Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Castle Ravine Ramble: 9/20/21

A gorgeous end-of-summer day found me wandering into one of my favorite locales in the Presidentials - the wild, less-visited glacial cirque known as Castle Ravine, enclosed by Mt. Jefferson's Castellated Ridge and the Israel Ridge of Mt. Adams. On the way in I followed the Israel Ridge Path to the First and Second Cascades on Cascade Brook, then took The Link across to Castle Ravine Trail and headed into the upper ravine and climbed to the first open rock area on the headwall for excellent views. The day also included short bushwhacks to two slides in the ravine, both of which proved to be overgrown but still provided interesting views.

After an easy 1.3 mile approach on the Castle Trail that included a fairly tame crossing of the Israel River, I turned left onto the Israel Ridge Path, one of the many trails on the Northern Presidentials admirably maintained by the Randolph Mountain Club.

After another crossing of the Israel River, the trail follows alongside it with some nice water scenery.

After a long sidehill climb I reached the first of two junctions with The Link.

I continued a short way up Israel Ridge Path to the scenic Second Cascade. Just before reaching the cascade, the trail mounts ledges by a pair of ladders.

The broad ledges of Second Cascade look up at nearby Mt. Bowman, a spur of Mt. Jefferson.

Second Cascade, from the bottom of the ledges.

I backtracked down to The Link and followed it a short distance down to a flat ledge at the top of First Cascade, another fine spot.

The first part of The Link heading towards Castle Ravine lived up to its gnarly reputation, contouring roughly on a steep sidehill. Then there was a long section of pleasant walking through open salt-and-pepper woods of birch and fir. Very un-Link-like.

The wild and beautiful Castle Ravine Trail was completed around 1919 by the Randolph Mountain Club.

The trail meanders up the remote valley of Castle Brook, an inner sanctum of the Northern Peaks.

High in the valley there are several crossings of Castle Brook, which had a surprisingly strong flow in a dry season. The crossing shown here is unusual in that you actually walk up the brook for about 30 yards, angling to the other side - note the RMC "Path" sign on a thin tree at the top of the photo.

Then you cross back to the other side to another "Path" sign.

Not much farther along there are two more crossings in a location where an avalanche swept through in the winter of 2010. Some of the debris, now well-settled down, is still in the brookbed.

This is the brookbed in 2011, a year after the avalanche.

This is the current view looking up the avalanche track from the second crossing.

From both crossings there is a nifty view up to the Castles on the Castellated Ridge.

Just past the second crossing the trail passes through an area of large rocks where you can hear water rushing underneath.

From here a short bushwhack brought me to the track of a long, narrow slide that fell on the south wall of the ravine during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

In 2014 the slide looked pretty open when seen across the ravine from Emerald Bluff.

But in the intervening years scrubby birches had reclaimed much of the track.

Climbing this was slow going as the rocks were treacherously wet and slick. I turned back after gaining about 150 ft. of elevation.

One big dry rock in the track provided a good view to the NW.

Zoom on Starr King and Waumbek. I could study the slab on the Waumbek Slide I'd dropped down to the week before.

Emerald Bluff, the great viewpoint on the other side of the ravine.

After carefully descending back to the trail, I continued up towards the headwall. The squeeze through this crevice leads in a few yards to...

...Roof Rock, one of the cool features of Castle Ravine Trail.

Some steep and rough climbing led to a big open patch of rocks on the lower part of the headwall. I was surprised by the difficulty of a boulder scramble where you first emerge from the scrub. I didn't remember it being that hard 10 years ago...

The RMC has placed a helpful arrow for descending hikers. In general, though, descent of this trail is not recommended as there is much loose rock on the steep headwall.

I love the vista back down the Castle Brook valley and out to distant summits including the Jay Peaks and Mt. Mansfield.

This is a rugged section of trail.

Looking up towards the top of the headwall.

Orange blazes show the way. Below the headwall, the trail is blazed in yellow.

Looking across at the crags on the south wall.

Castellated Ridge, "the sharpest and most salient of the White Mountain ridges" -- a long-standing quote from the AMC White Mountain Guide.

The trail exits this rock patch for a rough traverse through scrub, then re-emerges for a long, steep climb up loose talus. This was my turnaround point today.

Rugged scenery.

Shadows creeping into the valley.

A wild jutting crag on the north wall.

Descending through the jumble of rocks - slow going.

Last look at the headwall - some nice early birch color.

On the return trip along Castle Ravine Trail, I bushwhacked down across Castle Brook and up to a double slide on the west side that I had visited twice previously and where I had found a good view up to the ravine headwall. This slide looks fresh in a 1999 aerial photo, so it may have fallen during the 1995 storm that triggered the Dogleg Slide on Mt. Osceola and the north slide on North Twin. Since my  last visit in 2009, the slide has grown up considerably.

There's still a nice view out to the Weeks peaks and Mt. Waumbek's long east ridge.

The view of the headwall has become restricted, but is still interesting.

The scrub alder and conifer growth around the two parts of this slide was a force to be reckoned with, reducing me to a literal crawl in one spot. I made it back across the valley and followed Castle Ravine Trail down through four more brook crossings - the lowest two are difficult due to awkward footing on pointy, slippery rocks - and did the last 20 minutes out by headlamp. Didn't see another hiker the whole day.


Friday, September 17, 2021

Mts. Starr King & Waumbek, and a Visit to the Waumbek Slide: 9/16/21

 I headed for the Starr King Trail for a day on the Pliny Range, with sunny skies after morning fog, and cool, clear air for good visibility. The parking lot has been expanded since my last visit here two years ago, but beware of a couple of washout dips on the entrance road. 

The Randolph Mountain Club maintains this trail and has done some excellent erosion control work in recent years.

My favorite part of this hike is the magnificent mature hardwood forest on Starr King's broad southwest ridge.

There's some rocky footing on the long traverse through conifers on the back side of the ridge.

The spring at 3400 ft. was flowing, but just barely.

Above the spring two RMC trail crew guys were cleaning drainages. Reuben and Justin were working under the watchful eye of their supervisor, Winry. Thanks for the good work!

The summit ledge of Starr King bears a cairn and USGS benchmark.

The cleared view just below the summit is still pretty good.

A cloudbank lingered over the Presys.

Starr King is one of the most frequented Gray Jay summits. In the background is the fireplace from the old shelter up here. I spent a night in it with some friends around 1979, shortly before it was torn down.

Descending from Starr King through the fern-filled balsam fir forest so typical of the Pliny and Pilot Ranges.

Part of the day's plan was a bushwhack descent from the col to the upper part of the Waumbek Slide, which fell in 1957. The first part of the whack led down through ferns, which made for difficult footing as I could not see where I was stepping. Farther down it was steep and thick, as a fellow bushwhacker had told me.

There are actually two slides on this steep south-facing slope. This mossy slab is the top of the narrow, older eastern slide, which is mostly revegetated.

I made a slow traverse across the slope to the top of the 1957 slide.

A little farther down I came beside the edge of the upper open slab of the 1957 Waumbek Slide.

I worked my way down to the main part of the slab, looking across to the Presidentials. As reported by slide researcher Edward Flaccus in his 1958  dissertation, Landslides and Their Revegetation in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, on the evening of July 22, 1957, following a 24-hour rainfall, Jefferson resident Ralph Hunt "heard a roar sounding like a jet plane, then a long rumble, which he then knew to be a slide on the mountain behind his house." Hunt noted that the sound lasted no more than a minute. 

I was pleased to find a small shelf on which to sit in the sun and take in the commanding view, which included 30 White Mountain 4000-footers. In the foreground is the fine-looking valley of Crawford Brook, which is within the WMNF but is difficult to access as the land below it is private.

In his dissertation, Edward Flaccus called this the "Starr King West Slide." In editions of the 1960s and 1970s, the AMC White Mountain Guide referred to it as the Waumbek Slide and suggested ascending it as part of a bushwhack route: “It is possible to bushwhack from the western leg of Ingerson road in Jefferson, up the Waumbek Slide and thence to the ridge. This route is marked by infrequent blazes, and enters the trail just W of the easternmost low point on the ridge.” The slabs looked pretty wet and potentially dangerous to me. Perhaps the conditions were different 50 years ago, when the slide was new.

I love this quote from Kim Nilsen in his guidebook to the Cohos Trail: "Well below this glade, off the trail and out of sight, is a hideously steep slab of exposed rock where no tree or shrub can gain a foothold."

Tamaracks are thriving above the upper edge of the slab.

The edge of the slide is well-guarded.

I made the steep climb back to the trail and continued on to Mt. Waumbek.

Some first time visitors don't know that a good view awaits at a blowdown area just 50 yards east of the summit on the Kilkenny Ridge Trail.

The south-facing vista is still pleasing, though it's getting a bit more restricted.

Nice angle on the Presys.

Madison, Adams, Jefferson and Washington, with shadows engulfing Castle and King Ravines.

I continued another 0.3 mile east on the Kilkenny Ridge Trail over the east knob of Waumbek, which used to have an interesting though restricted view north over The Kilkenny, but is fully overgrown now. Beyond the Waumbek viewpoint, the KRT is a narrow footway pushing through luxuriant fern fields, sometimes overgrown, and frequently blocked by blowdown. 

Hikers traversing this trail east from Mt. Waumbek should anticipate a wilderness-type experience. It's a marvelous walk, on a dry day.

Back at the Starr King viewpoint, the Presys were catching some late day rays.


Madison and Adams, with the Knife Edge of Durand Ridge on Mt. Adams standing out.

Jefferson, Washington and Monroe. Last look before the 2.6 mile descent. Made it out just before dark, no headlamp needed.