January 26, 2012. I've been putting off this hike for a while now for various reasons. The distance in winter is not too appealing but definitely doable, 14 miles. Sawyer River Road is gated in the winter which adds a total of 4 miles to the hike, normally 10 miles. And Hurricane Irene obliterated a section of the road and I have not heard of the status lately. These pictures show the damage (taken off the internet):
On the road this Thursday morning at 4:15 am hoping for lots of sunshine because supposedly one can see 43 of the other 47 4000 footers from the fire tower atop Carrigain. This has the potential to be a great day. I just hope the slushy trail conditions of the other day do not repeat themselves. The path is simple, park off of Route 302 and walk the two miles into the trailhead on Sawyer River Road then 5 miles up to the summit.
I arrive at the parking lot at 6:40 and twenty minutes later I am off and hiking. The temperature is much better than Tuesday's warm trend. It is 21° this morning meaning the trail should be much firmer and hopefully no need for snowshoes. The road walk is pleasant and peaceful with Sawyer River off to the left roaring along. The wiped out section of road has been fixed and thirty minutes into the hike the remains of Livermore are evident. The foundations of the old sawmill poke above the snow down to the left of the road and a little ways up on the right is the foundation of the schoolhouse.
Another ten minutes and I reach the trailhead. I spend a few minutes looking for a bushwhack trail that is supposed to avoid some of the stream crossings but there is no evidence of it being used lately. A little gun shy with streams ever since the Downes Brook Trail! So off I head onto the Signal Ridge Trail and the crossings were nothing of note, all easy to cross and none deep. The trails elevation increases moderately through this section and is a comfortable walk in the woods. An hour into the hike and the sun finally makes an appearance over Mt Tremont and shines down on the trail bringing a warm smile to my face in anticipation of the views to come.
Shortly after reaching the junction with Carrigain Notch Trail the climb up Signal Ridge Trail begins and does not end until the peak. It is unrelenting and I take several breath gasping legs tired breaks along the way. Some viewpoints here and there help break up this trail also. At about 10:45 I make it to Signal Ridge. It is an awesome spot just below the peak of Carrigain that somehow I missed reading about in the guide book. The views towards Mt Washington are fantastic.
I drop my backpack and start across the ridge which hugs the edge closely on the right. The winds are strong coming across the ridge and I relish the comfort of the trees on the other side. I have visions of a gust pushing me towards the edge closer to disaster and quickly make my way across to the cover of trees. Twenty minutes later I am at the top of Carrigain and make the climb up the icy tower. The views are fabulous, 360° of nothing but mountains. Still being new to this I try to pick out the ones I know. I'm not sure which is harder, trying to count the 43 that are visible or figuring out which 4 are not visible. I have searched and have not been able to come up with an "official" list. Of the four my best guess is Cannon, Galehead, Madison and Moriah are out of the picture. I spend about twenty minutes on the tower taking pictures and a 360° video.
Leaving the peak I head back to Signal Ridge to retrieve my pack. The Ridge has strangely quieted down in regards to the winds and it is calm crossing it. I reach my backpack and as I am starting out again I hear voices coming towards me. Another "no zero people day" gone. I stop to talk to the couple and the guy asks me if I was over on Jackson on Tuesday as he recognized my car. I told him indeed it was me and after a few minutes of chit chat I continue on my way. Again they were the only people I would see on the trail for the day. Three hikes in a row that I came this close to seeing no one. One of these days Alice! One of these days. Back down I head with no issues and back at the car by 2:15. A great day out and another peak I want to go back to and spend more time taking in the views.
Final numbers: 14 miles, 7 hours and 15 minutes, 1 peak, # of peaks to date - 30.