December 22, 2006
In January of 2006, Bob and I along with a friend, Jim, hiked to little East Pond to make base camp and hike to the summit of Scar Ridge the following day. The hike to the pond was long, demanding, and challenging. There were many trees on the trail that had blown over due to the heavy snow of an earlier snowstorm. We literally had to saw and cut our way though the maze of toppled trees using a small saw Bob had brought with him. We arrived at base camp later than expected, set up camp, and while we were eating dinner, it began to rain. It rained all night and into the next morning. When the rain stopped we decided to attempt bushwhacking to the summit. There was now a fog settling in at about 2500 ft and the top of the ridge was enclosed in cloud cover. Bushwhacking was extremely difficult in the deep, wet snow and, given the late start, the fog, and the slow going, we made the decision to turn around and try another day.
That day came this year, December 22, 2006, the first full day of winter. This was our annual Solstice hike which we have been doing with friends for several years. This year it was just Bob and I. Others had lost interest or have found others things more interesting to do than slugging along a mountain trail on the shortest day of the year. With no snow on the ground and relatively warm temperatures for the month, Bob suggested we mountain bike the Tripoli Road from the gate just off I-93 in Woodstock, to the Little East Pond trail head. This would make the hike doable in one day if we got an early start.
At 7:00 AM we were heading up I-93 with our packs, mountain bikes, along with the famous mountain dog, Noah. We arrived at the Tripoli Road gate around 7:45AM, put our packs on, hopped on our bikes and off we went. This was a new experience for both of us; mountain biking with full winter gear strapped to our backs. A point to note here is that even though we were hiking on an October-like day, we still needed to be prepared for winter weather and an overnight stay if the unexpected occurred. We are always prepared for the unexpected: a broken leg, twisted ankle, change in weather, losing the trail, getting benighted.
After riding about 5 miles on the Tripoli Road with Noah running ahead of us, we arrived at the trail head. The beginning of the trail could also be ridden, so we decided to ride until the trail dictated otherwise. We rode for about ¾ mile at which point the trail became more difficult to ride, especially with winter packs on our backs. We stashed our bikes and began our walk into Little East Pond where we would begin the bushwhack up Scar Ridge. Even though there was little or no snow on the ground, the bushwhack was extremely challenging. We took a compass bearing, due north to the first summit above the Pond, and then a compass bearing to the official summit of the ridge.
The hike to the top of the ridge was through a tangle of scrub and blow downs. There was no clear path or opening for the assent. We had to use shear determination and physical strength along with the occasional compass reading to get us to the ridge and then the first summit. It was then a process of continuing the bushwhack following the ridge. We made it to a second “summit” which was nothing more than the top of a rise in the ridge. Realizing this wasn’t the summit of Scar Ridge, Bob thought he would take his own bearing. He climbed a tree to see if he could spot the true summit. He saw it and pointed me in the direction of the summit. I took a compass bearing and off we went, again scrambling through, over, around and under unrelenting underbrush, scrub and blow downs. There was no one point where we could see more than 20 feet in front of us. By 1:00 we were at the summit of Scar Ridge, identified by the white canister on the tree at the highest point. The summit is no more than a small-elevated mound on the ridge and I could see how many people who attempt this climb turn back because of the difficult bushwhack, or not finding the true summit.
The temperature had dropped, and the wind was rising on the peaks due to a front moving in, so we had a hasty lunch, took a few pictures, signed the register in the canister and headed back down the ridge. The trip out was a repeat of the struggle climbing the ridge, pushing through brush and scrub, climbing over and under felled trees, and scrambling over ledges. This was by far the most difficult and demanding winter trip we had done. Not because of the distance or weather, but the sheer difficulty of getting though the woods with no markers or other signs of a trail. It wasn’t only difficult from a physical standpoint, but psychological as well. At several points I wanted to quit, head back down the mountain. The entire bushwhack of 2 miles round trip was unforgiving and took a ridiculously slow five hours. The scrub, blow downs, and small trees growing close together were always in our faces, there was never any let up, nothing that resembled a herd path, or even a clearing.
So difficult was the terrain, that even Noah (part wolf) was barley able to make his way through, around, and over the tangle of trees and blow downs. Not having the size and mass to push through as we did, he was left to search endlessly for an opening or break in the underbrush that he could squeeze through. As a result, for the first time ever hiking with Noah, on several occasions, we had to wait for him to catch up.
The two redeeming qualities of the hike were: the satisfaction of knowing that we could summit Scar Ridge, a very difficult mountain to climb because of the challenging bushwhack, and the view of Little East Pond from the ledges on the ridge. There were also nice views of The Osceola’s and Tecumseh.
As a reminder to us of the ever impending dangers of hiking in these challenging conditions, on our descent we came upon an abandoned sleeping bag and pad that had been laid out in a small divot about three hundred yards form the pond. We surmised it had been left by a hiker attempting to reach the summit of Scar Ridge and experiencing the same arduous effort as we did, did not make it out before sundown. Given that this area would be virtually impossible to navigate in the dark, even with a headlamp, the person chose to hunker down for the night. Why they then chose to leave their bag and pad behind is still a mystery. We packed the tattered gear out so as not to leave it to rot on the side of the mountain. Lesson learned, always be prepared to spend the night.
After hiking back to the pond we took a few moments on the frozen pond
to rest, eat and reflect on our accomplishment. Noah was comfortably
curled up in the snow, wanting to rest before we pushed on. It was beginning
to get dark and we still had to hike back to our bikes so we could ride
out while it was still light enough. We got to our bikes, quickly made
the transition, with a few minor delays by Gordon “taking care
of business” in the woods, and we were on our bikes for the long
ride out. We made it back to the truck as night was closing in. It was
a long and arduous day. Our bodies were spent, but not fatigued enough
to keep Bob from suggesting we get a beer at the Woodstock Inn.