From January 11 to the 14, Grodon and I, and our friend Bill Magyar hiked to the summits of Sugarloaf, Spaulding, Redington, and South Crocker. Conditions were challenging as temperatures averages in the mid to high thirties all three days causing the snow to be very heavy and wet, melting from the trees above, and hot wet hiking conditions, and on the first day, it rained. These conditions prevented us from actually reaching North Crocker as we had hoped. Nonetheless, all in all it turned out to be a good three days, with great friends, good conversation, and some spectacular scenic views. In the evening we stayed at the Maine Roadhouse, wich provided excellent accommodations for a very reasonable $25.00 a night.
Follow this link to view all the images from our three days of hiking: www.winterhiking.org/photogalleries/stratton_maine/
As documented by Bob Manley when he joined Gordon Dubois for the final eight days and 110 miles of his 1600 mile hike to complete the second of a two part hike to complete the Appalachian Trail.
At an elevation of 4700′, with over 3800′ of gain and a 14-mile trek – due in part to an unplowed access road – Mt. Carrigain often stands unclimbed by many winter hikers. But the hike, which offers unparalleled views from both its Signal Ridge and summit tower, promises great rewards for the winter hiker who takes up the challenge.
The hike begins at the Sawyer River Road parking area off of Rt. 302 in Crawford Notch. While an interesting snowshoe trail that parallels the river leaves from the parking lot, walk the few extra feet to the snowmobile trail which climbs the Sawyer River Road, as this will bring you directly to the trail head. Don’t allow the two-mile road walk to “psych you out,” as it will only take you 40 to 45 minutes at the most. Some hikers x-ski the road section and others pull home-made sleds with their backpacks in tow… but most walk the packed snowmobile trail along the road in microspikes.
The trail head is well marked by signage and a kiosk, making it impossible to miss. After the road walk, we all dumped our packs for a short water and snack break, as well as to put on our snowshoes, but remember to stay off the trail lest you remain in the path of the snowmobilers.
The first 1.7 miles of the Signal Ridge Trail is an easy pleasant walk through winter woods. There is one brook crossing that requires care as you cross its snow-bridge, but other than that, in 30-45 minutes, you’ll find yourself at the Signal Ridge / Carrigain Notch Trail junction.
Continuing along the Signal Ridge Trail, which diverges to the left, spread over the next couple of miles is where the real climbing will begin. And if you haven’t stripped down and removed your outer layers – this is where you definitely will do so!
With the trees bare of leaves, you will soon be able to look ahead and catch glimpses of Mt. Carrigain and the climb ahead. Having good friends as hiking companions, which encourages story-telling (and good-natured bragging) about prior hiking adventures, helps the time to pass. Having MSR snowshoes with their clever ‘televators’ is a great help as well.
With just under a mile remaining, you will finally break out of the scrub trees onto Carrigain’s Signal Ridge. Views of Vose Spur, and Mounts Lowell and Anderson – forming the west and east flanks of Carrigain Notch – will first catch your eye. (These three peaks are on the New Hampshire Hundred Highest list, but that’s another story!) Look further east and there looms Mount Washington.
For our hike today, the temperatures were in the single digits and there was a light snow falling, but in the cozy protection of our gear, the beauty of the views surrounding us is all that we remember.
As you continue north along the ridge, you’ll soon notice the summit of Mt. Carrigain along with the remains of a fire lookout. Leaving the exposed ridge, the trail drops into a small coll and then climbs steeply for the last few tenths.
Once on the summit, you’ll want to quickly get your warm layers and winter shells back on, as you’ll feel the winter wind and weather. And take the time to climb the tower (you can keep your snowshoes on, or use your microspikes), as you will be rewarded with 360-degree views.
For our group this day, we estimate that it took us about 4-hours to hike from the car to the summit, and being motivated by burgers and beer at the end of our hikes, it only took us 3 hours to return the 7 miles back to our cars.
When I was first winter hiking, I was intimidated by the prospect of this hike. But I’ve since hiked it on several occasions… each of them rewarding… each of them easier than I had imagined… each trip well worth the modest effort.
To see more photos from this hike: https://picasaweb.google.com/btzimr/20110130Carrigain#
I have just finished reading two seminal books on mountaineering that have provided me with much food for thought and reflection: Dead Lucky by Lincoln Hall and Last Climb by David Breashears and Audrey Salkelo. Both books are written about climbing Mount Everest; Hall in 2007 and Mallory in 1924 and they provide significant insight into the mountaineering experience, as they are written in very different eras. Hall made two attempts to climb Everest and was successful on his second, but came very close to death. Mallory made two attempts (1921 and 1922) and died on his third attempt in 1924. Mallory was accompanied by Sandy Irving on his last and final climb.
Breashears states in his book Last Climb:
It (the final climb of Irving and Mallory) symbolizes so much, the striving of man for the pinnacle between Earth and heaven; braving unknown elemental forces; conquering pain and will; the bond of friendship transcending age, transcending death, the sacrifice; the mystery.”
And from a collection of poems by Geoffrey Young,
“Brothern ‘till death and a wind-swept grave, joy of the journey’s ending: ye who have climbed to the great white veil, heard ye the chant? Saw ye the grail?”
These lines symbolize much of how I feel about our quest for the highest hundred; the Holy Grail to us. We certainly are not experts in mountaineering and will never reach the summits that Hall, Mallory or Irving climbed, but Bob and I are connected like Mallory and Hall to that calling of the mountains; to reach the summit of an unknown peak and experience the exhilaration of the final steps, to look out over the vast wilderness of the Northern mountains.
Bob and I have faced many challenges and setbacks: surgeries, injury, aging joints, lost trail markers, white-outs, bullet proof ice, bushwhacks through krumholtz, and five feet of fresh power snow. But we’ll continue our climbs, finding those special moments hidden in the unknown surprises that await us on the trail. Each mountain we climb is its own pinnacle between heaven and earth. Each time we climb we are bonded as one, reaching for the unknown, each mountain with its own identity; its own mystery. This is why we climb mountains in winter, because they are there.
A few days before Bob and I were to leave on a 5 day winter mountaineering adventure in Maine, I was cooling down after a work-out at the health club. I was stretching out, went into a lunge and felt a sharp pain on the inside of my left knee. I thought I just pulled a ligament, but it turned out to be much worse. I tore my medial meniscus. Little did I know at that point, our Saddleback adventure would be my last winter hike of the 2011 winter season.
On Feb. 3rd Bob and I headed for Maine with the hope of climbing 5- 8 mountains, allwithin a few miles of each other. As we made our way along the back roads of Maine, my leg began to swell, but I wasn’t going to let a little pain and swelling get in the way of the trip. We arrived at the Stratton Motel Roadhouse around 2:00. This was a great place to stay. We had the place to ourselves, kitchen, living room with woodstove and a private
bedroom all for $20/night/person. Sue, the owner, was on vacation, but Circuit Rider and
Sherlock, 2 hikers I met on the AT in ‘07 were holding down “the fort.”
The following day we were up early and we chose to hike Saddleback and The Horn.
Saddleback is a great mountain to climb and is best done in winter by using the ski trails of the Saddleback Ski Area. Once you leave the ski area you are above tree line for almost the entire hike. You should check in with the front desk first to let them know of your plans and ask which trails are available for hiking. We started our hike at 8:45 am and made our way up one of the ski trails to the warming hut, about ¾ to the summit. We spent about ½ hour chatting with skiers, drying our clothes and eating.
Following the brief interlude we resumed our trek up the mountain. As we moved further up the trail we left the ski area boundaries and began to reach tree line. At this point temperatures were still in single numbers and the wind increased to around 20-30 mph. We put on face masks, goggles and an extra layer and continued on to the summit of Saddleback. When we reached the summit we found that the Horn was another 1.7 miles along the Appalachian Trail, which is well marked in places but difficult to follow as the trail dips into the cols. Most of the hike is above tree line and exposure to the wind can be dangerous. Therefore, it’s important to keep all bare skin covered. There were several places we had to bushwhack through underbrush and deep drifts. We made it to the summit of the Horn around 2:00 pm, took a few pictures and quickly turned around to begin our trek back.
My knee was really beginning to hurt, especially in the deep snow. The wind continued to blow at around 30 mph, so we were continually battling the wind and blowing snow. We made it back to the ski area and at that point Bob jumped on his little sled and sailed down the mountain on a wide open trail. I attempted to slide on my sled, but wasn’t successful, so I walked the whole way down to the parking lot.
My knee was aching, and my whole body felt whipped. When we returned to the hostel I could hardly walk. After dinner we hit our beds early, after a few games of backgammon. I couldn’t sleep because of the pain in my knee. At that point I realized that the adventure was over, along with the hikes we had planned for this winter, including Baxter and Mt. Katahdin. When Bob woke in the morning I told him I couldn’t continue and we would have to head home. I knew he was just as disappointed as me and I felt responsible for our failed plans. Bob was understanding and shared with me that he would only continue winter hiking with me. So any further ambitions of hiking the NE 100 highest in winter would have to wait until next year. So be it. Next year we’ll return to Maine to continue on our quest.
Thinking about taking up winter hiking? Consider your clothing choices carefully, it could mean the difference between life and death!
To learn a little more about what you should wear when dressing for severe winter conditions, click here or on the image to the left, on the new page, you can click the image over and over and review all the layers one by one with descriptions for safe hiking in the winter.
If you have questions, please feel free to contact us at anytime and we will be glad to try and help.