After a long winter of pretty much zero hiking, I yet again made plans to get out, except something was different this time. I actually got out. I can usually tell how serious I am, but how much the excitement builds during the week, and the weather was certainly helping. I haven't been to Cardigan since 1985, and have never been up the west side. The distance and elevation gain was perfect for what I was looking for to get back into shape without killing myself, and I always had the option of Orange if I wanted more distance.
I got up plenty early raring to go, and as a bonus the trailhead was only a hour away. Cardigan Mountain Road was bordering on wet and icy mud, so I had to take it real easy before this hike ended too soon. At the lot at the end of the State Park drive, I was surprised by a car already there at 6:40. Probably getting some sunrise shots on this completely clear day.
I barebooted up the road, got to the parking lot soon enough, silently thanked the Park folks for leaving the bathroom unlocked and searched for the trail. Hmmm, all I saw was a track going by the dual bathrooms. Must be it. No blazes, though, odd, but clearly tracked out. The snow was a bit mushy so it wasn't long before I tossed on the snowshoes. I normally HATE wearing snowshoes. They make my walking weird, and cause me groin pain, but today they weren't an issue at all, so I plodded along at a surprisingly good clip, given how out of shape I was. Eventually I came to a line of blazes heading in two directions, and surprised there was no sign, took a left on the West Ridge Trail. Later I found the trail I was on wasn't an official trail at all, but it did appear to come out at the junction. Now blazed, I kept on keeping on, shocked to see my speed on my GPS. Muscle memory? I dunno. I certainly wasn't trying to hike hard, I was just out to take my time and enjoy.
Further up, I ran into some ice bulges that looked, ahem, interesting, and figured it was time for a break.
I took my time getting around the bulges, still slipping occasionally, and that was pretty much that. I hit the next junction, and some views started opening up. I was actually getting excited – it was just too long since I've had a view! A nice undercast was in the Conn. River Valley area.
Coming to the ledges, off went the shoes, and it felt strange to not be wearing them. There was ice on the rock in places, requiring some extra care, but nothing major. I certainly had no complaints today. My legs were feeling the steeps, however, as the tower came into view and I pushed on to a summit that was barren of anyone else. Sweet! There's something to be said for getting up very early and having one of the most popular peaks in New Hampshire completely to yourself.
I found a spot out of the brisk wind and went about to taking some pictures. Someone was coming up, we said hello, he went to the summit and then turned right around. Must be his morning exercise! With almost 30 years gone by, I had certainly forgotten what was visible and what was not from up here, and the weird perspective threw me off especially for the Whites. Washington was my only placemark (later finding out that's the Arrow Slide on the “hill” in front of it),
and then Moosilauke became evident.
Finally I realized one range I was looking at was the Bonds, and then everything else fell into place. Apparently complete with labels.
Of course, Kearsarge was quite evident to the south with Ragged looking rather ragged in front of it.
Finally I decided to move on, heading down the Clark Trail to go over the south peak. I didn't remember the Clark being so steep, so I put on the spikes and weaved around trying to keep tracks in site and stay on the snow. It was a bit hairy, but finally I spotted the wardens cabin and had a look back.
Snowshoes now on, I went ahead, seeing south peak occasionally through the trees. I kept watching for a trail on the left, getting off track a couple times, before I realized I was pretty much back to the West Ridge Trail. Ah, screw it, might as well redline it. So down to the junction, then back up again to find my error. No wonder. The trail I was looking for branched off slightly to the right coming up, so it wasn't surprising I completely missed it coming down. Ah well, an easy trip to the south peak, with an interesting wall.
I could see some folks on the summit now, so I relished in my timing. I now knew Orange was really going to be pushing it too much, especially with a steep 400' climb back up to the South Ridge Trail. No problem, another day, I was having a great one. Why ruin it? So down to the Skyline junction, and then back into the woods for good on the South Ridge Trail. And then at around 2700', I saw this.
Oh crap. This is going to suckity-suck-suck. And it did! I hung onto trees for dear life, and slowly lowered myself down. I kept seeing flatter ground way below, and was immensely relieved to finally se it arrive. Now I kicked it into high gear, stepping on the monorail from time to time and sinking down quite a bit even in shoes. And then it happened. I sunk down and tripped on a trapped shoe. BANG! My knee hit the hard ice monorail. Trees were stripped bare of their needles from my expletives. I got up, apparently just sore and moved off a little slower now.
I came out to the parking lot, clearly a different way than I had came in (being on an actual trail now), and saw a couple guys who were going to climb up, but didn't realize how icy it'd be. Good for them at least realizing their limits. Back down the road with another couple going up, and back to the car at 10:45. Holy crap, I was going to be home by noon. And I did! Where I sat in a post-hike stupor for the rest of the day, thinking about what to hike next week.