Distance: 10.8 miles
Low Elevation: 900 feet
High Elevation: 2800 feet
Elevation Gain: 1940 feet
Elevation Loss: 1940 feet
Start Location: Gordon Pond TH
Finish Location: Gordon Pond TH
Route: Gordon Pond Trail to Gordon Pond, whack to 2800' of Wolf Cub south ridge and back
Weather: Breaks of sun turning to overcast, snow, sleet and rain. Probably around 40 degrees.
Companions: New Hampshire, JustJoe, HardCoreIdiot
A Good Day at Work Would’ve Been Better Than Wolf Cub, 18 APR 2010Ignorance is NOT Bliss
This title was pretty much set in stone on the way down. One of Brian’s quotables was “I know how people say we’ll look back at this in a couple of years and laugh. If any of you ever laugh at this trip, I will kill you.” I would like to write this report in a string of expletives, which would merely be a continuation of what the trees were exposed to yesterday. Ask me about it in person, and you will get a more colorful version.
Brian and I were trying to work out a low level hike, given reports of snowlines around 3k in many areas. He suggested Wolf Cub, the 3063’ bushwhack just east of Mt. Wolf. Perfect! Joe was wondering what we were doing, and he decided to come along only for the company, despite our taunts that he’d be pursuing the 3k list some day so he needed this, and then we had Greg along for the fun too, likewise not going for this list. I had attempted this peak solo in 2008, on my first real whack in the Whites. This was a miserable affair then with a constant stream of thick young fir. It couldn’t get any worse, right? Harumph. Of course, the snow came this week, and I tried to rationalize that since Lonesome only received 9” of snow, it couldn’t be that bad. We were determined to stop taking our snowshoes for a free ride, never to see our feet, and go light.
Gordon Pond Trail
We went up the Gordon Pond Trail at 7:45, which is up the driveway (which has a street sign), turning into a dirt road within sight. It’s directly across from the restaurant, and there is no trail sign. There was only a light coating of snow down low, and despite mocking Joe’s electronic thingy this week and now, it did the trick at navigating the myriad of logging roads and snowmobile trails in this area. My electronic thingy is far more old school (anyone remember the Garmin 12XL?) and had no such mappy thingy. You’d think blue blazes would indicate the hiking trail, but we saw them going off along the snowmo trails, too. Basically, I think it was stay left, but avoid sharp lefts.
The trail is mostly flat at first, and even the grades higher up are easy given that you only pick up around 1300’ of gain in about 5 miles. The snow started to get deeper, and I threw on spikes as the slushy nature of the snow was getting annoying. At Gordon Falls, the snow was maybe around 3-6” deep. The falls were interesting, but the water wasn’t flowing enough to make it quite dramatic. Here the trail levels out and hidden pockets of mud were aplenty. The occasional “argh!” could be heard as yet another was discovered. Snow levels were around 6-9” on the trail here. We went right by the spurs to the pond, up to where the trail started to climb, and I recognized a familiar spot. Perhaps we should’ve just kept going at this point.
Whacking up, or how we repeatedly lost 2-3 feet of elevation gain every few steps
The pond was covered in slush, and the flank of Mt. Wolf was visible, with the summit in the clouds. An interesting view at the least, and we took a break for food. Going around the east side of the pond at 11:30, we finally headed off for the whacking portion of our trip, which would be about a mile to the summit. We had hoped to follow the valley up to the col, but I had remembered it was fairly thick young fir through there, and sure enough, that’s what we got, all covered in snow, with frequent spruce traps. The snow here was measured in feet, and without snowshoes, was becoming a miserable affair. We’d hike along, hearing the occasional expletive echoing in the woods. Greg kept jokingly inquiring as to how this was fun. Our spirits being good at this point, we all had a good chuckle at this.
We decided we had enough of this stuff down low, and headed out of the valley, going right up to the ridge, which I heard was “scrappy.” Joe noticed he lost on his mini-crampons, which is assuredly why Greg came back with all the gear he went in with. We found open woods at first, and here I made another mistake. “This route’s easy!” Silly, silly man. We’d hit patches of thick stuff, stopping and trying to find a way around, skirting around them, finding more open woods (and spruce traps), on and on, slowly making our way. And slow it was. I normally figure on 0.5 miles per hour heading in on a whack at worst, but we were doing more like 0.3, and I was secretly getting concerned about the pace. Ah well, lots of daylight left.
Brian Sings Falsetto
At one of our many stops to make sure we had everyone, Brian didn’t show up. We called. No Brian. We waited, no Brian. Hmmm. Greg went back about 100 feet to find him standing in yet another spruce trap. Finally we learned he had taken a blowdown in that trap right to the most sensitive part of the male anatomy. Well, that would explain the long, quiet rest. He came up and simply said “I’m done.” I’m usually the bail guy. I gave Joe and Greg an opportunity to bail earlier, as there was no reason for bushwhacking this area other that the company, and I was worried we might be torturing them at that point, but they were all guns ho, go for it. Brian bailing means something is terribly, terribly wrong, and that’s exactly how this trip was going.
Whacking Down – or how we had to lost 2-3 feet of elevation loss every other step
We planned our exit route, getting off that ridge, when Joe kept heading towards the summit. I joked that he was going to take us there anyway, but he was merely skirting some more bad woods. I took the lead flying along through better woods, and then waiting for everyone to regroup. Greg was right behind me, but then no Joe and Brian. And no Joe and Brian. And no Joe and Brian. I yelled out, and they were below and behind me. I had crossed some moose tracks and should’ve waited there, as they accidentally followed Bullwinkle instead of me. And so the screwed up nature of the trip continued.
Regrouping, we ended up coming out in the valley of hell again, with the traps being worse than ever with softening snow. Now the swearing was constant. Frustration was building. I’m pretty light and was going in a lot, I can’t even imagine the hell Brian was having. I was wondering if it would take hours to get out of this mess. Yet, Greg and Joe were still in far better moods than Brian and I. Kudos, dudes. We were at least using a good open route, but that petered out right at the brook in short order. This spot looked extremely familiar, and sure enough looking back at my track, this is exactly where I ended up last time I was up here trying to get back to the pond. We headed up to get out of the valley and I found our old tracks. 20 feet from this, Joe fell into a really good spruce trap, and couldn’t extricate himself for about 10 minutes. I was waiting ahead, finally realizing I had the golden opportunity to pay him back after I got stuck butt sliding on the Valley Way with a picture of his misery. Alas, I was too late. Another time, Joe.
The Blessed Trail was only relative
Following our tracks, we at least had the opportunity to know where some of the traps were and avoid them, and we made the pond in short order at that point. I gave a very loud yell at Wolf Cub telling it exactly what I thought of it. We were soaked despite rain gear from snow bombs, snow on trees, snow from the sky, and now it was sleeting hard. I’m not sure about Joe and Greg, but Brian and I were pretty banged up. We were happy to be back on trail, but the mud sucked, the slippery snow sucked, and knowing the car was about 5 miles away sucked. It was quiet on the way down until we hit the powerlines, where we knew we were close, and moods improved. We got back around 4:30, enjoying dry clothes and Joe’s car heater.
My bitter post-analysis is I ****ed up on this one by not bringing shoes, but more so by going ahead with this in the first place in lieu of something more southerly and/or lower. I had wanted to believe so badly that late spring conditions ruled and ignored common sense that deep snow may not be gone, nor that much more than 9” had fell recently. Thank you gents for your company, it made a miserable trip at least tolerable. As Brian told Greg, now you’ve had the easiest (Pliny) and worst of whacking. It can’t get any worse. I hope. Of course, I think we convinced ourselves and Joe that he would indeed keep to his word and never do the 3k list. And now that valley holds at least 3 items of booty: Joe’s mini-crampon, my hat and my fleece. It is the Valley of the Lost.