Yet another lesson in stupidity brought to you by Mike and Brian. I've been dead all week. 2nd shift some days, 1st some others, lack of sleep, costume party for a late Friday night, etc, etc. We had planned on doing the Captain, a long trek to be sure, and Brian noticed on the ride up just how out of it I was. Graciously, he offered a change of plans. The two that stuck out was Kancamagus and Shoal Pond Peak. Not wanting to sound too wimpy, I opted for the latter, thinking it was only a 4 mile approach. Looking at the map at the TH, I was thinking it would more be like 5 miles. Wrong wrong wrong. This turned into a 14.7 mile haul. So dummy me traded a 9 or 10 mile hike for an “easier” one about 5 miles longer. The only bonus was less whacking. I've been trying to shorten up my TR's, but a long day deserves an appropriately long report.
Shoal Pond Peak is the bump SW of said named pond. The best way was from the Zealand Trail, and I was thoroughly enjoyed the section below the A-Z that I've never been on. Brian assured me I would hate it on the way out (correctly). Well, actually I didn't enjoy the slippery bridges, as it was snowing out (pretty much for the entire day), but the beaver ponds, views of Zeacliff and Zealand Pond was nice. At least the snow managed to highlight the buried railroad ties from the early days of J.E. Henry. I managed not to take a swim. Somehow.
On the Ethan Pond Trail, I was looking keenly forward to Zealand Notch, a place I haven't been in 25 years. Whitewall loomed above, and as tempted as it was, it would be saved for a perfect day. At the rock pile, I saw the little pond below, the only thing I remember from long ago. OK, my memory's not totally gone. Up ahead, we spotted our goal through the blowing snow.
We crossed the North Fork of the Pemi, leaving messages on the railing, probably to no one. We only saw 2 people all day, and even that was about a mile from the end of the day. Now we came to the Shoal Pond Trail, and I have been looking forward to this, too. I've seen some gorgeous pictures of the trail, and a pond is always a big bonus. We were treated to beautiful, open, mossy woods, giving promise to the whack ahead.
The trail, however, disappointed deeply. It was a quagmire of rotting bog bridges with deep mud and puddles, making for very slow going. I'm all for Wilderness, as in sections of areas with no logging, so at least people 200 years from now can enjoy large sections of virgin forest, the maintenance regulations, however, are another thing. My feeling is if you want wildness, go off trail, even if for a short distance. The pond was great, anyways.
We trudged and trudged for a good long while. I hadn't remembered just how far down the trail we'd have to go, and we were only armed with Brian's fold up AMC map, and my '86 WMG maps, being an on-the-spot decision. Going old school, I guess.
Those beautiful open woods? Gone. We headed in at the crossing to 20 minutes of thrashing, climbing and crawling in a young softwood/blowdown field. I was ready to turn around at that point. My mind was mush, and if this is what I had to deal with all day, things would not be good. Brian swore the mountain was mostly hardwoods from his view on Whitewall. I didn't doubt this, I just doubted where the heck they were. We finally broke out and then quickly hit yet another blowdown hell. On the bright side, we finally got far enough into that that I knew we weren't turning around into that mess again and the Shoal Pond Trail on top of it. I'm standing on a blowdown here.
And then, up ahead, Brian spotted it. Bare trees. Lots and lots of bare trees. We came into one of the most open birch and beech glades we'd ever seen. Correct-a-mundo, Brian! We got some close views of Carrigian Notch through the trees. Knew I should've brought my chainsaw.
We cranked through this section, watching the altimeter. Nearing the summit elevation, we came into thick stuff again, and slowly made our way from high point to higher point. Finally, we hit an area where it seemed to go no higher, marked by a pair of large boulders. Ahead was a large blowdown field. We hated the thought of not hitting the summit, so I made a run into this mess from hell, finding nothing higher in the large plateau. An hour of searching, we called it good.
We headed down to the northwest, finding it steep, but open enough. Whippy woods would be the description. Coming out finally on the Thoreau Falls Trail, jubilation at easy walking went straight to hell, as this is PUD-filled, not the thing we needed at this point. Ah well, I had the falls to look forward to, which was pretty impressive and worth checking out on its own someday.
A map check showed the trail crossed just above the falls. What? The water's rushing and nowhere good to cross. WHAT? Brian showed how its done, stepping across the torrent to a wet, but rough, ledge. I could picture one slip would sweep me over the falls, and that's it for my life. I made the step without trouble, much relieved, and even more relieved at the trail junction with its promise of flatness. We now entered death march mode, speaking little, but at least still having plenty of laughs when we did. Dark humor to be sure. We came out to growing darkness about 9 ˝ hours after starting. A seat never felt so good.
Much repeated motto for the day: “We should've done Kancamagus.” :)
Oh yes, the kicker. Download the GPS track once home, and we missed the peak by a very short distance. Ha ha ha. Given our hour long search effort, closeness and the fact that the terrain, though subtlely, went down in every direction, , and an elevation of 3061 feet, we called it a good faith effort. Much like hitting Cabot without going off trail. That's our story and we're sticking to it. :P