Zealand and Haystack Roads open. Sawyer River closed. South Hale it is. We debated the route to take, me pushing for up the N. Twin Trail to the 3rd crossing, Brian wanting to go over Hale. Distance didn't matter, the gain was a little greater going back over Hale, but the whacking distance was shorter and we had the option to hit East Hale (on no list, but has views) up or down. This worked out to be the better route as it turned out.
We drove up hitting snow around Campton. Snow? Three days from May? Seriously? Franconia Notch was socked in with snow squalls, and a few hardy souls in three boats were on a choppy Profile Lake in a brisk wind and temps. in the 20's, this being the first day of trout pond fishing. Got my respect. Zealand Road had a layer of snow on it, and I managed to slide right by the first entrance to the Hale Brook Trail. Brilliant. We threw on all kinds of layers and set off at 8 AM, with a couple people behind us getting ready to go. It was cold, breezy, and there was about 1/4 of snow on the trail.
We were cranking it out, stopping to change layers 3 times, and one or two short water breaks. I was on this trail in 1988, but remember nothing, but this is one of the finest 4k trails I've seen. Awesome grades and good footing. There was a little ice near the top which slowed us down a bit, but that's it. Finally getting my non-winter legs again. Brian is just SuperBrian since he lost 70 pounds, not much slows him down anymore.
Brian noticed the point where the East Hale whack begins on the ridge, and I noted a ok woods, but a number of young firs all covered with snow. Brrrr. The wind was picking up as we got higher, and I was looking forward to a quick break on the summit. All the wind allowed was a single quick picture of Brian's thoughts on Hale.
I bet there was views when I was up here last. Clearly, there was none to be had today. We cruised past the summit to a flat spot on the Lend-A-Hand trail, then noting what someone had told Brian to watch for. It was either a water or fuel tank just off the trail. We didn't stay long, as the wind was cooling us down and my hands were getting painful, but at least the sun was starting to come out as promised. Yay, winter.
We moved carefully down the cone due to the ice, but then got moving again on the small hump and otherwise flat section. At the point we wanted to start in, the woods looked moderately thick, and the cold and snow on the trees made wanting to dive in less than desirable, so we moved on. I could see more sunshine ahead, and we came to an open swampy area. We moved along this for a bit, and started in. A little wet, but nothing major. On the other side, I led us to a wall of fir. To the right seemed the best option, but I kept getting pushed right further and further until I was paralleling the trail heading north. OK, this is stupid. I had seen the tops of hardwoods to the right earlier, and just behind us, there it was so we just pushed through 20 feet of thick stick woods and popped out in the open. Brian led from here. This is more of what we expected, nice open woods.
We just went into terrain mode following the ridge up, and taking note of the small bump before the summit. We hit one small patch of thickish stuff on the way up, but popped right out again in open woods. Some skirting here and there and we stayed in the open the remainder of the way. Coming up on the summit area, we checked the southern area until the land dropped to the north and west for a high point, then carried on to the northwest. Oh geez, just past where we turned to search the south bumps was a large rise which we couldn't see due to everything being all white. The summit was found quickly after that.
Brian had hinted at earlier the possibility of not doing East Hale today, and I voiced my thoughts on it. Cold, windy, won't be able to hang and enjoy. He fully agreed, and also voiced my next thought which was screw going back over Hale. So we'd take the south route out to the hut and have a short road walk. Brian said I got us here, you get us down. I shrugged my shoulders, not that this was a big task. I said I was just going to follow our tracks except for the couple sketchy sections we hit. Hmmm, now which way did we come?
I lost our tracks here and there, or just chose obvious moose lanes instead, not particularly caring in these open woods as long as I was on the ridge. We hit one sharply down spot and thick woods, and I just backtracked a bit and headed left to avoid it. We were moving fast, crazy fast for a bushwhack. We emerged at the open area near the trail and got a decent view of Bemis, Nancy, Lowell and Anderson. Hmmm, we're in for a steep time coming off Anderson, the left peak of the double peaks shown here.
Back on trail, we had a couple interesting icy spots, some hidden (iced over) mud holes, and it finally started to warm up. A lot of people at the hut, and Brian reaffirmed his dislike of the Zealand Trail. Personally, I love this trail for all the interesting little ponds, streams, and the fast walking, except for the section near the end off the railroad grade, which is rooty and bumpy. We met the usual interesting cast of characters on the way out, including the group of 4 who when I said hi they just stared at me like I was about to kill them and eat them. Sheesh.
We were hoping that Greg and Desi, who were in the neighborhood, might be waiting at the trailhead, even though they didn't know we were coming out this way, to save a road walk. No luck. Actually the walk was neat, as we noticed a few things that we'd never see whizzing by in the car. Turns out they were indeed there, but about an hour earlier.
So, I'm glad we did not go up from Haystack Road. The route is steeper, which would've slowed us down. The easy to moderate grades all the way kept us moving, which warded off getting cold. I'm sure we were much faster going that way. Skipping East Hale was a very wise move. So four things for the post-list list, just in this area. East Hale on a nice day. I found out after the fact we were within 200 of some cliffs on South Hale I've had my eye on (but not for today!), so that'll warrant a visit given the great woods. We saw some ledges off Zealand Road that looked cool, and I'll be wanting to check out the old railroad grade heading north off the route I had originally wanted to go up. It's going to be a busy couple decades.