For some reason, I agreed to this. I don't know why. Perhaps it was knowing the Kate Sleeper Trail was broken out. Perhaps it was the good conditions this year. But the long mileage, 5 bumps, and the fact it was still winter should've warned me. Ah well.
We spotted a car at Pine Bend Brook and left my car at Downes. The latter being a key choice in case I had to bail. We headed up and immediately missed the turn, ending up at a logging landing. Off to a fine start. Back on the trail, and then past the Potash trail, we were able to bareboot on an old ski track. Beyond the ski turnoff, some group or groups had barebooted, so we were pretty pleased by this. It was all busted up due to the crust collapsing when they came through, but really decent.
Downes is fun if you like brook crossings. The WMG says there's 10 of them. I lost count, but they were all bridged, although tricky with the snow covering up what one hoped was rocks, and it slipping off when you stepped on it, but there were no dunking incidents. We were making great time as the miles ticked off this 5.2 mile approach to the Kate Sleeper Trail. Then we came to a sign. One of those this is not an official trail signs. Huh? Oh crap, the group that came before us went up the old Passaconaway Slide trail. Crap! Back we went and the trail crossed the brook, again. From here it wasn't broken out. I tried walking gently, but it was no good, we were breaking through too often.
We had talked about not bringing shoes, but I was determined to, and was now very glad. The going was now good, only sinking in occasionally, and a not by much. There was only maybe an inch of new snow. Onward! The going was good, and I was even getting a ways ahead of the guys, just trying to keep a comfortable and steady pace. I stopped at each brook crossing, and then got slowed up at a nasty little slab above the brook. We had to stop from time to time to find the trail, but nothing major. The GPS's didn't hurt here. Then there was one nasty slab as the trail went on a steep hill high above the brook. This was draining me more than any uphill I had come to. It was tricky staying upright and trying to punch in some tracks with the crusty snow sliding downhill.
This thankfully ended, and then I heard something up ahead. Huh? A moose, slipping around trying to get away, but we both stopped in the trail. I stared, suddenly remembering my camera and got a couple clumsy shots off and then yelled “mooooose!” Oops. So much for being quiet. Yet the moose stayed for a bit, and then went downhill and across the brook. I was hoping not to startle it for fear of breaking a leg in this mess. This was the first time I had seen one in the woods (as opposed to roadside), and I had taken on the moniker “The Anti-Moose.” No more!
The trail started picking up some steepness, and now I slowing down. A lot. Lots of catch my wind breaks, and I was leaning over my poles. Close to the Sleeper Trail, I considered a bail while the guys were catching up, but I had some food, and though better of it. I'd never hear the end of it, and I really didn't want to come back yet again for these. I told the guys what I had thought, and they were propping me up with no problem, keep going, almost there. And so we went, and finally the trail started to flatten and we came to the junction.
Woo hoo! No more extended climbs and everything from here on in was broken out well. Whiteface went right out the window with a 2 more mile and 600 feet addition. No problem. It was chilly out, so I opted for a jacket, which would put me between comfortable and roasting for the rest of the day, not wanting to keep swapping layers. I had also meant to swap liners, as my hands were getting cold even with mitts, but forgot. Sigh. We went off on a pleasant flat walk, and I was feeling much better right up until the climb to East Sleeper. Lots of stops again, but it didn't take terribly long before we came to the spur junction and submitted. Finally! A new 3k! Only 20 to go. I now swapped out the liners, and my hands were instantly warm. Dummy.
More happiness as we headed down. Down is good! And then back up again to West Sleeper. Putt, putt, putt. Really slow progress, but again a quick check of the GPS showed we were just 100 feet away. Oh, ok. Tagged and bagged. Down again. And down. And down. Hey, that's enough down, we got a 4k peak ahead! Whilst not looking at my feet, I couldn't help but notice how incredibly open the woods were around here, by and large. Future plans laid for some bushwhacking. Heading over towards S. Tripyramid, I looked at my GPS, looked up and almost though of suggesting a whack to the peak, cutting off a corner, and also the steepest parts, but thought better of it, thinking it wouldn't be a time saver.
And so, we came to the part I had been dreading, and now I could see that was rightfully so. The south slide. Yup, steep. Yup, gnarly. Sigh. Well past the point of no return now, nothing to do but suck it up. I was wrecked by this point, enough so to hardly care about the views, and and snapped pictures in an obligatory fashion. The trail traversed the east part of the slide, where thankfully postholers made for some good footholds. We had forgotten crampons, which wouldn't have been a bad idea here, but the microspikes did a good job. We came to the west part of the slide, where the junction is, but no sign. Now it was time to go up this beast. OK, even slower now. No longer the slightest bit of fun. Plod, plod, rest, rest, repeat. I could see the woods a short distance above, but it didn't come quickly. Once it did, the steepness continued. I could hear the guys talking and looked up to see a guy with an ice axe. Good move, as he was clearly heading down the slide.
On and on, and the grade lessened. I saw the guys above me and asked pleadingly if that was the south summit. Pretty much was the response. Hallelujah. Only 2 more peaks now, and the dip between south and middle is shallow enough to keep south off the list. A quick break, and I went ahead as I knew the guys would catch up on the climb. Ooo! Butt sliding! Sweet. Now we're having fun! On the down side, I spied the middle and north peaks, the former looking steep, the latter looking far away, and then the col came way too quickly. So it was time to climb again, gently at first, but then back to a grade that insured I couldn't move too far without a break. And behold, the guys caught up to me!
I was feeling bad about moving so slow, but Brian was good about telling me he was even slower when he had more weight on and was starting out. Thanks, bud. I really did need that. So I just did the best I could. One short, steep bit, and there was Middle Tripyramid, my final “need” peak for the day. Now only 18 peaks left. OK, one more, then allllll downhill (or so I thought). Honestly, I remember next to nothing about this stretch. I was in a daze. I think I muttered “you gotta be ****** kidding me” a lot at each steep part. Then there was the familiar north peak. This is where my memory comes back. Big smile, I plopped myself on my side in the snow, had a victory cig, and took a well needed break.
Now I was only concerned with potential ice on the steeps. But it was all downhill (again, or so I thought)! So we trucked off, and now I was cooking, mostly because using my muscles to slow down was too tiring. And then a lovely little butt sliding section. Wheeeee! That was a good long one. I waited as I heard the guys making similar noises on the way down. A few more shorter ones, another nice long one, and a couple short ones brought us into the ravine really quickly. And so, with still decent slopes, I was able to keep cranking.
And then came the flatter sections which required some effort. It was official, I was in death march mode, a zombie with only thoughts of how much further. Worst, there were brook crossings and uphills with those, and those were killing me. Lots and lots of swearing here. Poor Greg tried talking to me to prop me up, but it was no use. I was only grunting generic responses, as I could hardly think. Other than how much further. I ended up trailing behind, a mass of goo, and kept checking the GPS to see I wasn't nearly as close as I'd like to be. After what seemed to be an eternity (and endless bumps), I heard cars on the Kanc, but seeing the no camping sign marking ¼ mile left made me feel worse. A quarter mile seemed so long. But the road did come, and I got my gear off as quickly as managable, and plopped my ass into the car. Whew! It was over. I had done it, and not bailed, and picked up 3 new peaks in the process. Good stuff, but not to be repeated for some time. Remember, winter hates me. How bad was it? I only took 9 photos worth saving!