Finally, I thought I was going to get my “me” hike in. I poked around Google Earth looking for options, doing the usual of “hmmm, interesting,” “maybe,” and then one trip hit me hard. That's what I look for, something to grab me for that week. I can always guarantee that next week, the same hike wouldn't appeal to me as much, so my planning is always fleeting. And then Brian reminded me he had nothing going on and was planning on Huntington Ravine. Stupid memory! As it turns out, Huntington has been on my “me” list, so I was all over it. We thought of getting some red-lining in, so Nelson Crag came into play, and since it was going to be a gorgeous (Georgeous?) day, a little loop including Alpine Garden was tossed in for good measure. Joe was a little nervous about the trail, but we sucked him in, errrr, I mean Brian convinced him it'd be fine.
For whatever reason, I had no qualms about this trail. I have a bad fear of exposure, fueled by vertigo, but this mainly involves cliff faces. I had a blast on King Ravine, and was really looking forward to this one, except for maybe dealing with the crowds. So we met up at the visitor center, and sure enough, it was pretty crowded, even early. And sure enough, the Tuckerman trail had loads of people going up. Ugh, this is a popular route, ain't it? Strangely, not too many people even bothered with Crystal Cascade.
We came to the Huntington junction, and I was thrilled no one was in sight. Cool, everyone seems to be going up Tucks. The trail also pleased me. Instead of the wide superhighway of Tuckermans, this was more of a trail, with a few small cascades thrown in for good measure. Once in a great while we'd come across others, but otherwise it felt like we pretty much had the place to ourselves. The trail got steeper and we get the occasional view of the headwall getting closer. Joe kept expressing his trepidation, and we'd keep telling him either he'd be fine or to stop being a wuss. We don't cut much slack in this crew.
We came to a nice little viewpoint to Lion's Head and Boott Spur. Way above us. Still, not a cloud was visible, and there was no haze, so this was more than enough fuel for me to press on. We saw a paraglider above the headwall that must have already been enjoying some spectacular views. We crossed the fire road a few times, amused that it was clearly only a winter route now. More and more of the ravine kept popping into view, and finally we could see the Fan and Central Gully. Brian, having done this before, pointed out the trail route. All I could keep wondering (and Joe, too) was how it could possibly traverse the big slab visible above the Fan. OK, so now I was having some anxiety, which would last until I could actually see what I was getting into.
At the bottom of the headwall, after some interesting avoidance of big boulder holes, there's a nice views rock to climb up, and so we took a break for some food before the attack. Unfortunately, Joe had plodded ahead a bit and waited patiently. I watched another group going up so I could get an idea of where the trail went. My eyes kept wandering to that slab, which many consider to be the crux of the route (if you'll pardon the borrowing from climber's lingo). We set off again amid a jumble of boulders, squeezing here, and mostly avoiding falling into some really deep holes. This I didn't like so much, and commented I'd be much happier to hit the headwall, and soon enough we hit the Fan, a wide swath of boulders.
Now this was fun. No real holes to worry about, and reminiscent of King Ravine. We lost the trail blazes, and Brian said the trail was off to the right. Crap, I'd rather stay on the Fan, but since I did want to properly redline this trail (one of those potential side projects), I headed off to the right. The trail is off the fan, and while quicker, wasn't nearly as enjoyable, and obviously less used as it was grown in at places. Ah well, I was already telling myself next time I come, I'd go up the whole Fan. We saw some rock climbers on the Pinnacle, and I was a bit jealous. Sort of. I love the idea of rock climbing, and on scrambly sections of the trail, I like solving the puzzle, and using different hand and foot holds on the tiniest of cracks or bumps to get my way up. Problem is, as I'd mentioned, I have a problem with sharp drops, so I doubt this is in my future.
We'd occasionally look back towards Wildcat, and how far up we'd come, and once we came to the gullys, we took a break. It was a bit steep here, but I was having a great time.
Joe, on the other hand, was doing his usual bleeding thing, this time out his leg. He was getting more nervous as we got closer to the slab, and to be honest, so was I. I just wanted to see what I was getting into, so after our break, we came right to it.
I could see someone roped up above me, tenuously making their way across a little lip in the rock. Hmmm, I guess I see why this is a problem for some. But then I noticed the blazes in a more direct line. Aha, a crack. Steep to be sure, but definitely enough to hang onto. I waited anxiously (well, maybe more excitedly) for the couple to get across. I could hear Joe really wasn't too thrilled with this, and I could understand it. This kind of stuff isn't for everyone to be sure. I grabbed the crack and just sailed on up. That was what I was nervous about? Pah! That was fun! Granted, I didn't look back on my way up, which would've been a mistake, as I was too focused on getting up.
Brian sailed right up, then Joe. “See that wasn't so bad!” I don't think Joe was convinced. Perhaps the only thing saving us from Joe throwing us over the edge was the spectacular scenery.
We moved along, Joe and I thinking the worst was over. Boy, were we wrong. Note the blaze just left of center.
Personally, I loved it. As I said to Brian, “it's like rock climbing without the rock climbing!” Meaning, much of the fun without the gear and severe exposure. There was a fair bit of this, so I was really enjoying myself. We would lose the trail once in a while, not hard to do when everything is at a high angle, but always found we couldn't stray far before running into another obstacle.
Then, to me (and Joe) came the real crux. On the left, a slight crevice worn smooth. On the right, a jagged triangular rock. I tried the left route which Brian got up with no problem, but couldn't get a secure enough foot hold. Brian offered a hand, but I politely declined, wanting to solve this little problem myself. So I tried the right side, having good grips, but it was a big stretch to climb over the top, and my camera bag poking out was pushing me back a bit. Then I looked back to a wave of vertigo. I was definitely in a precarious perch on a no fall zone. Dammit. I worked my way back left and got enough of a handhold to yank myself up without much in the foothold department. There. Now we waited for Joe who was having much the same issue, and he finally popped over it. I wish I had gotten a picture here, but I was a little more concerned about Joe and me. Next time.
The rest of the way was without much problem, and we could see the lip coming, and the grade finally relaxed. Brian had mentioned the summit looked as if it was right there once we topped out, so I was a bit dispirited when I saw it, and thought, no, it's not. :)
Oh well, at least it'll be easy from here on in. Well, not really, I had forgotten why they call this the Rockpile. Boulder hopping galore. Brian wanted to completely redline the Huntington trail, having not done it before, so we made the extra 100 yard walk to the auto road. Heading back, someone took my picture for me (thanks!).
Up to Ball Crag, and now I was feeling the elevation gain in my legs. I was so focused on getting to the top I completely spaced that the “summit” of this was just off trail, otherwise I would've tagged it, but really no big deal there. As we climbed, the views (naturally) opened up, again pushing me forward. We came to the cog tracks, and someone commented they thought the trains may not be running today since we had heard nothing. So of course, what do I do? Put my ear to the tracks. Just like the movies! “Do you hear anything?” “No, but the track is vibrating for some reason.” That reason as I stood up was a train in view, just over the hump. Errr, yeah, that would explain it. I asked if they would pick me up in Marshfield. I think I was kidding. I'm not sure.
We made the last hump to the summit to the awaiting crowds. Ugh. Like I didn't know it would be like this. Never mind that, I'm ready for a cold beer. It was a comfortable 49 degrees outside, so when we went in it was like a sauna. Blech. And no beer. Drat! “Ummm, yeah, they probably don't want to serve beer at the top of the auto road.” Suddenly I was thankful they had no beer. Had I been smart I would've humped one up.
We headed up to the deck, and I realized I had forgotten my peakfinder printout. Oh well, we'll do this the old fashioned way. These three were pretty easy.
Everything else to the north took some time, especially seeing a bunch of ledginess that Brian correctly ID'ed as Rogers and Square. The unmistakable shape of Rump mountain on the ME-NH border gave some clues about where Stub Hill was, but I had trouble picking out Magalloway. Mont Saddle in Quebec was ID'ed after the fact. Whoops, I almost forgot the prize picture of the day. The Mount Washington super-zoom to outdo all Mt. Washington super-zooms. Take that Joe!
I thought about posing in front of the webcam and calling my wife, but I seemed to miss both 15 minute opportunities. Ah well. After a half hour, Brian said it best, “are you guys sick of the crowds because I want to get out of there.” Yep. I spied the ridiculous summit line and took a pass just to get a picture of me and a sign. It took longer than I expected to get up, so I was a bit anxious to get moving, but Joe had another stop to make, a look down to Lakes. I wasn't interested at that point, but Joe showed me what I missed. Oops. Next time. There's always a next time.
So to avoid the crowds, we joined the huge crowd heading down Tuckermans. Steep boulder hopping took all my concentration, which was broken all too much by a couple brats crossing my path while I was trying to keep my balance. Their “wonderful” parents were right behind saying nothing despite that it was obvious they were causing me trouble. Argh. The Lion's Head and then the Alpine Garden junction couldn't come fast enough. Not too many people going down Lion's Head (surprisingly), which was a relief, and then we practically had the Alpine Garden trail to ourselves. The view towards the summit from here was pretty neat, as it looks like any other undeveloped mountain.
I had hoped this trail was flatter and less rocky than it was, but I could see why it's especially popular when the flowers come out. It's a beautiful, and for us today, quiet spot.
Trudging uphill, again anxiously awaiting another trail junction. I knew we had a long way to go and we had talked about taking Lion's Head or Tucks down, but none of us wanted to deal with the crowds at this point. And up ahead, I could see we had one more climb to make up to Nelson Crag. My legs were feeling it at this point, and I was thinking it'd be easy street after that with only downhill remaining (ha ha ha!).
Still, being above treeline provided view after view, so there were more than ample excuses to take a breather. Up on the Crag, another group was there, asking about going down Huntington's. I was a bit horrified at that, and Brian talked them out of it. We took another break, and I could see what we were in for. Downhill to be sure, but steep. Crap. Crap crap crap. Oh well, at least we got a unique view of Quincy Adams alongside the main peak.
And so, we headed down. Boulder hopping, slow going, knee grinding down. Seeing where the trail meets the auto road at a steep angle did not help matters much. Butt sliding down slabs, hanging onto trees on dropoffs, we grumbled the way down, only tempered by being glad we didn't go up this way. At the auto road, I was relieved as I could see we'd get a break across a relatively flat spot. Looking back, I just shook my head.
We met a couple who parked here, along with a friendly Golden Retriever (go figure!). From there we passed through another alpine flattish spot, and I could see yet another sharp drop ahead. Ugh. I was pretty much out of fluid now, and I went ahead at my own speed, hearing the guys were not far behind. More slow steeps, and finally the grade abated and I could make some speed, except I was bushed. And thirsty. I was hoping to find some fast flowing water down low, but that never happened. Once I hit the Old Jackson Road, there were the more people along here, and I bustled to get out, happy to finally hear the sounds of the visitor center. I went in to joyfully find a cold orange soda and sat outside waiting for the guys, chugging down my $2 beverage. If it were $10 I would have enjoyed it just as much. Feeling like a sticky stinky mess, I went ahead to the car to change and Joe and Brian showed right up.
Whew. That was a trip. Huntington's was definitely the highlight of the trip, and I thanked Brian for wanting to do this today. I think the next time I would skip the summit and head (down!) Alpine Garden to Lion's Head. But who knows what I'll be in the mood for next time. Nelson Crag was definitely the lowlight of this trip, but in retrospect, I'm glad to have done the trail. In and of itself, it's an interesting trail, made more so in that it's a path less traveled. I don't see a repeat of that in my future, however!