So, after 5 weeks away on vacation, we arrived home on Saturday at a nice 10:30 in the morning. Got the necessary things done around the house, and despite looking forward to lounging around on Sunday, the weather forecast was just too tempting. Sunny, high 60's up north, low humidity. Pack the bag, I'm off to the woods. Plus, the thought of gaining a week on my finish was hard to resist, too.
I came to the Ripley Falls sign, and saw a bunch of cars there, so I figured the road must be gated ahead. I started off feeling chilly, saw a through hiker with poles and I realized I forgot mine. Plus I saw cars up the hill. Off to a fine start. Back down, grabbed the car and the poles, on the trail at 7:45. Quickly up to the railroad tracks, I saw another AT hiker on the left and headed over. Oh, wait, this is just the old Willey House Station. Dang it!
Back to find the (obvious) trail, I noted a lot of erosion. Perhaps Irene, perhaps because it was the heavily used AT. It reminded me how much I miss little used trails. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I checked my map at the Ripley Falls junction and saw I had 400 feet of steep climbing, and then the grade would moderate, ending at the plateau where Ethan Pond was. Heading up, it wasn't terribly steep, but I was struggling a fair bit, huffing and puffing and having to take a few breaks. I just kept reminding myself this would be the steepest part, this would be the steepest part. The elevation ticked off, and then the moderate grade was actually pretty easy, and I chugged up the next 800 feet without stopping except at the Willey Range Trail junction.
I kept waiting for flatness, thinking I could see it ahead to no avail. After one short steep climb, there it was. Woo hoo! Gravy for a couple miles.
I had noticed the woods looked sketchy to downright impenetrable heading up, but I was feeling a little less nervous as I hit the plateau.
Brian and Joe had reported great woods going up to the summit from the south, so I was looking forward to an easy day. First things first, I haven't been to Ethan Pond since 1986, and really wanted to revisit it. I also knew I'd be less likely to on the way down, so after anxiously awaiting the junction, I started to hear voices to the right ahead of me, came to the junction, and quickly arrived at the pond. Sweeeeeeet.
The rock hop was interesting, and I had the feeling the water was likely higher than last time I was here. I stopped at the shelter for a break, and had a bit of conversation with a section hiker, finally eating my breakfast. Well, even though it was 9:20, I still had a lot of hike ahead of me and set off. But as I hiked along, I wanted to get a view from the south shore, so maybe 1/3rd of the way along the pond, I plunged in the woods and got the view I wanted.
Back to the trail, and I figured about ½ hour to the jumping off point, but it only took 20 minutes. I had almost cranked by it. I searched for a suitable place to jump in without an excessive drop to the streams north of here, and found this spot, which looked good to me.
I crossed the streams easily, and made quick time in open woods with some hobblebush, and even finding a fern field. Oh boy, was this going to be easy. Dummy. As the sloped picked up, the woods closed in. I was weaving all over the place pushing through trees to where I thought I'd see open woods, only to find moderate ones. This is pretty typical of most of the way up.
OK, this sucked. I wasn't mentally ready for this after a long break, and had to stop a fair bit to catch my breath. I was just focusing on the 0.6 miles to get to the little flat area around 3400', and it was going slowly. I found a ferny wide path, and figured it must be an old logging road. Better yet, instead of side-sloping as most do, this one was exactly in the direction I needed. Yay! It petered right out in young growth. Suck! I found another one with the same results and just struggled my way up. I finally hit the flat area, and remembered I had to skirt west to avoid some crap, but the east side was wide open for a while, but then I found the crap, and kept going way left to find no openings.
Crap, screw it, just plunge in. It was thick young growth with copious blowdowns, one of my least favorite woods, only equaled by dense sticks woods you have to literally push hard to get through. Dammit, how did I screw this all up. I had little thoughts popping in my head to say screw it, but I was only about 0.4 miles from the summit and pushed on. It finally opened up a bit, and I thought I was finally through it all. Nope, it closed in yet again.
I took another of many breaks on the way up, and had a smoke to collect my wits. I was dead tired and pushing out of shape body too much, but I was only ¼ mile away now, and with the list finish so close, I couldn't stomach the thought of returning here in a few weeks to re-do it. Helllll, no. I set off again, but after moving only about 100 feet, I had to stop again. I was wrecked, and knew what I needed backly. Sweet Tarts to the rescue. I gobbled down a package, and almost immediately felt the much desired effect.
I hit a flat area, and started searching the bumps. Eventually I took a peak at the GPS, and saw I was still about 0.2 miles away for the center of the highest contour. Oh, come on. At least the woods were now finally decent, and I moved along, starting my bump search after a while. The bumps kept getting higher, and then I came to the high point finally. A wave of relief swept over me. #171, and I said to myself, “and then there were five.” Phew. It was 11:45 and it had taken 2 hours to get through the 1 mile whack.
I took a long break on a beautiful day, amazed that I had seen zero bugs today, in August. Finally, I packed up, got a bearing on where I needed to go, noted the sun position and set off determined to just stay in good woods on the way down. I kept getting pushed to the right, but seeing the sun generally where I needed it, didn't think much of it, especially since I was indeed keeping in good woods. Anytime anything sketchy presented itself, I kept seeing something good to the right. A Spruce Grouse scared the crap out of me, flew up a tree and kept an eye on me. At around 3250' however, I realized I had gone quite a bit to the right, heading to a point a mile further away that where I went in. Oops.
In hindsight, I should've just stayed with it. Good woods/fast/longer distance would've been quicker. I pushed through some thick stuff, but was pleasantly surprised to find a flat area that looked boggy, but was dry as can be.
I cranked through this, though a bit disturbed to keep finding bear poop. Bears don't worry me. Bears with cubs worry me. Hmmm, flat, 3250'. Crap, now I was on the SSW ridge, heading right for an extremely steep section. No, no, this will not do. More course corrections, and at 3000' I could see a sharp drop ahead. I skirted left, and side hilled down a steep section. And finally, I found another old road. It petered, and I could see more ferns on the side. Go over there, same results. But every time one road was blocked by growth, I could see more ferns one one side or another, and I was finally making good time down the hill, and again, the roads were going exactly where I needed to go.
Before the stream crossing in the flat area, I came to these woods. Where the hell were these earlier?!
I came near the stream, where a well worn herd path paralleled it, and tried to find a non-swampy area to cross. I heard nothing ahead so I knew I was downstream of the confluence and after a little climb, I hit the trail again. Oh, thank you! It took an hour and 20 minutes to get back.
I walked for about 10 or 15 minutes before I came to where I went in and plunged ahead. The trail only goes very slightly upward here, but my wiped out legs could still feel it. I kept chanting “Ethan Pond. Ethan Pond. Ethan Pond” as I plodded along looking forward to the spur trail. It was a long 20 minutes before I hit it. Yet the trail still went up. Crap, ok, a little longer, and finally, FINALLY, the trail flattened and then started going down.
I started moving fast now as I let gravity do its thing, and especially when I got to the steep section just before the Ripley Falls junction I was running down the boulder hopes instead of expending energy braking. The rest went quickly, and I was thrilled to see the car at 3:00. More thrilled that it wasn't a thousand degrees inside it.
Not the hike I expected, but still glad to take advantage of an unusual August day, and bang out another peak. Soon enough I'll be doing what I want versus what I need.