Monthly Archives: August 2016

Castle Trail – Mt. Jefferson

Castle Trail, Mt. Jefferson

I was on the road by 6:00AM, headed to the Castle Trail in Randolph, NH. The weather report was hot and muggy with a cold front moving in bringing potent, scattered thunderstorms. My best case plan was to make it up the Castle Trail, over the Castles, to the summit of Mt. Jefferson and back an undetermined route before really bad weather set in. As I drove through Gorham, NH toward Randolph, I could see a wall of black to the west hugging the slopes of the Northern Presidentials. I drove by the Appalachia parking area on route 2 seeing that it was packed to overflowing. Cars were parking on the edge of the highway. Not a good sign if you want solitude. I drove approximately 3 mile further to the Castle Trail parking lot on the left of route 2. I was the only one there. The sky looked ominous so I checked my cell phone for signal… none… I drove back toward Gorham until I had decent cell reception and checked the weather forecast at the Mt. Washington Observatory. Forecast was gusty winds, strong thunderstorms, possible hail. Increased chances as the day progressed. I decided that I would hike until the weather turned. My primary goal wasn’t to reach any peak today. I just wanted some exercise and solitude.

The Castle Trail

The trail begins on an old railroad bed, now snowmobile trail. Watch for signs as there is private property close by. It crosses under power transmission lines shortly where you can begin to hear the Israel River. I was surprised how much water was flowing considering how dry it had been this summer. Once across the ‘river’ (really a good sized brook), the trail parallels the river, meandering toward and away from it. This section is steadily uphill, but gradual and the trail bed is smooth. At 1.3 miles the Israel Ridge Trail diverges to the left while the Castle Trail heads straight on. For the next mile, the trail gets continuously steeper as it turns into a continuous stairway climb. Once above this first steep section, the trail smooths out and meanders for 1/2 mile, steadily uphill, along a wooded ridge. Along this section I began to get one of my symptoms that indicates a migraine coming on. In this case I was getting tunnel vision in my left eye. I came upon a tee intersection and had a decision to make. Continue on, turn around, or take a side trail. BTW, just before this intersection is a spot that looks like it could be used as a tent site in a pinch. Rooty, but flat. Looking at my map I could see that I was at the intersection with the Link Trails, just below the first Castle. Fog was settling in. It was getting breezy. I might have a full blown migraine in an hour or so. I decided that I would go left on the Link (the Fink) down into Castle Ravine (if you go right on the Link toward the Caps Ridge Trail, it’s called the Dink).

Castle Ravine

Immediately after going left at the Link intersection, the trail becomes narrow and STEEP (down). The trail is maintained well, but did not look like it received much traffic. As such there was a lot of moss and slippery spots. Pay attention if going down this trail! In about 1/2 mile the Link hits the bottom of the ravine and intersects with the Castle Ravine Trail. Just before the intersection are two or three great spots to set up camp. SIDE NOTE ON CAMPING: This area is within the White Mountain National Forest and as such you are not permitted to camp within 200′ of trails and streams.  I turned left at the intersection and headed downstream. I quickly came upon another camping spot right next to Castle Brook. Beautiful spot where I took the below picture:

Castle Brook 2 8.0 sec @ f11 49mm ISO 200

Castle Brook 2
8.0 sec @ f11 49mm ISO 200

Shortly downstream I came upon yet another camp site where I took this picture:

Castle Brook 1 2.0 sec @ f11 38mm ISO 50

Castle Brook 1
2.0 sec @ f11 38mm ISO 50

The Link Trail picks up again to the right and parallels the side of a ridge a bit under a mile, where it intersects with the Israel Ridge Trail and Cascade Ravine. Upstream and downstream from this intersection are the First and Second Cascades. I didn’t stop for pictures today as the sun had come out during my hike and would have created too many hot spots. Below are pictures from the last time I was at this spot:

First Cascade - Cascade Ravine

First Cascade – Cascade Ravine

Second Cascade - Cascade Ravine

Second Cascade – Cascade Ravine

I stayed on the Israel Ridge Trail paralleling Cascade Brook for about a mile where I once again came upon the intersection with the Castle Trail. On my was back to the parking lot I was enjoying the seclusion. Not more than 3 miles from one of the most visited areas in the White Mountains and I had not seen a single person all morning. No sooner did this thought pass through my mind when I met a group of four twenty somethings heading up the mountain. Still not bad. Back to the parking lot by 12:30 PM. Great morning hike!

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Baxter State Park in June

Baxter State Park in June

As is our annual ritual (mostly???), Tammy and I went back to BSP June 17 – 20. I wanted to get in to Chimney Pond during the longest days of the year. During the Summer Solstice, the sunrise points more directly into the Chimney Pond basin than at any other time of year and I thought it might be a good opportunity for sunrise pictures of the basin and mountain. We made reservations well in advance for a night at Chimney Pond, a night at Davis Pond and a final night back at Chimney Pond.

Day One – Chimney Pond

As always we were excited to get on the road and not be working on a Friday. We arrived at the BSP gate house before 10:00 AM and were on the trail at Roaring Brook Campground by 10:30. The hike from Roaring Brook Campground to Chimney Pond is a bit less than 3.5 miles and is pretty easy. Arriving at Chimney Pond by early afternoon, we found our assigned lean-to, unpacked, and ate lunch. The afternoon of day one was spent scouting morning photo locations, washing up, and getting our gear in order.

One potential plan was to do the classic circuit of the Knife’s Edge on our last day back at Chimney Pond. This route is typically hiked either up Cathedral Trail, over the Knife’s Edge, and down the Dudley Trail, or vice versa. Unfortunately there had been a land slide on the Dudley Trail over the winter/spring and it will be closed until 2018. This makes a day trip over the Knife’s Edge with Chimney Pond as the start/end impossible.

We found the black flies to be pretty bad this year, but we planned ahead and brought a no-see-um screen cloth that fit pretty well over the front of the lean-to. Some flies still got in, but it was livable. It would have been hell without the screening.

Chimney Pond Lean-To Bug Screen

Chimney Pond Lean-To Bug Screen

Day Two – Davis Pond

The next morning I was up before dawn and headed for the Chimney Pond outlet for pictures of the pond and mountain. Black flies were, once again, annoying, but not terrible. I was able to get in a few shots just before sunrise and a few with Baxter in the sun. Below are the two best.

Baxter Alpenglow .5 sec @ f 8.0 12mm ISO 100

Baxter Alpenglow
.5 sec @ f 8.0 12mm ISO 100

Baxter Sunrise 1.0 sec @ f 13 10 mm ISO 100

Baxter Sunrise
1.0 sec @ f 13 10 mm ISO 100

I woke Tam up after sunrise and had our standard breakfast of instant oatmeal, pop tarts, and coffee. We packed up and headed out for the Saddle Trail to the saddle between Baxter and Hamlin peaks. Going was slow with full packs, but the morning temperature was good and the bugs weren’t bad while we were moving. After an hour or so, we reached the top of the saddle and headed off for the North West Plateau. This section of trail has a bit of boulder scrambling, but isn’t difficult. In about a mile we reached Caribou Spring at the junction of the Hamlin Ridge and Howe Peak trails. The spring was running steady, but not as fast as I have seen in the past. I’m always amazed at the power of water pressure and how there can possible be flowing springs on mountain tops. We continued on the North West Plateau Trail and headed down to Davis Pond. We had come here in October of 2013. It was a wet Fall and the trail had fully flowing stream running down it. I said I would never come back, not only due to the trail conditions and steepness getting off the North West Plateau, but the trail from Davis Pond to Russell Pond was a slog in boggy water up to your knees. Well, we came back, but were not heading all the way to Russell Pond on this trip. As on our prior trip, there was running water in most of the trail and the last half mile or so was steep, steep, steep. It was daunting to think we would have to come back up this the next morning.

We made it to the Davis Pond lean-to in the early afternoon, dumped our gear, and immediately went to the pond to wash off the sweat and grim. There was a waterfall flowing down the back wall of the basin last time we were here and I was not sure if it flowed year ’round. It did not disappoint as it was fully flowing this day also. I wanted to go explore near it, but it was a long scramble away and unfortunately the black flies were horrendous. My original plan was to explore the larger Lake Cowles further down into the basin, but the black flies crapped on this plan too. We got back to the lean-to ASAP, put up the bug screen, and spent the rest of the day in relative comfort.

The next morning I, once again, got up before sunrise to snap a couple shots of the waterfall. We then ate our standard breakfast, packed up, and began our journey back to Chimney Pond.

Davis Pond Lean-To

Davis Pond Lean-To

Davis Pond Waterfall 1.5 sec @ f13 150mm ISO 50

Davis Pond Waterfall
1.5 sec @ f13 150mm ISO 50

Day Three – Back to Chimney Pond

Back the way we came to the North West Plateau. It was steep, steep, steep, again (obviously), but we took our time and it really wasn’t that bad. The wind was brisk on the plateau and we settled in behind some boulders to eat a quick snack. At this point we decided that we didn’t want to go back down the Saddle Trail with full packs as there is a lot of loose, granite sand. It is a landslid after all. Our final plan was to hike a bit longer to Hamlin Peak and go down the Hamlin Ridge Trail back to Chimney Pond.

Davis Pond to Northwest Plateau

Davis Pond to Northwest Plateau

Hamlin Peak

Hamlin Peak

Diapensia

Diapensia

We met a family on Hamlin Peak that were picking off the New England 4000 footers. We exchanged taking pictures for one another and off we went in opposite directions. We did the entire circuit of Hamlin, Baxter, and Pamola peaks in June of 2014. On that trip we ascended the Hamlin Ridge Trail with day packs. Today we were descending with full packs. It is a beautiful trail and I was able to appreciate it for the first half mile or so. After that we both just wanted to get to the bottom. Lots of ledge and boulder scrambling made for a difficult day with full packs, but we finally made our way back to Chimney Pond for our last night.

 

Below are some photos of our trip in June 2014

Katahdin Alpenglow 6-2014

Katahdin Alpenglow 6-2014

Katahdin Sunrise 6-2014

Katahdin Sunrise 6-2014

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