Sunday, December 9, 2012

12/6/2012 Puzzle Mountain 3,133' - Grafton Notch - Maine

Most of the recent hikes I've posted about here have been on my mind, on my non-list, for years.  What can I say?  I'm a bass player: Timing is important. 

Puzzle Mountain, however, was a new interest.  I'd only recently read of its many excellent viewpoints and a new loop trail around the summit.  Located in beloved Grafton Notch, and smaller/shorter in size, it was ostensibly was the right choice for this time of year.  Timothy was game.  We skittered north.

There are several miles of rather monochromatic (at this time of year) woods walk on the Grafton Loop Trail, beautiful to hike but difficult to photograph.  Moderately steep but relentless, the footing was mostly fallen beech leaves over dirt.

Tiny creek crossings were all easy to step over.  I only mention them because the memories are still so fresh of the Castle Ravine trail's million thoroughly engaging crossings.  Yet another thing I shall never take for granted.

We didn't hit ice or views for the first hour or so.  Once the views started, they were quite frequent.

Rising up from the leaves ahead, the sound of a grouse halted us, its urgent wingwork a primordially chilling rumble.
Rising up from the leaves ahead, the sound of a grouse halted us, its urgent wingwork a primordially chilling rumble.

Early ledges.

We paused on many of the ledges to wonder if we might be looking out at Old Speck, the Baldpates, the Presidentials, and other old friends.  Patches of ice slowed us down a bit and we attempted not to crush lichen as we stepped around it.

Summit.  3.2 miles from the trailhead.  

Speaking of lichen, I can't bring myself to post a photo of it.  Fields of soft sea green were in full bloom in flock after flock.  Smatterings of snow rested lightly like some sort of quaint confection on its tiny branches.  Each patch seemed to be presenting its unimaginable cuteness more heartily than the last.

Tim emerges from trees after a fruitless trail-seeking endeavor near the summit.

We spotted three (why?) geological survey markers near the summit before Tim set about the task of finding us the right spot, out of the wind, for the CragSnaggers to pause for snacktime.  We each added some layers up as the cold set in.

It's tricky to capture the amazing light that lasts for hours at this exceptionally beautiful time of the year.  I didn't manage it in a single pic and I sort of hate to post these because of it.  It stopped me in my tracks again and again.

Someone on VFTT had mentioned that there was a view-heavy trail around the summit, named after her Grandfather Woodsum, called Woodsum Loopette.  I was too distracted to absorb the info on its signs and hadn't given a good look at a map, so I mindlessly followed my (hopefully) navigating colleague onto a marvelous path that couldn't have been more than a year old.  Looked more like months.

The Woodsum Path (I can't call it a "Loopette".  Really...)  wove through steep forested areas and out to countless ledges with some of the finest striations I've seen.  Most had some ice that required extra time to get around, but I still didn't quite need microspikes.

The Woodsum Path is not yet blazed as of this writing and is marked by orange ribbon and cairns.  It was not difficult to follow but when we weren't paying attention, we made a few anticlimactic wrong turns.  Going was slow due to the terrain and the non-stop scenic goodness.  

We didn't exactly rush, but when we finally did check the clock, I realized we were a lot closer to sunset than I'd previously cared to acknowledge.  Hm.  It would be in our best interest to get down below the icy areas before dark.

Surgeon Silhouette, Sun, Striations, Sunday River.

The cough is all but gone and the lungs felt great for the first time in weeks.  I'll try not to gush... but it is damn wondrous just to breathe!  And the feet were snug and sufficiently content in Salomon Gore-Tex boots which I'd just found for $25 on Craigslist.  All of these things are a huge step toward a winter of kickass mountainy conditioning goodness.

Beautiful rocky lines and mountains of diverse blues...

I'd later learn that The Woodsum path, which I'd erroneously thought was a mile, was actually almost 2 miles.  Eventually we emerged back at a junction to the Grafton Loop Trail, marked by a sign that said GLT.

My colleague and I had slightly different ideas about what this sign's lettering may have stood for.  The debate concluded with a commemorative photo of his chosen meaning. (Maybe he will post it on Lucubrare.)

Shadows, striations.  I always like how the red on T's hat/jacket contrast with the surrounding colors.  GLT indeed!?

Somewhere mid-Loop, I forgot to get the h20 out of its reservoir tube and of course it froze. The camelbak works really well for me when unfrozen, in general, and I need to remember to find a way to insulate the tube.  I might have to abandon its use for the winter but I'll cling while I can.  Note: I wasn't really sweating and had an entire other insulated Nalgene in my massive pack.... (Along with a couple of shopping carts, hair dryer, kitchen sink, three emus and a grand piano...)

Snowy bits and sunset over the Presidentials... hmm, it's dusk, and we're still way up here...Glad I brought a light source.

I was quite slow descending the sections of ice, which weren't even that bad if you're less paranoid than I.  My trusty colleague waited quietly, in seeming patience, over and over.  

Eyes began to make adjustments for the darkness.  Though we were beginning to pick up the pace with some dedication, we stopped to watch the last dramatic bit of sunset through majestic old-growth.  

Turning back to the dark trail led to the discovery of just how much a blast of light could confuse the newly adjusted eyes.  But after a few moments of blindness, equilibrium returned, and we were again good to go. 
More pics of lines and various grays, with Old Speck and The Baldpates looking back at us.
And go, we did.  Tim flew easily down the ambiguity of a leaf-littered mountainside.  The stars were beginning to appear.

Hardly having stumbled all day, I wasn't about to get careless now, if I could help it.  The legs, unaccustomed to the heavy boots, were becoming a little fatigued.  Though not to the point where motion was uncomfortable, sustaining focus became a very present challenge.  I tentatively trotted a few times to keep up, thinking wishful thoughts of adroitness toward my feet.  It did feel pretty fabulous to stretch out and open up the pace.

The sunset was reflecting pinks and golds in the ice:  Snippets of vibrant, understated peace.

Walking in the dark feels very wild, very right.  With company, the thought that it could be unnerving seems far-fetched.

Eventually it was time to look for a turn in the trail.  I stopped to headlamp up, reveling in new ability to see blazes and such.  Tim prefers the pure and starlit dark; he hung back away from my luminous pollution.

I'm no guía.  With me in the lead, our pace slowed greatly.  But darkness had already triumphed; the sense of urgency had left and another new flavor of peace had returned.

~Probably somewhere between 8.2 and 8.6 miles.  No GPS.
~6.5 hours including many stops on many ledges, ice pauses, but a consistent clip in the first and final miles.  Started around 11am, ended around 5:30pm.
~Probably in the high twenties F temps.  Seemed warmer when we were moving, but the reservoir tube stayed frozen once it froze.  Sunny and perfect.
~Gear notes.  Pretty sure I am going to forget some stuff this time...
Brought and used/wore:
Salomon boots.
Smartwool socks.
Base layers and mid layers.
Puffy jacket.
Hats (uh, three, I think...)
Fleece gloves.
Warm gloves.
Trekking poles.
Massive Osprey pack.   Big enough to thru-hike the Long Trail.  Just sayin'...

Brought and didn't use:
Outer shell layers.
Extra socks.
Glove liners (two extra pairs).
Chemical handwarmers.
FAK stuff.
One full Nalgene of h20 with cozy.


  1. Beautiful. Haven't hiked the Grafton Loop yet, except for those pieces which are part of the AT, but it certainly is a wild and lovely, much more quiet, area.

    1. maybe you can do puzzle with sam in a few years...
      i love how we can each/all go to these places and experience the bliss of silence, the wind, the wildness, the aloneness, and in all that seemingly fleeting beauty and peace lies a widespread community of countless others who've had similar moments. each unique. cool connection.

  2. *Starts furiously making plans for a Grafton Loop backpack next summer*

    1. :) i wonder though...i hear a lot of it is swampy/buggy/kind of lowlandy. NOT that you shouldn't do it! you should! but - i wonder if it'd be even better to do later/earlier in the season, before or after bug/mud madness..... it was pretty freakin nice last week. you'd need to carry more crap but other than that, it might be pretty cool to do like at this time of year.


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