I had been reading about Trish and Alex’s climb toward the 48, and thought it would be fun to tag along and finally meet some new people in the flesh on the finish on Moosilauke. Alex is an adorable 7 year old who’s done more in a year than I’ve done in about 25. Diito for Trish, her mom (except she’s not 7), who tags along hauling up all kinds of gear and keeps making sure her little girl is safe and mostly happy. My plans were all over the place, with the Baldfaces in the mix, and it looked like there would be a LOT of people (I have an aversion to being the new guy in a large crowd), so I was in and out of this hike, but finally decided to go.
I was staying in Woodstock, so it was a real treat to get up late, and still be at the trailhead early, taking a whopping 20 minutes. There were cars parked all the way down to the service road for the lodge. I started off at around 9:15 or so and immediately took a wrong turn (portending of things to come), ending right back on the Asquam Ridge Trail instead of the Gorge Trail that I wanted. Argh. A quick correction and I was heading in the right direction.
It was pleasant travelling, and I stopped frequently to take water pictures. At the 3300 foot sign I could see a large group ahead. I saw red hair from behind, hmmm, might be Trish, and then spotted the kilt (Madriver). I then knew I had caught up to them. Introductions were made, and there were indeed many familiar names, and it was good to see Bob and Geri again. We went up at a slow pace, as expected when you have little legs with you, and eventually Sage (Alex’s 5 year old sister) got plomped right into the backpack. She was quite cozy and giggly, eventually falling asleep. One Tim would eventually help out Trish and carry her partway up, and another Tim (BikeHikeSkiFish) would help on the way down. Very nice, folks.
We all were pretty much changing places in line here and there, having a pleasant time up, and made it just below the summit, where Dad Hugh was waiting with a big grin on his face upon seeing the girls. We all summitted pretty much right at noon, where there was much cheering, congrats, and picture taking. And lots of posing. Patches were handed out, food, gifts. A nice party on the Moose.
The views were in and out with the clouds, and it was pretty windy and chilly up top. I think I stayed for about an hour. The group’s plan was to stay until 2, but I had decided on the way up to go down Asquam Ridge for a change of scenery and to pack some more miles on, I didn’t feel too bad about cutting out early. Keith D’Alesandro had mentioned Mt. Blue had a jar on it, and hey, that’s on the Trailwright’s list, I’m up here already, why not add a short little whack? Unfortunately, all I had for maps were the AMC maps from the late 80’s or early 90’s, and a printout from the WMG online of the Gorge Brook Trail, which left out pretty much everything from Mt. Jim to past Mt. Blue. Well, that shouldn’t be a problem. Ha ha…
I was looking for the height of land (according to my AMC map), where the peak should lie north. I thought I had gone past it, where lo and behold, an extremely well defined herd path appeared. Joy! Happiness! This will be soooo easy. As I was going in, I was decided getting out my compass would be a swell idea, checked it, and got some strange readings. It had seemed I was going west, but the readings were wayyyy off from that. In fact, I think I even had some southerly readings. Impossible! Something must be wrong with the rocks here or my compass. Ah well, we have a nice herd path. Of course, the Law of Herd Paths clearly states they can only do one thing. Start to peter out. There were a couple of spots it was hard to follow, but by watching the ground carefully, could be picked up again, faintly, but present. More compass checks and more goofy readings. Ehh, getting back shouldn’t be a problem. Ha ha….
Found the jar with ease to see others that had joined us on the summit had been by earlier. Read through it, signed in (I even mocked the bushwhack, ha ha…), and started back. Maybe 100 feet from the summit I lost the herd trail. Hmmm. Checked my compass and again, something wasn’t making sense here. I backtracked, looked carefully, but just could not pick up the trail. I started testing anything that looked remotely like a path only to have to turn around and come back. At one point, my compass said I was going north. No, north is bad, very bad. I had gotten turned around. I could feel the panic rising, and had to tell it to go to hell. OK, I had no decent map of the area, no one knew I was up here (I had merely mentioned I might take the Asquam down to my wife), my compass might be acting goofy, and I couldn’t find my way back. On the other hand, I had enough gear to be out through the night, and clearly going south or if not that, southeast would get me out. But how to know if my compass is OK? I checked the declination to see if that somehow got knocked way off, but no, ‘twas spot on.
“HEY STUPID, USE THE SUN!!!” Ouch, that hurt. It was about 1 o’clock, which pretty much should be around the time of zenith, so it should be as close to south as you can get. Yup, my compass was absolutely fine. Another nagging question was with the initial compass readings, had the maintained trail maybe been relocated north of Blue???? I had no idea. If it had, that might make for some interesting whacking. Well, no choice but to find out. I was below the summit some ways now, way off from the path, and just struck a bearing straight south. The going get fairly thick and I was getting concerned as it was getting steep. Jobildunk Ravine is a very steep drop south of Blue, and I could partially see it in front of me. It was only maybe three minutes later I heard voices ahead, and a huge wave of relief washed through me. Oh, thank you people who happened to be on the trail and talking at that moment. You saved me from one extra minute of anxiety! I fought through the thick stuff just to emerge in the middle of it above the trail to a woman and her dog, who gave me a surprised (understandably) look. I apologize, explained I was bushwhacking and had lost the herd path, and I’m not sure she understood (or trusted) a word I was speaking. I bounced down to the trail and the Perv in the Trees quickly sped off.
The rest of the hike was wonderfully pleasant, albeit muddy in places. One large rocky outcrop was fully covered in moss. It was also nice to hike along the Baker River. The whole trip (in general) was great. It was super to be on someone’s finish, and to meet a whole bunch of folks finally. I haven’t been above treeline in decades, so this was a real treat, too.
Looking back, I suspect the herd path comes in from the west, possibly even WNW, which would explain the readings I was seeing (what I remember of them). Again, the USGS 7.5 minute map clearly shows it doesn’t come in from the south, given the gentle terrain I went through on the way up.
Lessons learned should be obvious. I made the most basic of mistakes that every dope that gets lost in the woods does. Not trusting my compass and not taking more careful mental notes of direction and terrain going in was the worst, not having a decent map follows a close second. And never trust a herd path. Best I can say is it was a good learning experience with no more damage than a bruised ego. Once I stopped and really thought things through, it was obvious what to do.