An epic tale for epic times!
Or something like that. I was supposed to be at Jean-Sébastian and Julie's NH3k finish on Monadnock on Saturday, but just couldn't get out of working that day (currently on a Wed-Sun schedule of all things). Bummed out, I came up with plan B. A backpacking trip! Cripes, I haven't been backpacking in decades! Decided I'd love to revisit Garfield Ridge Shelter, a special place to me, and that going up via Franconia Brook, and then over Franconia Ridge the next day would fit the forecast perfectly. Sunny both days, logging camps to explore, haven't been on Franconia Ridge forever either, and I'd be avoiding the crowds early on a Tuesday. Expected lows in the 30's had me a bit conerned as I'm a cold whimp, but what the hey, my (also decades) old 20 degree bag should do ok. That and the heaviest sweater known to mankind.
Much packing and repacking, and thanks to some new gear, I managed to get the (also also decades old external frame) pack weight down to 23 pounds without water. Well, that seems doable! Except for that stupid piece of frame that drills into my shoulder blades. Mrs. Salty to the rescue with a couple layers of foam and I was ready to be a man of the woods!
Or something like that. First off, my camera battery was dead, and my charger no where to be found. Crap! I was hoping for good sunset pictures from the Garfield summit, and maybe some nighttime time lapse. The latter was out, and my cell camera would have to do. Crap. Surprised I could sleep given my excitement, I got to Lincoln Woods at 7:00 to a smattering of cars and someone else pulling in. Paid my $6 (which AGAIN I almost forgot despite a $75 fine one time), and happily headed out on the Lincoln Woods trail, with cold hands. Brrrr, fall is a-coming. At the Osseo junction I donned my liners and looked at a new sign about logging artifacts being the history of the area. Umm, you might want to note it's illegal to remove this stuff when you alert people to its presence. Oh well.
Hands finally warming up, I got the bejeebus scared out of me by a trail running suddenly appearing at my side. Quick hellos exchanged, we both resumed our solitude. The pack didn't feel too bad, and I was trying to pace myself, as this hike was a bit hefty for my relatively out of shapeness, but I couldn't help keeping at 3 mph. Oof. Well, if it's comfy, no reason to slow down. I guess.
Quickly to the Black Brook junction, then Franconia Falls and finally Franconia Brook a mere hour after starting. Why? Why, oh why, is this trail so quick heading in, and seemingly the slowest, most miserable time on earth on the way out? On to Franconia Brook, keeping my eye out for the old grade, which was easily seen and followed. To my surprise, it's way above the East Branch trestle, which confused me until I found out later that there were actually two trestles here, but I could find no evidence of the second.
I was on this trail not too long ago, and I love, love, loved it. The upper portion from Garfield Ridge with all it's moss looked mighty inviting also so I was thrilled to have the chance to hike the whole thing in a day.
Past the Lincoln Brook Trail, and a stop at the beaver pond. I was unusually hungry today (I don't eat breakfast, and rarely eat anything before noon on a hike), so I chowed down on a few things. Good, that lowered my overall pace a bit. I also feared getting in too early and being bored out of my skull, though I was hoping for a 1:00-2:00 arrival, which is not exactly a relaxed pace either.
I happily marched along, hitting the Camp 9 bog bypass, a section of trail I definitely do not enjoy in the least with poor footing and ups and downs. Stupid beavers. I once again kept my eye out for Camp 10, noticing something which led to believe RR activity was afoot, but it led to a swampy area, so back on the trail, scanning around and finding nothing else. Then again, I completely missed the Owl's Head branch which I've followed before. Up to Hellgate, delighting in a drought which had left the brook crossing easy. There are remains of the trestle here, and this was as far as I had gone in recent history (I did South Twin Brook Trail back in the 80's or early 90's, long forgotten).
Despite having seen, to my surprise, 3 groups of people coming down, the feeling of solitude was great. Until I heard a plane buzzing about. Dammit! My wilderness experience was now ruined! Grrr, grump, argh. Oh wait, I had forgotten about the shoulder launched surface to air missle I had tossed in at the last minute! Relishing the thought of losing pack weight, and after a swoosh, boom, and a crash, my Wilderness(tm) quietness returned. If you see remants of this rocket, it's logging artifacts, just leave it alone. Or ignore it.
I knew just about where camp 12 was (apparently one of JE Henry's minions couldn't count well, and figured 12 comes after 10...), and swore I found it, except for no artifacts. It just looked right. I headed back south a bit, and got suspicious and veered off trail. Bingo! In fact, I had originally found the landing, as an old photograph showed me later. Camp 12 was pretty neat, first a sled runner (the first thing I ever found at Camp 9, go figure), a piece of rail, a piece of a peavy. My favorite was this cook pot.
Off to Camp 13. My Achilles' were starting to really hurt, as were my hamstrings. I was now getting concerned I had bitten off more than I could chew. I was into the first 8 miles of an 11+ mile trip, and the uphill hadn't even started. Concerned something serious might happen once I was on the relatively ununsed portion of the trail past 13 Falls, I considered spending the night at the campsite at the falls. Problem was, Neesh was concerned about me backpacking solo, and I told her I would likely be able to let her know when I got into camp. At 13 Falls, that wasn't happening with 3 walls around it, and Mt. Hitchcock in the way further down the fourth side. Well, worst case, I'd head back down to 13 Falls if things got bad. Once on the ridge, there'd by traffic.
Apparently, I was so out of it with concerns I blew right by Camp 13. I saw a sled running next to the trail, which shoud've singaled I was probably near it, but I have no clue now. The pools looked inviting. On a hot day, that is.
Past the campsite, I had no inkling to go 75 feet on the upper end on Lincoln Brook to look at the water. It was 11:30 now, and I was figuring the trip up the ridge “headwall” could take quite some time. I wanted to make sure I got a good tent site, having no idea how full or empty the camp might be that night. The trail started out rocky and it wasn't long before I needed another break, despite not being on anything steep yet.
More food was apparently what I needed. I kept a good steady pace for the remainder of almost all of this trail, much to my surprise. The trail never got steep, and there were thankfully plateaus mixed in to keep me going. Even my tendons and muscles felt better going up. The footing improved fairly quickly with some nice sights along the way.
As I got near the elevation of the junction, the moss finally appeared. Not the best representation of it, but I was starting to struggle now.
Every time I thought this was the last uphill and the junction would appear, another hill appeared followed by a flat spot. Over and over. I was focusing on reaching the junction, and trying not to think about the last half mile to the shelter. It took me nearly 1.5 hours to go just over 2 miles, despite what I thought was a good pace, but I knew I'd be at camp before 2:00, which would be perfect. Another break, remembering the trip up to the shelter was going to be steep, and eventually I got moving again.
Pretty quickly you hit this.
Oh, how I had forgotten this. Maybe less forgotten and more repressed. I was less than happy now to have an overnight pack, but somehow clinged on and made it to the top. Easy grades after that which filled me with more dread. The longer I stayed on easy grades, the steeper it was going to be to get to the next junction. It didn't help that I could see the cone looming high above and close by. Sure enough.
The picture doesn't do it justice. Thankfully the lack of rain meant there was only a trickle running down this. There were some questionable spots as to which way was best, but enough handholds to make me feel comfortable enough. Up and up and up. I saw something white ahead and starting threatening some abiguous thing that it had better be the junction. 'Twas. Hallelujah! I decided to come back for water, I just wanted this danged pack off of me. This spur is what I call “The Last Cruel Part.” It's steep for the first half, the last thing you want so close. The caretaker was in the field, so the sign said, and looking at the map spotted the perfect site. I hoped. I wanted to be able to smoke without bugging anyone, so I headed down, seeing someone near the outhouse, when it hit me. A massive stench the likes of which I have not smelled before. Well, not since I had to open up the septic tank last year to thread a snake up to a blockage. I just wasn't expecting it. Turns out the caretaker on Crapper Emptyer Day. He said the site I wanted was indeed a single and available. Turns out the whole campsite was empty except for us two. I happily dumped the pack, and began setup and organized, looking forward to a lot of chill time.
Woo to the hoo. 1:50 PM. Took a few tries getting the ropes right for the tent, but I finally got it. Wait, where's the freaking sun??? High clouds rolled in, which I usually take to be a very bad sign. I went out for water to find a Quebecois rolling in setting up in the shelter. Cool, I didn't expect to be alone tonight, but was hoping I wouldn't have company at the next tent site. So far so good. Got water, and funny how much easier (but perhaps no more enjoyable) heading back up to the site was. I still swear the sluice log is the same as it was in the 80's. Danged good replica anyway. I stopped by the bench, my special memory spot, and spent a little time there, still wishing how someone special could make it up here again, but far less emotional than the last time I visited here alone.
Back to the tent, I called Neesh to let her know all was well. I checked the forecast quickly (feeling weird accessing the internet from out here). Today, sunny. Tonight, clear. Tomorrow, sunny. I sure as hell hope so. I threw on the rain fly, getting really concerned about rain, moreso because there was a hole in it, and I had no option to keep my other gear dry than to sleep with it in a crowded one man tent, and throw it in the shelter at people. Oh well, what comes, come, and I was stark raving starving. Again, very unusual. OK, dinner at 3 PM sounds good. Fired up the untried pocket rocket that's been sitting around for about 4 years, and it worked like a charm. Freeze dried spaghetti never tasted so good. Too good. Too HOT! Ow ow ow! I didn't bring a plate (gotta keep that weight down, right?!), so I had slowly eat, which I did not like. I wanted to devour this in 40 milliseconds. Grabbed some water, back up to the bench, where I enjoyed the view and ate. And ate. Serves 2? No, serves one. Other folks came rolling in slowly. I was impressed so many folks were out on a Monday. Dinner over, back to the tent, everyone setting up in the shelter except for one couple who took a far tent site. Cool!
I sat for a bit, and at 4:30, realizing only cloudset was happening tonight, decided to head up Garfield to kill some time. I bought a fanny pack (for real) just for this purpose, and loaded up some essentials and headed up. I knew how steep this section was from memory, but it wasn't bad (not great, but not bad) without all the weight. A couple on the summit was on their way to the shelter, but that was it for the crowd. Once again, my eye went straight to the hump leading out to the cliffs, once again, I shuddered at the nasty blowdown on the ridge. Gotta come up from below if I ever do that one.
Views were quite excellent, with Quebec peaks visible, just no sun, and the clouds to the west looked a bit menacing. More worries about rain. The Pemi view was great as always, with some fall color starting to show.
Back down, more people had come in, all setting up in the shelter, including some southbounders on the AT. I shuddered at the thought of the snorefest that would be. Time to break out some whiskey I had brought, and again back to the bench to grumble about the cloud cover. I could see breaks here and there, but there was no promise of real clearing. Sneaking a cigarette here and there, mixing whiskey and water, it suddenly happened.
WOW! I hadn't expected this. I kind of wished I was up top, but I was hardly in a position to compain. I was ecstatic to be here. For 10 minutes this lasted, a couple came up and said they'd have to come back to see the color, but I knew it was now or never.
I did wish I had my good camera though, this is exactly the situation I wanted for proper adjustments, and super zoom of Bondcliff. Oh well, this would have to do!
The sun disappeared, and I headed back to my tent, giddy with this bit of fortune. I sat for a bit, and hearing all the talking up at the shelter, I decided to be sociable. Turns out it was an awkward-fest. First, I'm not comfortable around new people at all but it takes very little for me to become otherwise. I tried, perhaps too hardly, to strike up a nice conversation with someone, failing all the while. I finally slipped off back to my tent. Darkess was falling, a little bit of orange glow showed in the sky, but nothing worth running back for pictures. I could see lights in the valley, including cars on some distant road. I found it funny to think they had no idea that high up in the mountains they were being watched. Well, of course they wouldn't!
As it got even darker, I was awed by how I could still see light on the west facing side of the trees, despite objects on the ground being difficult to see. I was once again feeling blessed to be here, what a great experience. I never enjoyed backpacking this much before. Finally it just got plain old dark, my whiskey was finished, and I headed to my bag to read for a bit. Brrr. I really felt the cold getting into the bag. I want my sweater! Problem was I'd have to take off my fleece to get the sweater on. Brr brr brr! Feeling much better after that, I read and by 9:00 I was done. I knew it was a bad idea to go to bed this early, as I cannot sleep well in a sleeping bag and pad, but I was toast. 10 or 15 minutes later, I was out.
Yes, I'm still at writing long winded reports. Mainly to keep the memory fresh for me. If you got this far, I guess there's some worth in it, but honestly, I don't care it no one reads this. :-)
I woke around 12:30 or so having to pee. Stupid booze. I started to get out, but also started shivering uncontrollably at the cold. Dang it! Maybe I can wait until morning. Pee crowded out any sleep, so I got up. As soon as I was standing, the chills went away. What the heck? Hmm, wind kicking up up high, but the sky cleared! Woo hoo! Back into the bag, back into shivering. Weird. Now fear of not being able to get back to sleep. 10 or 15 minutes later I was asleep. Up again around 4:00, peek outside, still clear, wind down a touch. Yippee! Some calculations, too early to get up for a Garfield sunrise. Back to sleep. Up again at 4:45, cripes, now I didn't want to get up, I could sleep for another hour or two at least. Wait a minute, this has NEVER happened to me. It's always up at first light or earlier and can't sleep anymore. Wow, what a nice change! Out of the bag, shivering again until I got moving a bit. Must be something with moving in that bag that makes me cold.
Up to the crapper and a cold seat, nobody is up yet, unsurprisingly. Quietly back down to make coffee (aka nectar of the gods) and then breakfast of freeze dried apple crisp. Oh yum, I'm dieing for breakfast today. Dive in, HOT HOT HOT! I'll never learn. I eat, again, serves 1, not 2. And of course, at some point, the sky clouded over. Light comes, and we're back to a completely overcast sky again. I power up the phone again to find the forecast of “sunny.” Male bovine fecal matter is what I'm thinking.
Well, I had reservations about the ridge anyway, which is 3 miles longer and a lot of elevation gain tacked on, despite feeling no tightness in my legs, another surprise. The climb up to Lafayette is daunting enough, though, never mind the humps of Lincoln, Liberty and Flume. Well, the weather clinches it. Back down the same way. I'm ok with it, I had a great trip so far and it'd give me the chance to find Camps 13 and 10 again. I'm off at the surprising late hour of 7 AM as most everyone else is up and cooking.
Fill up on water and I gingerly descend the cone. Going down is so much worse than up, and I'm being especially careful. I happily walk the flat part, dreading the final spill, uh, drop before the junction. I clng to trees on the side, careful to not let anything push on my pack and knock me off balance. It went well enough, break at the Franconia Brook junction yet again. And then head on down. This is a Wilderness trail, so there's no blazes and reduced maintenance standards. This too is a little more difficult going down as brook drainages and whatnot look much like a trail. The maintener, however, did a fantastic job of what I think a Wilderness trail should be maintained to. It's wild appearing, yet there are subtle enough purposeful clues as to which way one should go. Bravo to whoever you may be.
I was thinking of detouring off onto Lincoln Brook Trail, another trail I've longed wanted to travel for its remoteness, but was a bit concerned about getting off my stated plans. Still, it would be unlikely anything should happen. I did head out to the ledges at 13 Falls and looked over the options.
It looked like a couple miles longer, which was fine, but there was a 700 foot climb to deal with, which I was less than enthused about. Only when I looked closer did I realize it was a thousand foot climb. Screw that! Some other day. Keeping my eyes peeled, I found Camp 13 easily. Lots of things to look at here.
Favorite here was a boot heel. This camp was in operation in the 1900-1910 timeframe, it's amazing something like this was still here.
Cool, this day was turning out just fine. Past camp 12, and the hunt for 10 was on. Oh wait, there's another branch line somewhere. Mr. Eagle Eyes was on the prowl. Meaning, I almost missed it. You can see from the side, but not where it enters the main line. Hmmm, should I? Shouldn't I? Why not. If it gets hairy, turn around. I didn't expect to go all the way to an old camp, but did want to be sure this was it, and get a sense of it.
Well, the going wasn't bad, there was some push through fir/spruce and I kept heading up. Signs of moose, as well as something else. Something big. Something bear sized. Further on, bear scat. I've always wanted to camp at Redrock Pond, but something has always disconcerted me about it. It used to be called Bear Pond. Walled in on three sides, and a source of water did nothing to dispel my unusual fear of bear, and now this scat was doing zero to help. Sounds like a daytrip. I followed the spur for about 0.35 miles, and decided I didn't want to go too much further off where I said I'd be. The trail was only about 400 feet away, but down a somewhat steep slope. I stepped off to find rock holes. Screw this, I'm not breaking an ankle. I'll leave that to Joe. Further back, the slope looked better, and I realized the rocks were from the blasting to put the grade in and would disappear quickly. Sure 'nuff. Back to the trail and off to find Camp 10. A brief shower made noise on the leaves. Yeah, sunny. Good job, folks.
I poked about one location I thought likely only to find zero. At the Owl's Head Branch, I rockhopped across with only wet soles (very unusual!) to be unable to find the far side of the crossing, but had fun poking about. Once again, I was drawn to the same oddity and instead followed it a little further to find a not so wet spot. Grown in, but not wet. Hmm, sheet of steel, a peavey piece, and bingo, a big old piece of hardware clinched it. Success!
A couple of bottles and other stuff was strewn about. While the clues were there, this was the most difficult of the camps I had found so far (granted, I have not looked for many), and was very excited to have found it. Addicting, this is. OK, mission accomplished, a good day despite the change in plans, time to get out! I was now in fast mode, and the backpack was finally taking its toll on me. I grumbled at the Camp 9 bypass again, and, well, what the hell, low water, let's check out the old grade again. I noticed some things I hadn't before, but with a full pack on I couldn't delve too far. Somehow it never occurred to me to remove the pack, but just as well, I wanted out. Noted for another time. Amazing how many things there still are to see in this area.
I happily came to the Lincoln Woods Trail and I was absolutely in need of a food and rest break, as well as in need of water. The beach on the brook did a fine job of it. I kept trying to see if I could spot a trout. I never can. Not so happily, I shouldered the pack again, and began the long trudge out. Should only be an hour if I move decently. It was 50 minutes. It seemed like 3 hours. My feet were killing me, my shoulders were killing me, every little landmark took forever. Many hikers know it. The Lincoln Woods Death March. “Cheeseburger. Cold beer. Hot shower. Yum!” became my tortuous mantra. What a difference from yesterday. Every. Single. Time. Finally at the lot, I wanted to pop in to see who was manning the Ranger station, but just couldn't. Get this pack off and get me to a shower. I stopped to see Steve on the way out and have a chat, and picked up a map. I love maps. Back home I regaled my wife in pretty much this same story you read here. It was probably a three beerer.
While this wasn't the trip I had planned, it was the trip that couldn't have been better. I found a whole new love for backpacking. I could sleep well, watching the woods get dark felt special. Even the pack weight wasn't terrible with the padding, I just wasn't in the best shape for such a long trip. I can't wait to do more excursions into the deeper part of the woods without having the day trip rush on. Problem is, as I write this, it is now October, and while camping in the 30's was ok, any colder than that ain't happening. So it will provide more than a few pleasant moments to me this winter to stare over maps and make plans for next year, and dream of what new adventures await.
Yeah, it's finally the end of this!