Brian and I drove up logging roads as far as we dared, which given that a bridge going to the road we wanted was gone, was fine. We missed one fairly hidden turn, ending up at a brook before we realized our error, which gave us a nice little PUD to deal with. We left the road at the closest point to the Savage and E. Spruce col and ascended through decent woods with hobblebrush and some fir getting in the way for short periods. We ended up north of the col, and decided to hit E. Spruce first. We came to a flat area and searched around for a high point before we realized we were too low, on the 2920' plateau. Ah well, good practice for the search that would come. Sproadic flagging was evident along the ridge, as we had heard about. Finally reaching the summit plateau in open woods, we searched every bump for about 20 minutes trying to find a high point, before we finally found one.
I had misplaced my poncho, which I swore I had packed, so was stuck with a windbreaker that wasn't waterproof. I was soaked up top, but the rain pants worked great, so fortunately, I was only a little chilled sitting still. After a break, we descended off the mountain heading towards Savage. Or so we thought. I knew we were descending W of N, but we didn't realize just how far off we were. We got down to 2800' before hitting the snowmobile trail and realizing our error. A check of the map would've told us we shouldn't be descending so fast. Ah well, a quick trip up the trail to the height of land, then whacking again north, where the flagging went straight to a thick patch of fir, which we skirted. I think whoever flagged this route was an idiot, as is likely if you need flagging to get around in the woods.
We hit our first real challenge in the col. On the other side we could see a wall of ledge that was impenetrable. We could see some nasty open slabs high up that we needed to avoid. We went west a ways, and finally went down and found a spot to get up. From here to the summit plateau we would find a mix of impenetrable fir, thick young fir, blowdown fields, more 6-10' ledges with few ways up, and the occassional open woods.
It was fairly miserable going, with frustration building. Of course, we nailed the big slabs we had wanted to avoid, so I figured with the lifting clouds I would try to get some views. A few steps showed that even if I could get up, which seemed impossible, getting down would be suicidal. Never mind. Somewhere around 3300' we took a break and looked at each other, bitching about the conditions. I think we both knew we were thinking the same thing ("BAIL!"), but neither wanted to be the one to say it. We only had 100' or so of vertical to hit the plateau, with yet another big ledge in front of us. So, onward we went, and finally hitting the open plateau, headed on to find the summit. Thankfully, no confusing bumps here. As soon as we hit the summit, I heard a rumble. Then another. It was far off, but we still had miles to get back to the car, and neither of us wanted to be up high in a thunderstorm.
We hurried off, aiming for the west ridge that had easy grades down, hoping to avoid any more ledges. The lightning was getting close fast, it was getting very dark, despite it being 3:00, and so our pace quickened. It started to rain, and I made the dumb comment, "how much more soaked can we get?" It poured. Outside and inside. When water pours out of the inside of your jacket, and down your pants, that's how much more soaked you can get. At the start of the ridge, we hit thick pencil woods, and had to squeeze our way through, trying to hurry still. I was cursing my leading us into this, as the lightning was now within a mile. It was thankfully short lived and we made our way down the ridge in good woods until about halfway down when we started hitting thick young fir and blowdowns. Our glasses were soaked and fogged, making the going extra tough. I had noticed good woods off the ridge to our right, and despite the steepness shown on the map, we bailed off the ridge in short order. The storm had passed, and the lightning never got within a mile, but we wanted out.
The going was indeed steep for a while, but the woods were open and we met no ledges. We headed west, and finally found a road that would lead us back to way out. Again, I opened my big fat mouth, stating "the final insult would be to get back to the car and it starts pouring once we try to get into dry clothes." No, it would start pouring 15 minutes before getting back to the car, again in a thunderstorm. The lightning was scaring the hell out of me on the ridge, until I got my mind together that there was nothing I could do about it. Now I just didn't even care. Getting back to the car, we were able to change in the shield on Brian's hatchback, but of course it would happen my back would get wet while looking for my spare cell battery since I forgot to turn it off until late into the hike. Argh. We stopped in Groveton for some snacks, and a nice hot cup of coffee for me. At least despite the pouring rain, it was warm enough to never really chill us, but the coffee was still appreciated.
Heading home with temps. in the 60's, we could see breaks in the clouds and some wind damage around Lancaster. I called my wife, and asked for a nice warm fleece to be brought to the tavern for dinner. "A warm fleece? Really?" Well, yes, I know my thermal regulation gets knocked out of whack after a hike, it's in the 60's and it was getting late. Why is she asking me like I have three heads? Maybe because as we drove south, the skies cleared with Franconia Notch looking gorgeous, and the temperatures in the low 80's when we got to Bow. Oh. Ok. I don't really need a fleece. Yes, the final insult was really that it was gorgeous everywhere except where we were. :)
All in all, despite the gloomy picture I painted, we generally had a fun day with a lot of challenges to solve, one of the things we like about whacking. We had little information on these peaks, which is atypical, so it was nice to deal with this stuff on our own instead of our usual knowing where to avoid. As I said to Brian, my mental bushwhacking stamina has gone up a notch!"