December 26, 2015.
Winter officially began four days ago according to the calendar. Only thing is someone forgot to tell Mother Nature. Taking advantage of the lack of snow I figured I'd try for a long out and back to Mt Weeks or at least as far as the conditions and my body let me. The whole trek today will be along the Pliny Range which I have hiked part of over three years ago. I finished my 48 4000 Footer quest on Mt Waumbek so today will include that portion of the hike and new territory beyond that. I'm nervous and excited so if all goes well it will be five peaks (nine total including the return trip) and with the shorter days I hope there will be enough time.
The Starr King Trail head is located just off Route 2 in Jefferson, NH up a short rutted little road. I am the first one in the parking lot as I am off and ready to go by 7:30. It's a chilly start as the temp is in the low 20's but the trail has a more fall like look to it than winter. Up past the two old wells as the memory of my finish over three years ago come back to me. I remember how wet this trail was and if not for the frozen ground it would be just as messy now as it was then.
The leafless trees reveal the things one would normally miss as I pass by a beech tree with a good size burl encircling its' whole trunk. Further up and the rising sun is coming up over the ridge line on my right.
I reach the changeover from deciduous trees to conifers where one of favorite sections of the trail is through the mossy section. This time I stop to check out the spring that is not far below the summit of Starr King. The water is flowing right out under a boulder and looking at it wished I needed a refill to taste the freshness of it.
Just ninety minutes from starting and I reach the high point of Mt Starr King which is on top of a large ledge to the right of the trail. I slightly remember how quick this hike can be and how gentle most of the trail is. Across the trail is an opening that I do not remember and all there is for views today is the inside of the cloud I am walking in.
A short jaunt down the trail and I am at the clearing of the old cabin site where the only remnants are the fireplace and partial chimney. I've tried on numerous occasions to find a picture of the old cabin but so far have come up empty handed. The views are the same here as the cloud deck has settled in for the morning. To the right of the fireplace the trail continues on to Mt Waumbek. A really mild walk along the ridge awaits and I do not hesitate to keep moving.
Along the way the skies are trying to clear out but so far with not much success. Before I know it I am at the high point for Waumbek and the memories of my finishing the 48 here back in July of 2012 come flooding back. Just like then I am alone and no one is at the summit. This spot also marks the end of the Starr King Trail and the beginning of the Kilkenny Ridge Trail. From here it is only 20.6 miles to the other end located in Stark, NH. I could only wish I was able to do the full traverse but it is impossible hiking solo and only one vehicle. At the clearing the clouds are still hanging too low to see the Presidentials across the valley. Just a few minutes up the trail and the clouds break towards the north giving me hope for some views along the return trip.
Beyond the blowdown clearing it is new territory for me and there is nothing like a ridge walk. The trail winds through the woods and there are quite a few spots where the winds have left their presence behind with toppled trees blocking the trail. Instead of it being an annoyance I find the wildness out here comforting and soothing. Being able to see what Mother Nature can do in a single breath of forceful wind is amazing. It doesn't matter how small or big the tree is it is going down if she so desires it.
The ridge itself is a mild trek as for the most part it is fairly level and easy going. The sun is starting to make it's way through the stick trees and warm up the day. Along the way there is a peek of the next peak, South Weeks, still quite some distance away.
The trail continues along the ridge slightly heading down until the trail makes a sharp left turn heading down into the col between the ridge and South Weeks. The climb up isn't that bad but finding the high point was a matter of stopping at a few spots and taking pictures hoping that was it. A few times of being fooled and then a small herd path on the left and there is a small rock pile marking the true summit of South Weeks.
Heading down off South Weeks there is more evidence of the wrath of the damaging winds this ridge sustains. In the first picture the next destination is visible through the trees, Middle Weeks.
Another dip into the col between South and Middle Weeks and then a quick climb up to the wooded summit of Middle Weeks. It only takes thirty-five minutes between the two and with two Weeks down today it is time for one more.
A few minutes down the trail and a shot of the last one for the day, Mt Weeks. Of course this wouldn't be complete without more blowdowns which is just below the previous picture.
Fortunately most of the trail is in great shape as this area does not see a lot of traffic so the usual erosion isn't evident. In the col are some great woods and pathway. On the climb up I am greeted by the only living thing I would see all day. He was sitting in the trail and in no hurry to move out of my way. I thinking he was squawking "None shall pass!" and then "Answer me these questions three". Thankfully I got the questions correct but man the Capital of Assyria sure was a tough one!
Climbing up to Weeks and the legs were beginning to feel the affects of the day as this is the fifth peak. Across the dribbling Stony Brook where just above is the beginning of the stream. On the other side and the first look at Washington through the trees. My day is complete now that I have seen Ole George!
Reaching the ridge crest and then a small opening where the high point of Mt Weeks is located. A short break for food and water as the day is only half way done. It was 8.5 miles out here and I need to repeat those miles plus reclimb four of the peaks on the return trip.
Recharged, sort of, it is time to make my way back and get out of the woods before dark. Down off Weeks and then the climb back up and over Middle Weeks. Repeat for South Weeks and I push through the ups as I head back into the col before the great ridge walk over to Waumbek. Reaching the sharp turn in the trail and thankful to see the gentle ridge over to Waumbek and Starr King. At the viewpoint just below Waumbek I get rewarded with what I missed out on this morning with the clouds. The waning afternoon sun is perfect looking on the northern Presi's.
Reinvigorated with the quality of the views I need to keep pushing as it is 3:30 and I have about fifty minutes of daylight left with 3.6 miles to go. A quick thirty minutes and I am back on Starr King and then over to the northern viewpoint right next to the high point. I can see Weeks and Middle Weeks from here. Further north is the rounded peak of South Percy where I had a remarkable day two short months ago.
Down the trail continues off of Starr King and so is the sun as it sets not long after leaving the summit. I push as best I can on tired legs trying to beat the last light but with about a mile left I have to break out the headlamp to light my way as the darkness settles in. This is the wet and rutted section of the trail and it is tough going with the limited light from the headlamp. Fortunately I make it down in timely fashion and safely and this is one of my new favorite hikes. I loved the Pliny Range and ridge and especially the solitude of seventeen miles without seeing a single person all day. I really got lucky pulling off this hike thanks to the conditions and total lack of snow.
Also another milestone as I now have less than 400 miles left out of the 1440 miles on my redlining!
Final numbers: 17 miles, 9 hours and 50 minutes.
Redline Miles: 4.9, Total to Date: 1041.3