Saturday, September 11, 2010

NH48 in Under 5 Days

I had two trail/endurance-related goals for back East this summer, a thru-hike of the Long Trail and a fast’ish ramble of, again, the 48 New Hampshire 4000 footers. It may seem odd that while I now live in California, I am still drawn to the White Mountains. My folks are still in Vermont so I get back there quite often, and I LOVE these mountains... but still! Indeed, during the most recent effort I wondered why I didn’t more persistently attempt a fast 48 when I lived there. The reality is that during my last 10 years there I was focused on racing 100 milers and so was always either training for or recovering from one or another and had a hard time fitting in an obscure mountain speed record.
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I did, however, actually attempt one speedy 48 in 2004, a few weeks after running and winning a fast (for me) sub 18-hour Vermont 100. Beginning on August 11 that year, I bagged all 14 of what I call the Pemi Peaks--Flume, Liberty, Lincoln, Lafayette, Owls Head, Garfield, Galehead, the Twins, the Bonds, Zealand, and Hale--45+ miles in 18 hours 26 minutes. The next day I climbed the 3 peaks of the Willey Range along with Carrigain, Cannon and the Kinsmans, 30+ miles in about 14 hours. Things were going well for me physically. Meteorologically, however, conditions were bad: that night it poured down rain… intense T’storm after intense T’storm continuing into the next day. I got rained out. I probably should’ve squeezed in another attempt back then, but isn’t human nature such that we oftentimes don’t seize an opportunity that’s staring us in the face, finding reasons why we can’t do something instead of why we should actually just go for it? Perhaps that is a reason why there was no women’s non-winter NH 48 fastest known time (FKT) until August 20 of this year.
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I was pretty fatigued after the LT effort in late July and had decided to bail on the peakbagging idea. It wasn’t until the drive back from Maine on August 12 that I started having thoughts like “Maybe I should give it a shot… What have I got to lose?… May as well… Um, Honey…?”
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Chris agrees to crew--I am a lucky woman! I decide to do it relatively fast but not all-out. As with all of my adventures, first and foremost, this is to be FUN, and I know that without enough sleep, it will not be. Ergo, I shoot for a modest goal of under 5 days.  I do not have a tight schedule but will take the Forrest Gump approach: when I’m tired, I’ll sleep, when I’m hungry, I’ll eat...  Since we want to be back home before Labor Day weekend and don’t want to have to rush, we decide that I should start on August 15 in order to give us a reasonable window. The weather forecast for the 16th calls for rain most of the day, but we don’t have the luxury of cherry-picking our days at this point.
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Apart from buying some trail food, there really isn’t much else to do in preparation. Having climbed these peaks dozens of times, I know good combinations to string together and the basic order that I want to climb them. This isn’t rocket science after all.  Not one who enjoys or needs an entourage, I tell only my parents, my good buddy Al… and my friend "Neighbor Dave" squeezes it out of me, too. That’s it. Both Al and Neighbor offer to help, but I will do 45 out of 48 peaks solo. There will be no muling, no pacing, and no food or water caches.

Ready to go!

8/15  Presi Traverse & Isolation, Waumbek, & Cabot  ~44 miles
It is 3:55 a.m. I am fixing to get out of the car at the Webster-Jackson Trailhead to begin the south-to-north Presidential Traverse. However, there are two little foxes running around looking for handouts. We don’t give them any food but do take a few photos and that costs me a minute. :) I hit the trail at 4:01 a.m. This particular Presi Traverse has a bit of a twist: it includes the 5-mile out & back to Isolation. I top out on Jackson in just over an hour, Pierce, Eisenhower, and Monroe in another couple of hours, and reach Lakes of the Clouds Hut just as people are dispersing after breakfast. I fill my water bladder and make my way over to the Camel Trail and Davis Path. Even though it means losing many hundreds of feet in elevation, I love this trail. The Davis Path is much less trodden than the main routes to 4000 footers and reminds me of the Long Trail.  By 9:30 I’m standing on the summit of Mt. Isolation gazing up at the distance between me and Mt. Washington. It looks like a long way! Two hours later I’m ordering chicken ’n dumpling soup in the summit cafeteria and spend a leisurely 20 minutes eating and chatting with a family who has ridden the Cog Railway up the mountain. The rest of the afternoon goes well. I summit Jefferson and Adams and make my way down to Madison Hut for some more water before climbing the final peak of the range and heading down Valley Way. After climbing George via the Ammonoosuc-Jewell loop this morning, Chris is waiting for me at Appalachia. 
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Next stop is the Starr King Trailhead.  I bring my headlamp just in case but am happy to do the entire hike before dark (and sadly notice, by the way, that the view from Mt. Starr King is getting more and more shut out by tree growth).  I feel pretty good and prefer to do Mt. Cabot in the dark anyway so decide to do one more peak for the day. Nearing the old firewardens cabin, I see light inside and turn mine off as I sneak by so as to not freak anyone out. I’m up and down in just under 3 hours, finishing at 11:10 p.m. We retire to that famous 5-star resort in Randolph--yes, that would be Altopia.
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8/16  Wildcats/Carters/Mariah & Tom/Field/Willey   ~28 miles
It is 5 a.m., and we are eating a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast prepared by our fabulous host. We are also listening to a steady downpour outside. It has been raining for 2 hours. “I am NOT going out in that!!” I proclaim, producing laughter all around. I truly dislike hiking for hours in a steady rain. This is the bad weather that was forecast 2 days earlier. No sooner do I make the decision to bail on the whole attempt than the rain stops and I decide to press on. Chris deposits me at the Wildcat Ski Area, and I head up the Polecat Trail, umbrella in hand, at 6 a.m.  I discover that the Wildman Biathlon was held the previous day--the race signs and 3 aid stations have not yet been broken down.  Cool--aid stations! I chug a bit of water at each station conserving my own. The poor, neglected Wildcat Ridge Trail is in need of some TLC, specifically a good brushing out, and I grumble my way across the lower extremity “carwash” that is the passageway. The trail is muddy, slippery, rocky, and rooty. (Hey, this looks like the Long Trail, too!) With all the slime, I just can’t seem to get a rhythm going and resort to the lunge-and-lurch mode so common in the White Mountains. I pick my way steeply down to Carter Notch but actually make pretty good time going up the Dome. By this time of day, I begin to meet normal hikers. Everyone seems to be wet and sorry looking today, not excluding the crazy lady with the umbrella. One young woman is near tears on the ridiculously steep and rough descent of North Carter. She is carrying a full backpack and clearly not having fun (and so neither is the boyfriend). I try to give some encouragement “You’re almost done with the hardest section!” She kind of glares at me. Oh well... The weather actually turns out not as bad as was predicted; I open the umbrella just 3 times and then for just brief 10-minute showers. By the time I reach Mt. Moriah the sun is shining and I am happy to finally descend the Carter-Moriah Trail and be done with this Range. My total time for this leg is an embarrassing 8h40m!
Chris and I waste a bit of time here due to a miscommunication which is totally my fault but no biggie; since I am channeling Forrest Gump, I am pretty relaxed about this whole thing. We return to Altopia to pick up our stuff and head down to Crawford Depot. Al decides to hike the Willey Range with me but starts a few minutes later so skips Mt. Tom. We talk nonstop across Field and Willey and crack up at the crazy steep “trail” on the southeast side of Willey. We’ve both been here many times, but it seems steeper and rougher than ever. At the Ethan Pond Trailhead Chris is waiting for us, having spent some time checking out Ripley Falls. We give Al a ride back to his car and proceed to the Signal Ridge trailhead while I silently argue with myself: “You should really climb Carrigain tonight.” “But I don’t want to. I want to relax and get some good sleep.” “But it’s not even 8 o’clock yet.  Wimp.” “Hey, this is MY hike, and I want to have fun, and Mr. Gump wouldn’t do anymore today either. So there.” Chris makes us a yummy dinner while I use the solar shower and organize the Honda Element for the night. We are asleep by 9:30.
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8/17  Carrigain, Passaconaway/Whiteface/Tripyramids, & Hancocks  ~36 miles
At 3:17 a.m. I throw on my clothes, down a Starbucks Doubleshot, and proceed up the trail while Mr. Goofball gets a few more hours of sleep. I feel good this morning and make it to Signal Ridge just in time for a beautiful sunrise! I climb the tower on this, one of my favorite White Mountain peaks, and have a long look around before turning around and heading back down. Just under 4 hours total for this peak, Chris has the car packed up and ready to go when I arrive. He hands me a steaming mug of brewed coffee with real half ’n half.  Aah!  I am spoiled and happy.  :)
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We cruise over Bear Notch Road, pass Jigger Johnston Campground, and reach the trailhead just before 8 a.m.  I am taking the old Downes Brook/Passaconaway Slide Trail up Passaconaway, in my opinion the best--most fun, scenic and to-the-point route up this peak.  (Style points do matter after all.)  After crossing the top of the slide, I have a bit of trouble finding the correct route but shortly am back on track and stand on the summit 2 hours after leaving the car. For some reason I have never been a fan of the Rollins Trail so just put my head down and go... Whiteface doesn’t warrant more than a pause, and I happily scoot across the Kate Sleeper Trail. Even though it is littered with 49 blowdowns (I counted) it is another favorite for its beauty, ease, and solitude.  The South Tripyramid Slide is always fun, but I decide that the Farmer Direct route (see my winter record report from March) straight up to the summit from the KST is even better. The Tripyramids are closer together than I remembered. Yippee ki yi, that must mean I’m feeling really, really good! I turn on my tunes for the first time of this adventure and bee-bop down the Pine Bend Brook Trail, feeling happy and content.
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As we drive to the Hancock Overlook, Chris tells me about his hike of the Hedgehog loop and also of visiting the lovely Sabbaday Falls--Chris loves waterfalls and I'd told him not to miss Sabbaday. I describe the approach to the Hancocks, and--what a treat!--he decides to do the lower 2½ miles with me. I opt for a counter-clockwise loop only because last time here during the winter record, Farmer, Frodo and I went clockwise. (Although it would‘ve earned style points, I stay off Arrow Slide this time.) Jogging the last couple of miles--the only time I really approach anything simulating running during this entire thing is here and a bit coming down Mt. Waumbek; most of these trails are, and have always been, virtually unrunnable for me--I reach Chris at 6:25 p.m. and call it a day. We get a room at one of North Woodstock’s many funky establishments, inhale a surprisingly tasty pizza, shower, and hit the rack by 9.
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8/18 Tecumseh, Osceolas, Moosilauke, Cannon/Kinsmans ~31.5 miles
Mt. Tecumseh is rather a blur because I am not really awake yet. I do know that I start at 4:12 a.m. and am done exactly 2 hours later.  15 Minutes later I start up the Mt. Osceola Trail from Tripoli Road. Wow, it’s been years since I’ve been on this side of the Osceola--SO nice to do the traverse instead of the usual out & back! Goofball picks me up on the Kanc 2h43m later, and we zoom off for Ravine Lodge after the requisite DD’s coffee stop in Lincoln.  The ascent of Moosilauke via Gorge Brook feels easy, and I pass many hikers today, giving them a smile and a quick, cheery “Hello!” I LOVE Mt. Moosilauke and hang out on the summit a few minutes to have a look around. This whole thing is so much fun!  :)
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By 1:30 p.m. Goofball and I commence up the Kinsman Ridge Trail from the Tram parking lot. I regale him with stories of my first ever White Mountain hike, up this very trail with my dad on Father’s Day 1986! He is impressed that my dad hiked this very steep, ridiculously eroded trail. (Yay Dad!) We part ways at the ledge spur, Chris to check out the view, me to soldier on over Cannon and the balls.  And then a weird thing happens:  I remember there being just 3 Cannonballs, but there are now 7 or 8!  (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?!)  I finally reach Kinsman Junction and, while lamenting the absence of the old “THIS IS KINSMAN JUNCTION” sign, am happy because the Kinsmans are easy from here. The out & back to the Kinsmans is, indeed, a cinch and soon I am descending the Mt. Kinsman Trail. I have always liked this trail and am impressed by the lovely relo of serpentine singletrack at its lower end.  I am done by 6:40 p.m. today. This evening we want to get as close to tomorrow’s start as possible. Parker’s Motel it is!
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8/19  Franconia Ridge/Owls Head/Garfield/Galehead/Twins/Bonds/Zealand/Hale  ~42 miles
Chris deposits me at the AT crossing of I-93 at 3:55 a.m., and I groggily (too much sleep?) head up the Flume Slide Trail. My buddy Neighbor Dave is to meet me up on the ridge, somewhere between Little Haystack and Lafayette. Finally, around 8 o’clock (obviously not exactly blitzing), I spot him near the summit of Lincoln. Yippee! I drop my pack and do the short out ‘n back to Lafayette, then we head down Lincoln Slide which I haven't been on in many years. I like this route! At the first possible spot, I refill the 2 bladders that I carry this day, a total capacity of about 4 liters. Today, because it is a longer schlep of over 40 miles with no aid save for Galehead Hut, I am carrying my Osprey Talon 33 pack with extra clothing, 2 headlamps, extra batteries just in case, enough food, and all the extra water--to say, not exactly super-lightweight. (The previous 4 days I wore either a Nathan Intensity or Nathan Elite waist pack.) Neighbor and I perfectly execute the lower part of the Lincoln Slide ‘whack, coming out exactly where we intend. But instead of taking a right and heading down to the slide (the normal route), we cross the trail and head straight up the open hardwoods to the ridge. This is a nice route, one that I’ve never done before! We hit the ridge, take a right, and within a few minutes are standing on the summit. At this point we have options: we can descend the way we came up, via the slide route (lots more trail), OR we can bushwhack the entire ridge, “mostly open hardwoods” toward 13 Falls. Feeling adventurous, and because I always wanted to do that ‘whack, I opt for the latter! Although we don’t get, err, quite the open hardwoods we hope for, the route is pretty good and gets even better once we hit a really cool J.E. Henry tote road, following it all the way to the Lincoln Brook Trail and popping out about a mile west of 13 Falls. In the end, we do less mileage than if we'd taken the slide-trail route, but I think it costs us some time since bushwhacking is rarely faster than trail walking. Well, that was fun but I’m ready to get some miles in!
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Reaching the 13 Falls area, oh my, the clear pools beckon, but we march on. For the same reasons I like the Davis Path and the Kate Sleeper Trail, I have always enjoyed the upper Franconia Brook Trail--because it is lightly traveled and feels more "wild." It is now past noon and the temperature is rising. Since I like the heat and Neighbor doesn’t, he urges me to go ahead. I know I will see him again on the return from Mt. Garfield, so I forge upward to the ridge. Chris said he might hike Garfield but is not there when I arrive. I turn on my phone and, oh no, there are 7 messages! I sit down and spend ~10 minutes listening to all of them and another 5 actually talking to him. In a nutshell, because of the bridge construction--and never having been there before and not knowing the status of trailhead signage--poor Chris gets screwed up on the location of the Mt. Garfield Trail and takes one of the USFS “foot travel welcome“ trails instead. Neighbor plans to descend the Mt. Garfield Trail, and Chris assures me that he is down there waiting to give him a ride. Neighbor and I say goodbye for the last time, and I continue over the bumps to Galehead Hut.
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An hour and a half later I refill my empty bladders at the hut. Scarfing down a Hershey bar, I do the quick out-and-back to lowly Galehead Mountain. I feel good as I climb steeply up to South Twin and on the out-and-back to North (SO much easier than last winter!!). Along the Twinway I meet the final normal hiker of the day, who asks how much farther it is to Galehead. Up and over Guyot… I decide to tag Bondcliff before West Bond and drop my pack just below the summit of Bond for the 2½ mile round trip. Atop West Bond I sit for a few minutes happily mesmerized as the last light of the day fades over Franconia Ridge. As I make my way back over Guyot, it’s time for the headlamp. All that’s left is Zealand to Zeacliff to Hale! Off in the distance I hear rumblings of thunder, then see numerous strikes of lightning many miles to the north. As long as it doesn’t get closer, awesome! The descent from Zeacliff is annoying: I have had enough of the freaking White Mountain rocks and think about the smooth, runnable trails back in the Santa Monica Mountains. My feet have fared very well throughout this adventure in, once again, my favorite trail runners, but the knees begin to ache a bit.  However, I haven’t yet taken any pain killers on this journey and won't start now. At long last I reach the Lend-A-Hand Trail and see that my Sweetie has hiked in the Zealand Trail and left a Starbucks Doubleshot on the signpost! The caffeine kicks in within a few minutes, and I enjoy my very last easy climb to the top of Mt. Hale. I pause for a moment on the summit, then continue walking down the Mt. Hale Trail humming happily. I reach the trailhead “finish line” and my sleeping husband, sans any fanfare but with the contentedness that comes with having met my goal:  I did the NH48 in under 5 days and had a blast doing it.
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The next morning we sleep in and pig out at breakfast.  :)   The end.

3 comments:

SteveQ said...

Amazing. I couldn't even find the 48 peaks on a map in 5 days.

roger said...

Wow!! Congratulations on finding a way to combine "drive," "adventure" and "fun" into one experience. What an animal...!!

RunSueRun said...

:) Thanks, Roger. To quote those two famous Vermonters, Ben & Jerry: "If it's not fun, why do it?"

And confidential to the person who was up early this morning: thanks, that was too funny! Aah, life is too short... Cheers and carpe diem! :)