November 17, 2012.
Almost two months since last being out. My back started acting up for the first time in quite a few years and driving and sitting just aggravate the issue. Still not fully recovered but instead of spending another weekend laying down I decided the hell with it and I'm hitting the trails today. A very late start this morning. Didn't leave the house until a little after 9 AM and headed for Waterville Valley area to hike Sandwich Dome. Arriving at the trailhead and on the trail at 10:50 AM, my latest start ever.
The Sandwich Mountain Trail starts out relatively mild and it is a crisp cool day with frost on the ground. It changes from nice open trail through the woods to a glacial erratic spillway to steep sections as it makes it's way up to Noon Peak.
I take my time on this hike enjoying the air and the woods. I am in no hurry to get anywhere and no deadlines to get done. Today is about the hike and the woods. A little after a leisurely hour from starting and not by design but rather coincidence I arrive at Noon Peak at noon. The first outlook is fantastic, nothing I expected from this little hike. I can see all way to Mount Washington and a lot in between the Osceolas to Sandwich Dome, the destination for today.
After enjoying the views on Noon Peak it is time to move on and it doesn't take long when I arrive at a good size ledge with a view over to Sandwich Dome and Drakes Brook Valley. Onwards to Jennings Peak and just before the spur path I see my first hiker of the day, another shot at NPD (no people day) gone! Up the spur path and Jennings Peak has two great separate viewpoints, one to the north/east and one to the south. Passaconaway and Whiteface are now visible with Carrigain making it's first appearance.
Looking south and off in the distance just barely visible through the haze is Mount Kearsarge 40 miles away.
By the time I am done on Jennings Peak I look at the time and realize this day is getting shorter quicker than I would like. It is 1:10 in the afternoon and it starts getting dark around 4:30 this time of year. So it is time to make decision with 7.8 miles left of my plan hike. There is way too little time left for me to complete everything I had set out to do and turning back after I get down the spur enters my mind. It is 1.1 miles to reach Sandwich Dome and 1.1 to get back with another 3.2 miles to the trailhead and a 2.4 mile out and back to see the Fletcher Cascades near the bottom. On a good day I can do 20-30 minutes per mile, but the hiking legs and stamina are still not there yet. Even at that pace it would be 4 hours before I get back to the car. Then it dawns on me, to make matters worse, that I don't have my headlamp with me as I took it out a few weeks ago while I was staining the house and trying to finish up when it got dark. Well that kills Fletcher Cascades, I can get to that easily from the trailhead at another time. Getting up to the Dome and back would be pushing it close and I am leaning more on abandoning going there. All the way down the short spur trail I am running the different scenarios in my head and have pretty much said "another day" until I reach the trail intersection and say screw it I'm going for it and will be damned if I came all this way to not make it to Sandwich Dome. Off I go with determination to get there as quickly as I can and wouldn't you know it this section of the trail turns into obstacle city, BLOWDOWNS! Seems Emily left some nice surprises in her wake.
But not to be deterred I make my way around them and a pretty good 50 minutes from leaving Jennings and I am on top of Sandwich Dome. The views up here are just as good with the Dome just being 20 feet shy of a 4000 footer.
A panorama from Moosilauke to Whiteface:
A shot of Franconia Ridge and one of the Hancocks with the arrow slide clearly visible.
A quick five minutes up top and it is time to start making my way back down. A few minutes after two and that leaves just enough time to make it out before it gets dark. I make it to the junction with Drakes Brook Trail, the return trail, in a very quick 35 minutes. Right turn on Drakes and down I go without any incidents. One section about half way down is just about completely wiped out leaving very little of the trail, another reminder of Irene from last year. And not far from there a large boulder lodged in the brook.
Pressing on and I pass the trail leading back up to Fletcher's Cascades and wish I had another half hour in the day but resign to having come back at another time. Luckily the beginning of that trail is only 0.4 miles from the trailhead. A few minutes later and at 4:15 pm I am back at the car and quite pleased I did not bail on going up to Sandwich Dome. The irony of it all, after looking at the maps, is I'll probably be hitting that peak three more times in my attempt to redline the trails. Ah well, the fun of logistically trying to accomplish my new goal. On a side note, surprisingly my back did not bother me the entire time even with the backpack. Therapy in the woods, not a bad thing.
Final Numbers: 8.7 miles, 5 hours and 25 minutes.
Redline Miles: 7.3, Total to Date: 223 miles