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The Great Gully to the summit of Adams August 26, 2009

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, White Mountains.
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Gully from base of ravine. It is the curving one on the right.

Great Gully from base of King Ravine. It is the curving one on the right.

Total hike: nine miles, 4400 vertical

I had been up the Great Gully once before and remembered it as a place seeming very secret in its nature even though it is in the White Mountain Guide right on the next page after the King Ravine trail description.  The trail up the Gully splits off from the King Ravine trail at the upper part of the ravine basin not far before the steepest part of the climb up the headwall.  The trails diverge at 3800 feet, or about 100 vertical feet below the “let’s get down to business” part of the headwall, and they both get to the top of the steeps (5100) in little more than a half mile, though the Great Gully has its stiffest part at a point lower on the headwall.

A tributary of Cold Brook flows down the Great Gully, and that is what transforms the gully into a secluded, protected place that has a dense carpet of flowers and rhodora, dwarf birch and dwarf black spruce, ferns, and moss.  The plants seem woven together in a tapestry of colors and shapes. From across the ravine you can see a deep greenish gash where it emerges above treeline, a moist protected world that contrasts with the monochromatic windblasted tundra.

The Great Gully trail is famous for one spot described in the White Mountain Guide as follows: “The trail then passes under an overhanging rock on a ledge with a high, sheer drop close by on the left, forcing the faint of heart to crawl on their bellies, dragging their packs behind them.”  It had been a long time since I’d been up the trail, so I couldn’t quite remember whether this spot was quite as terrible as described.

I started at the Appalachia parking lot, took the Air Line to the Short Line to the King Ravine trail.  Just before the KR junction, I saw some very pretty moss.  Readers of this blog know that I am obsessed by moss.


I hit the KR trail just below Mossy Falls, which didn’t have as much moss as the rocks above.

Mossy Falls

Mossy Falls

Pretty soon above the falls the scrambling starts.  No big dilemmas, but a lot of boulders that have to be negotiated.  Each one is a puzzle that needs to be solved to figure out the best way up and over.  Before long I emerged on the open floor of the ravine.


After clambering over an entertaining series of boulders, I came to the Great Gully junction.  The lower part of the trail passed between big pillows of moss that were spangled with mountain goldenrod.


Soon the climbing got steeper, and I came to a beautiful cascade.


I was getting to the part where the trail has to do some serious contortions to get around cliffy areas.  Right above the cascade I had a view that confirmed that I was making upward progress.


I knew I was approaching the tricky bit where the WMG talks about the “faint of heart.”  Sure enough, here it was. You have to look at two pictures to get the full story. Here is the hole that you can squeeze through.  It’s tighter than it looks in the picture:


The reason you squeeze through the hole is because this is immediately to the left.


I squirmed through the hole without having to take off my pack, though it wasn’t pretty.  I guess there is a way you can do it without hole-squeezing, but I wasn’t going to venture onto the outward face of the ledge, especially since I was on my own.

I could hear a couple of distant voices wafting over from the King Ravine trail, which churns up the rubble pile under the high rocks seen below.  I’ve been up that way a few times, too.


My route had less rubble and lots of ingenious combinations of rock and plant life.


It’s hard to say exactly where treeline is on the Great Gully, because the plants right in the gully remain taller than just outside it, though you definitely have a sense of being out in the open. I admired the dense mat of plant life.


Eventually the trail works its way onto a scree slide.


Looking back down to the floor of the ravine…


I finally tackled the summit of Adams.


I had a view over to George, the Great Gulf, and the Auto Road. I could see the glimmer of the Peabody River in the Gulf.


Much to my surprise, there was absolutely no one on the summit.  In fact, I had seen a total of zero people on my whole way up the mountain.  It was a Tuesday, but a beautiful day in August, so that was a bit odd.  I took a dorky picture of myself on the summit with the timer.


I had to commemorate the moment because it was my birthday.  After about ten minutes, a few other people straggled in.   One nice guy named Scott gave an interesting lecture to me and a father and son who arrived, all about the evils of corn syrup in Power Bars, but I appreciate the fact that he sang “Happy Birthday” to me.

I decided to descend by the Airline trail, which oddly enough I’d never been on before.  I passed the top of the King Ravine trail, always impressive from that angle.


The view down the Airline ridge:


My hours of seeing few people had come to an end.  All down the Airline I encountered great numbers of humanity, including probably quite a few hutsters (Madison Hut, I mean).  However, I must say that this route seemed better than the Valley Way, which is the main thoroughfare to the hut.  I’m not quite sure why I’d neglected the Airline before.

View toward Great Gully and its neighbor from the Airline

View toward Great Gully and its neighbor from the Airline

My father’s railway book August 10, 2009

Posted by Jenny in history, literature, memoir, railroads, travel.
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Edward W. Bennett, 1932

Edward W. Bennett, 1932

The picture was taken by my grandfather as the family was about to depart on a trip to Europe.  But it was not ships that my father loved best, it was railroads.

I have a book that belonged to him, The World’s Railways by G. Gibbard Jackson, published in London, 1927.  It is a beautiful book with a color illustration on the cover showing a train as it emerges from a picturesque tunnel.  The plume of steam coming from the locomotive smokestack is flattened and elongated as if by tremendous, impressive speed.  A caption explains that this is the “Great Western Railway: Cornish Riviera Express.”

The book has been loved so much that it is literally falling apart at the seams.  The front cover has become detached, and there is no spine.  Some of the color plates are falling out.

After a few introductory historical chapters, the book plunges into descriptions of the railways of Britain, giving a full account of “The Seaside Lines,” “The London and the Joint Lines,” and other regional railroads before proceeding to Ireland and then bouncing over to Europe, Asia, Africa, India, Canada, and the U.S.A.

I will excerpt the section dealing with the “Paris, Lyons and Mediterranean Railway,” otherwise known as the “Blue Train.”  In reading this, I understand my father’s enchantment, and I think you will, too.

I wonder how many have heard of the Blue Train?  Another name for it is the Magic Carpet, since, when a traveller boards it in winter in Northern France, he alights in the summer of the Mediterranean—and the change has been effected whilst he sleeps….  In reality this train is a good travelling hotel; every convenience that you would expect at the best of hotels is here at your service.  You are given a reserved compartment, which forms a charming little sitting-room by day, to become the most comfortable of bedrooms at night, after it has received some slight attention from the courteous bed-maker.  There is a splendid dining car with numerous tables, each accommodating four people.  Your seat is allotted to a certain table, and during the whole run you take that seat without question.  After a meal you return to your little—cabin, I was going to say, and there is really no word which describes so well your compartment—and recline upon the comfortable couch, which at night becomes your bed.  There is a cabinet, which, upon being explored, is found to give one not only a table, but quite a generous supply of hot and cold water.  The electric lights are just splendid, and are so arranged that you get full benefit from them, one being conveniently placed over your pillow for night reading.

As I read, the riches of a disappeared world spill out of each sentence like items out of a steamer trunk whose brass locks have been popped open.  There are so many delightful and old-fashioned details, so many ways in which the scene would now be utterly impossible, that I feel disinclined to ennumerate them.  I simply present them.

I inherited my father’s love of railroads, and I came to be familiar with certain ones (now all merged into larger entities): the Norfolk & Western, Southern, Louisville & Nashville, the C&O and the B&O, the Union Pacific, the Burlington Northern, and smaller ones like the Lake Erie Franklin & Clarion.  But that is a subject for another post.

The photo below shows a French steam locomotive that looks somewhat like the one that hurtles across the color plate that accompanies Jackson’s Blue Train description.

French steam locomotive

French steam locomotive

An offbeat way to climb Mt. Jefferson August 2, 2009

Posted by Jenny in hiking, White Mountains.
Tags: , , , ,
I approached the castles from the Link

I approached the castles from the Link

I often think of adventures as like books with various chapters, but this hike had sections so distinct that they seemed more like short stories in an anthology than chapters in a single-author book.  The whole strange concoction added up to 11.6 miles and 3700 vertical feet, and it felt harder to me than the 9-mile, 4200 vertical adventure I had earlier in the summer going up Washington via Boott Spur Link.

Here it is in a nutshell.  Started at Boundary Line trailhead on Jefferson Notch Road.  Road-walked up to Caps Ridge trail.  Left Caps Ridge a mile up to follow the Link trail over to the Castle trail.  Up over the castles to the summit of Jefferson.  Over to the Jewell trail, down to Boundary Line trail near the Cog base station, back over to car.

Jefferson Notch Road: 1.4 miles, 500 vertical.  Cars passing by may have wondered what the heck I was doing hiking up the road.

Caps Ridge trail: 1.1 miles, 700 vertical.  Just as I reached the trailhead, a group of about 15 college-age kids was walking toward the parking lot.  Try to stay ahead of them, let them go ahead, or get tangled up in the middle?  I opted for the first, going a bit faster than I would have otherwise.  Soon I arrived at the first outlook with views toward the summit.  The view at that point was nothing to write home about.

Murky view from first outlook ledge on Caps Ridge

Murky view from first outlook ledge on Caps Ridge

The big granite ledge had separate muddy footprints that led up to the best spot, as if they were indicating “Put left foot here, put right foot there.”  The college kids arrived and coalesced with a good-sized group speaking… Russian? Polish?  Amidst this sea of humanity a couple explained to me that they had been married on that exact rock, and this was their anniversary, and would I take their picture?  I was happy to, and a patch of sunlight appeared right at the moment the shutter clicked.  Then the sun disappeared again.

Link trail: 1.6 miles, 300 vertical.  A tenth of a mile past the rock I turned left onto the Link trail, and instantly left the crowds behind.  This is a trail that nobody takes from one end (Caps Ridge) to the other (Appalachia).  It’s a lateral trail connecting various major climbing routes:  Lowes Path, Israel Ridge, Castle Ravine, Castle, Caps.  The AMC guide describes this particular section as “a very rough pathway with countless treacherous roots, rocks, and hollows that are very tricky and tedious to negotiate.”  (I’ve always loved the way the AMC guide uses the word “tedious.”)  But the pathway was peaceful, embroidered with moss and ferns.

Mossy rill on the Link trail

Mossy rill on the Link trail

I saw my only wildlife of the day on this trail.

He looks very well fed

He looks very well fed

I noticed an oddball quartz boulder that was trying unsuccessfully to blend in with the granite ones.

Oddball boulder

Oddball boulder

It took me an hour and a half to do this section, which had very little climbing on it.   Just incessant turning, twisting, and clambering.  (Well, part of the slowness was because I discovered I had to delete some old pictures from my camera memory card.)  I caught my first glimpse of a distant castle between the trees, complete with turrets, but the picture didn’t come out well enough to post here.

Castle trail: 1.5 miles, 1700 vertical.  The Link hits it just below where the fun stuff starts.  I’ ve been on this trail twice before, and I knew what I was in for.  AMC:  “Rough with some difficult scrambles.”  One pitch had a cord tied to a tree that I guess you could hold onto, but it sure didn’t look strong enough to support any weight.  When I got to Castle #1, the hardest one, two women with two dogs were looking up at a difficult pitch.  Since they were not actually going up it at that moment, I went on ahead, thinking that might provide some encouragement.  The problem was, one of the dogs followed me and started standing on the places where I wanted to put my hands or feet… oh, well!  I ended up violating climber’s ethics and putting my knee down on one spot to get myself up.

Looking ahead at Castle #2--or was it #2A?

Looking ahead at Castle #2--or was it #2A?

The clouds streamed moodily across the ridge.  I used my knee in one other place when my calf muscle cramped up just as I was hoisting my foot up to the appropriate ledge.

Jefferson castle magic

Jefferson castle magic

After I successfully forged my way past the castles, I crossed alpine lawns that were covered with diapensia mountain sandwort (I saw this correction in a fine trip report covering the some of the same turf!).

The trail was lined with flowers

The trail was lined with flowers

The Castle trail is not very heavily used.  But I reached crowds once again the moment I got to the summit cone.

Jefferson Loop/Gulfside: 1.8 miles, 500 vertical (the climb out of Sphinx col).  Sunshine, crowds, views into Great Gulf.  Lots of boulder hopping.  Did I really ever do a Presi traverse?  (Yes, I did, in 2002 I think it was.)

Near Sphinx col---I like the way it drops off

Near Sphinx col---I like the way it drops off

Jewell trail: 3.3 miles.  As I approached the Jewell junction, I could see a steady procession of hikers making their way down the upper section.  It was tempting to cut across to it, but that is “against the rules.”  So I joined the line and wended my way down.  As on the Caps Ridge trail, I found myself going at a slightly faster pace than usual just so that I could separate myself from the various groups.  With a sudden surge of energy, I bounded along and passed absolutely everyone I encountered for the next hour and a half.  My legs felt like toast when I reached the bottom.  I hoped I would find the obscure Boundary Line junction with no trouble.

Boundary Line: 0.9 miles, a few modest ups and downs.  Same experience as when I turned off Caps Ridge.  Abruptly, no crowds, all green with very plushy mosses and ferns.  A few mucky quagmires lay in wait for unsuspecting boots.  The woods here featured a particular kind of moss that grows in a sort of filigree pattern.

Super-deluxe moss growing on base of tree

Super-deluxe moss growing on base of tree

Thrushes were singing, and the woods would have seemed enchanted were it not for the toast-like quality of my leg muscles.  When I came to the crossing of Clay Brook, I just waded across it with my boots on.  I was almost back to the car.

Clay Brook

Clay Brook

And sure enough, I soon saw the red color of my faithful little car shining between the trees, and a moment later I was back on Jefferson Notch road.