Friday, July 28, 2006

Overnighter at Mt. Carrigain - 2

As soon as we setup the campsite, we set about starting a fire and had dinner (bread and cheese). The woods had by now become quite dark by now. This is probably the best part of camping : The dark woods, the quiet night and the crackling fire. I think that a night in the woods like this really reduces life to its bare essentials.

There were a lot of insects around. As we watched, some insects flew straight into the fire. Some of them would throw themselves into the fire, get singed, fall out, and then jump in again. It was a display of bloody-minded attraction to their own death.

After the fire died, we turned in.

The next morning, we broke camp at 8:45 and started hiking again.

By now, I had re-tied the tent to the bottom of the bag, like-so.

This makes a huge difference to how the weight gets distributed. You basically want the weight to rest on your hips with the shoulder straps providing just enough to keep the bag aligned with the body. A well-balanced load almost feels like it doesn't exist.

The Signal Ridge Trail just climbs. Non-stop. In about 3.3 miles, it climbs about 3000 ft. We did this section in about 4 hours, with generous breaks. Including one to address a sudden call of nature. I cannot sufficiently stress the coolness of having a kukri (or any other kind of machete ) handy. in situations like that It cuts you a path away from the trail. It digs the hole for you. It lets you close the hole. It helps you fight, kill and then skin black bears that get too fiesty. Truly an utility tool. Also, kukris look cool :-)

Remember how those folks had told us about the bugs? Well, both of us had left our bugsprays at the car. So, no protection and the bugs were attempting to eat us alive. Fortunately, once we climbed about 1000 ft, the insects stopped bothering us.

The view from the top was brilliant. We could see many of the White Mountains peaks. Mt. Washington's peak was somewhat obscured by clouds. We took a long lunch break here.

We walked the final stretch of the signal ridge trail (which is actually on a ridge) to the top, which we reached at about 1:15 PM.

There is an old firetower on top of Mt. Carrigain which gives some really spectacular views of the White Mountains.

After another break on top of the tower, we decided to start heading down. The plan was to take Desolation Trail, till it meets up with Carrigain Notch Trail and follow it back to the start of Signal Ridge Trail and thence to the parking lot.

We started down Desolation at 1:30. Desolation Trail is most aptly named. It drops steeply losing 2500 ft in 1.9 miles. It is also not as regularly maintained. There were many places where there were fallen trees and the like across the trail. The trail itself seemed to be more a water-runoff than a trail proper :-) It was quite the hike going down the trail. We also took a couple of breaks where we did some impromptu trail maintenance, chopping down saplings that had fallen across the trail. These 1.9 miles took us close to 3:00 hours and we got to the bottom by 4:30.

From here on, it was just going to be a walk-in-the-park to get back, or so we thought.

The last stretch goes along many little streams that crisscross this area. It's almost like hiking through a marsh. Which meant mosquitos. Now, our lack of bugspray really affected us. The only thing I remember of the next 4 hours of hiking (4.9 miles to the signal ridge trail and another 1.7 to the parking lot) is mosquitos. They were relentless, we swatted them away and they still kept coming. The back of my neck just pockmarked with mosquito bites. I think we did our part in the great circle of life that day. Killing many, feeding even more :-)

The last stretch was just a grind. It was mostly flat, except for a sudden rise to about 1500 ft where the Carrigain Notch rises between Mt. Carrigain and Vose Spur. We got to the parking lot by 8:30 pm. The last section was quite challenging because we had mentally decided that the hike was 'done' once we got to the bottom of Desolation. So, the last stretch seemed to drag on and on. Also, the constant irritation of the biting mosquitos and other insects really took their toll. That will teach us not to forget the bug spray :-)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Overnighter at Mt. Carrigain 1

Mt. Carrigain is a 4680 ft mountain in the White Mountains area of New Hampshire. Our plan was to do an overnighter on a loop-trail at this mountain, over two days on the Fourth of July weekend.

A Plan... :-)

It all started Friday when I stumbled into EMS outfitters. I needed a nice pair of hiking boots. I have always had trouble with them. I have ended each hike with hurting feet. Well, they had a sale on, and in addition to the boots, I also bought a backpack and a rain-slicker. I have low sales resistance :-)

I was at Ra42's in Boston Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon, we strolled over to the local Eastern Mountain Sports to look up possible hiking trails and pick up some more gear. It might be noticed that we have a pretty laid back attitude to trip planning and timing. Lazy as I am, Ra42 is worse and in all, we end up doing things at the last minute. It's definitely not a good idea. While we manage to pull off decent trips, just a small delta increase in planning can definitely have big changes in the overall trip experience.

I was initially not keen on hiking in New Hampshire. The trails have been overcrowded and once, when I made it to the top of a hill, there was an entire troupe of interpretative dancers performing to some faux native american music. Another hill, was crowded to the point where it was more like Central Park rather than a hill. Not my idea of a good hike :-)

Howeverm by the time we were going over the trail maps at the EMS store, The White Mountains were the only choice. So, we chose a trail that was in the Northern side of NH after having been assured by the EMS guy that 'There will be very few people up there'. After perusing a '100 Hikes in the White Mountains' guidebook, we decided that Mt. Carrigain (in the Pemigawasset wilderness area) would provide the right combination of isolation (my requirement) and a loop-trail (Ra42's requirement).

So, at long last, having stocked up on our camp-food (bread, cheese and 3 apples) we finally showed up at the parking lot at 8:00 pm. We decided to do a clockwise hike (Up the Signal Ridge trail, down Desolation Trail and Carrigain Notch trail back. For whatever reason, we assumed that the Desolation Trail was an easy hike. And we would soon be proved wrong. As we were getting ready, we met up with two hikers who were leaving the trail who had done the same clockwise hike and told us that they had done it in about 9 hours or so. They also said 'Oh, there are going to be a lot of mosquitos on the way, but I am sure that you already knew that.' Well, we didn't, but we'd brought along bugspray. We would have occasion to remember those words...

Finally, at 8:30 PM, bags all packed up, bugspray on, we finally hit the trail.

Ideally, I should have read up on backpacking and I didn't. Now, I had packed my tent incorrectly. You will observe that the tent (the blue thing) is packed vertically on the backpack. This is a Bad Idea. What happens is that the tent 'pulls back' and stresses the shoulder and neck. In about 45 minutes, I was starting to seriously wonder if this whole backpacking thing was a good idea.

We hiked till we got to Carrigain Notch Trail. This is about 1.7 miles and we covered it in about an hour. This of course meant that we had to set up camp in near-complete darkness. I don't think I have ever once setup camp in daylight :-) We had the tent up quickly. Practice does make perfect. :-)

Signal Ridge, Desolation, mosquitos and parvaane. In the next post ..