We stayed up in N. Woodstock for the long weekend, and I didn't want to be away for too long, so a wimpy plan was requested. Millen Hill, Dartmouth and Deception was an immediate hit. I spent a good amount of time gathering data, and a plan was born. It was oh so simple. Just stay north! Stay north of Millen Hill, stay north of the ridges after that. We had heard all kinds of horridness lay between.
We spotted a car on Cherry Mountain Road, and took the short drive to Jefferson Notch Rd., opting to park a short ways north of the notch. This almost started the day off in disaster, as I backed into a little grassy area sloping downhill. I decided to pull up a bit, and couldn't. Uh oh, wet grass. I backed up a tiny bit and pulled steadily forward to extract myself, and then parked parallel to the road and set the e-brake. Ah, much better.
We headed off, having fairly open woods, but uneven ground with lots of boulders about and the occasional blowdown. Not bad, but not exactly easy and quick traveling. We were heading west, trying to avoid sketchy areas, but quickly made the turn southwest. Some more small detours and we finally found the open woods with good footing. Yee haw!
We kept skirting north at any issues in good woods and finally made the turn south when we hit the north ridge of Millen Hill. We saw even more open woods above us and Brian invesigated, but as it turned out, it was a blowdown fields. That's the fun thing about sunny areas, it's either great or it's miserable. No in between. It took Brian a bit to extract himself from this mess, but we then made the quick trip up to the summit only hitting one small and minor blowdown field, complete with a view of Jefferson. One hour elapsed. Awesome. Gonna be a good day. Except for these damned bugs. Where'd they come from?
Next up, Dartmouth. The plan now was to drop to around 3000' and slab across the north side of the ridge, avoiding a very nasty col and what looked to be a very blowdowny ridge. We were down to 3k in no time, and the woods were awesome.
We had zero problems along the way, but the flies were getting really bad. Not deer flies, not black flies, but flipping house flies. I've never seen so many. Ugh. We started to make the turn up Dartmouth and I just kept waiting for the bad woods to appear, but the fern whack just kept on continuing. About this time, Brian was bonking. He basically looked the same as I must have a couple weeks ago. We stopped for lunch a few hundred feet below the summit, and he mixed up some powdered energy drink to get a boost. Flies, flies, more flies. We got back underway and made the summit, complete with antler in a tree.
The constant annoying buzz of those stupid flies for the past 3.75 hours was driving both of us batty. I looked down and there were probably 30 flies on the front of my pants. This is after I shooed a bunch of them away.
Well, we had to decide whether to go on or not. Brian thought we were at the half way point, I knew we weren't, because I'd already checked the map, preparing for a bail. We were less than halfway to Deception, and then there was the walk down after that. I strongly suggested a bail at that point, because I knew it would be a long, long slog over to Deception, and then another uphill stretch, and I wanted the views on the false peak. Today just wasn't the day, because of Brian's energy level, and those damned flies. Did I mention the damned flies? Yes, they ignore even 100% DEET.
We could have pushed ourselves, but then you lose the fun and enjoyment of the woods, and you've then lost the point in it all. Problem is, whoever's having the issues that day doesn't want to “ruin” it for the another, so the strong one pretty much makes the call. It works, but we gotta get by the “shame” of not doing the whole hike. Fact is, I plan big. I don't want to get to a point where we both feel great and are left without options. As I said to Brian, I think we just need to phrase it differently. As in “let's do Millen and Dartmouth, and if we feel exceptional, we can go do Deception, too.” In any case, we watch out for each other, and Lord knows I had issues on West Peak.
So down we go, heading out more north than the northeast direction we came in, and slabbing back out. We would basically stay around 3000' the whole way, with the trick being not getting slowly sucked down low. This is hard to do when slabbing a hill, as the natural way to go around anything is down around it, not up. But with Brian leading and taking the occasional uphill correction, we did a great job at that. Along the way, Brian's pole bent, not in one place, but two. Yes, it was dead. Brian was a mono-poler.
Brian started getting a caffeine crash now, and we laughed at how stupid we were for still justifying our decision to each other. Macho men. Gotta love it. 0.75 miles from the car, we hit a drainage and the woods starting getting uglier.
Well, this was not what we needed. There were a bunch of feeder brooks to go down and up. Oh, and that constant sound of flies still. Argh. I checked the map, and we could be to the road in ½ mile instead of ¾, with the downside of losing about 300 feet of elevation. Decision made, let's get to that road! The drainage was nasty at first, but soon opened up into decent going. This little mossy area made us nervous, but was dry and easy traveling.
Finally, we could hear a car, and then we saw one about 100-150 feet away. Yippee! So we thought. Getting to the road was a blowdown nightmare. After about 10 minutes, we finally popped out. Phew. Brian took me up on my offer to drop the packs here, and I'd go grab it. It was steeper than I figured, but I kept chugging ahead, figuring Brian was dealing with the flipping flies. A car from Virginia passed by, probably terrified on the sweaty guy walking in the middle of nowhere. The road walk went quick enough, I got in and blasted the A/C. It was a touch warm out today with little breeze. I started to pull out, the car was reluctant and lurched down the bank a touch, but enough to scare the crap out of me. Not again. I had forgotten I had cut the wheel full downhill, and didn't turn it enough, and left the emergency brake on (see, there was a reason I mentioned that earlier...). Sigh. Removed it and got out no problem. Luckily where we came out, there was a turn around, where I did the same thing as this morning, pulled in too much downhill, but we got out easily on dry dirt.
We had a quick pickup of the Carspot of Uselessness and went back to the Inn where I met my wife just getting ready to go over to the bar, and I happily grabbed a quick shower. Brian stayed for dinner, and Joe, Becky, Greg and Desi were there about 10 minutes after we showed up. Another bonus was a couple of friends from home, who have a camp in Warren, were there, too. Another fine meal of laughter as we told our stories of the day.
Brian and I talked at length about this afterward, and mutually, but independantly, decided to not be so aggressive. No matter what, the fun's gotta be there. Sure, there will be moments, but we're not going to force ourselves to do long slogs when the humor's gone. Like I said, I'll always have the peak in the back pocket, but that'll be a “just in case” vs. “let's try for it.” Fortunately for me, Brian and I are very alike on mindset and goals, and it just makes this whole thing a lot easier. With so many diverse outlooks in the hiking community, I consider myself a lucky guy.