Semi-Pemi – Three Night October 2016 Fall Color Trip

76 pictures from a killer Pemigewasset trip along with the usual random thoughts that came to me along the way. Bonus video will be posted in a few days. For now enjoy the sights, but thankfully not the smells, of this beautiful four day visit to New Hampshire for some of the best backpacking the White Mountains have to offer.

dsc00220aBy the second week of October the days were already getting short fast. Getting on the road early meant a chilly ride on the scoot, but I didn’t want to get caught on the ridge come sunset.

The East Branch of the Pemigewasset River was looking mighty low, but despite the lack of water the trees had some pretty good color going on. I flew down the flat section that starts the trail covering about a mile and a half in twenty minutes even with my pack fresh from the parking lot and full of goodies.dsc00221aThen I slowed down as the Osseo Trail began its ascent towards Mt Flume. The first sign of real progress is literally a sign. It made no sense the first time I read it, but now I know it means what it says.dsc00222aThe trees here block the view a bit and I’m not one to get too close to the edge, but you definitely can look down at this spot.dsc00223aYou can look out as well, but that is common in these mountains. Common enough that the down is what was worth noting on the sign at least.dsc00226aI didn’t get any pictures of me enjoying my lunch here, but I did get this shot of me looking down at the downlook.dsc00228aThere is a bit more work in the trees before breaking out to this sight which welcomes you to Mt Flume’s rocky summit. Thankfully the wind was light so heading up this open, rocky section was fun rather than terrifying.dsc00229aYou can see how the deciduous color gives way to the evergreens as the elevation climbs.dsc00230aEvergreen gives way to rock in the higher and more exposed spots. From here on Flume I could see Liberty waiting for me next. Previous experience kept me from thinking it was as close as it looked and I knew I’d drop down into a col before having to climb up to reach that peak.dsc00231aLooking a bit beyond I could see Franconia Ridge waiting for tomorrow. That view really leaves me anticipating the following day but there is little time for daydreaming with the sun already heading towards the mountains in the west.dsc00233aWell maybe a few minutes longer to soak up that golden colored sun that Autumn brings.dsc00234adsc00235aUp on Liberty the light was even better though it hinted that it wouldn’t last long. There were only a few people on the trail this being the middle of the week. It would have been relaxing to sit here and just think or even be thoughtless which seemed odd as this summit is often full of people.dsc00236aThere was one group of day hikers who climbed down to a spot out of the wind. They said they’d spent hours up there though they were going to have to leave soon.

I did as well and headed on to make camp at the Liberty Springs AMC site. The caretakers were gone for the year, but I do believe we filled up every platform that night with late season backpackers. I met a family that was almost done with their loop and a couple of younger guys from Texas who were just starting on theirs.dsc00242aI left room in case anyone needed a spot as my tent doesn’t take up much space, but had no takers. It was a cool night in the upper 30s so most everyone seemed to turn in early.dsc00244aAfter the incredibly steep ascent back to the ridge from the campsite the legs were warmed up and ready for the day. I was happy to be on the ridge which is challenging, but a lot easier than most of the trails that get you up there. dsc00246aWorking my way up Little Haystack there was a nice view looking back at the previous day’s peaks. Flume is sort of hiding behind that tree and Liberty in the center looks pointy from this side. That might explain why it felt that way going up.dsc00247aLooking right down the notch of valley that separates Owlshead from the ridge up here. There is a little piece of trail down there that remains in my quest to redline the Pemi.dsc00251adsc00255aTopping out on Little Haystack I met the first intersecting trail and my first day hiker. This is a great spot for second breakfast before the real climbs of the day begin. One of the benefits of a popular trail with lots of people is that folks can take turns taking pictures of one another. So much easier than trying to set up selfies on a mountain without falling off.dsc00263aThis climb up Lincoln is harder than it looks I find each time I come up here. After the big rocky section there is a steep final pitch up to the top. Thankfully there is a great place to get out of the wind behind a big rock just over the ridge because the wind was really picking up by this time.dsc00265aIt was getting harder to hold the camera still so I wasn’t taking much time to set up shots. Literally point, shoot, put the camera away so I could grab my hiking poles to keep myself on my feet.dsc00267aComing around these rocks and suddenly being exposed to the full force of the wind was almost enough to knock you over. Thank goodness for a heavy pack to keep me on the ground!dsc00274aThe climb up to Lafayette from Liberty is easier than it looks or at least I feel that way about it. Mostly it is just a gentle slope with a few sections that tilt up a bit more steeply. dsc00275aIf you look carefully you can spot these two folks eating lunch in the col if you scroll back up to the previous picture. They were tucked into the scrub trying to stay out of the wind while they relaxed in the sun.dsc00276aI’d just had elevensies on top of Lincoln so had no excuse to stop again though I’d have liked to sit there for a bit. Instead I took advantage of a quartering tail wind as I ascended the open slope of Lafayette.dsc00280aNearing the top there was nothing to block the wind and it was a constant challenge to keep pointed in the right direction.dsc00282aPretty sure I was hiding behind a rock to stand still enough to get this shot of the valley below.dsc00285aEverything was dry up there. I mean crackling brown and dead. Very strange for a place that is often wrapped in clouds. Hopefully we have a good snowy winter to get things wet up there again.dsc00288aJust this final section of rock to climb. The wind was strong from my left as I worked my way up. I was glad that it was a wide slope rather than a spiny ridge I was ascending. Plenty of room for error 🙂dsc00291aOnly a few hearty souls were hanging out at the summit. Usually you can’t find a place to sit up here but I noticed that almost everyone who arrived kept moving. A few stopped to take a picture or two, but these folks hiding behind the rocks were the only ones who stayed long.dsc00294aAgain it was really hard to hold the camera still so I was just pressing the buttons and hoping for the best.dsc00295aThis guy was taking an epic selfie with his beard and hair flying back from his head. He looked pretty stoked about it too 🙂dsc00296aThe wind was clearing out the sky some, giving better light. One of the reasons I was making this trip was because it was cloudy the last time I was up here. This wasn’t a perfect day, but it was definitely worth the effort.dsc00298aAgain enlisting help from a day hiker I got this pic because I have almost no pictures of me wearing the Unaweep. This pack rocks and I intend to do a Trailspace review on it soon so getting some action shots was nice.dsc00301aAnother great action shot of the pack for my review. Shame it is blocking Mt Washington, but the rest of the view isn’t exactly terrible.dsc00304aGarfield peak lies tauntingly close from here at the end of the ridge. Only about a mile and a half as the crow flies, but I’m an old fat guy with a backpack so my route would be a bit longer. First down off the ridge via a steep descent, then a couple of serious PUDs on the knobs in the middle before the final steep ascent of Garfield.dsc00307aTime to enjoy the views up here before giving up the high ground. The trail is mostly tree shrouded once you descend so good to soak up the sun while you can because the other side of the peak will be in shadow.dsc00309aAbout half way to Garfield from the end of the ridge and it looks at least twice as far away as it did before. Thankfully I had a nice Fall day with cool temps so overheating or running out of water were not an issue. Just a matter of keeping the legs moving.dsc00311aShot from the same spot with some zoom applied this pic gives a better account of Garfield’s true peaky-ness and the climb that lies ahead.dsc00315aPassing by the pond is always a good sign that progress is being made. I think I’d like to plot a trip that involved staying the night in this area below the mountain some time. It would mean a nasty climb first thing in the morning no matter which direction you were traveling the loop, but it seems like a nice bit of forest after a day on the rocky ridge.dsc00318aSpeaking of rocky…the first time one runs into a “trail” like this it can be a bit unsettling. After traversing this feature a few times I have a longer, but safer route for when it is wet or a more direct and dangerous route for when it is dry enough that I think my feet will stick to it. This time I took the direct route and enjoyed saving the time.dsc00320aThat left me more time to enjoy my time at the top. This rocky ledge is a required stop where food is eaten, pictures taken and the fact that the summit is in sight is celebrated.dsc00321aThere is still a little more climbing to go, but it can be really windy up there so I always do my eating down below before going up.dsc00322aAfter some time in the trees it is great to be out in the open again. Once again it would be tempting to sit and enjoy this but I know the sun won’t last and the shady side of this mountain always seems to get dark early.dsc00325aThat Autumn light in the afternoon brings out so many beautiful colors and shadows.dsc00326aNever know when you’ll be back so best to appreciate these spots when you can. So much effort to get there, but worth every step.dsc00327aThe boys from Texas that I’d met the night before popped out of the woods and agreed that their efforts had been rewarded. If I hadn’t heard via trail chatter that they weren’t in front of me I’d have assumed they were. Young and strong folks tend to go fast but it seemed they were wise enough to go slow and appreciate the amazing trip they found themselves on.dsc00331aThey headed down from the summit towards the campsite below. I reminded them to take water from the spring before climbing the steep trail as I’d learned the hard way last time. dsc00333aThen I settled back to enjoy a few moments alone in the sun. I wasn’t going all the way around the high loop on this trip so this would be one of my last chances to enjoy this sort of view before heading down into the trees for good.dsc00338aThe wind was whipping around the shelter when I arrived. There was a couple there that put up their tent inside the shelter thinking no one else would be around. So long as I could find a spot to lay out my bed I didn’t care, but it seemed sort of silly since there were no bugs and the shelter is almost fully enclosed. Normally I’d prefer to sleep out in the woods in my tent, but that wind convinced me the sleeping would be better inside no matter who I had to share with.

Seeing how happy I looked in there the Texas twosome decided to drag their stuff inside as well. We had another hiker join us a bit after dark, while several other parties poked their noses inside and opted to set up tents rather than keep us up late. Amazing how many people you can meet on top of a mountain even in October.dsc00340aThis was also amazing. I took this shot without a tripod. Just elbows against ribs and holding my breath. The image of the moon was dancing back and forth in the digital display as the computer wizardry tried to process the image on the fly. I took one stab at the button thinking it would be a blurry smudge and was amazed to find this when I got home.dsc00341aOne of the folks in the shelter apparently set an alarm for 5am in hopes of catching the sunrise from the summit. The sky was socked in so I’m pretty certain he didn’t get much of a view, but he did get everyone else moving early which wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

The clouds were swirling around the mountain on gusty winds leaving everything wet. Perfect weather for descending one of the steepest sections of trail on the entire AT. I took my time knowing that my plan called for turning off and heading down from the ridge just a bit further on. No sense in breaking my leg before I get to enjoy the easy trail.dsc00344aTime to redline the 2.2 miles from here to 13 Falls. Virgin trail to me this was. One of the last few snippets that had been missed over the last few years of exploring the Pemigewasset Wilderness.dsc00345aTurning off the rocky AT onto this side trail was a complete change of terrain. Mud and bog boards replaced the rocks except for the spots where there were rocks to stay out of the mud.dsc00346aFranconia Brook wasn’t exactly roaring, but at least there was some water to be found. The leaves down at this elevation seem to have taken a beating from all the wind, but there were still some left in the trees.dsc00348aNormally a good flowing series of small falls the Lincoln Brook Trail crossing was almost dry. I sat down for second breakfast on rocks that are often under water. dsc00349aBad weather was forecast and setting up at 13 Falls campsite was my emergency option if needed, but so far the skies were still looking gray, but not dark. I was debating if I should hike out to my scoot and try to head home, but figured I’d just end up riding in the rain if I pushed my luck.dsc00351aAs nice as it was hanging out at the falls I didn’t really want to spend the rest of the day just hanging around camp so I decided I’d head down the trail and figure out what I was doing as I went.dsc00352aRather than worry about what was to come I was just happy it wasn’t raining yet. The colors might have been better with sunshine, but it was interesting to see the trees from down below after looking down on them from above the past few days.dsc00353adsc00362aSince it hadn’t started raining yet I began thinking I maybe should have stayed on the ridge loop and hit South Twin and then Guyot. I still could zip up Twin Brook if I wanted to, but I knew that would probably end up a cold and wet mistake.dsc00363aThis dismal looking swamp is usually a much more vibrant pond. I’d never seen it looking like this before. Usually I will stop and watch birds here as there are often several paddling around.dsc00364aThere was something splashing way out in the water but I never saw it clearly. I think I caught the splash in this shot, but not the splasher.dsc00365aFrom this side it looks a bit more like a pond. Still, it would be great to have some serious snow to fill these things back up.dsc00367aWith only a few miles left to get back to the parking lot I realized that I really didn’t want to go home. Inspired by the thought of setting up camp early and eating away the evening I bushwhacked my way towards the East Branch when I hit the bridge. Crossing was easy on the exposed rocks so I didn’t bother taking off my boots. Never done that at this spot before.dsc00368aI even stopped to get this pic in the middle of the river. Never been in that spot with a camera before so I thought I’d better document it heh.dsc00369aIt pays to have a good camp routine sometimes. Setting up my tent before cutting up sausage and cheese for a late lunch saved me from getting wet. I’d no more than put the first bite in my mouth when the skies opened, but I was able to dive into the tent and finish there before taking a quick nap to the sound of rain on the fly.

Later there was a nice break of about forty minutes that gave me time to cook and eat dinner just before dark. Just after it got fully dark I noticed some lights bobbing in the trees so I turned my headlamp on and off a few times to let them know I was there. Nice couple came wandering up asking about the campsites. I was a bit surprised that they bushwhacked and crossed the river without knowing where they were really going. Turns out they had camped at Garfield the night before and I’d pointed them towards the tent platforms when they came in.

dsc00372aThe next morning dawned brighter and the rain had really brought down a lot of leaves. It was a beautiful morning and I only had a few miles to walk so I was in no hurry. Chatted with a guy who’d shown up after dark and set up camp between storms. He was talking about doing some big miles that day on the ridge which made me feel even better about being a short timer.dsc00374aI headed down to the river as the sun was just starting to hit the peaks. Figured I’d best enjoy this season while I can because it will likely be deep winter before I get back to this spot again.dsc00375aThere were still a few leaves on the trees after the rain, but those were short timers too. Fall is so pretty, but you know it could turn to Winter on a moments notice so it seems fragile. Best enjoyed as much as you can before it gets away.dsc00377aThe river doesn’t get any deeper it is liable to freeze solid this year 🙂 No clue what will come, but I know that if this river wants to flow the cold can’t hold it back. I’ve seen car sized chunks of ice tossed into the woods and was glad I wasn’t there when the tossing was going on.dsc00379aThis shot was for my wife, but I figured I’d share it here too. She has a thing about pictures looking up into the trees so I took this one for her.dsc00381aThe Hubba does blend into the forest well in all three seasons it is fit for service. The new ones are red, not sure if that is to keep from losing them or what, but I’m not a big fan. dsc00382aIf I want color I’ll let Nature provide it. The morning sun was certainly bringing out all it could from the remaining leaves. The perfect sky again made me wish I’d stayed on the high route until I thought about descending steep wet slopes in this light rather than the easy trail I was on. dsc00386aYup, I could be content right where I was. Things could always be done differently, but what matters is enjoying where you are right now.dsc00388aThis was a fine way to wrap up the season if it was the end. I have a feeling I might sneak in one or two more quick trips before the snow flies, but we’ll see. I knew heading out that morning I’d be off trail for at least a few weeks so I took my time. It has been a month now with nothing but day hikes due to scheduling issues so I’m finally caught up on trip reports. I’ll either have to write about something else or go on a trip 🙂

One thought on “Semi-Pemi – Three Night October 2016 Fall Color Trip

  1. Great post! Those pictures! Those views! I did that semi pemi the opposite direction a few years ago. Hiked into the Franconia Brook campsite at dusk on the first night and then woke up and had to cross the pemi first thing the next morning. It was June after a snowy winter and the river was ragin. Scariest water crossing I ever had. Was almost waste deep in some spots and so cold. Somehow me and my two companions all made it across without any submerged packs. What an epic spot. Seeing how low that water is is motivating me to try and bag Owls Head while it’s easier to cross!

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