Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Mt. Waumbek

    I have climbed nearly 200 mountains in my life so far.  Out of those 200 I have had to turn back on 4.  One of those times was yesterday.  I decided to stay overnight at my parents on Sunday so I could get a head start up to northern New Hampshire on Monday morning to go climbing on my day off.  I had an ambitious plan to climb all day Monday, get up at 5am on Tuesday and climb another mountain then make the 4 hour drive home in time for work at 4pm at Wheatfields on Tuesday.  I checked the weather on Sunday night and noticed that it had changed from sunny and warm to cold and a 60% chance of rain.... This bothered me and I almost cancelled my plans but remembered a few days when I had cancelled that had turned out beautiful... 
    So at 8am I headed out in my fathers Ford Taurus back to Saratoga Springs to pick up warmer waterproof clothing for the trip and was able to hit the road out of Queensbury at 9am.  It took me 3.5 hours to get to Lancaster, NH for my firts mountain - Mt. Cabot.  I immediately became lost on side roads trying to get to the mountain so I pulled over and asked in a store for directions.  A very nice old woman drew up some directions for me and I followed them perfectly to what looked like a gate for cattle... not a trailhead... After more searching I pulled into a woman's driveway and asked her.  She promptly told me that the Forest Service had closed down the trails on this side of the mountain 5 years ago (my book is very old that I use) and that I would have to travel around the mountain range and start on a longer trail on the other side... Well, I looked at the map and noticed that the section of trail that the forest service had control over was about a quarter mile so I decided to keep looking for it - and by now it was nearly 1pm so I really wanted to get started.  I eventually found a small camp called "Mt. Cabot Camp" that looked run down but there were signs to trails pointing from it so I assumed this was the old trail....
    My first mistake was that I started hiking up without snowshoes in my leather Asolo boots, not my winter mountaineering boots.  The trail turned out to be an ATV trail and it seemed to go up the mountain in the area of the old trail according to my old map.  After 45 minutes of hiking the trail abruptly ended at a very thick grove of spruce trees - Damn... not the right trail.  At this point I began looking around trying to find my bearings.  I could see the Waumbek Mountain range behind me (what I would do the next day) but I wasn't sure what ridge on Cabot I was on.  I decided to throw on my gators and start traversing the mountain looking for the old trail.  I quickly saw what looked like an old path through the woods but there were no trail markers.... because it was a moose herdCimg3034
path.  Suddenly I found the ground I was walking over was coverd with litterally hundreds of fresh moose tracks in the mud and soft soil and there were moose droppings everywhere... some still steaming they were so fresh.  So here I was traversing this mountain completely lost following a major moose herd path through the woods obviously very close to a pack of 1500lb animals that could kill me in a heartbeat.  Eventually I came down to a river that looked very familiar on the map and proceeded to search the side of it for where the trail should be to no luck.  Regardless I began to hike up the side of the river up the mountain hoping to meet up with the trail and while doing so began to encounter more and more melting snow which I sunk deeply into with every other step, soaking my leather boot and slowing me down immensely.  I looked at my compass heading then back at the Waumbek mountain range for a reference..... It was gone, swallowed up by a huge cloud.  This is when I stopped, took a look around and took measure of what was happening to me:


When to turn around

1. When an angry
local tells you that the trail on her property is closed by the forest service.

2. When you can't
find the trail you want to be on.

3. When you see
massive moose tracks and still steaming moose droppings everywhere.

4. When you have to
follow moose paths through the woods to get through the brush and come across
moose resting areas.

5. When you come
across the snow line and realize you're not on a trampled trail and you are
without snowshoes with worn out ski boots.

6. When it starts to
snow then freezing rain.

7. When the mountains
in the distance used as reference for height and location dissapear in the

8. When the map you
have isn't up to date.

9. When your cell
phone has no reception for emergency calls.

10. When you hear gun
shots in the distance from the crazy locals.


For these reasons I decided it was time to leave... better to live to hike another day.  Sure I was pissed off but I was also happy to know that even with my extreme desire to finish the mountains I need before moving to Oregon I can still make the right decision about when to turn back or keep going.  This will be crucial when I'm climbing Everest in the future and I have $35,000 on the line attempting it.  I traversed back to the muddy atv trail and headed down the mountain.
    I stayed the night at a nice place called the Skywood Manor in Jefferson, NH, just 1500 feet Cimg3097from the
trailhead up Mt. Waumbek I would take the next morning.  When I got to my room it was freezing so I turned up all the heat then went out to get some food at a local deli and bring back some snacks for 24 that night.  So, there I sat alone in a small town in northern New Hampshire of about 200 people eating Cherry Garcia and watching 24 on a 19" screen.  Immediately after the show ended I turned off the lights because I would have to get up at 5am the next morning.  It poured rain all night.
    I woke up today and quickly drove to the trailhead to begin my hike, with snowshoes and plastic mountaineering boots this time, up Mt. Waumbek at 5:30am.  I cruised up the well maintained trail to about 3,300ft where I hit snow and ice on the trail which I had to be careful negotiating by myself.   There was still no cell phone reception and I didn't want to break a leg up there alone.  AtCimg3040

about 3,500 feet I hit the snowline from when it was snowing yesterday at that elevation.  It was beautiful! Fresh snow covered everything and as I hiked along the sun rose into view creating mist on the forest floor.  I was so full of energy from my chicken parm and ice cream last night and the beautiful weather that was starting the day I found myself at the summit of Mt. Star King in just over hour.  Waumbek was just 20 minutes away on the ridgeline.  The sun was coming up and shining through the trees with blue skies opening above.  On the ridge I first followed fox tracks over the trampled snow and then to my amazement at the wooded summit of Mt. Waumbek I saw moose tracks - at 4,000ft (moose usually stick to valleys and sometimes, as in the case yesterday herdpaths on mountain slopes).  Because of hikers throughout the winter packing down the snow on the trail, the trail itself was a hard crust of snow and ice that could easily support a human and provide a much Cimg3058welcome stable platform for a moose to travel on as well which this  particular moose obviously found out.  Occasionally  I would see where the moose tilted off the  trail and sank up to its thigh in snow... (that would be a funny scene to watch).  I took a few pictures on the summit to prove I was there and then headed down the mountain.  It was slippery at times on the ice covered trail but I was able to make it back to the car by 9am and home at my parents to have lunch with them at noon.  Plenty of time before work at 4pm.
    Yes, I failed to climb one of the mountains I set out for, but I learned that I still make wise choices when in the outdoors that ultimately could save my life or others with me.  A key aspect of serious mountaineering is knowing when to turn around, knowing when mother nature has you beat.  After going a few rounds with her on Mt. Cabot I threw in the towel, and I'm glad I did.  But I'll be back.....


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