Member Trip report

Randolph Hill Trails

02/22/2019

Trip Report/Photos from phoenix

Featured Photo

It snowed throughout NH on Tuesday and the mountains were to get more over Thursday night.  Friday’s forecast called for sunshine, temps in the 20s, and no strong winds.  Normally I don’t solo hike in the White Mountains during winter, but annually have done one during presidents week.  My midweek hiking buddies went cruising in the Caribbean, skiing, bowling, or dancing.  So I headed out alone on Friday hoping for trails where I actually needed to wear snowshoes (rather than just microspikes on well-beaten trails)!

I arrived at Appalachia at 9:15.  There were only six cars in the parking lot, three indicating about 2 inches of snow fell overnight.  In summer this lot overflows with people attempting to bag Mt Madison or Mt Adams to the south.  My hike was planned for the more modest trails to the north.  For solo winter hikes, I generally shoot for 5-6 miles, below tree line, midmorning start, and finish within the hour before sunset.  The first attachment shows the planned hike (full outer loop, around 5 miles) with an optional segment (inner loop, about 2 miles).  My planning also identified escape routes in case conditions or time necessitated an abort.  I checked sunrise (6:33 am) and sunset (5:23 pm).  Microspikes, snowshoes, poles, clothing layers, extra pair of socks, hand warmers, face mask, ten hiking essentials, water, hot cocoa, sandwich, nuts, energy bars, extra food are always in/on my pack for winter solos regardless of trailhead conditions.  When going solo, you’re the alpha/omega male – use that brain to ensure you’re not on TV Ch 9 news as lost, rescued, or dead!

I cautiously crossed Route 2 to avoid being a road pizza like so many squirrels were last year.  I then climbed the high snowbank created by the snowplow.  I immediately made a posthole on the Bee Line trail so I put on my snowshoes.  I had done this segment before, so quickly made my way around Durand Lake, took a picture southward across the lake toward Mt Madison, and crossed Baldwin Bridge and Durand Road.  I then checked out Bee Line on that side as it was the planned return route.  The challenge was identifying the trail from unplowed driveways to summer homes.  Once past the houses, I saw the trail had orange blazes and I would only need to break last night’s snow.  I hiked back down to Durand road.

I next made my way across the “green”, or rather the “white”, passing a sign proclaiming Ravine House [hotel] once stood there.  The Ledge Trail begins on the other side.  There is a small parking lot there.  I wasn’t sure it would be plowed.  It was, but contained no vehicles.  The Ledge Trail was relatively easy to follow to Lookout Ledge. Some local had probably hiked it between Tuesday’s snow and last night’s snow.  All the way to the ledge, I could still hear traffic on Route 2.  Even if whiteout conditions had occurred immediately, I could have bushwhacked down without even having to pull out my compass.  The trail is in a deciduous forest, so unlike the vast vegetation of summer, bushwhacking would be easy although I’ve learned the hard way to watch for low branches.  At Notchway junction, I noted that trail would require breaking both days of snow.  At the Pasture Path junction, I noted that trail would just require breaking last night’s snow.  At Lookout Ledge I took pictures toward Mt Adams, which was in the clouds.  I had been on the ledge last summer via trails on the other side, but I like pictures of the same view in different seasons for comparison.  I was careful to go no further on the ledge than the local before me; I did not want to chance stepping beyond where solid rock was below the snow!

From the ledge, I took Crescent Ridge Trail.  Past the junction with Vyron D Lowe Trail (the way I had come up last summer and some locals had traveled this winter), there was no evidence that anyone recently attempted to go further on Crescent Ridge Trail.  Great – this is exactly what I was hoping for!  The trail had orange blazes so I set out following them.  I’ll take orange blazes instead of the ATs white blazes any day in winter!  Fortunately this year sleet/ice storms have avoided the Whites, so there were few blowdowns that typically make trail finding much harder, if not impossible.  On winter hikes below tree line even with wind, you always have the option of turning around and following your tracks back to your car.

Then I heard a sound in the distance that was not welcomed – snowmobiles!  A bad winter memory came to mind of hiking in Pawtuckaway State Park, which gets overrun with snowmobiles!  I’m not prejudice against snowmobile people, just don’t want to be inhaling snowmobile exhaust.  Had I misjudged the hiking trail and it was actually multiuse?  I soon encounter the snowmobile path, but fortunately it only crossed the hiking trail rather than coinciding with it.  I continued hiking to the crossing of the Four Soldiers Path.  I looked left and saw a yellow blaze.  I had taken that route last summer out to the Pond of Safety. (The AMC guide correctly warns that path can be overgrown with “dense brush that obscures the trail”; I briefly recalled my summer adventure playing a delightful game of hike and seek looking for the yellow blazes hidden in the vegetation on a sunny morning.)  I then looked to the right, but did not see any yellow blazes.  Moreover, the prevailing westerly wind had blown snow onto the tree trunks so blazes would be harder to find.  Since it was now around noon, I stopped for a brief lunch and to decide my next move.

I turned right on to the Four Soldiers Path.  The path increased in elevation for only a short while and then went downhill.  The tree trunks were no longer covered with snow on the downhill so blazes were generally easy to see.  However, I did take a picture of some plastic on a tree branch that made me wonder if it was a hiker’s MacGyver for not having surveyor’s tape or whether it was just plastic trash.  I took a wrong turn veering right rather than left, but in my defense, at that point the next yellow blaze was blocked by a tree in front of it.  I was rewarded for my mistake, for upon backtracking I heard a new noise – a woodpecker was hammering a tree!  I tried to get a picture of the bird, but it moved to the far side of the tree and then flew to another tree.  When planning the hike, the major challenge of the Four Soldiers Path had been identified – the path crosses several brooks. There isn’t much water in a brook, but even small brooks can create huge ditches.  When you are in snowshoes and any “summer crossing rocks” are partially or totally covered with fluffy snow, you don’t want to trip and fall into the brook.  I successfully negotiated the brooks and reached Pasture Path around 1 p.m.

Was there time to do the inner loop option?  The brain gave the ok, so the legs turned right to the Notchway junction.  My observations coming up the Ledge Trail were confirmed –Notchway would require more effort to break than Pasture Path. Thus, Notchway was to be done first.  It is orange blazed and quickly descends into a notch, where a brook is at the bottom.  I crossed the brook and the trail turned left.  The trail closely hugged the hillside and was covered with a lot of fluffy snow.  Snowshoe claws are fairly useless in such snow.  Although the brook was only a trickle, I didn’t care to misstep and roll down to it.  Every time I wondering if I was off trail because no blaze had been seen for a while, I applied a trick that’s been helpful in every season – look backwards to see if there is a blaze for the opposite direction.  Each time I did, I saw a blaze that egged me to continue forward.  I thus traversed the hillside (given no blazes the way I was heading, probably the trail is very obvious in summer).  The trail reached a plateau and I continued onward.  I again lost the trail going right rather than left, but quickly backtracked to the last blaze to correct my error.  I reached the junction with the Ledge Trail, retraced my snowshoe imprints upward (no evidence anyone passed since morning so the hill was all mine that day), then turned right on to Pasture Path, and experienced no issues getting back to the junction with Notchway.  The inner loop was now history!

Decision time once again – was there enough time to complete the full outer loop before sunset or more prudent to abort and simply retrace my steps down Notchway and Ledge Trail?  It was almost 2:30, so about 3 more hours of daylight.  Knowing that both Pasture Path and Bee Line were partially broken and remembering hugging the Notchway hillside, I decided to attempt the full outer loop.  For the most part Pasture Path continued to be easy.  There was another big ditch brook crossing, where I took a picture that doesn’t really convey its depth, but eerily captured my shadow.  At Grassy Lane junction, the redliner in me had to do that 0.1 mile trail followed by the 0.1 mile unplowed road to the plowed Randolph Hill Road.  There I stood high on a snowbank watching a local resident plowing driveways, the only person I saw all day.  When I turned around, I finally noticed a sign at snow level with an arrow pointing back to Grassy Lane/Pasture Path.

I continued on Pasture Path to Bee Line.  Contrary to my expectation from morning observations, this end of the Bee Line was not broken.  However, orange blazes and being fairly wide made it very easy to descend with little thought.  I passed the Burnbrae Path junction continuing on the Bee Line. I took a picture of all the snow on Peeko Folsom Memorial Bridge (no handrails, but I think the snowpack would have been above any handrails) and carefully crossed that bridge.  I soon encountered tracks indicating someone had turned around, and correctly concluded those tracks would connect with what I had observed in the morning.  Upon reaching Durand Road, I saw cross country ski tracks had been made across the Ravine House location.  I had a little trouble getting back up the snowbank on the other side of the road (had to kick away some more snow to lower the bank),  took another picture across the lake (Mt Madison now in the clouds), and reached my vehicle around 5 p.m.

It was satisfying to complete the planned hike plus optional loop, which included 6 miles of trails I never hiked before.  My winter hiking skills definitely got the tune-up I desired!  Still, I wonder if a better tune-up would have been more blowdowns, fewer blazes, fewer half-broken trails etc., to see if I made the decision to abort and got down before sundown.  Indeed, very experienced mountaineers die on Mt Everest overestimating their ability.  A series of successful hikes under ideal conditions can set you up for a grievous decision under extreme poor conditions that demand you abort!

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