Everyone was tied up for Columbus Day weekend, so Brian suggested I do Whitewall. The weather screamed “Yes!” Finally a weekend with some proper fall weather. Sunshine and dry. A bit warm, but the promise of a stiff breeze would help there. Whitewall is perhaps the finest view without a trail in the Whites. Forming one side of Zealand Notch, it has some great ledges I've been looking forward to for a long time. Greg jumped on board, and as much as I was looking forward to some solo whacking, this was even better. I hadn't hiked with Greg alone yet. Plus he missed out on the views on his other trip here due to clouds. We met and drove up to the now familiar end of Zealand Road. I really like the Zealand Trail, except for the bumpy bits down low, but once it gets on the railroad grade, it's a gem in my mind.
Unfortunately, my camera was acting up, turning itself on and off at will, and my batteries were nearly drained. Oh no, not for Whitewall on such a great day! I must have pictures. So, no shots on the way in, but I couldn't resist one of the small pond as soon as you turn on the A-Z Trail.
And very shortly Greg led us off the trail and into the hardwoods. This hike is great not only for the views, but the open ridge leading to it. Lots of hobblebush down low caused some tripping, apparently the moose aren't doing their job in chewing it down. Eventually we emerged in some nice fern woods instead.
We had the comfy handrail of the cliff side off to our right, enough so that we never needed compass or GPS. An occasional check of the altimeter told me where we were. Keeping that close to the ridge, however, had a problem. We ran into some moderately thick stick woods along the way.
Had I done any research before, I would've realized the ridge top might have been better, but no matter. It wasn't bad, I just wasn't expecting it! We came out of it and were now in softwoods, but it was easy going. Greg and I were having some great conversation. We hit some more ledgey areas, came across a cairn not on the summit, and then followed a herd path to the summit.
WTF, there's a big-assed beer here. I asked Greg accusedly if he did this as this has been done before. “I haven't even been over there yet!” Hmmm, he's right. Looked fairly clean, meaning new. Couldn't have been Joe or Brian, I knew what they were up to the previous few days. Weird! Oh well, in the interest of Leave No Trace, I packed it away. We were going down the far steep side and I didn't want a buzz to mess me up, especially from a 8.9%, 24 oz. beer. Normally I don't confirm or deny the existence of registers in public thanks to their disappearance, but this one's important to the story. I opened the can and lo and behold there's Slim Jim's. WHAT?! I love beer, I love Slim Jim's. Alright, this was obviously planted by me, but by who? The new register gave no clue, but Greg found the answer in the old one. Joe had snuck up here three days earlier. We had a good laugh at that, as I devoured the Slim Jim's. Good stuff.
So we headed off to the ledges. Or at least where I thought they were. I was pretty sure they were at the far end of the cliffs, and I could see a bump over there. The woods, however, weren't all that great. A lot of scrubby stuff, and I wandered all over the place trying to find a way through. Meanwhile, we heard voices. Geez, popular peak. We came to an open area, and Greg's excellent ears heard it. Then I did too. Something big crashing through the woods. Yup, even in moose haven, I am the anti-moose. We never saw it, could've been a bear (we saw scat here and there), I'll never know. The voices again. The ones not in my head, that is. We found a little better going finding some herd paths and then we popped out right on the ledges. Holy God, the views were awesome! I removed my GPS batteries and replaced half of the now dead camera batteries and clicked away as fast as I could.
We heard the voices again, but they eventually disappeared, and Greg, with his excellent eyes, spotted them heading up to the summit. We hung out there for 45 minutes, poking about here and there. It was indeed warm, but the breeze made it very comfortable. Oh this would be a sweet sunrise spot. West Field looked so temptingly close, but Greg had done this route and found misery. We decided to leave, going to the southeast, but as I led, I immediately walked into a wall of spruce. Greg smartly decided to go back the way we came for a bit, and then we headed down. And it did get steep. There was plenty of fir to hang on, thankfully. We skirted around some ledges to the right, and then we popped out in wide open woods.
And so it stayed. Greg headed right, and I started cautioning against that. I thought I saw really steep stuff over there. No, not at all. I really gotta learn to shut the hell up. Down low, it got a little mucky, but it could've been much worse. We kept curving to a westerly course and then popped out on the trail above the Thoreau Falls Trail. Now it was time for a nice cruise through the notch, one of my favorite sections of trails. Oh wait, I have a beer, and yes, it was still cool. Pssst! Ahhhhh. So as we went walking up the trail, of course, here came all manner of hikers. Foreigners, the jeans and sneakers crowd, looking a bit bemused by this freak sucking down a beer on the trail. One guy who looked like a regular hiker looked a tad horrified. No matter, it was a beautiful day in the notch.
We arrived below the Whitewall slide, and could hear the voices again. Descending the slide? Wow. So we parked, I drank beer and had a smoke, just to be a complete degenerate, and we could see the people heading down. It was a couple, with the dude a good ways ahead. We finally figured they were Quebecois, and as the guy arrived, we talked for a bit. Turns out he's on a hiking forum I'm familiar with, and we shared some common acquaintances. They went up “for fun”, though he mentioned his wife isn't a bushwhacker. I inquired if she'd like to kill him, to which she replied. “I'll try not to.” Snicker. We talked for a bit, and bade our goodbyes as it was time to get out.
On the Zealand Trail, there were amazing numbers of tourists heading up between 3 and 3:30. Assuming they were going to the hut, that's a 5 mile round trip, with darkness falling in about 3-3.5 hours, and they weren't exactly moving fast. Yoiks. More good conversation, and we hit the lot at 3:30. Pretty good time for a lot of lounging and 10 miles.
So there it was. I finally did Whitewall, and I did it in the weather I always wanted to do it in. Those ledges are going to see a lot of me in the future.