Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hiking Northern California's Mt Eddy via Deadfall Lakes

While hoards of tenderfoots are out trying their hand at mountaineering on Mt Shasta, Mt Eddy retains its wilderness and solitude just miles away. It certainly has one of the finest views in Northern California.
Classic view of Mt Shasta from Mt Eddy, California
This last weekend I had the fortunate opportunity to return to Northern California. It was wonderful to be back in my "homeland". Of course, no trip to Nor Cal would be complete without a hike! I headed north for the spectacular summit of Mt Eddy which is one of the state's great mountains.

Early summer is an excellent time of year to head up to the northern ranges of the state. The day was very pleasant. Indeed, it was cool at the start- 50 degrees! But the temperature barely went above 70 throughout the day; perfect weather for hiking. After having lived in New England for the last 3 years, I'm not used to dependably perfect weather. 

Here's the map of the hike via Deadfall Lakes- 

Overall, the Deadfall Lakes is a spectacular hike and not too difficult in the way of California hiking. It is 10 miles total when hiking round-trip with roughly 2,000 feet of elevation gain. The trailhead is at the crest of National Forest Route 17, mapped above. This is a somewhat rough but paved mountain road which winds its way deep into the Eddys and connects Route 3 to Interstate 5. You can get directions through the map above. Four-wheel drive is not needed to get to the trailhead in the summer although I doubt it is maintained in the winter. The drive itself was lovely.

Starting at roughly 6,900ft, the trail has views nearly the entire way to the summit. It was so nice to be in Northern California again! There's this very distinct smell of a dusty trail, red fir in the sun mixed with alpine air which is difficult to explain but quintessentially Northern California. Anybody who's hiked here knows exactly what I mean. 
The classic "mirrored lake" look of the Deadfall Lakes makes the hike even more appealing
The Pacific Crest Trail is the first part of the hike and its quite pleasant. The trail gently ascends and winds around an arm of Mt Eddy for about 3 miles until the Deadfall Lakes. There's ample shade throughout the lower section which is nice when you're making your way down in the hot afternoon sun. Deer were abundant as well as stout, colorful wildflowers. To the west were the distinctive granite slopes of the Trinity Alps-
The Trinity Alps off in the distance
Once at the Deadfall Lakes, there are ample opportunities for pictures and relaxing. By themselves, the Deadfall Lakes are a great hike- if the summit proves to be too difficult for the day, don't worry. 

The trail begins to get steep past the first major lake of the area. Again, the views are phenomenal which makes the ascent worthwhile. A few tarns are along the trail too which are a peculiar scene themselves. 

Eventually, the last of the Deadfall Lakes appears as does the towering Mt Eddy headwall. There's a nice alpine meadow just below the headwall which is very photographic.

First Deadfall Lake
Tarn and the Mt Eddy Trail
Glorious views of the trail
Do you ever have one of those hikes or days where you just can't take a bad picture? That was basically how my hike went.

The trail comes within a thousand vertical feet of the summit and begins some merciful switchbacks. Out east, we don't have such things! However Mt Lassen, the Castle Craigs and the very southern Cascades all come in to view as the trail rounds the southern flank of the summit. Finally, Mt Shasta comes in to view and the summit is there.

Even in late June, large patches of snow persisted near the summit. They don't impend the trail, but it was a great way to cool off. I continued on past the summit ridgeline to get some better pictures of Mt Shasta. Once again, it was hard to take a bad picture-
Mt Eddy's western headwall
Mt Eddy from the eastern ridge
Great view of Mt Shasta from the summit
View of Mt Lassen in the very distant center. The castle craigs are just right of center in the second ridgeline
Mt Shasta, Shastina and the small butte in the foreground is Black Butte
What a wonderful way to experience Northern California for a day. For a 10 mile hike, it was very pleasant. I'd hike it again in an instant. For now, I'm headed back to Maine, but I hope it isn't too long before I make it back out here again.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Hiking Goose Eye and Mount Carlo Loop, Mahoosuc Range

Goose Eye is a great gem hidden in the rugged Mahoosuc Range of Maine. It is traversed by the Appalachian Trail but hardly sees any traffic other than long-distance hikers. Although I climbed it in a storm and had no views, on a clear day they are the best in the range.
No real views from the summit today, but the krumholtz had a mythical look to it in the fog 
Today's hike was back down here in western Maine in the rugged Mahoosuc Range, famous for being the gateway to the state via the Appalachian Trail. The Mahoosuc Range is a particularly wild section of the Appalachian Trail and the Mahoosuc Notch is considered by most to be "the most difficult mile of the AT". Nevertheless, given its remoteness, you're likely to have the place to yourself save for a few northbounders and southbounders. Plus, Goose Eye is on New England's 100 Highest (but there's more reason to hike it than that!).

I love hiking in the Mahoosucs. The range has many summits worth hiking. Beginning near Gorham, New Hampshire, the Appalachian Trail crosses the Androscoggin River and abruptly ascends Mt Hayes. The trail goes up and down about 5 other peaks before crossing Success Peak, the last mountain on the AT in New Hampshire. It then crosses into Maine and climbes Mt Carlo and the glorious Goose Eye Mountain. Then there's the Mahoosuc Notch, Mahoosuc Arm and the crown of the range, Old Speck Mountain

This hike was a great loop of two summits. Here's my map-

The hike of Goose-Eye Mountain can be done as an out-and-back but its much more interesting to do it as a loop hike along with Mt Carlo. This exposes you to a great section of alpine hiking and makes for a moderate-by-white-mountain-standards day trip. 

Getting to the "trailhead" is somewhat tricky. High-clearance is not necessary but it would make the drive faster. It is roughly 8.0 miles from Hutchins Road in Gorham, New Hampshire along Success Pond Rd or 13.7 miles south of Maine Rt 26 as it crosses Grafton Notch. I approached from the south and had little trouble getting to the trailhead in my sedan. The parking area is marked but doesn't have capacity for much more than 3 cars. On this day I did happen to see one other hiker.

I'd recommend taking the Maine Mountain Guide with you on this one as the trail is slightly confusing at the bottom. The signs are clear, as long as you're looking for them.
Hiking logging roads for the first section
After the logging roads, it was a pretty straightforward ascent to the summit. The trail itself was very well maintained and it was delightful, even in the rain. There's quite a substantial alpine area surrounding the summit which is always nice to walk through. It was pretty steep towards the top-
It was a bare-rock scramble towards the summit
It was disappointing that I didn't get the view today; it has been worth of some excellent photography. Regardless, the rain stopped for a brief while and I enjoyed my lunch.

Traversing from Goose-Eye to Mt Carlo is actually more difficult than it appears. In 1.5 miles, you descend over 600 feet from the summit of Goose Eye and then re-ascend 400 feet to the summit of Mt Carlo. Standard stuff for a hike in the Whites, but still quite challenging. There are several alpine fields though which make the up-and-down worth it. Mt Carlo itself has some directional views.

The AT heads down Mt Carlo for about 0.3 miles and then intersects with the trail that takes you to the Carlo Col shelter and eventually down to the trailhead. Its a slippery mess, one of those trails that essentially just follows down a stream. This part wasn't particularly enjoyable, but it got me down alright. After several stream crossings, I eventually popped out on the same logging road I started out on and passed by the turn-off for the start of the loop. I was back to my car after about 5 hours of hiking.

The trail between the summits
Spruce Grouse?
It was a great hike. There's more reasons to hike this loop other than just tagging a 100 highest summit. Although the Mahoosucs are known for being a particularly arduous section of the Appalachian Trail, I'd say the immense wilderness of the range makes it very appealing. Someday I'll probably do a full traverse of the range, hit the Mahoosuc Notch, and perhaps have a different view of the range. As for now, its one of my favorites.

Read. Plan. Get Out there!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Bushwhack Hike of Mt Baker and Saddleback Mountain; New England 50 Finest

This is a brief account of my time bushwhacking two difficult summits of New England's Fifty Finest. They are seldom visited by anyone save for people on prominence missions, like me. Nevertheless, both summits had substantial amounts of wilderness and the total lack of anything civilized made for a great adventure. 
The Baker Group, from right to left- South Baker, Middle Baker (covered up by a tree), Mt Baker (very small hump in the distance next to the tree, and Baker's false summit (big bump on the left)
Saddleback Mountain at sunset on Silver Lake, North Maine Woods
Mt Baker and Saddleback Mountain (not the ski resort Saddleback) are two of the toughest 'whacks on the New England 50 Finest List. I don't know how many people have actually bothered to hike all them, but anyone who has says that Baker is the toughest. After climbing 42 of the 50, I'd say Baker is the toughest I've hiked thus far. 

Both summits have good reason for hiking. I won't lie, I found this out from Wikipedia, but apparently Saddleback Mountain has one of the longest lines of sight in the Northeast- it is possible to see the summit of Mt Washington on an exceptionally clear day. I'm confident that I could see for at least 75 miles on the day I climbed it. As for Mt Baker, there are some bare ledges on the western shoulder which offer an excellent vantage point for seeing Moosehead Lake. Additionally, the moose are everywhere.

Bull Moose Skull near the summit of Saddleback Mountain
Bushwhacking Saddleback Mountain (Piscataquis County, Maine)

The hardcore bushwhacking scene gets antsy when you post a GPS tract of your hike route so I'll refrain (but message me if you really need it). Saddleback Mountain can be reached on Katahdin Iron Works/Jo-Mary Road which is a gravel road that leads into the publicly accessible land of the Maine North Woods.

Just before the entrance to the park, I turned right on Merther Road and drove/biked approximately 4.0 miles to a junction with an unmarked road. Merther road is not very well maintained so I biked part of it after I thought I couldn't make it further in the car. I turned left at this intersection and steadily gained elevation. After 0.7 miles and just past a large clearing, I came to a junction which others have used to climb Saddleback. This involves turning right at this intersection, following the logging road for less than 0.5 miles and starting your ascent somewhere along the way. The summit is obvious and the bushwhack would involve more distance but less spruce than the route I took.

 I took a left at this intersection and continued to gain elevation.  The road was straightforward- It wraps around Saddlerock Pond and around the ridgeline before abruptly ending in an active logging area. It was 2.7 miles from the other turn off and 3.4 miles from Merther Rd. The elevation was approximately 2,000 ft, 990 feet below the summit.

Saddleback comes in to view on the logging roads
The 100 mile wilderness viewed from a very active logging area on Saddleback
Note that there are dozens and dozens of logging roads in the area and you need to be very careful of your location- bring and odometer, altimeter and GPS. Its easy to get lost in the maze of logging roads. Also, they are active logging roads- don't you dare get in the way of the loggers!

Saddleback was my first hard bushwhack in New England. I'd hiked Grass, Mendon and Dorset which were pretty well trailed although they are listed as bushwhacks. Saddleback had neither a faint trail nor the slightest herd path- it was a charge up a steep slope through thick spruce. Occasionally a moose path would help, but moose aren't exactly concerned with climbing to the exact high point on a ridgeline. So it was a slog, but it could have been worse. 

Classic bushwhacking..
A nice respite near the summit
After about 35-40 minutes of climbing, I reached the ridgeline itself and found that I was about 200' below the true summit. There were two moose skeletons near the summit and one was nearly complete. The other had a fantastically intact moose skull which has been reported by other hikers. I resisted the temptation to take it. 

It took a bit of searching and whacking to find the true summit and there was no summit canister. I relied on my altimeter which read almost exactly 2,998ft- the summit's elevation. There were no views but the walk up had some.
Katahdin is clearly visible from the highest accessible point on the logging roads. The summit had no views
Wading through the high spruce on Mt Baker
Bushwhacking Mt Baker, Maine

Saddleback was a good warm up for what was about to come. All in all, the total bushwhacking distance on saddleback was 1.4 miles, round trip (along with a lot of mountain biking). On the other hand, Mt Baker was a 3.0 mile round trip bushwhack through some extensive spruce. Although it wasn't total misery, parts of it were as difficult as I ever remember bushwhacking through. None the less, there were some excellent views here has well.

Mt Baker can be climbed by itself or as a part of a traverse across South Baker, Middle Baker and Lily Bay Mountain which are appealing to those going for the NE3Kers. I elected to just hike Mt Baker. 

Another view of the Bakers from the logging roads
Getting to the "trailhead" of the Bakers was easier than I thought it would be- most of the logging roads were well graded (as of 6/2014). I had no troubles in my lil' sedan getting pretty far into the wilderness. Only the last mile or so of logging roads had to be walked. Here are some directions. As a side note, NH Mountain Hiking has been completely reliable with all off-the-grid hikes and bushwhacks- an excellent resource for folks like me.

The highest part of the logging road for Mt Baker ends at about 2,150' of elevation, according to my altimeter. From here, it was 1.5 miles to the summit. Mind you, there's a small but prominent west summit and several humps between there and the true summit which can complicate directions. I used the few logging swaths to help gain elevation without too much scrub. These abruptly ended and it was just an old bushwhack.

At about 3,200' of elevation and 0.7 miles of climbing, the bush became very thick but there are some completely open slides on the south and southwestern sides of the west hump of Mt Baker. These were very helpful in gaining both elevation and distance towards the summit. They also served as the only views on the hike-

Excellent views of Moosehead Lake from the ledges below the western  bulge of Baker
Big Moose Mountain in the far distance on the left with Prong Pond Mountain in the foreground
As I got higher, moose herd paths became evident and they were useful in plunging further into the woods. At times the moose's paths were as clear as a trail but the usually petered out after a few hundred yards and I was back to bushwhacking. Part of the confusing aspect of climbing Baker is that I topped out on the western bulge and noticed two other bulges in between here and the summit. Inevitably, I ended up going up and down both of them- oh well. The climb itself was difficult but fairly straightforward as opposed to this section were I generally made my way east towards the true summit but was turned around more than once.

As it was almost mid afternoon, my altimeter was reading closer and closer to the actual summit elevation of 3,521ft. With only about 150ft of vertical elevation to go, the spruce became incredibly thick. It was difficult to move at all- I was nearly claustrophobic. That last 150ft of pushing almost turned me back. 
The somewhat well marked summit
Spruce was less thick at the summit itself
Moose herd paths were occasional and welcome
At the summit itself, there was a proper canister with perhaps 15 names in it since the early 2000s when it was placed. Wow. 

Looking around, it was possible that there were several points on a relatively narrow ridgeline that could also serve as high points but there were no summit canisters. If this was good enough for the other 15 people, it was good enough for me! I celebrated reaching the top of another 50FF summit and relaxed a while.

As bushwhacks go, the way down was no easier. Again I found myself getting turned around here and there, especially on the several humps that make up the western arm of Baker. Once I was back to the bare slides, it was a straightforward hike down. My total time hiking was roughly 7 hours and I was covered in cuts and scrapes. I suppose it was worth it to hike a mountain that had barely seen human contact over the last two decades and presumably longer. 

Crazy mountain climbers like me have poor short term memory. I wouldn't be surprised if I come back here for more adventure (or misery) soon. If you hike Baker, prepare for anything!

Read. Plan. Get Out There! 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hiking Big Spencer Mountain; Moosehead Lake/Maine North Woods

Big Spencer Mountain is a massive wall of volcanic rock that stands isolated from other mountains on the north end of Moosehead Lake. Its a difficult hike but certainly worth it for the views of northern Maine and innumerable moose.
Big Spencer Mountain almost looks like a still wave
Continuing with my explorations of the Maine North Woods, I rambled to the far side of Moosehead Lake for some further hiking. Big Spencer Mountain, in particular, has intrigued me since I moved to Maine. On a topographic map, it shoots directly from the flatter land around Moosehead lake. Along with its twin, Little Spencer, this mountain is a very clear example of Maine's volcanic origins. This rhyolite fin is part of a larger ridgeline that extends from Flagstaff Lake (reservoir) to Grand Lake Matagamon in Baxter State Park. I'm no geologist, but I do believe that Big Spencer shares similar origins to other famous mountains in Maine such as Mt Coburn, Mt Kineo and the Traveler Group of BSP (but unrelated to Katahdin). Perhaps now that I'm done with graduate school, I can pursue an amateur interest in geology? Maine would be a great place for it. I wonder if all hiker/climbers are naturally drawn to geology.

Regardless of the origins of Big Spencer, it is a beautiful hike.

Here's my map-

Big Spencer Mountain is remote, even by Maine standards. Much of the northeastern quarter of the state is dedicated to active logging; I saw several logging trucks and recently cut areas. Always give plenty of room to the logging trucks- they are on the move! You probably don't need a 4x4 to get to the parking area under Big Spencer but I took a mountain bike just in case. The road becomes progressively more difficult as you get closer to the mountain. At any rate, you can find directions by using the map above- Its 19 miles of paved road and another 14.1 on logging roads. The parking area is clearly marked.
First Roach Pond and Kokadjo
Moose were as common as squirrels
Maine North Woods 
Once you arrive at the parking area, its a fairly straightforward 2.0 miles to the false summit of Big Spencer. I say false summit, because the true summit is somewhere to the southwest of the large clearing where the fire tower used to be. Unfortunately, this part is neither marked nor trailed- it is a good old-fashioned bushwhack. Papa Bear's trip report proved to be invaluable. 

Its about 1 mile from the parking lot to the old cabin area where a fire warden used to live. The cabin was torn down in 2012 and only a clearing remains. Past the clearing, the trail is actually drowned in a small beaver pond- you have to skirt around it to get back to the true trail. From here it is a very steep ascent to the summit. There are some old ladders in some places to help negotiate the class II-III scrambles. Make no mistake; it is hands-and-feet climbing in some places.

The false summit has some nice views, to be sure, but its somewhat lessened by the recent construction of solar panels and communications towers. There was also a fire here that has left much of the summit bare. How unfortunate. 
Storm moving in as I summited
Lobster Lake
Lily Bay and Baker Mountains with First Roach Pond
As you can tell, the true summit is slightly higher than the place where the trail ends
Now there was still the matter of finding the summit- it was going to be tough. Its only between 0.2 and 0.3 miles to the summit from here, but as I've learned from past bushwhacks (including Mt Baker), that can be an eternity. However I would be disappointed to come all this way and not summit, however possible that might be. I plunged ahead

It probably took a good 30-40 minutes of up-and-down whacking and searching to find the summit canister but I discovered that it wasn't too far away from the ledges you see in the center of the picture above. Nevertheless, it was lots of searching and doubling back. Some other hikers have noted that this might not be the true summit and if you look at a topographic map, its possible that there is a higher point on this very dense ridgeline. 

Well I'll say this- the canister I found had less than 20 names in it and it was pretty much every name in the Who's Who of Peakbagging, including Mr Packard-
Not much of a register, glad I found it!
Placed in 1996
The Tiger Woods of peakbagging
The gentleman who's trip report provided guidance for this trip
I have to say, it was pretty neat to see some famous-in-the-world-of-peakbagging names on the short list. The funny thing was most of the folks who signed the register noted they were headed to the summit of Southwest Big Spencer, in attempts to climb all the 450ish 3,000 footers in the state. Wow, I've barely climbed the 4,000 footers... some peakbagger I turned out to be. 

I inched my way back to the false summit and made it in about the same time- 40 minutes. It was a rough whack but I made it just as it started to rain.

Back on the summit, I enjoyed the view a little while longer. It is a unique view although you can't see Moosehead. However Little Spencer (Big Spencer's volcanic twin), Lobster Lake, the massive Chesuncook Lake, Ragged Lake, the Roach Ponds and all of the 100 mile wilderness were clearly visible. Katahdin was not clearly visible today. Nevertheless, a view like this could not be had anywhere else in the state... except for maybe Little Spencer

Wow! Only 8 more to go on New England's 50 Finest!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hiking White Cap Mountain in the 100-Mile Wilderness, Maine

The Maine Mountain Guide notes that the summit of White Cap Mountain is "arguably one of the finest in the state". After hiking dozens of mountains in the state and even more across New England, I would confer!
Most of the Appalachian Trail in Maine can be seen from the summit
Another great stop on my tour of the Maine North Woods was the gorgeous summit of White Cap Mountain which serves as the highest point on the Appalachian Trail's 100-Mile Wilderness. Its named the 100 mile wilderness because there are no services nor paved roads through this section, however it is easy for somebody to get into the woods for a day trip or overnight if they so wanted. For me, I was out to bag White Cap Mountain which can be hiked in a half to 3/4ths of a day, depending on which trail you use.

Here is a hiking map-

White Cap can also be hiked from the South by way of the White Brook Trail. This is somewhat more difficult to get to and I'd recommend 4x4 for the trailhead. However it is a less traveled section of White Cap and certainly worth the hike. 

The Maine Mountain Guide provides excellent directions from the center of town of Greenville. You can use the map above for directions as well. I noted two parking areas- the first was an area I used because there was a report that the road was flooded. The second is the usual parking area and is right at the gate which blocks off further travel. Either way, most of it is passable without having a high clearance vehicle, but drive at your own risk.
Glorious views of Katahdin and BSP at the summit
From the big yellow gate, its a 0.5 mile stroll through the woods on the old logging road with very little elevation gain. The turnoff for the Appalachian Trail isn't exactly marked with a billboard but you'll see it if you're looking for it. I did pass a moose both on the hike up and hike down in this area. 

From here, the Appalachian Trail climbs steadily up the mountain, gaining almost 500 feet immediately before going through a relatively flat section which parallels a brook. At 1.4 miles past the junction with the logging road, the trail comes to the Logan Brook Lean-To which is a great place for an overnight. If you're day hiking, this is the part where the trail gets steep. It is just under 1 mile to the summit from here.

I was surprised how well maintained the trail is through here. The steepness was certainly challenging, but stairs had been cut for a significant portion of the trail. The steps made the hike up less difficult. In no time at all, I was standing on the summit, with the camera rolling-
Looking south along the Appalachian Trail 
Another view of Katahdin
Changing colors as the sun sets
Little Spencer to the Left with Big Spencer on the Right
More views from the top
Is "arguably the best view in the state" an exaggeration? Katahdin is great, but I'd prefer White Cap. It is perhaps one of the only parts of the trail where you can see nearly 200 miles of it on one mountain- Old Speck was faint but visible with the horns of Bigelow very clear. 

I could have spent hours up there, but I had other destinations which included some bushwhacks to some off-the-grid peaks. Hopefully I'll return to White Cap soon.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!