Ahhh, the Great North Woods madness continues. And so does the flipping rain. I'm becoming convinced the north woods mean rain for us lately. With the forecast going from cloudy, to 50% chance of showers to 80%, the woods were soaked, and it rained or heavily drizzled on us probably 70% of the time. Sigh. Rain gear's getting a good washing this season.
But no matter, rain wouldn't deter us, and the four of us were all in for the ride up to Columbia. Most people probably don't even know there's such a town. We turned onto Washburn Road at the Irving station, and found a pretty rough road. No match for Joe's big SUV, but a car would have to go very gently. I'd heard the gate was 2 miles in, but it was only 1.4 miles. Crap. Another 1.2 miles added to a long day. We marched past the locked gate, noting tire tracks. Argh. The road was damned near perfect after the gate, too. Double argh. We hiked up on nice roady grades towards Cleveland Notch, with a couple of nice spots to view the beautiful Cone Brook.
Far up, we then saw the source of the tracks. A pickup, obviously a guy out doing some hunting. Lucky dude to have a key. We could've easily cut 2 miles out if we could've driven up, and over 4 had we been able to spot a car. Ah well, 'tis what it is. We got to Cleveland Notch quickly enough, a nice cleared out area. I immediately realized I would be back here in clearer weather.
I knew there was a snowmobile trail heading up around here, spotted a herd path, but then saw a road on the far end. Time for a bit of steeper climbing, but nothing too bad. Coming to near a flat spot in the road, we saw open woods and headed in, keeping on herd paths and great woods to the summit of North Blue. OK, one down.
Back down pretty much the same way, ignoring the viewpoint somewhere around here, and across the notch was a road that would go up the long ridge to Blue, but on extremely easy grades. So it was a bit of a surprise that it was steep to start (“yeah sure Mike!”), and we huffed and puffed our way up, but then hit the easy stuff and made great time.
We came to a clearing halfway up, which looked like it might give good views on a clear day. Added to my post-list list.
There were some spots where the road and herd paths in it split here and there, but we were able to keep on it well enough.
Near the top, the woods got to be wide, wide open, and I was tempted to leave the road just to hike in that.
The road comes very close to the summit, and despite a small wall of spruce along the trail here, we found a herd path easily enough and were quickly on the summit of Mt. Blue (aka Bunnell).
My hands were getting cold and painful at each stop. I had turned to my glove liners but they were now soaked. My boots were soaked, but at least my feet were warm. But there was no suggestions of bailing. West Blue was on the way back, and the woods were supposed to be OK, perhaps a mix. It wasn't even noon yet for crying out loud. Jokes of heading south and doing Gore popped up. So I got the bearing to West and headed, unfortunately, a little too directly, right into moderate to thick woods. Crap. I was getting pushed in all different directions, and now I was starting to think bail after finding out there was a whopping 1.2 miles to West. I couldn't deal with over 2 hours of sopping wet crap woods. Sigh. I looked at the map, and realized my idiocy. The direct route was dumb, I was supposed to be staying on the ridge for a while, and the road went right to that after a short distance. Dammit – this is when you realize who your friends are for putting up with your BS, and all three of them took it all in fun.
And sure enough, following the road, the woods suddenly opened right up. Sigh. So we followed some great herd paths heading into the col. Then it happened again. I somehow dropped 100 feet below the col going north. I get turned very easily, and if I'm not watching my compass or GPS often without any obvious terrain, away I go. I think only I realized this one before I mentioned it. Sigh. There was a 170 foot bump in the way, and already being on the north side, we skirted at 3100' around it. The woods above us didn't look so good, but I was also fighting the temptation to keep dropping unless I had to. Slabilicous with plenty of herd paths, and again we were cranking through this.
We came along another road, which was going down, and I didn't see a good way up. Joe did, though, and said that's where he was going to get to the bump col. Cool, works for me. And sure enough, despite moderate woods in places, we ended up in the col in great woods yet again. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, it couldn't go on like this forever. Well, the last few hundred feet to the summit finally did present some real whacking. Moderate and thick woods, with blowdowns. It was slow going, and we finally broke out in the open to the summit. Phew.
A big grin broke out on my face. We had done it. All three Blues in a day. And it wasn't even 1:30 yet. The GPS was showing over a 2 mph moving average, which is crazy. We weren't rushing, just walking. At the last minute, I had decided we would go clockwise for this part, as we would avoid anything steep, and it had worked well. As Brian said, “sometimes things actually turn out right.” Yes, indeedy.
And so, it was now time to get out of the rain. The thought of a vehicle with blasting heat wearing dry clothes was a strong driver. I declared that I would lead, since I knew where the exit road topped out. No problem says they, despite my previous screwups. I wasted to go west along the ridge towards Pleasant and drop to the ravine north of that. I again got a bearing on the ridge, and headed along, getting pushed to the right. Concerned I'd drop into the wrong ravine, which I had no idea what lay in it, and the promise of a road giving easy going, I kept trying to push left, and finally succeeded. I knew I was below the ridge, and I could see it above me to the left. Until I double checked my GPS. Crap, I was going south. I had actually crossed the ridge, and what was on my left was the slope going back to West Blue. The other all realized this too, and there was more cajoling, of which I certainly deserved. Turned again, naturally.
And of course, this brought a slew of apologies from me, and I now checked my compass about every 50-100 feet, finally staying right on target. We found the road, and after some questions about just how good it was, it was obvious and complete with yet another herd path. And so, we cranked that out too, save for a few blowdown spots.
Things like “at least the rain is picking up!” were uttered. The woods certainly looked open around us, but with obvious footing I was quite happy on the road. At one spot, Joe had found some logging camp artifacts. We came to a clearing near the notch road, and spied the road continuing to the left. I checked again, and now it was my turn. “You're going the wrong way!”, heading parallel but slightly away from the road. We found the road hidden by overgrown brush and got to the much awaited main road. I checked and we were still a mile from the car. I was feeling great all day, right up until now. The flat ground made me realized just how tired I was. My feet hurt. We chugged along, and were greeted by a slight uphill grade I had forgotten about. Ugh. The car came in sight and everyone happily changed into dry clothes as best we could in the rain. Ohhhhh, dry socks and shoes, how I love thee. Elapsed time: 6:45 for 12 miles. Absolutely insane. Sure, a lot of road walking, but the woods in general were just so easy to move through.
The usual route for these is West Blue, Blue and Gore, but we had planned to do Gore with Sugarloaf and West Crystal. Thanks to fatigue on my part, Gore is now a straggler, but the idea of doing all three Blues in a day persevered and I'm glad for it. I'll definitely be revisiting Blue and North Blue again in good weather to go hunting for views, and it's really just a pleasant hike and nice and quiet.
SERMON TIME: After hiking the Carters and Wildcat a few weeks ago, I keep getting reminded how much I appreciate hiking on logging roads or in open woods, with no roots or boulders sticking out all over the place. That's just one reason I love bushwhacking or just getting way off the beaten path, to the beautiful places that pretty much only other whackers, hunters and sometimes snowmobilers know about. Some of these places can really be considered trailed hikes (not the peaks, but the views), but most hikers would never consider visiting.
That's a shame on one hand, but on the other, that's a good thing to keep it from getting spoiled. The NEHH whacks, by and large, are now well trodden herd paths and in many cases, maintained, destroying what was supposed to be a whack to build navigational skills. Remote and beautiful places like the Peak Above the Nubble are now just another simple trailed hike with published maps as part of a list that for many is the “in” thing to do and add to your accomplishment list in your signature line, instead of pursuing a list for its own merits and for very personal reasons (although, for the record, I like patches, just not on my pack). Even the red lining craze, thanks to the recent creation of a publicized patch, is now “suddenly” seeing many new finishers. It's likely ridiculous to think, but I can't help but wonder if those remote paths will someday become the eroded pieces of crap that bring you to the 4k peaks. Hardly anyone wants to explore for its own right, they just want to do what everyone else is doing. How many more Owl's Head trip reports can one flipping stand?
I don't mean to look down on these types of hikers, anyone who knows me would certainly know I don't put myself above anybody (well, except for a handful of idiots, and look at yourself in the mirror before looking into that too deeply). Sure, I am pursuing a list, but the reason was to see a wide variety of northern New Hampshire, a reason to get me to go to places I'd never likely visit otherwise. And it did that and what I also hoped it would do, spawned a broad list of other things to see, not necessarily having anything to do with a peak. Nothing I do is miraculous or even really difficult physically. Much of it is merely looking at a map and seeing a road to something potentially interesting. The bushwhacking part is what the large numbers of hunters do
all the time
. It's merely just questioning and not understanding why more hikers don't look outside the box. It just puzzles me, no more, no less.
Ah well, keep the 75% of northern New Hampshire that most hikers will never see a big wilderness mystery. In that light, it's good to know that close to no one reads these danged things. :*)