I've dreaded the 3 peaks on Scar Ridge more than any others. It is the nightmarish ridge that has earned its name in TR after TR. I know there are absolutely worse places in Maine and New York, but this was my dragon and it was time to slay it (or vice versa). My mental stamina was finally built. I kept pushing for a north ridge approach to no avail, everyone wanted to pick up Loon and go in that way. Oh God, there's only the Magic Line, a thin corridor of good woods! Oh no, Gulliver, we'll never make it! Dread, anxiety, much, much online research. A possibility (then a demand?) of Middle Scar thrown in so we don't have to go back for that one. Joe jokingly(?) threw in East Scar for the full traverse and I issued a flat out no that section is horrid and there's a far better way up that one, so that had already fallen off my Fear and Loathing List. A bad time getting to sleep Saturday night. Shudder.
So Brian, Joe, Greg, Desi and I spotted a car at the Discovery Trailhead to find the Hancock Branch somewhat deep and rushing. Ugh. OK, we can find a spot to cross later, we're sure, even if we have to go upstream a ways. It's a soaker, not a killer. Starting at the Loon slopes just before 8, we went off with a steep climb, but were rewarded with nice views immediately and continually.
[b][i]Moosilauke and Blue Ridge, brrrrr....[/i][/b]
Coming to the gondola summit, we saw the cafe about to open up. I inquired to the group about some beer for breakfast, but was met with no response. They were probably scared I was serious (I might have been :) ). Brian got in some important play time:
We got to the summit of Loon with it's great outlook and took a break. The great Kearsarge hunt commenced and succeeded. This is a super hike in itself. Scar Ridge stared us in the face. It looked too far away, yet mild. That can't be, it's the scariest place on earth. I changed my underwear after soiling myself at its mere sight.
Borrowing from someone else's TR, I tried all the delay tactics I could, such as I have no snowshoes or crampons. It was late, we should turn around (it was 10:00, after all). Desi decided not to continue on, so I yelled out if she needed to be accompanied down. Nope, my so-called friends weren't letting me out of this. So after some scouting, Joe found the abandoned (in name only) trail to Black, and down we went to the usual proximity of the whack start.
I checked my notes and uttered stern warnings about death and destruction if we wandered to the south side of the ridge. We hit mostly open woods at first. Then.... more open woods. Then... some thick stuff. Oh no, it's starting! Oh, no, never mind, we easily skirted that. Repeat. The entire way. The last short section to the top had some young spruce, but even that was easily and quickly swum through. We couldn't believe it as hit the beautimous open summit at noon. WTF? I dreaded THIS??? Brian put it best: It was more like a Magic Superhighway!
[b][i]Typical woods (and bad photo of what) we saw to Scar[/i][/b]
I suspect a lot of the problems people have with this NEHH peak is they haven't been off-trail much, and this may not be the best starting point. Certainly our fair (but hardly extensive) amount of whacking experience paid off big time. Had I tackled this as one of my first whacks (and feel free to read back at some of my disasters), I'm sure I would've had some issues. And before you think I'm too smug, read on and you'll get some satisfaction at me being in some miserable woods. I can say I got a true Scar Ridge experience.
Next up was the east peak of (west) Scar. We were going to skirt this, but no point, since the best way seemed to be over it, and my fear is some map maker will come in and declare this the highest peak someday. This happened to Wildcat E after all (harumph). We took a significant detour around some crap here staying in good woods and made this peak in excellent time. Time for the giddiness to end. I knew with certainty getting down to the col would be bad.
[b][i]We saw a lot of this[/b][/i]
Blowdowns, thick fir/spruce, one particularly nasty ledge, and no way around any of it in sight. Very slow going with the occasional short open spot, only to be thrust back into the crap, and we just pushed ahead with gravitational assistance with Middle Scar occasionally in sight. Much pain was brought on in this section by being whipped by branches, stabbed by dead stubs, shins being smashed, etc. I have scars from Scar. Once in the col, I had read things would improve, and indeed they did, making for a relatively easy ascent, hitting the summit at 2:45.
The way down was easy to begin with, albeit steep, dropping into a drainage. We had figured a quick drop into low elevation should yield good woods. It didn't. Thickish patches of scratchy spruce were pretty much the rule of the rest of the day, although this at least let up near the end. This is where I actually got a little frustrated, but not overly so, being near physically and mentally depleted. We finally got to the river and although I wanted a safe crossing, there was no way I could go upsrteam far. As it turned out the spot we came to was about as perfect as we could get. Some tricky rock hops (one wide one gave me a long pause across a knee deep rushing section), and an ankle-deep wade.
We got done at 5:30. A long, tough day, but with 3 peaks to show for it and my worst fear put behind me. I'm usually modest, but I felt like this was a graduation of sorts. Thanks all for a great day (including Desi for the company up to Loon), this is one I'll remember warmly!