Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Southern Kilkenny Ridge Overnight Backpack

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All week the forecast for northern New Hampshire grew worse.  Cold rain and high winds shifted to a few inches of snow and even worse wind.  Wind chills dropped below zero, winter is here! Combined with low cloud cover, it was the perfect weather for boring view-less hiking!  If you go into something with low expectations, you're in for a treat.  My NH 4,000 footer list still had Mt. Cabot and Waumbek lingering, so they were an obvious choice.  They're a 3+ hour drive from Boston, known for not having many views and being very remote.  My good friend Pam Wilmont helped me hatch a plan to park the car at the Starr King trail head in Jefferson, hike up to Waumbek and continue across the Weeks mountains to camp in Willard Notch.  On Sunday I could join up with Anne and her AMC group hike of Cabot, the Bulge and the Horn schedule to start at 8 am from the Berlin Fish Hatchery parking lot.  Anne would then drive me back to my car in Jefferson NH, only a few minutes out of the way.  You can see my planned route on this nifty webpage: http://caltopo.com/map?id=1U4P

Doing a short overnight is nice, because you don't have to get back to your car.  So I left at 8 am and was on trail by 11:15.  10 miles to camp and about 7 hours of daylight meant I could take my time and still make camp well before dark, which was good since I forgot my headlight.  There was light rain on the drive up, so I was glad to have remembered my umbrella.

After a mile of old logging road, the single track started and I began the climb to Mount Starr King (not a typo).

The drizzle quickly transitioned to snow:

It continued to snow on and off the remainder of the day.  The wind howled and whistled through the trees but I rarely felt more than a light breeze.  I made my way up over Starr King, Waumbek and started the roller coaster of the Weeks.  The temperature continued to drop to about 28 degrees but I was still sweating my way up the climbs.  North Week mountain was a kicker and I was starting to get tired; being a knee nursing couch potato all summer was catching up to me.  Still, the knee felt good and I headed down to camp at Willard notch right at 5 pm, just as I predicted.  There was a nice spring fed stream coming out of the saddle which I didn't bother to filter. It was getting dark by the time I was cooking dinner and I settled in for a long night with my thoughts,  deciding to try drying my hiking clothes by wearing them in my sleeping bag.  I could feel the moisture make its way from my shirt to my fleece to my down jacket and eventually to where it stayed in my sleeping bag.  I was chilly as the temperatures dropped to 25 - a good sign since dry clothes would have extended the comfort range much further.  Overnights like this are a good chance to test the edge of your systems.

The next morning I was in no hurry since Anne would be leaving the trail head at 8:00.  I had texted her the night before and found out the AMC trip was canceled but she was still coming up.  I had 3 miles to Bunnel Notch, where our paths would meet.  I awoke to an inch or two of snow blanketing everything:

My Six Moons Designs Wild Oasis tarp shed the few inches of snow well.

The umbrella looks out of place but i

t was great hiking through the falling snow and staying dry. It also gave me a dry surface to toss gear onto when packing up.

Leaving camp the trail became more difficult to follow.  On Saturday I could tell where the trail had overgrown and been trampled.  Sunday felt different, there was more snow, fewer blazes and the trail cut the side of a hill awkwardly.  It wasn't quite cut into the slope and the boulders and roots made following it feel more like guesswork.  I stumbled across four sets of moose tracks, one wider than my feet:

That must have been one big moose!

Arriving at Bunnel Notch around 9:30 I had still not seen a soul all weekend and there were no tracks ahead of me on the way up to Cabot.  I figured I was a half hour or an hour ahead of Anne and kept plodding up hill, hoping to take shelter in the Cabin just before Cabots summit to wait.

View on the way up Cabot.

Icy tendrils of hoarfrost
I made the cabin about an hour later and settled in to wait, layering up and munching on snacks.  I checked my phone and found a text from Anne "Do you still need a ride?".  Odd, why would she think I didn't?  A little while later a guy and his dog stopped in, working on their grid (each 48 4,000 footer in each month of the year).  They left the same lot Anne was to leave from at 8:40 and hadn't seen anyone.  That didn't sound good.  I texted Anne, waited a while and then called.  I ate lunch, heated some water while wondering if my ride had bailed.  Rather than doing the whole loop to the Horn and the bulge I would head down Cabot towards the fisheries and hitch a ride back to my car.   At one point I ran up to the summit and back, leaving my pack on the cabin porch in case she showed up while I was gone but no luck.  

I made my way down and almost at the base of Cabot, there was Anne with two AMC hikers in tow who had still come despite the formal hike being cancelled.  They had gotten a late start and her enormous daypack was filled with group gear that was meant to be shared among several leaders, so their progress was a little slow.  The inch of slick snow was too thin for any traction devices and made everything slick, so they weren't interested in the Horn and the Bulge either.  Rather than head all the way back up with them, I decided to wait for them at the bottom, which I did and got super cold.  We headed out together, exchanged some stories and shared a meal and some hot coffee at the Tilton diner.  All in all a great way to spend some crappy weather in the Whites.

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