Saturday, December 14, 2019

Lost Pass, 12/12/19

Lost Pass, the remote and mysterious gap between Snows Mountain, Sleeper Ridge and the northern Flat Mountain, in the western Sandwich Range Wilderness, is one of those places that draws me back again and again. In the 1860s there was a trail through the pass, connecting Waterville Valley on the north with Whiteface Intervale in Sandwich on the south, and then it was lost. Four decades later the trail was reborn on a different route, and then it was lost again. More than a century later the area remains essentially trailless, aside from a sporadically cleared winter-use path. There is nothing spectacular here, no sweeping vistas or tumbling waterfalls. The main attractions of Lost Pass are its quiet beauty, its aura of mystery, and its palpable sense of isolation.

 Lost Pass area from USGS Mt. Tripyramid 7 1/2' quad

This would be my fifth visit to the heart of Lost Pass:  a large beaver meadow at the head of Pond Brook. These trips have all been in winter conditions, as there is much wet terrain in that area. For this bushwhack, I chose the approach via the valley of Snows Brook, which was the route taken by the original trail through the pass. Back in 1998 I had snowshoe-whacked up the south side of the valley. This time I approached along the north side, hoping to find and follow a 1920s logging road that was maintained by the WMNF in the 1940s as the Snows Brook Trail. After a rain and hard freeze, the snow conditions would likely be firm, making for excellent bushwhacking.

I set out with a heavy heart that morning as I had just learned of the passing of friend and legendary hiker Gene Daniell, with whom I had many mountain connections: hiking several 4000-footers in winter on trips led by Gene; co-editing AMC guidebooks; and serving on the AMC Four Thousand Footer Committee and the Appalachia Committee. I don't know if Gene ever went to Lost Pass, but I know he did climb to the summit of Flat Mountain North, a 3000-footer that forms the west side of the Pass. This bushwhack was dedicated to him.

I approached via trails of the Waterville Valley XC network, which were mostly bare ground with spotty ice and crunchy snow.

Frozen bear tracks on a bridge.

I missed the point where the old trail diverged from the XC trail, and bushwhacked up the valley through fine hardwood forest, quickly entering the Sandwich Range Wilderness.

Tuning fork tree.

After a while I stumbled upon the former trail corridor.

It soon became an obvious old logging road. This showed as Trail #341 on the official 1941 WMNF map. It was still shown on the 1963 WMNF map, but did not appear on the 1967 map. It was also shown on AMC trail maps of that era, but a description never made it into the guidebook.

Well up into the valley it passed through this open area, the site of a logging camp, probably dating to the early 1920s and used for operations by the International Paper Co. and then the Parker-Young Co.

Several artifacts were visible above the snow. As always, please remember that these are protected by law and should be left in place for others to enjoy.

Sled runner.

Part of a wood stove.

Part of a foundation or cellar hole.

Snows Brook.

At this left turn high in the valley, the old trail has become a streambed.

Some years ago this route was intermittently cleared by unknown parties for backcountry skiing.This saw cut now has moss growing on it.

A wonderful stretch of the old road/trail, high on the slope above the brook.

At 2600 ft. the old road abruptly narrows into a rough trail...

...and soon disappears into a maze of blowdown, dense conifers and meandering little brooks.

It took an hour to navigate the next half-mile in the bewildering terrain typical of Lost Pass. There are numerous minor knobs, dips, and drainages. It's very easy to become "misdirected" out here. At one point I had to squeeze around this towering boulder.

I've always found this to be one of the wilder areas in the Whites.

Yikes! Not going that way.

Or this way.

Time to push through some thick stuff that was at least blowdown-free.

Thin ice!

Finally, some of the open conifer forest I remembered from previous trips.

The hard-frozen snowpack made this an ideal time to visit this wetland on the NW side of the Pass. At such times you can wander at will and not damage any fragile vegetation.

From a corner of the wetland I enjoyed this view of South Tripyramid and West Sleeper.

South Tripyramid and the tops of the two South Slides.

Bushwhacking dream woods heading over a rise to the big beaver meadow.

From the west edge of the meadow, looking across to the remote SW spur ridge of East Sleeper.

I skirted through open conifers along the west side and emerged at the outlet at the south end of the meadow, where Pond Brook begins.

Here is the heart of Lost Pass.

South Tripyramid presides.

 I wandered through the open woods to the SE of the meadow.

Had I two extra hours of daylight, it would have been tempting to climb to the crest of the East Sleeper spur. The snow conditions were ideal and the woods looked open, at least at the start. But with darkness falling by 4:30, it was not to be. I had to leave enough time to get back through the nasty half-mile west of the Pass.

I headed back around the west side of the meadow and popped out at the north end for a long view back.

Critter tracks on the inlet brook.

Back across the other wetland.

I tried a different route back to the old logging road/trail. Same result.

I used my ski pole handles to whack a foot-high, hard-frozen spine of snow off this blowdown, enabling me to clamber over it with snowshoes on.

Glad to get out of that maelstrom.

Back down the valley in the hardwoods, I paused to admire alpenglow on the ridge of Snows Mountain. It seems that the Snows Brook route into Lost Pass has once again been lost.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Passing of a Legend

On Thursday, December 12 we lost a true icon of the White Mountains with the passing of Eugene S. Daniell III, better known as Gene Daniell. Our condolences to his family.
Gene was a White Mountain hiking legend in the era before hiker internet forums and Facebook. To many he was known as the “grand poobah of peakbagging.” As a tireless peakbagger, he was in the first group to bag the New Hampshire 3000-footers (in the late 1970s), and he was the first hiker to climb the White Mountain 4000-Footers in every month, a feat nowadays known as The Grid (a term Gene disliked).

Another peak bagged, probably late 1970s


But Gene was much more than a peakbagger – he was a major contributor to the White Mountain hiking community. For a quarter-century he was co-editor of the AMC White Mountain Guide, and in that time he made landmark improvements to the guidebook, such as adding elevation gain data and authoring the engaging Geography subsections. For nearly three decades he variously served as Chair and Secretary of the AMC Four Thousand Footer Committee, presiding over many awards ceremonies and processing thousands of hiker applications along the way. Bushwhackers could look forward to reading Gene’s delightful essays in his Hundred Highest route descriptions and in the summit registers. He did his share of trail work and encouraged other peakbaggers to get involved in trail maintenance. He also served for a number of years as Accidents Editor for Appalachia, the AMC journal, dispensing much mountain wisdom in his analyses.

The AMC Four Thousand Footer Committee paid tribute to Gene at the 2006 awards ceremony.

For many years Gene was one of the main trip leaders for the AMC New Hampshire Chapter. I got to know Gene in the 1980s, when I went on a number of AMC winter 4000-footer trips that he led. These included two winter ascents of Owl’s Head, a peak he truly loved. Gene’s trips were invariably entertaining, full of his inimitable humor and stimulating conversation. At rest stops he would pull out his trademark two-liter Pepsi bottle.

Later I had the honor of working with Gene on two editions each of the AMC White Mountain Guide and AMC Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide.  I also served with him for many years on the Four Thousand Footer Committee. To him I owe much of my love and knowledge of the mountains.

Gene was truly one of a kind. He touched many lives, and there are sure to be many stories and memories shared among those who knew him. The mountains won’t be the same without him. RIP.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

West Hitchcock Ledge: 12/6/19

A morning snowshoe bushwhack to an obscure ledge on a shoulder of Mt. Hitchcock's West Peak. Restricted but interesting views of the Osceolas and Scar Ridge.

From the Discovery Trail off the Kanc Highway, I bushwhacked up the slope to an old USFS logging road, which was wide open at first...

...then became overgrown.

I rock-hopped across a good-sized brook that drains the southern slopes of Mt. Hitchcock.

The bushwhack to the ledge was almost entirely through hardwoods.

I stirred up a deer, and soon came upon its fresh tracks.

Steeper climbing on the approach to the shoulder with the ledge. The beech tree on the right has many old bear claw scars.

Interesting colors on these ledges.

Winding snowshoe track.

It took 1 3/4 hours to reach the ledge.

The slide-scarred Osceolas were an impressive sight to the SE.

A nice angle on East Osceola and its big north-facing basin.

Mt. Osceola, Middle Osceola and West Osceola.

Zoom on Osceola. Split Cliff on the left, the upper Dogleg Slide (1995) right of center, and the Middle Slide (Hurricane Carol, 1954) to the right.

An unusual perspective on the main summit of Scar Ridge, with its Y-shaped northeastern slide (1938 hurricane) highlighted by the snow. Note the knife-edged ridge on the right.

The top of the great northwestern slides on Scar Ridge. These slides apparently are at least a century and a half old.

The pointy peak of Middle Scar Ridge and its slide (1938 hurricane).

East Scar Ridge and its largely overgrown slide (1938 hurricane).

Peering into Mad River Notch. The top of South Tripyramid peeks over the SW slope of Mt. Kancamagus.

A band of Black-Capped Chickadees and Red-Breasted Nuthatches stopped by to scold me for a few minutes.

Two tracks diverged in the woods...

The main hindrance on this bushwhack was the gazillion beech saplings to push through.

At the bottom I looped back through Big Rock Campground, waiting for spring.

Hence the name...