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Failure at Raymond Cataract December 1, 2010

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, White Mountains.
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6 comments

I bushwhacked a short distance into this blowdown zone and said to myself, "Nope!"

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of the Ravine of Raymond Cataract.  It is a shallow ravine on the east side of Mt. Washington, located between two much more famous neighbors, Tuckerman Ravine and Huntington Ravine. You can see it quite clearly from the upper slopes of Wildcat. In the photo below from the Brad Washburn collection, you see the RoRC on the left and Huntington on the right.

Upstaged by its neighbor, but still interesting

Early editions of the AMC White Mountain Guide give directions for navigating up the ravine, while a 1992 edition in my possession says,  “Raymond Cataract falls through a series of wild and beautiful cascades in the Ravine of Raymond Cataract, but brush has covered a former footway, so the cataract can only be reached by those intrepid explorers who are skilled in off-trail travel.” Editions more recent than that make no mention at all of travel up the ravine. (Recent guidebooks are so much more sensible than older ones.)

So, how on earth did I decide to give it a try on a late November day? I had just one day available for hiking in northern New Hampshire, and I was having trouble picking a destination. I’ve done all the 4000 footers in winter—although I should add that November, coming before the winter solstice, doesn’t count in the AMC’s official winter peakbagging rules. In some ways November is easier than winter (warmer temps, not much snow) and in some ways it is harder (lots of ice, tricky stream crossings, daylight hours shorter than Feb.-March). I was having trouble mustering up enthusiasm for anything, until I looked at a map, noticed the RoRC, and thought, “Aha!” Somehow the idea really grabbed me. I knew I wasn’t going to get all the way up the ravine (it would be stupid to try that solo in cold weather, anyway), but I thought I could get up to the lowest cascade. It was a climb of only about 300 vertical feet from the trail.

Just to make my hike even more peculiar, I decided that rather than going to the RoRC by the shortest route (Tucks fire road to Huntington Ravine trail to Raymond Path), I would start at the very beginning of the Raymond Path, which I had never been on before. So I set forth from Pinkham Notch along the Old Jackson trail to make a long zigzag route.

Since it’s been nearly two years since I’ve experienced the White Mountains with ice and snow, I enjoyed things that would probably seem pretty ho-hum otherwise.

I liked the contrast of the stones under the stream with the ice

The Old Jackson trail is part of the A.T., becoming used as a cross-country ski trail in winter. But despite the diamond-shaped metal ski markers on the trees, I would say Old Jackson has a ways to go before it’s skiable.

Not quite ready for skiing

I took miscellaneous “nature shots.” That’s the term you use when there’s nothing very exciting in the picture.

Lumpy ice

Peeling birch

There were quite a few footprints on Old Jackson, but when I made the sharp turn onto the Raymond Path, I saw that only one person had been on the path since snow had fallen. I was actually surprised to see even that set. Surely no one else would be doing the same thing I was. Perhaps it was an ice climber heading to Huntington who had been dropped off at the Auto Road? But that doesn’t make sense. Someone “redlining” all the trails in each month of the year?

Raymond Path

There were open places along the way, probably old avalanche runouts. I could sense the presence of towering heights around me.

Lion's Head ridge in the background

Crossing this stream was a little difficult---but it was pretty

Scrub spruces in avalanche zone

So I crossed the Huntington Ravine trail and continued on to the RoRC. And I started bushwhacking through the scrub and the blowdowns (pictured at top). After doing this for about fifteen minutes and traveling an exceedingly short distance, I thought to myself, “You know, I think this would be a fine day for going up into Tucks and taking some pictures!” And so I ignominiously retreated.

When I arrived at Hermit Lakes, it started to snow. Pretty hard. Not good weather for photography. So I trundled down the Tucks fire road and back to Pinkham Notch, where I had a fine bowl of chili. Forget about chili from Texas or the Southwest or any place like that. Mt. Washington has the best chili.

Oddly enough, I enjoyed my outing. I’ll try RoRC again—I think in summer. I suppose I should feel bad about not going up Lion’s Head or all the way to the summit, except that I’ve done it a number of times before.

This is the kind of riffraff you run into on the Lion's Head route

How to have fun on a winter hike January 5, 2010

Posted by Jenny in hiking, White Mountains.
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Shortly before ignominiously turning around near the Lion's Head

Various things have prevented me from having any great winter adventures so far this year in my new home in NC, even though we seem to have plenty of icy, crappy snow around.  So, instead of talking about some new exploit,  I am sharing my vast accumulated wisdom from past experiences.

1.  Accumulate as much gear as possible, particularly items that are specific to winter: goggles, face mask, ice axe, crampons.  Duplication of items is quite all right.  This will make you feel like a real mountaineer.  But don’t wear your new crampons in your living room.

2.  Decide which style of mountaineer you want to be: the Gore-Tex, synthetic fleece, plastic boot “X-treme Sport” type, or the old-fashioned flannel shirt, wool sweater, Sorel boot, strap-on crampon, “North Woods”  type.

3.  Do something different from what everyone else is doing.  If you’re peakbagging, don’t just wait for other people to pack down the most heavily travelled route so that you don’t need to use your snowshoes.  Go a different way, and have an adventure instead of just checking off a peak.

4.  Remember that minus 20 with clear skies and no wind is better than plus 20 with no visibility and high winds.

5.  Try to go far enough off trail that you don’t make yellow snow right next to the trail.  If it is orange snow instead of yellow snow, drink more water. If you pee while wearing snowshoes, try not to pee on the snowshoes.

6.  Put your food in pockets next to your body so that you don’t break your teeth biting into that frozen Power Bar.

7.  Realize that most people above treeline have frozen snot hanging from their nose, so don’t worry about it too much.

8.  When you stop for lunch, layer up before you start eating, rather than after, when your fingers will be too stiff to zip the zippers.  Those activated-charcoal hand warmers are a fine idea, too, but only if you open the plastic pack before your fingers freeze.

9.  Don’t use snowshoes if you don’t need to, but don’t post-hole on a trail with deep new snow on it.  Everyone coming after you will send powerful curses upon your spirit, and you will go into a special snowshoe section of Hell.

10.  Butt-sliding down steep slopes is fine, though.  So much fun.  People coming after you should either slide like you did, or have traction to deal with it.  Just try to remember if there is a steep vertical ledge at the bottom.

11.  Figure out the places the snow machine people like to go, and stay far away unless you get high from inhaling those fumes.

12.  Plan on having a large meal with several beers, some hot soup, and a big plate full of pasta after the hike.  Make sure you have a motel reservation for immediately after the meal.

We bushwhacked up the west branch of the North Fork of Gale River for this climb of Garfield