Conditions: Bare at 1500 feet, spikes on around 2000 feet, compacted crusty snow, no more than 4” at summit. Constant sound of Waterville snow guns ruined our wilderness experience. ;-)
'Twas the last weekend before Winter, and with low snow levels, another bushwhack was in order for Brian, Joe, Greg and I. Bob ignores us when the “B” word comes up. ;) We went round and round with options, Flat came up but was thought to be too short, so I finally compiled a list of 7 mountains and 12 options. We ended up with Flat via Fletcher's Cascades, the original plan. :) Then I noticed the headwall of the cascades was really steep and tried to steer us away from that, but Mr. Water (aka Joe and numerous other nicknames) would have none of that. No problem, it was steep, but at least short.
We left the snowless Drake's Brook lot at 8:20 and made nice time going up the easy slope, switching into Microspikes as we neared the cascades as the snow, ice and the grade picked up. We came to the stepped cascades, which was incredibly, errrrrm.... static. Frozen solid. So Joe being Joe, he ventured out onto the ice to get a view towards Tecumseh while I kept having visions of him slipping or falling through. I think I've turned into my mother. We carried on to more frozenness, Joe and I vowing to return in spring when it should be spectacular. At the falls, Joe went right out onto the ice again, Greg went out a bit, and Brian took one step and immediately broke through some slush. I stayed put and worried about everything. :)
Time to whack. Yes, it was steep, rising about 300 feet in about 0.15 miles. Brian and I grumbled that we thought we had been done with steeps on S. Hitchcock last week (Greg was with us but Greg never complains), but it went quickly enough. From there, the grade lent itself to the naming of this mountain, sort of. Of course, nothing is flat, so we hit some PUDs, missed others, on and on. The whole walk was merely an exercise of staying in woods that were moderately open to moderately thick, and constant maneuvering to avoid a parade of walls of thick woods. Nothing terribly difficult, just a big mind exercise. We would occasionally have to push through short thick patches of young fir, most of these around some ledgey areas, one of which had some limited views. I couldn't see Kearsarge. I cried.
Fortunately, the trees were not loaded with powder unlike last week, so the constant dumping of snow was avoided. Mostly they had melted granular snow, which held firm onto the trees. Very welcome.
One of the thick patches ended up separating all of us as we tried to make our way through it. Joe went around it, I wasn't sure what Greg did as he was ahead of Brian, I tried to get through it, got mired and turned back taking a wide detour around it, and Brian the Burly Beast just fought through what I think he referred to as “the frozen hell”. I found someone's tracks at one point, left them as they started to get back into some thicker stuff, and we met on the other side, staying in voice contact. From there, it was a pleasant short walk to the summit boulder.
Going down was interesting. I had beta that the northwest ridge was good, and it's a bit of a navigational challenge to get to it given the flatness of it up high. The woods starting closing it, and we'd get pushed off to the right for a while, then off to the left, then to the right again, never really staying on the ridge center line for long, but always missing the thick woods. I kept barking out directions, and fortunately for me, my friends don't mind this, but finally at 2600', beautifully open woods presented themselves. We discussed and shot for the nearby ridge once again, but some spruce and blowdown finally made us realize going off the ridge to the east was too irresistible. From there it was beautiful open woods and we popped out on a ski trail about 0.5 miles further out than we intended, but speed over distance isn't much of a quandary.
We came to the Dry Joe's XC trail to some snickering, but when we saw the Sloppy Joe's trail, much childish behavior ensued. :D We arrived back at the car at 3:00, all reveling over what a short hike this was. ;-) Yeah, it was a long day, a lot of miles off trail, but with a great group of friends, the time went by pretty quickly and pleasantly. And so ends the great Fall of Cramming Whacks In. Everyone else will be off pursuing the winter 48's next week, and so I'll use the opportunity to knock off some of the 4k's I need, but there will be few opportunities for a big bunch of us to get together in the next month of so. So thanks gents for another fantastic and fun year, and a Merry Christmas to you and yours. I'm asking Santa for good weather soon for a certain traverse. That and a BobC. :)