June 22, 2013.
A return to two spots I have already been to but with a different approach and descent, Mt Hale and Zeacliff. Parking at the Zealand Trail lot and walking back to Hale Brook Trail to Mt Hale then across Lend-A-Hand Trail to the Twinway. A pit stop at Zeacliff and short side trip to Zeacliff Pond then down Zeacliff Trail to Ethan Pond Trail and back to the car via Zealand Trail. Lot of Z's in that but plenty to keep one awake.
Hiking with my full overnight pack today to keep getting my body used to it. Feet on Zealand Road by 7:20 and a short half mile walk down to the trailhead for Mt Hale Trail.
The beginning of the trail is a deceptive lull you into a false sense of security that this is going to be an easy hike. Rising gently it's an easy walk in the woods and then suddenly the climb begins and is pretty much relentless for the remainder of the trail to the summit of Hale. I make it to the crossing with Hale Brook and for some reason today it is a slogfest. I don't have the stamina and strength that I usually do. Taking quite a few more breaks than normal to catch my breath and slow the heart rate down.
I don't let the lack of energy deter me and I just keep muddling through it knowing it is just 2.2 miles but seems a lot longer today. It takes an hour and forty-five minutes to get up this trail so the pace wasn't too bad just doesn't seem like I could get into any good rhythm though. At the summit there are no real views but if you stand on top of the huge rock cairn you can get a glimpse of the Twins.
The footings of the old fire tower that was once here are still easily seen left over from when the tower was torn down in 1972. The accompanied picture is from 1937.
A little exploring looking for the old fire warden's trail at the other end (when I did this over a year ago in the winter that is the way I came up) and time to head over on the Lend-A-Hand Trail to the Twinway. It's a nice little ridge walk for the beginning of the trail with an artifact from the fire tower days off in the woods.
Coming out into an open area the views ahead aren't that bad. To my right is South Hale, ahead is Zealand and to the left beyond Zealand Notch are Nancy, Anderson and Lowell. Down further along and the trail goes through a boggy area just before hitting the Twinway. A short climb up to where the trail crosses a branch of Whitewall Brook and this looks like a good spot to rest and have a snack. Another steep and slow climb up the Twinway and an hour later after breaking I am on Zeacliff. One of the most picturesque places in the Whites but both times I have been here the views have been marginal. A shot to my left and Washington can be seen behind Tom, Field and Willey (those three were my first snow hike back in 2011).
Down below to the left is Whitewall Mt with the Ethan Pond Trail very evident cutting across it's side face, my last destination after heading down Zeacliff Trail (which crosses over that hump in the bottom right hand side of the picture, note the leafless birch trees I'll end up passing through on the way down).
A view over to Carrigain and Carrigain Notch.
After a good twenty to twenty-five minute break enjoying the views on Zeacliff I felt re-energized and headed off for a quick side trip up the Twinway to redline Zealand Pond Spur Trail. When I did Zealand about a year ago I did not go down this short trail for no other reason than it wasn't on my agenda. Had I known at the time that I would be redlining all these trails...oh well. Along the Twinway on the ledges and I can see where I had been earlier in the day, Mt Hale.
The Twinway along this section is relatively flat and easy changing from ledges to bog bridges to typical rocky terrain. It doesn't take but fifteen minutes to reach the spur and a quick hike down in elevation and I am at the pond.
Back up the spur and a right turn on the Twinway and back the way I came until I make it to the junction with Zeacliff Trail. I had read about this trail prior to coming here and it is describe as being quite steep in places. Well I can tell you it lived up to its description and then some. Hiking with a full pack made it all the more interesting but then again I figured it would be good training for the Appalachian Trail, next years adventure. It is a great little section of trail up top as it skirts around the shoulder of Zeacliff before starting some of the steep descents. Notice how the trail just disappears over the ledge in this picture.
Making my way down this ledge it is almost a 90° drop as I took this picture looking up after making it down, note the blue blaze on the boulder in the upper part.
Still skirting the bottom of Zeacliff and I reach one of the birch glades and now understand why the birches were leafless. All the birches have had the upper branches snapped off I guess from an ice storm.
Back into the woods and then another birch glade and then the descent steepens again as the threat of rain becomes a reality. I had hoped this would hold off until I made it to the flat Ethan Pond Trail but time was not on my side. It is just a light rain but enough to make the steep and rocky descent slow and tricky. The rocks get slippery quickly from the rain and I slowly make my way down being careful not to take a dump. Finally I make it to Whitewall Brook and as I start the steep ascent up the banking the rain really picks up and I stop to put on my raincoat and hat. Breaking out of the trees and I reach the talus field and slowly pick my way across in the rain and it seems like forever before I reach Ethan Pond Trail. From Zeacliff it doesn't look all that bad but down here it is no easy short jaunt thru these boulders. Finally I make it to the junction and the worst of my day is over. A picture up to Zeacliff and one up Whitewall.
Not long after reaching Ethan Pond Trail and the rain stops now it's a matter of picking my way through the boulders until the trail goes into the woods at the base of Whitewall. Through here it is an easy walk through the woods on flat terrain. Within thirty minutes I am at the junction with Zealand trail.
From here it is almost two and a half miles of flat trail back to the parking lot. although it goes by quick in time in reality it seems like a long walk. I do it just shy of an hour but it sure seems like a long hour. Along the way I had already taken off my raincoat and tucked it in one of the flaps on my pack but just slipped my rain hat back off my head for some reason. Back at the car and I put everything away and halfway home I have this awful feeling I forgot something. Sure enough when I pulled my backpack off I had forgotten my hat was floating back there and must have fallen on the ground. That makes two hats I have lost since starting all this, the other on Osceola back in October of 2011.
Final numbers: 13.2 miles, 9 hours and 2 minutes.
Redline Miles: 7.7, Total to Date: 376.5