing I thought I’d encounter was a endless pit of doom trying to swallow me in the mist.  The mountain even at the very top had wood planks to walk on to avoid the swampy mess but even those boards were covered by mud. I found myself poking the ground in front to find the boards before taking each step, to no avail.  I fell (in a very flexible moment) over waist deep in mud while keeping my left foot still on the board ahead.  Joe was up in front and after a try or two I had to shout ahead for help getting out.  The mud and cold water was sinking into my boot making it feel like concrete holding me down.

After getting pried from the depths and retiring to the following shelter, I was quickly warmed up from some trail magic: tequila! This whole section had chance encounters of booze carrying trail angels. Passing a flask of vodka back and forth with “Doc” on top of Zeacliffs near the hut made for one heck of a night! That had to have been the single most entertaining hiker we stayed with on the trail. As far as Washington, I’m not sure I could ever go back. If you ever are lucky enough to have that “perfect moment” than you don’t dare chance ruining it by going back.