October 20, 2016.
How to follow up yesterdays great hike? Go right back into the same area to get Carrigain Notch Trail and Desolation Trail! This will involve a big loop hike up and over Mt Carrigain with a side trip out to my favorite spot, Stillwater Junction. I made a stop there three years ago and fell in love with it for its peaceful and remote nature of the spot.
A long drive in to the trail head which is located well below Crawford Notch on Route 302. A turn onto Sawyer River Road and a couple of miles up is the empty parking lot for Signal Ridge Trail. It's 7:30 in the morning and ten minutes later I am off on the trail. I have not been on this trail since they rerouted the beginning to avoid a crossing of Whiteface Brook. In fact the last time I was on this trail was back when I did the 48 Four Thousand Footers back in January of 2012.
Back on the original trail and I am paralleling Whiteface Brook until I reach another reroute that brings me up above the brook bed. I do not remember this the first time I was on this trail. It is a short reroute and once again I am back on the trail with the morning sun casting the long shadows of the surrounding trees.
I remember last time I was out here there was an old road showing up on my GPS and I did not see it back then. This time Carrigain Brook Trail, an old logging road, is easily recognized crossing the trail.
Reaching the junction where Carrigain Notch Trail used to begin and Signal Ridge Trail split off to the left the left trail is now closed. Not sure why since you still have to cross Carrigain Brook just a short ways up. Signal Ridge Trail now continues up to a new junction 0.3 miles up which marks the new beginning of Carrigain Notch Trail.
Heading up the Signal Ridge Trail which was once the Carrigain Notch Trail and there is a clearing off to the left. Since I have never been on this section of trail I decide to go and check it out. After all there is always time for a little exploring. The herd trail leads out into a beaver swamp and a great morning shot of the southern knob of Signal Ridge complete with the moon high above. With blue skies abound....looks like it's going to be a beautiful day.
A few more minutes up the trail and I reach the new junction for Carrigain Notch Trail. The trail is flat through here and feels pretty remote. Don't see too many reports on this section which adds to the remoteness feeling. The sun is still low enough to cast the long shadows on the trail ahead of me as I enjoy the quiet woods.
As I continue on the silence is broken by the roar of fighter jets somewhere to my left. If it weren't for the trees I might have a shot at seeing them doing there training runs. They're making there runs from one end to the other and then circling back. What a cool sight it would be if only I was up at a higher elevation. They disappear off into the distance and the woods grow quiet again and then a loud bellowing off to my right. Apparently there was a sleeping moose off in the woods expelling his dislike for the rude awakening. I look in the direction of the noise hoping I could see him/her but see nothing. As if on que the jets can be heard making another approach and I let the camera film the noise that fills the woods in the off chance I get a peek at them this time flying over me. Unfortunately there would be no sighting but it was a pretty awesome experience for those few minutes they were flying about.
Up the trail I go and there are a lot of washout areas and I wonder what the story is about them. Another day maybe I'll come back to explore them and see where they originate from. Perhaps it is from Carrigain Brook overflowing during the melt off or very wet seasons. Or maybe this is a collection point being in the valley.
Further up and I reach the "infamous" boulder that marks the beginning of a lot of bushwhacks to Vose Spur. This is not for me today or maybe any day but I have read a lot of reports that mention this spot. Around the corner is what looks like a herd path that leads off towards Vose Spur also. Maybe it is nothing or it might be another way up. Today it will remain an unanswered question.
The trail up into the notch becomes a little rougher but not that bad. For the most part it is still good terrain as it gently ascends. Through an opening a peek at the scarred Mt Lowell which is on my right.
Reaching the Pemi Wilderness sign and I have made it to Carrigain Notch. A secluded spot in the middle of nowhere just the way I like it. At the apex of the trail I better look at the very scarred and jagged west side of Mt Lowell.
Heading down out of the notch is even easier as the terrain is excellent. Gotta love these not so popular trails! Another one of those "Why did I put this off for so long?" It's a quick trip down as I make it to where the trail is rerouted off to the left. Straight ahead is where the old trail continues. The reroute was created to avoid some wet areas of the trail and under different circumstances I would take the old path. Hey...another reason to come back out here!
The "new" trail snakes through some great woods though. The tall spruces are surrounded by the new growth just waiting its turn to take over someday. It only takes a half hour along the rerouted section to make it back to the spot I was at yesterday where Nancy Pond Trail ends.
There will be no stopping here today as I continue along the Carrigain Notch Trail. For the most part a fairly straight run along the old logging railroad bed. There are still old ties left behind from the logging days in the early 1900's when the railroads brought the timber to Lincoln. I pass by an area that looks like there might have been a logging camp there. Hard to tell without having time to explore. I have read that Camp 20 was somewhere nearby and this just gives me one more excuse to return to this area. Soon enough I reach the junction where Desolation Trail begins and heads up to Mt Carrigain. But first I need to continue down Carrigain Notch Trail to Stillwater Junction.
To my left is Carrigain Branch, a boulder filled stream that empties out into the East Branch of the Pemigewassett River. Down the trail a bit is a blocked off section to the right. Not sure where it once led to but there is no time right now to explore. Just beyond is a spot where someone has illegally camped. Wilderness rules state at least 200 feet from the trail or river. But that is not the most egregious thing about this spot. It's the a-hole who had a fire next to a tree and burned the roots. A root fire could have brought this whole forest down. Thumbs down to whoever the dickhead is.
A few minutes down the trail and an opening along the Carrigain Branch. I would suspect that the erosion that is visible is due to either Irene in 2011 or Sandy in 2012. Compared to this summers levels it is hard to imagine this stream being swollen enough to cause all the visible damage. Looking downstream and a nice tree framed view of Bondcliff and Mt Bond at the far end.
The trail winds through some fantastic spruce forest and does not take long before I reach my favorite spot in the Whites, Stillwater Junction. Not much has changed since I was last here back in 2013. In fact it was the same time of year that I was here last, October. The log where I sat down to cook my meals is still here and seeing how it is close to lunch time then what better to do then to sit down and have some snacks while I reflect back on all the hiking I have done in the three years since being here.
The remoteness of this spot is what adds to its allure as I sit there. All of a sudden something out of the corner of my eye catches my attention. I turn to the right and bounding down the trail towards me is a snowshoe hare. It happens so quickly as I tried to get my camera out but he passes right by me into the scrub on my left before I could even attempt to get a picture of him. Knowing I have a lot of miles left to do I have to shorten my time at this sweet spot and pack up to leave. A go to where the rabbit disappeared into the scrub and while I am looking I catch something to my left creeping down the Wilderness Trail. It's the same rabbit peeking around the corner at me and just as quick he disappears again. Wascally Wabbit! Heading back up to the junction with Desolation Trail I make the sidebar down the blocked trail. Not sure what this once was but eventually it reaches an opening and beyond that it peters out. Back at the junction and the next trail for the trail begins, Desolation Trail. A crossing of a brook and then more hiking along an old railroad bed.
The trail is gentle at the beginning as it climbs up the northern flank of Mt Carrigain. But like any trail in the Whites it does not last long as an hour into this trail the steepness and terrain changes dramatically.
Quite a few jumbled rock sections along the way slow the pace even further. A small reward as I turn around and the Pemi Wilderness is visible below me.
The trail turns into a mossy covered section not far below the top. An hour and forty minutes since starting on this trail and I see the prize just ahead, the watch tower!
The hardest part of the hike is over and it was definitely steep as the book described. From the watch tower some of the best views can be seen from here. A bit hazy but at least there are views today. If only it had been as sunny as the day had started but I'll take what I have right now. Down below me is my exit off of this mountain, Signal Ridge. Off in the distance is Mt Washington partially cloaked in a cloud.
The Twins are visible across the Pemi Wilderness. As are Haystack, Lincoln and Lafayette.
A few more pictures of the surrounding peaks and it is time to get a move on. There is a bit of a biting wind up here as I head down into the safety of the trees. My path out is Signal Ridge Trail. The same trail I came up back in January of 2012 while doing the 48 Four Thousand Footers. A much different trail today in regards to terrain as it is not smoothed out with a couple of feet of snow. This time I stumble across the old fire wardens well. It is dry as a bone today and is not potable even if there was water in it. Not sure why it is not safe but for some reason it is unsafe to drink.
Reaching Signal Ridge and this is another magical spot. Across the valley is Vose Spur and the very scarred Mt Lowell. I was down in the valley between those two earlier this morning when I was on the Carrigain Notch Trail. A look back at Carrigain before I dip down below the ridge and begin the monotonous descent.
I say monotonous because that is what it turned into. The terrain is just eroded and craggy rock boulders that seem to never end. Add to it, it is the end of a long mileage day and time for me to want to be off this trail. It's the mental game of a not so good hiking path and then a reroute that takes off in the opposite direction of where the trail should lead.
Don't get me wrong it is a nice little reroute just not what I was expecting especially after a long day. I even came across this big yellow birch right before the trail meets up with Carrigain Notch Trail. At the junction I would see the only people of the day as a group of young kids are stopped there. I found it odd that they are here at this time of the day bit hey...whatever floats your boat.
A quick thirtyish minutes and I am back at the parking lot. Another great day in the Pemi and some new trails I will definitely be returning to for some more exploring one day. Less than 200 miles left on my redlining. Kind of anxious to get this done but at the same time going to miss that feeling of when I explore a new area for the first time.
Final numbers: 15.3 miles, 8 hours and 55 minutes.
Redline Miles: 7.6, Total to Date: 1249.0