Oh, how it took me a while to feel like writing this one up. My mental stamina finally found its breaking point, and it took an ugly combination to do it.
We started up the Sawyer River Road for the second time in three weekends, with Brian in a down mood. He was really not up for this. I don't think it helped that the road was still closed, when it should've been opened by now, but the Irene damage, despite emergency repairs, was still keeping it off limits until permanent repairs could be made.
The trip up to the trailhead and to the Carrigan Notch trail went quickly, and Greg had finally managed to buoy Brian's spirits. We were moving at a brisk pace, in part due to constant hiking my physical stamina was high, but also Neesh and I were staying in Woodstock, so I didn't want to be out all day and was more or less promising to be back by 2, no later than 3 PM. I had dug up all the beta, and thought this was very doable with our early start.
The guys somehow thought we were going up the south ridge of Lowell, but I thought I had been pretty clear we'd go with the north side. So after a brief discussion, we passed the Vose herd path and went over the notch, which seemed to take forever to come. We went just past the little jog in the trail, and the woods finally appeared to be opening up. Cool! The woods were soaked from rain the previous day, and the sun still hadn't shown up, so we donned rain gear and went in.
We were almost immediately greeted by blowdowns and the steepness picked up quickly. It looked so tame on the map. Great. So much for the info. I had gathered. As mentioned the woods were soaked, as was our rain gear almost immediately. To boot, it was chilly. To be honest, the beginning stretch is all a blur right now. We'd hit thick young fir in blowdown fields or closed in pencil woods, and then hit little promising areas of open woods, only to get closed in again. It was very slow going.
I heard “hey a slide” from ahead of me, and I liked this. Turns out it was a very scrabbly gravel slide. So despite being open, it was tough climbing, and also short. Turns out this was an area I had marked on Google Earth and we had stumbled on it. We were having a hell of a time exiting the slide, and Greg was on the far side trying to get up. Ah well, at least we had a view.
We exited and finally found some open woods. Phew! What a relief. It didn't last all that long. Sigh. Back to the crap, we finally hit some moderate grades and again open woods maybe 0.2 miles from the top.
OK, I've seen this before. Ridge top nice and open all the way. Finally, let's get this done. I fell behind while I added a fleece under my rain jacket, as I was now soaked and cold. Throwing on a wool hat helped immensely too, and I started walking at a human pace to catch up. When I did, there was the closed in woods again, and the summit hump off in the distance. DAMMIT! My time constraints were making themselves known to me now, which added to the frustration. It was Neesh's “vacation” too, and I didn't want to leave her stuck all alone all day. We plunged in to more thick woods and blowdowns, and now I was starting to really get pissed off at our misfortune, wondering if the south ridge might have been better. Loud angry swears were coming out of my mouth every few minutes, and this is not a good sign. Brian had a singular moment, while Greg and Joe just kept trudging through in decent sprits.
I then hear views and knew they had hit the open alpine-ish area. At least that's what I thought it was. So looking forward to some decent moving again, I hit basically krummholz. Stubby, gnarled trees that is not easy moving. I then lost it. A spew of filth came forth, and it didn't help that I was now trying to force my way through it. I was now royally pissed off. This was the final insult to this miserable whack of nearly nothing but totally crap woods. Greg helpfully pointed out “look Mike, views.” I took a couple angry pictures and moved on.
I don't even remember the rest of the summit push. I guess it was short. I just sat down on a log, smoked a cigarette and was very, very quietly looking at my feet. It had taken 2 hours to go 0.8 miles, now being 11:30 and there was no way I'd get out in time. I couldn't go on to Anderson, and finally dug out my map to find an exit route. No way I was going back the way we came, and the south ridge was a long exit of reportedly bad conditions. CRAP! There was only one choice, which was to go to the Anderson col and skirt it to the east ridge, which was reportedly open.
I told the guys my plan, I suppose they weren't surprised. We headed off, me now totally miserable, and here again, my memory is foggy. While the woods weren't as bad, it was steep as hell. In the better grades, the woods closed in again. C'mon I really need a flipping break here. In the col it did open to moderate woods. Joe was ahead, and I bade Greg and Brian farewell. I went about 500 feet and sat and had another smoke just to collect my head. Having not whacked solo in quite a while, I had to remember to be careful in all this wetness, but I was more than comfortable being on my own. At least I was on my way out now. I just had to make it to the ridge and all would be well. So I thought.
I broke everything into little goals. First, slab Anderson. The woods were dragging me to the NE instead of N, though, right down towards Duck Pond. Much as I wanted to see the pond, I've heard of very thick woods around it. I corrected my course, and was back in the crap again. I really don't need this. Worse, the slope was steep. Slabbing on steep (and wet) slopes is no fun. I was extra careful here not to slip, and managed to get a view of the pond.
I could hear the frogs down there despite the distance, and looked forward to visiting this someday. There were ledges to avoid, including walking beside one that was particularly tricky. It took a while, but I eventually reached goal two, climb up to the ridge. OK, almost there. This sucked too, though, but as I got closer to it, it started to open up a bit, albeit in young fir and blowdowns. And then, the ridge. I could see herd paths and open woods. Thank God!!!
I just had to stay on this for a while and then find open woods to the pond. Only problem was I forgot the route that would achieve this. I walked at a very nice pace, and was amazed at how fast a quarter-mile could actually go. It had been a while since that happened. As I went along though, the ridge was flattening and it seemed like it was closing in. I was now as close to Norcross Pond as I could be, so I decided to plunge towards it. How bad can 0.2 miles be?
I should know by now to never ask that question.
The WORST woods of the day, by far. Some young fir blowdown fields, but mostly very tight pencil woods. I just couldn't believe this. I'd get lucky and hit a swampy, grassy area from time to time and have 50 feet of good moving. I more or less kept to a small drainage, and considered using the brook bed (wet feet be damned at this point), but that was gated by blowdowns. I had to have another Collect Yourself smoke, and just kept fighting the woods. There was some relief when I spotted the pond off to my front left, and the woods did open up to something decent. I found a Friendly's balloon on the ground, amazed at how far this sucker must have flown. I happened to come out right at the end of the Norcross spur. HALLELUJAH! Nothing but trail.
I was pretty sure the guys were behind me, but I kept my ears open just in case. I wasn't exactly moving quickly to this point. I started cranking it out. It was now 2:30, and I had about 4 miles left. Crap, I'm going to be way later than I thought. Once again, I felt I asked too much of Neesh, and moved as fast as I could manage to get out. I normally love the Nancy Pond Trail, it never gets old to me, but I always keep forgetting all the little bumps in the trail that ruins my pace. Sigh.
I was getting tired of the flats, and came to the steep switchback section. Woo hoo! Errr, maybe not. This is jarring on the feet and knees. Down, down, down. I heard people at the cascades, but it couldn't have been the guys, and I was in no mood for pleasantries, so I plowed ahead. The brook crossing was ok, but with all the rain, I kept wondering about the last major crossing. It can be sketchy. More ups and downs and my mind mostly a blank. The crossing came, and it was indeed sketchy. CRAP! Rushing water, and mostly submerged stones. It took a while, and some large steps on sloped stones gave me the willies, but I made it without taking a bath. From there, I half ran/half speed walked out, emerging at the car at 3:50. I tossed my crap in the car and sped off, calling around Bretton Woods with apologies and a promise of Tanger Outlet tomorrow (that worked pretty well!).
As it turns out, it was a damned good thing I didn't go to Anderson. It would've been after 6 before I got back to Woodstock. The guys had a similar experience exiting the ridge. Looking back, we should've gone down further and turned north-ish to hit Norcross. Or probably just shot for Nancy Pond instead. Sigh. We also found out the south ridge of Lowell does not live up to its bad reputation. So I screwed up all around on this one. I felt bad about this, Brian wasn't happy at the beginning about doing this one, and Joe and Greg were feeling bad that he was pushing for this hike in wet woods and knowing I had a time frame, but in the end (and throughout) nobody blamed anyone else. It is what it is and was what it was. At least everyone else got both peaks, and I've got a better idea how to attack Anderson next time. It was just surprising to me that after these years of building mental stamina it completely broke down. I love bushwhacking, I love challenges, and probably had the woods been dry and I had not done something like this with self-imposed time constraints, it would've gone much better for me.
In retrospect, it's just another lesson learned. After hiking something like 8 weeks in a row, I realized I was pushing myself too much just to finish the list. This isn't why I was doing the list, and have since taken some needed down time. With 10 peaks left at that point, I'll finish the list, but I'll do it in a much more relaxed and enjoyable fashion. Back to the basics.