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 :-)