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Traveler Mountain February 9, 2012

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, memoir, peakbagging.
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Traveler (in the distance) from North Brother

I have no photos from the actual hike, just a couple taken at points further south in Baxter State Park. My apologies.

Older editions of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide have some interesting descriptions. Years ago, looking for information about the northern parts of Baxter State Park—well north of Katahdin—I found a writeup for a “Loop Route over Traveler and North Traveler,” which, it said, should be attempted “only by strong parties.” This was mainly bushwhacking. Here is a sample of it:

Use binoculars to carefully study the animal yards and rock slides on the way to Traveler summit. There are three animal yards…. Near the top of the third yard, turn almost 90 degrees to the right (south) and look for an exit out onto the rock slide. Traverse horizontally and possibly drop down a little to get around the end of the heavy brush….

Need it be said that as soon as I read this, I wanted to go there?

Bob and I spent a week in Baxter in August 1995. It was mainly a peakbagging extravaganza—we were working on the New England 100 Highest. One day was spent going from Chimney Pond to Pamola Peak and then over to Katahdin along the Knife Edge. Another day was spent tackling Hamlin Peak. Another was a marathon of Coe, North and South Brother, and Fort. (Coe, which was #100 on the list, has since been bumped by some less worthy peak—I think maybe Cupsuptic Snow.)

During the whole time we were there, the weather was freakishly warm for that latitude, in the 90s at the lower elevations. We later learned that northern Maine was the warmest place on the East Coast at that time, due to some meteorological fluke.

Jenny on North Brother. Actually, I'm not positive. It might be South Brother.

We achieved all of our peakbagging goals and then headed to the less-visited northern parts of the park. We camped at South Branch Pond, a beautiful place of deep water surrounded by rocky peaks. I’ll always remember sitting on the shore of the pond that first lovely warm evening and being startled by the full moon abruptly popping up over the Traveler—a moon whose reflection in the clear dark water rivaled the original.

The next morning we started early on our quest, following the Pogy Notch trail leading south along the east shore of the two linked ponds. We were looking for the Pinnacle Ridge route to Peak of the Ridges, the gateway to the Traveler. Our wonderful guidebook said, Follow the Pogy Notch trail about 0.8 mi. to a knoll where the slide on the Pinnacle is plainly visible. Turn left through pleasant woods and across older slides, and you will reach the Pinnacle slide.

It wasn’t quite “plainly visible”—perhaps things had grown up a bit since the 7th edition of the guide—but we found it and achieved our first objective, Peak of the Ridges. Now we found ourselves on a wide open ridge of strange-looking rock surrounded by oceans of balsam forest. The whole area of the Traveler, you see, is of entirely different geological origin than Katahdin not far to the south.

The ridge beckoned to the east, leading toward the main summit of the Traveler. Just as the guide described, we passed alternately through hallways of balsam and open animal yards. We saw no moose, but there was plenty of moose sign. Up through consecutive glades and fragrant forest, we climbed and reached the top. It is 3541′,  which is why elevationally obsessed hikers tend to ignore it. I am glad it’s not heavily visited.

Now, we headed north through dense spruce-fir forest toward North Traveler. But we had a problem. Even with carrying three quarts of water apiece, the freakish heat was causing dehydration. We were on a dry ridgetop with no water anywhere nearby.

We bushwhacked as far as the Traveler-North Traveler col (around the subsidiary 2970′ peak) and decided we had best retreat to someplace with water. So we dropped westward into the headwaters of Howe Brook.

Such a beautiful stream, one deep sparkling pool after another. We went down, and down, and after a while started hearing the voices of heat-stricken vacationers frolicking in the lower portions of the brook. It was a fun succession of people as we went, who looked like human-sized seals and walruses as they plunged into the pools and slid down smooth slippery chutes.

The whole day had a dreamlike quality. I would like to go back and complete that Traveler-North Traveler circuit that “should only be attempted by strong parties.” I long to revisit the land of moose, lake, and balsam.

Traveler Mountain from South Branch Pond (Wikimedia photo)

The Captain January 3, 2012

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, memoir, peakbagging, White Mountains.
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The Captain as seen from the upper right fork of the Sawyer River

I’ve had little chance to hike the past couple of weeks, so once again I’m reaching into the past. This memorable outing in the White Mountains was undertaken January 1996 with an AMC group led by Dennis Crispo.

The only people who even know about The Captain, let alone talk about it or climb it, are peakbaggers working on the New Hampshire 100 Highest. At 3530′ elevation, The Captain is #93 on the list, below other such glamorous peaks as Stub Hill and The Fool Killer (neither one should be underestimated).

One reason nobody talks about The Captain is that it can only be seen from a few vantage points, as it’s tucked away at the head of a long, winding valley south of Mt. Carrigain and east of the Hancocks. And yet the extensive smooth granite ledge on its south side gives it an impressive appearance for those who venture far enough to find it.  It is also known as Carrigain Pond Peak, as it is located close to that remote pond which has no trail leading to it—and yet is stocked via helicopter with trout for adventurous fishermen.

You can click on the following link for a map that shows the Carrigain/ Captain/ Hancock area. Look for the red arrow pointing to the Captain: Franconia map.

On a late January morning of wispy clouds and sporadic sputterings of snow squalls, we met at the gated Sawyer River road and put on our skis. Bob and I had our regular long skinny touring skis, while I noticed that Dennis had short wide skis with homemade bindings that enabled him to ski with his regular winter boots. Bob and I, on the other hand (and most of the others in the group) had to wear our ski boots and stash our heavy boots in our packs—as well carry the snowshoes that we all would need to make the steep climb up to the top. The wider skis and lighter pack gave Dennis enviable stability compared with our top-heavy arrangement.

We skied the four miles up the road, then bore right on a logging road another mile or two until we reached the point where the woods closed in and the way steepened. Here we all stashed our skis in the woods, changed boots if necessary, and put on our snowshoes. The weather had stabilized in the meantime and delivered a crystal clear blue sky.

We switched to our snowshoes around this point.

And then we climbed more and more steeply through the woods, bypassing the big ledge around to the right and aiming for the Carrigain-Captain col. The brush wasn’t too bad—if we’d been 700 or 800 feet higher, we most certainly would have been crawling through krummholz, or perhaps trying to bounce over the top of it. But the going was slow. No one who hasn’t climbed steeply in snowshoes through unconsolidated snow can imagine what this is like.

Eventually we reached the ridgetop, turned southwest, and trundled through spruces, birches, and firs to reach the summit. A large boulder stands right at the top—a crown on The Captain.

Late January makes for a stingy allotment of daylight, and we could not linger. We made fast progress slithering down the slope, obliterating the neatly packed snowshoe steps we’d created on the way up. Nevertheless, by the time we’d returned to our skis and switched over to them—and generally re-combobulated ourselves—it was getting dark.

But the gods of the mountains were smiling on us. As we started gliding down the logging road, a full moon was rising.

Rising full moon

It lit our way like a great lantern in the sky. We swooped around the gentle turns of the logging road and swished around onto the Sawyer River Road—and never needed to turn on our headlamps.

I will always remember that lovely time of coasting along to the soft humming sound of skis moving fast over packed snow, the great genial moon beaming down on us.

The photo below of The Captain in a different season was taken by John Compton. You can visit his blog for a tour of the Whites by a skilled photographer and entertaining writer.

The Captain, summer 2009. Photo by John Compton.

Hunter, Southwest Hunter, West Kill September 19, 2011

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, peakbagging.
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Bob looks worried instead of victorious

Fellow Smokies explorers, you would probably sneer at the notion of bushwhacking in the Catskills. Sneer not! The Catskills are the most misunderstood, overlooked, underestimated, and oversimplified mountain range in the U.S. I have many fond memories of my adventures working on the Catskill 3500s—all 35 of them, of which 16 are bushwhack peaks.

Since I have only been able to do local hikes lately (mainly MST sections near Asheville), I am going to time-travel back to May 29, 1996, when Bob and I knocked off three mighty Catskill peaks.

Our first goal was Hunter (4040′), the second highest in the Catskills and one of two that surpass 4000′. We drove into the lovely green Spruceton valley with its old, sometimes rundown, but always interesting farmhouses and cottages. Think of screened porches with rocking chairs, assorted lawn statuary, and carpenters’ ornamentation along the gables.

One of the things I like about the area is that its heyday as a vacation spot dates back to the late 1800s and first half of the 1900s. Therefore it has largely escaped the cookie-cutter construction and aesthetic cliches of many more recently developed vacation spots.

Hunter is also a ski resort. Its summit can be reached from several different directions by trail or even by walking up the ski slope itself. We followed the wide, rubbly Spruceton trail to its summit, climbing 2000′ in 2.7 miles. We reached the grassy clearing and rested. Unfortunately, since we were there during the single 10-year period that the fire tower was closed to the public in its 102-year history, we could not climb it. The tower was closed in 1989 and nearly demolished, but a movement sprang up to save it, and it was repaired and reopened in 2000.

Hunter Mountain fire tower (Wikipedia photo)

Now it was time to tackle the real challenge of the day, Southwest Hunter (3740′)—a bushwhack peak.  The difficulty lies in finding the right spot to leave the Devil’s Path and plunge into the spruce-fir forest, and then locating the actual high point along a wide, densely overgrown, nearly flat summit plateau. Some people describe SW Hunter as one of the most difficult bushwhacks on the peakbagging list.

We did beautifully. It was pure map-and-compass work. We followed a disciplined line through the thick evergreens, kept going…going…going…and walked right up to the summit canister! I’ve always enjoyed finding these canisters, whether on Catskill peaks, New Hampshire 100 Highest, or anywhere else. It’s a bit like doing an Easter egg hunt. You get to open up the canister (unless it’s winter and it’s frozen shut) and sign in with any comments you feel like making, and of course you skim through everyone else’s comments (“Getting attacked by gnats…went up wrong branch of the stream…lost map,” etc.)

As he always did with the Catskill registers, Bob drew a picture of a space ship and wrote, “You have been invaded by aliens from Massachusetts! Beware!” (A reference to the fact that no one from eastern Mass. went to the Catskills—except us.) I took the picture at top. When looking at Bob’s facial expression, bear in mind that his sole intent is to throw you off.

We then dropped off the northwest side into the valley of the West Kill, a beautiful stream. It made for delightful rockhopping.

Jenny on West Kill (the stream)

We maneuvered easily down its flat-topped rocks and eventually reached Diamond Notch. There we left the stream and picked up the Devil’s Path once again to climb 1300 vertical feet up to West Kill (3880′). It has a wonderful wide, smooth ledge near the summit with a commanding view to the southeast. The luminous green of spring had flooded the valleys and was marching its way up the slopes.

Bob on West Kill (the mountain)