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Mt. Whiteface and Mt. Passaconaway 7/8/09

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  • Mt. Whiteface and Mt. Passaconaway 7/8/09

    Day 2: Wednesday, July 8, 2009
    Mt. Whiteface (4020’) and Mt. Passaconaway (4043’)
    · Breakfast @ local restaurant (Annie’s Overflow Restaurant in Plymouth)
    · Drive to the Ferncroft Road public parking (Wonalancet, NH)

    Note: “The Blueberry Ledge Trail is very scenic, but the upper part is steep and requires some rock scrambling. This trail is still one of the more challenging climbs in the White Mountains. The loop including Passaconaway rates as one of the classics.” AMC White Mountain Guide

    · Return to Gilcrest Cottages (freshen-up)
    · Dinner @ local restaurant (The Mad River Tavern)
    · Return to Gilcrest Cottages, re-supply and pack for next hike day

    Day 2 Hike Totals: (kcal: 5,684)
    12.2 miles, 3120’ ascent, 9:30 – 10:30 hrs. BT+
    Actual hike time - 9:30 hrs.

    Whiteface and Passaconaway Comments:

    Wednesday morning brought another overcast day with a forecast of rain showers. I was hesitant about starting a 12-mile hike with a poor forecast especially knowing the cautions noted by the AMC White Mountain Guide regarding ascending the potentially wet Whiteface cliffs. Jim and Clay remained interested so I drove over to learn the directions, get a sense of where Ferncroft Road was and assess weather conditions. Bruce decided that this day would be his day for R&R.

    After a great breakfast at Annie’s Overflow we arrived after approximately 50 driving minutes at the Ferncroft Road parking area. The weather seemed stable so I decided to hike with Clay and Jim. It was a 12.2-mile day in a remote area so hiking with a group increased personal safety margins for all even in marginal conditions. I took time to put on rain pants and a pack cover in an attempt to stay as dry as possible from trail wetness. However, within the first thirty minutes of the hike I had to shed my rain pants to keep from overheating.

    Our ascent on the 110-year old Blueberry Ledge Trail represented about a quarter (3.9 miles) of the total hiking distance on the clockwise loop and climbed a large portion (2850’) of the total elevation gain of the day (3120’). I always favor climbing as much elevation as possible early in a hike when my legs are fresh, my heart is rested and my spirit enthusiastic!

    I am confident there will be a bumper crop of luscious blueberries bordering the beautiful rock slabs of the Blueberry Ledge Trail. The fog and mist gave this section a scenic mystique and I lingered a bit to appreciate the natural beauty. As we topped off the steeps just before the junction of the Tom Wiggin Trail, I marveled at the open air space to either side of the trail on the edge of the forest and wondered what the views were as the ridge dropped off into the white abyss.

    Then the cliffs came into view and my first description was, “we reached the ledges and they are really cool! A 4-5 inch crack runs vertically up the face of the cliff about 40 feet. This is really beautiful!” I first thought we were going to climb the cliffs using the crack, but then I noticed the double holes drilled in the rock to our left and realized this was where the former wooden steps were placed indicating the ascent route.

    The ascent up the cliffs was exciting. I have always enjoyed rock climbing and have great trust in my Merrell Wilderness Boots. Wherever I place them, they securely grip and hold my position. So other than looking for the safest way up, I had no problem with the slope, exposure or surface of the rock. In no time we were on a wonderful viewing ledge taking a break and patting ourselves on the back. Like most rock ascents, just as you think you made it to the top, another higher ledge appears and the Whiteface cliffs were no different.

    A bit more climbing and we reached the south summit, switched over to the Rollins Trail and shortly after paused for a photo at the viewless, true summit. The beautiful ridge walk that followed was one of the highlights of my day as the narrow trail brought us quite close to the edge of the precipitous slopes of “The Bowl Research Natural Area”. Even though we had no views, the sensory feedback was enough to envision a vast, yawning basin protected by steep walls of rugged wilderness. It made us want to return in better weather to see what we missed out there.

    After a brief water and snack break at the junction of the Dicey’s Mill Trail, we started up the final 750’ ascent to the summit of Mt. Passaconaway. The surrounding flora reminded me of a tropical rain forest. Everywhere we looked, the vegetation was brilliant…almost fluorescent green and abundant beyond belief for this elevation and time of year. The rainy weather surely has enhanced the vivid colors of the forest and although it has made for an unseasonably wet, sloppy walk, it has also enriched the hiking experience. It was as if we were hiking in HD!

    The summit wasn’t much to speak of until we inadvertently noticed a carved piece of wood fastened to a tree with “ Passaconaway 4043’” etched on it. It was a gratifying and unique discovery.

    We descended to the Rollins’ Trail junction for a brief stop and then started our final 2250’ descent to Ferncroft Road. It started to rain again, softly at first and then harder, but I did not put on rain gear because the cool rain was refreshing and the pace was quick enough to make another layer uncomfortable. We continued on the moderate 3.7-mile trail with only one rest break and reached the car in 1 hour and 50 minutes.

    Somehow, on this day-long trek, I sustained a wrist injury. I noticed some slight tenderness in my left wrist early in the hike and later, I was dragging my left trekking pole rather than planting it. Fortunately, the acute pain didn’t occur until we were on our way down the Dicey’s Mill Trail and that path was gentle enough not to require a lot of support with pole work. Although my wrist was sore and red, I did not feel as if it was badly injured.

    So despite overcast skies, sporadic light rain and a cloud ceiling so low no views materialized all day, the Whiteface/Passaconaway loop was a great walk on the wild side! It was my second favorite hike of the trip!

    By the time my head hit the pillow that evening at Gilcrest, I decided to take Thursday as a rest day. Mainly because the weather forecast for Friday looked very promising and I wanted to climb the North Slide of Tripyramid in the best conditions possible. I figured by the time I hiked to the base of the slide, (hopefully) the morning sun would have been shining on the slide for a while and “leveled” the playing field so to speak (at least in terms of wet, slippery conditions).

    I tried without success to talk Jim, Bruce and Clay out of their choice to climb Tripyramid on Thursday. The overcast was supposed to hang for another day increasing the potential safety risk of the slide route. I learned that Bruce and Jim would be traveling home on Friday and Clay was taking his R&R day on Friday before a planned Presidential Traverse. They remained steadfast in their plan so I wished them a safe journey on Tripyramid and retired for the evening to the cozy comfort of my room.

    I iced my wrist on and off for the rest of the night and woke up early Thursday morning with a very swollen, red, painful wrist.