I normally wouldn't copy a bushwhacker-centric TR here, but this one pretty much captures it. :)
The Grand Plan was for the 3-fer of Sugarloaf, West, and Gore, with a stop at Castle for the hell of it (someone mentioned it's on the peakbagger.com 3500 list despite a lack of col depth). Lots of logging roads to use to and fro Gore (although conditions unknown), how tough could it be? Ha ha. I'm usually fast, I'm usually strong, but then we all have those days, don't we. I'm pretty humble, but an extra splat of humility was on the way.
We made a wrong turn on the Cohos Trail, heading south on it for about 1/4 mile, totally missing the Sugarloaf Mtn. Trail sign. Hey, we're going south! Argh. Found our mistake, and then we went up. And up. And up. Fire warden's don't give a crap about hikers. Much wanting of those ATV's we saw in Lancaster. The trail turned west for a while which went against every map we had. More confusion, much discussion. Screw it, keep going and see what happens. Sure enough, it turned north, then back to the northwest. Joe had zipped ahead of us, I decided to just keep moving, but took a much needed break at the cabin site and Brian and Greg caught up to me in short order. Tried hiding in the weeds and scaring them. Failure. More up, finally the blessed NE ridge, and then the phenomenal views. Better than the Percys in my opinion, with no S. Percy or Longs blocking the way. Megantic (I think, at least Rump and Cupsuptic Snow) to the north, the Moose to the south. Good stuff. Nice breeze to keep the black winged monsters of death away, and cool temps to ward off soaked shirts.
We then went back on the trail for about 100 yards before finding a decent spot to start the whack. Moderately scrappy as it turned out. Dang it, where's the moose superhighway. We suck. Maybe around 3400' it appeared. Joy. Elation. It does exist! Such a good day this will be! The extremely obvious trail followed the forest boundary, and we saw plenty of flagging. Opting for speed vs. skirting, we went over the first small bump, then ran west of the ridge but ended up pretty close to Castle. We were going to skirt going west around this and hit it on the way back. Screw it, too close, let's go. We hit the summit, a nice flat open area.
The woods got scrubbier right away, we ended up somehow going around the northernmost 3520' bump (I think that was me being lazy and seeing better woods), dropping down to the 3280' contour in the col. This was largely hit and miss, with plenty of crap, and some more fern-whacking. We were trying hard to avoid the south side of the ridge, which GE and views from Sugarloaf confirmed a patchy blowdown hell. Going up was generally crappy, moderately thick with enough push-through thick woods and blowdowns to make for an over-abundance of swearing. We figured if anyone was on Sugarloaf they'd be terrified at the voices coming from uncharted woods. At one point when I was leading, I decided going north was a swell idea until Brian corrected me. I knew I was going down and away, just not quite that much. Who lets me out in these woods? Finally within 100' vertical of the summit we hit good woods the rest of the way. Nice view of the Percys south of the summit. I was fairly whooped at this point.
Brian had thought Joe had had enough, maybe Greg too, so bail options came up. Well, a deep ravine and Sugarloaf lay in the way, or a super long road walk. Only thing to do was get back to Castle and then decide. Brian asked how everyone was doing for Gore. Three hell-yes votes for Gore and a I'm ok from me. For whatever reason, I was bonking with rubber legs and sore feet. Despite cruising through 14 miles for Moriah and Shelburne Moriah last week and feeling good on West and Middle Hitchcock, I was getting beat up. I'm not "all that" after all. Good to get taken down a notch once in a while.
Onward. Joe, who had skipped ahead of us on the way in, led on the way out, and we hit good woods except for the last bit near Castle. Cripes. If we only had that on the way in. That's what a couple hundred feet or so will do for you. We kept pretty much on the ridge down to the col, then headed more east and then NE back up to Castle. So it was decision time and Brian flat out said, "we're not doing it." I was very relieved. I had no idea what the conditions to Gore were, including the logging road that would take us most of the way, and was mentally and physically drained. I just didn't want to be the one to call it. I could do it, I just be miserable throughout it. Brian knew I was spent and called it for my sake. Brian, I knew you're a good friend, but I've got a whole new appreciation for your selflessness. If you all have hiking buddies like this, you're blessed.
From there we wandered back and forth until we found the highway, and cruised. Heading back up to Sugarloaf was the same moderately scrappy crap, which was really just unwelcome at this point. We got to the contour of the dogleg in the trail and started slabbing. We inevitably dropped down some, and finally just headed straight up to the trail, arriving to it with much relief. That lasted about 15 minutes for me, before the steep slope started causing hell on my feet. Sigh. No seriously, I love hiking. Don't ask why. Oh wait, it's probably the same reason you all do this...
Back at the trailhead, I threw off my stuff as quick as could be and sat my ass down in the car. Salty, greasy McDonald's never tasted so good. I guess we'll do Gore with Rosebrook. I can only hope the 3 Blues plan holds true. :)