Sunny days are here again! After an extended stretch of gloomy weather, bright blue skies have taken over for a few days. Time to get up high for some views and snow-caked softwoods. With a biting north breeze in the forecast, Mounts Starr King and Waumbek, with their south-facing outlooks and picturesque fir forest, were an ideal choice for the day.
Having read about the icy, bumpy road leading up to the summer trailhead parking lot, I opted to park in the public lot near the Irving gas station on Route 2 and do the 0.4 mile road walk. The approach road was indeed icy, and at the time it was blocked by a construction vehicle.
The Starr King Trail is well maintained by the Randolph Mountain Club. Though Waumbek is considered one of the "easier" 4000-footers, with moderate grades the whole way, it does pack a significant elevation gain of 3000 ft. when approached from the parking on Route 2.
As advertised, the trail was a smooth hard-packed snow sidewalk, ideal for spike hiking. This was quite a contrast to most of my hiking so far this winter, which has involved a lot of untracked off-trail snowshoeing.
Morning sun in the beautiful mature hardwood forest on Starr King's southwest ridge.
The traverse along the crest of this ridge is a delight in any season.
Higher up, there was a thin soft layer of snow on top, so I exchanged spikes for snowshoes, which I find to be more efficient. I was happy to get the extra weight off my back. Here the trail approaches the abrupt transition at 2900 ft. from open sunny hardwoods to cold shadowed conifers.
Snow-caked softwoods lined the trail the rest of the way.
A signed trailside spring is passed at 3400 ft.
Not far below the summit of Starr King, I had the pleasure of a chat with Peter Crane, Curator at the Mount Washington Observatory. Peter was on his way down after bagging one of his first "over 70" summits following a recent birthday.
Fantasy forest approaching the Starr King summit.
The Presidentials were gleaming in glory from the Starr King outlook.
Many peaks could be spotted in the central and western Whites, including Mount Hancock on the left, the Bond-Twin Range in the center, and Franconia Ridge on the right. All told, with a little walking around, 34 NH 4000-footers are visible from the outlook.
The fireplace from the old Starr King Shelter, which must be an historic relic by now.
Descending off Starr King.
The frosted trees take many different forms.
A marvelous mile between the summits.
An unobtrusive trail sign marks the summit of Waumbek.
A pathway to remote high country adventure.
The Waumbek outlook, 50 yards beyond the summit.
Adams, Jefferson and Washington, plus King, Cascade and Castle Ravines.
Off to the east, Mount Moriah, Imp Mountain, and North/Middle/South Carter.
To the right of center, the Willey Range with Mount Carrigain behind.
But, of course.
I continued east for 0.2 mile on the Kilkenny Ridge Trail to Waumbek's east knob, to see if there was any remnant of a former view north into The Kilkenny. I didn't have to break trail since a group had snowshoed out to South Weeks and back a few days earlier.
That must have been an amazing 4 1/2 mile round trip with this kind of scenery along the way. Not to mention a challenge to follow the trail in many places.
There was no hope of a view from the trail along the east knob, so I dropped down into the forest on the north side of the ridge for a brief off-trail exploration.
Along the way I passed this tight huddle.
I came down to a remarkable little plateau with a gorgeous open fir forest - one of the highlights of the day.
What a pleasure to make tracks through here.
Back at the Waumbek outlook, the light was getting nice on the Presys.
Madison to Franklin.
On the way back towards Starr King, another off-trail foray was rewarded with a framed vista of snow-caked South Terrace Mountain, marked by a small slide on its steep south face.
Down in the Waumbek-Starr King col, I made a probe down the south slope towards the top of the 1957 Waumbek Slide, which I had visited in the summer of 2021. I soon realized that the very steep 250-ft. descent would be treacherous in the sugary unconsolidated snow, with spruce traps and blowdowns lying in wait. Nope.
I spent 40 minutes enjoying glorious late afternoon light at the Starr King outlook.
Golden hour down in the hardwoods.
Shadows getting long.
A touch of alpenglow to cap off the day.