The weather being on the cool side for a family trip I snuck out for a few nights solo before the holiday weekend. The plan was as usual ambitious for a man of my advanced years and mileage. Hike in to the Stillwater area, camp out, then take a shot at Carrigain via the Desolation Trail. I wasn’t exactly sure I’d make it all the way up so I didn’t think it made sense to guess where I’d be camping that night.
The first time I saw the name of the Desolation Trail I thought it sounded like it might be one of those less traveled paths I’m fond of. Then I looked at a topo map and laughed at the brown smudge in the middle where the elevation lines came together in a very short piece of trail. Not something I thought I’d actually do, but a nice one to laugh about when I had the map out. Then last week I was in need of some place to go and figured what the heck, go and see how far you can get…
The first part of the trip is familiar trail I’ve covered in several previous adventure reports so I’ll skip on ahead to a bit past where the Thoreau Falls Trail splits off from the Wilderness Trail.
From the height this one was cut at I’m guessing they’d been out when there was still a fair amount of snow on the ground. Probably after early season buds to nibble on after a long winter.
Looking west towards Hancock and you can see how everything has filled in with green in the few weeks since my last visit here to New Hampshire. I knew I might see some rain the next day so was really enjoying the nice spring hiking weather while I had it.
Not being sure how strong the melt run off was I was prepared for camping short of this crossing and going on in the morning if necessary. You can see from the size and depth of the channel in the rock bed that this is not one to mess with at times.
Luckily it was a pretty easy rock hop. That made me happy not just for this crossing, but because it meant I had a better chance of not running into a lot of snow up above. At least that is what I was hoping!
At the Stillwater intersection the Shoal Pond Trail heads north. There is some very peaceful camping to be found up that way before the pond.
Of course I continue my love affair with old, weathered trail signs. These seem especially informative in that they mention not just the trail name, but other trails found in that direction. After a lot of miles of wilderness trails that don’t have blazes it seems unusual to find such clear directions, but I guess getting lost in this deep is best avoided.
My home for the first evening was this lovely perch on a little knob a ways back from the brook I’d cross to start my hike in the morning. I arrived early enough to relax a bit before dinner. Changing to camp shoes I found a surprise blister on my left heel. I hadn’t felt a thing on the walk in, but it wasn’t major and a bit of moleskin in the morning is all the doctor ordered.
Dinner was my first chance to field test the batch of lobster marinara I’d cooked and dehydrated a while back. With shrimp and pasta I also dried myself it was a nice treat. Next time I need to bring a pinch of pecorino romano to help thicken the sauce and maybe an appropriate wine heh. Great for a family trip so I can share it with my wife.
A great night’s sleep without a single bear dream and it was time to be on my way. A quick breakfast was made especially quick because I realized I’d left one of my most important pieces of gear at home. I had no cup to make coffee! Oh well, no time to cry because there was a mountain to climb, or at least try heh.
Before breaking camp I wandered off a little ways to get a perspective on how well blended in I was. I guess those orange tents are easier to find if you lose them, but I like to become part of the forest in my little green home away from home. Since the plan was to return this way I could have left my camp set up, but plans change. Besides I wanted to test out my knees with a full pack and this was sure to be a good test.
Then there was the sign. I had arrived at the place I joked about going and couldn’t help but chuckle about it all over again now that I was actually there. Besides these signs are beautifully weathered. Someone has to come out here and take pictures of them.
This one has begun to grow some lovely moss at the top. This was a two paths diverging moment because the rest of Carrigain Notch and Nancy Pond Trails will remain for another day. One by one I seem to be crossing off every trail in this Wilderness so I have strong hopes of returning, yet knowing how way leads on to way…
The trail started off with a nice gentle climb. There were stepping stones, but no mud at first. Then a few wet areas, but nothing major for this time of year. The climb was indeed gentle, but it was steady.
There were occasional hints between the trees that the valley was opening up below as I went up. It was a nice cool morning, perfect for climbing as far as I’m concerned.
Running along the shoulder of the ridge there was a shift to rockier trail and a bit more steepness. This was old forest, dense with lots of blowdowns. Getting over or under was preferable, as bushwhacking, even a bit, was challenging and a bit treacherous at times.
The effort was rewarded though as the views became progressively more expansive. Climbing is always hard work for me, but being able to sense the accomplishment does a lot to keep me motivated. Besides, it is awfully pretty!
There were other rewards to be found for the effort too such as this bit of trail. The ice hidden between the rocks is extremely hard. Poking it with my poles gained little purchase, but there was plenty of exposed rock to climb on.
Speaking of climbing I’m not sure if that is an old ice axe or a pick axe, but someone lugged it up or down this trail at some point. I almost didn’t notice it there at first and was about to walk past when it caught my eye.
Just when the steepest part of the trail was navigated and I knew it wouldn’t be much farther to the top I began to run into patches of hard frozen snow and ice covering most all of the trail. There were just enough rocks and dirt poking through and around the edges that I kept on without putting on my spikes.
Then something happened that took me a bit by surprise. If you’ve read enough of my trail stories you may be a bit shocked as well, but I reached the top of the mountain I’d come to climb! Clearly I need to start setting harder goals because I actually accomplished this one.
The approaching front was a great motivator I have to admit. It had been much clearer to start the day and as the clouds started moving in I was afraid the views would be gone by the time I reached the top. I gave some thought to going down those rocks in the rain too, but mostly I was worried I wouldn’t get to see Mt Washington from up there.
The views from the top of the tower were definitely worth the effort. Not getting up the mountain, I meant getting up the tower. Those things spook me way more than climbing on rocks and ice, but I knew that was where the show was.
There were some excellent shadows working their way across the mountains. Bright and darker greens between the jagged edged ridges and just so much depth to the space. Is it any wonder people like climbing to these spots?
Then suddenly and without warning danger appeared. This large Gray Jay noticed me and came in to see what he could steal. First he hopped and fluttered around a bit, but once he realized I wasn’t going to give him anything he stopped pretending he was a cute little bird.
He made it clear this was his turf and I was fair game so long as I remained. Another soon joined him and the two took turns flapping around me or hopefully hopping over to my pack in case it had come open since the last time they checked.
Down is indeed what it was all about. I hope this shot captures the feeling because I didn’t take any more pics the rest of the way down. The ice and snow section was nerve wracking headed in this direction, but the rocks went quickly. It was nice to have a descent that got easier as I went and soon I reached the water crossing at the base of the mountain. Just in time as I was low on water and ready to fill up.
Not sure how much rain was coming with the expected storm I had hopes of getting out of Stillwater before making camp. Of course I noticed a dozen great sites to set up along the way, but I didn’t want to take a chance on getting caught on the wrong side of that crossing if the water jumped up.
Startled this fellow off the trail, but then stopped to wait til he came back out to catch the sun. Not sure if he knew I had my camera out but he kept coming closer and doing better poses so I shot several.
I put in about five miles after coming down the mountain and figured I was close enough to make a quick walk of it out in the morning. A good breeze had picked up and the clouds seemed more broken up so I was thinking perhaps the front had gone though without leaving any rain. I opted to go cookless for dinner and enjoyed some snacks along with a generous portion of my most recent batch of jerky.
I could have easily fallen asleep by 630p but made myself stay up later for fear of a very long night. I read the final Division of the Long Trail Guide and ate cookies until it got dark enough to call it a day. The night was indeed long as the front finally arrived with a few rain squalls, but more importantly it brought wind.
The howling roar of large pieces of air moving through mountains filled with trees is a truly majestic and amazing thing to witness. It is also dang loud and can wake you up if you’re trying to get some sleep. Might as well enjoy it since you are up is how I usually feel about it, but then I had a visitor. Mouse I think it was from the sound of his steps, but he was persistent. Slapping the tent, turning on a light and even an anti-bear strength “Hey!” didn’t deter him. Finally I let him creep in close and made a sudden loud slurping sound like I was trying to eat him. I heard him jump and that was the last I heard of him heh.
I slept off and on listening to the wind and some rain til predawn started to light up the sky around 4a. Then I took a pretty solid nap for an hour or so before getting up for the day. The wind wasn’t steady, but came in waves that announced their arrival with a roar before setting the dry leaf litter in motion. I opted to go cold again for breakfast rather than fight the wind and hit the trail early. I was glad I did too.
I may not have seen anyone for a few days, but with the start of the holiday weekend they were headed out in great numbers. First I met a few who seemed a bit unsure of themselves. Maybe it was the howling winds, maybe it was the sight of me headed towards them, but most everyone I met seemed to have a bit of doubt in their eye.
Then I passed through the tent site area and could see the season had indeed begun. One site sported a big box of wine while another group seemed to have set up in an unauthorized area despite there being available spaces near by. The smell of cooking breakfast wafted in the air as I met some folks at the bear box. From there to the parking lot I ran into a lot of small groups headed out with packs for the weekend and a few day hikers with dogs.
The parking lot was a zoo. Totally full at 10am with folks circling looking for a spot. The poor ranger had a line of people asking him what they should do since their plans of hitting the higher peaks for a holiday adventure were running into a major wind event. Between the weather and the crowds I was glad I’d gotten my adventure in early and my work was done.
Well except for riding the scoot loaded with my backpack the length of the Kanc Highway in a wind storm, but that is a totally different sort of adventure 🙂