Monday, October 29, 2012

10/25/2012 Mt Jefferson (5712') via Castle Trails - White Mountains - New Hampshire

The allure of Castle Ravine & Ridge Trails has been working on me for years.  Finally, between Jeff Romano's info-blessing and Tim's penchant for exploration, we had our first encounter.

Leaves covered the footing in the lower section, and the climb was very gentle.  I'd never heard anyone use that particular word in describing this area.   I marveled, mystified, suspicious.  

Tim commented longingly on the runnability of the trail.  It seemed to sport neither root nor rock in some stretches.  (Or maybe we are just to used to Bradbury's tough love...)  He concluded that hosting a 100 mile race here would be a great idea.  

No sooner had I agreed when we made our four-hundred-and-seventy-sixth stream crossing.  Tim emerged first on the other side and was already getting out a camera; the first view of a trio of Castle-like rocks, high upon the ridge, has appeared.  The ravine walls dropped dramatically below with unabashed steepness.  

With chortles of anticipation, we mused that things were about to get interesting.  I had some residual reservations to set free.  Would my worn-out shoes suffice?  Would they grip at all?  Would my pack be too heavy?  How icy would it be higher up?  Most of all, would either/both of our various injury situations handle this?

As promised, the trail soon went vertical.  We passed through a shadowy zone of mossier rocks and cooler temps.  Though still lovely, the contrast was stark.  Hands became chilly.

We climbed steadily and the trail played with us.  It led at one point underneath the aptly named Roof Rock before eventually sending us up the face of a boulder field.  

I relished the relative solidity of the granite, as in, that which usually doesn't move when you step on it.  A recent foray (my first) into the northern Rockies left me filled with gratitude.  That feeling of a haplessly trusted rock that loses its grip on the hill beneath your boots, heading straight into gravity's open arms, down, forever, is something that stays with me.  It sounds out as it first rolls, but tapers into a blank space where my ear expects it to hear it land.  

Yes:  Silence draws the ear.

Contentedly engaged in boulders, I was soon feeling overdressed.  The faded salmon blazes were unconvincing, and soon some of the cairns were ambivalent.  I was paying more mind to the improving view than the trail, and following Tim, for he is the quicker climber.  He paused above.  The lichen, he noted, was a little too pristine, and neither of us had seen a blaze in a while.  Time to backtrack down the steepness and re-calibrate.  It was a slow process, but no one seemed to mind.  The sky was perfect and we were in it.

After we found the trail, as you can imagine, the boulder fields and the steepness continued.  The sun's face was staring at our faces and I couldn't recall if I'd ever hiked directly into the sun before.  I think no. Transition-seasons are full of endearing quirks.

Interestingly, I experienced slight bonkage a little before hitting the ridge but not bad enough that I wanted to attend to it; it seemed to go away after a while anyway.  I'd wondered if it might happen.  I never like to take the time to snack when hiking but I suppose it's worth considering, especially as Winter nears.  

But it was such a wholesome/holistic climb, entirely pleasing to the body, otherwise.  Reaching the grassy little plateau of Spaulding Spring was like a soft dream, the source of which was easier at first to hear than to see.  

Though the mild temps and soft sun welcomed, encouraged us to continue, I expected the wind to strike as soon as we crested the ridge at Edmund's Col.  But just like a rock rolling away from under my foot, the Col greeted us with a moment of silence.  We'd arrived to the very spot notorious for some of the "worst weather on Earth", and there was hardly a puff of wind.  The atmosphere was holding its breath just like a moose hides behind a tree.

Though the present was calm, ice had formed in the dark between rocks.  One of many apparent harbingers of the upcoming Winter.  There was nearly enough snow for a wee snowball but not enough for a fair battle.  And it was possibly too damn pretty to disturb in its scant, tight nestle.   

Tim wondered if we were already on the summit of Jefferson and I tried to recall what it had looked like last time I was in the area, and couldn't.  Rocks. Piles of rocks, with other rocks.  Lichen.  Lichen that matched my shoes.  The ridge remained very quiet and we had it almost entirely to ourselves.  

Lowering sun could not assuage the severity of summit fever.  When we found the spur, we went.

I considered slackpacking out of habit but couldn't think of a reason to actually do it.  The going was very slow; it was only a half mile but it probably took half an hour to ascend. 

The time came for snacks and a layer, hat, gloves, and a brief chat with a lone human on the summit.  He was our first or second of the day.  Incredible.  The breeze had picked up slightly but I was cozy in two of the five (yep, five) layers I'd packed.  

While fully loving every moment of summit goodness, I became very aware of the time and the realization that we would need to move it if we expected to get down before nightfall.  

There was one headlamp between us.  It was going to be close.  We were heading onto the unfamiliar, highly exposed, legendarily steep Castle Ridge Trail.  The perfection of the weather was a gift.  I couldn't help but imagine the difficulties it was capable of causing before jumping back into boundless gratitude for the spectacular late-afternoon light all around.  

Blue-green lichen, dark purple diapensia foliage, golden grasses, granite in every shade of gray and silver, glowing shapes and edges, jagged lines.  It was almost too much; I think I may have scared Tim.  (But not as much as when I attempted to pluralize "radius" and failed.  Never have I seen such fear in a man's eyes.)  The unimaginable beauty was untouched and untouchable by my gravely limited skills as faux-photographer/writer.  I tried to memorize it with all my being, scampering as briskly as terrain allowed.

I loved the puzzle of steep slabs and winding drops over the Castles.  I was torn between wishing to slowly, completely savor each step and every vantage point, and wishing to get down off the tricky stuff while we could still see.

There were multiple occasions where the steepness required extra time for me to descend.  What helped most was simply to not be alone.  Tim and I seem to have similar paces a lot of the time, but not always.  Streams and slabs didn't seem to affect him at all.  He is a patient soul.

Relief and tree line came hand in hand.  The trail would level off before too long, and we'd travel with more swiftness.  The alpenglow cast its softness along the Israel ridge, near the path of our ascent.  We became quiet at times, and though I felt exceedingly well, I could feel the recent lack of sleep (and the decision to get up at 4:40am to read for half an hour...) affecting me too much.   

We startled a grouse.  A human appeared behind us, passed us, went off trail ahead, came back upwards, reset, and was gone.  My feet, now warm and dry, and strangely not sore even in the Brooks shoes(!) wondered if there would be many stream crossings below.  

I thought tired-person thoughts, amorphous and laced with euphoria of the day.  Nonstop questions that I couldn't seem to form. Endless rolls of thought-cloud that had no place.  I wanted to ask more about Chris but couldn't quite do it.  How do I miss (for lack of better word) someone who you didn't know, but whose spirit is precisely the fire you wish to feed?  How do I give back?

Tim kept a solid pace; he pointed but did not stop when the waxing gibbous rose over Castle Ravine.  At the final junction, he suggested we whip off a second lap.  No biggie.  

If we'd been on the trail for 15 more minutes, it would have been headlamp time.  The very last stream crossing might have been easier with a light.  A familiar pile of moose scat marked the best route across.  

A car lurked in the lot between my trusty DDR car and us; again I was thankful for company.  But it was the hiker who'd passed us a while back, just hanging around to make sure we got out of the woods okay.  Sweet.  

Gear notes:  
  • Trekking pole (one was enough)
  • Running pants
  • Base layer hoodie
  • Ariat gloves
  • The Hat
  • Grid fleece mid layer.
  • Fleece pullover (didn't use)
  • Shell (didn't use?)
  • Extra socks (didn't use)
  • 70oz reservoir h20 (finished late in the day)
  • Nalgene (1 mostly full, sipped from some.  Mostly packed as extra.)
  • Osprey 35 Pack was pretty maxed out with this plus snacks and a few other things.  
  • Pack was pretty heavy but a) after Chocorua's chilliness, I wasn't going to risk getting cold in the Presis and b) good training!

Trail notes:
  • It took 9 hours exactly to hike about 10.5 or 11 miles (no GPS).   9:15am to 6:15pm.  October 25, 2012. 
  • Started from trailhead off Rt 2 called Bowman.  Israel Ridge, Castle Ravine, Jefferson summit spur, Castle Ridge.
  • There were countless stream crossings on the Castle Ravine Trail until we were up high.
  • This trail would be treacherous when wet/icy/in any kind of weather.  So would the upper half of the Ridge.  Extremely exposed.  The lower sections of both were tame.
  • Faded blazes as of this post in Autumn 2012 were at time hard to follow, cairns were usually very good.
  • We lost the trail once for a while on a rock scramble.  Great climb. :)  Took a while to backtrack and find it though.
  • Stream crossings were relentless.  Not terrible but I had to slow way, way down and focus at each.  It has been pretty dry but there was plenty of water, often flowing over potential stepping stones.  I believe T was careful and didn't even get his boots wet; me, I was wearing shoes that drain and stuff that dries so I just stepped into the water (mid shin) a few times when the steps were too big.  I'd say a trekking pole was darn near mandatory.  


  1. Great visual read...with mention of streams...wonder if it's raining...time to run. Have a nice day Xar.


  2. This was an awesome route when I did it back in May, and it appears to have not been a disappointment. I kept catching glimpses of the Presidentials from where I was "across the way", and wondered if anyone I knew was up there. Glad you had a fantastic day!

    1. You mean you didn't see me wave? :>

  3. I loved every step of your journey and the way you brought us along. The pics were amazing :D


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