Time to rise and shine.
Check, check, and more check.
Everything needed for a fantastic day out – sprawled on the wood floor and waiting to get all loaded into the Subie.
The frost crackles under my tires as I depart, down the driveway and eight miles further into town. As I gaze at the starlit sky above – the memories flood into my mind banks: twenty eight years ago this journey began..
As a youngster we took ‘family vacations’ every weekend; camping and exploring, backpacking several nights with the end goal of standing atop Mount Marcy, we were also frequent visitors of Algonquin and Giant Peaks in the Adirondacks. These New York high peaks were playgrounds for my sister and I growing up, fast forward twenty five years and I would finally be worthy of sewing an Adirondack 46er patch on my weathered packs!
One by one the boxes of once unattainable milestones began being checked off: first, my father, our friend Wendy and I hiked all 46 peaks above four thousand feet in New York State. Next, Ciara and I stood atop several twelve and thirteen thousand footers while out west – and we only wanted to see and experience more!
At the conclusion of our cross country travels via Honda CR-V and 3 person tent, Ciara and I found this little mountain in New Hampshire called Moosilauke; together with our two doggie bro’s, we climbed that via Beaver Brook and fell deeply in love with the mountains of New Hampshire – their mostly unsigned summits ringing of an untamed wildness that we could not find in our native Adirondacks.
We were out for adventure and epic butt-sliding each weekend as we began adventuring to names such as Cannon Mountain, the neighboring Kinsmans, and as far north to Cabot; we continued our tradition of backpacking, camping, car-camping and all around exploration of White Mountain National Forest areas.
To me, hiking in Maine just seemed so distant, so foreverly far away! I had heard of these peaks, but as a 7 year old hiker – they could have existed on another continent for all I knew, we often did not make it past our neighboring Vermont or Massachussetts for family outings.
Continuing my drive to “check off” new things on my invigorating quest of health and well-being, following my first marathon and just two weeks later, running my first (of many to follow) 50K – I wanted more than anything to pay a birthday visit to this jagged peak so far away that I had heard ruminating tales of: Katahdin in far northern Maine.
I was still not convinced that I would traverse any subsequent 4000 foot summits of Maine, in my mind.. I was still just ‘out exploring and seeing new places‘.
Then it happened.. early autumn 2019 saw my Subaru and I embarking on a 3am spur-of-the-moment trip to Saddleback, the (at the time) closed ski resort in Rangeley, Maine – deeper and deeper I was falling in love with the mountains and sleepy ski villages of Maine – the autumn colors on the mountain-sides were of oranges and yellows from birch trees in ways I had hitherto not yet witnessed.
The planning continued on and on.. the following weekend saw me spending a 28 degree, frosty evening in the back of the Subaru, a first for me!
I had planned for a lofty day, and concluded by meeting some incredible new friends at the summit of the Redington bushwack. The following day, I would meet and greet more amazing folks as we stood at the old firetower base located on Avery Peak, soaking in the sunrise – in complete disbelief at the lack of wind – true luck for sure during that weekend in Maine as I stood atop Bigelow West, my 114th four-thousand foot summit in the Northeast 115.
Then, only one remained.
That peak welcomed me at every thought to come run and frolick on its slopes and eventually stand to peer around, celebrating at its lookout tower which stands at roughly 4,700 feet.
We had accumulated a light layer of snow at the lower altitudes so I truly did not know what I was in store for this morning as I would be climbing Mount Carrigain, the season had not changed nearly enough into winter for most folks to begin posting trail reports on newenglandtrailconditions.com yet.
I packed all I thought I would need, just in case of surprises!
The forecast was calling for clear skies, low winds and unseasonally chilly temps this Saturday for my trek in the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
To my elated surprise, the seasonal gate leading two miles to the trail head parking lot down Sawyer River Road remained open! I followed two other cars down this narrow and winding road at 7am.
Plenty of water was stuffed in my 12 liter Salomon running pack, several extra layers, compass, headlamp, map – all of the ‘extras’ that I hoped I would not need were neatly taking up space on my back as I grabbed for my trekking poles, fixed my gaiters to my Altra Lone Peaks, set my COROS Pace to record my journey in ‘trail run’ mode and I was off, bounding down the trail.
Oh, wait.. before I could rush out onto the trails, I was bombarded by a very enthusiastic man standing about eight feet tall with chatty friends who looked straight out of the 1980’s Campmor catalogues standing nearby: “looking for the JASON Group.. or just hiking solo today?!” The man questioned. “Solo, brother.. have a great day!” I replied as I was honestly completely unsure if he was ever even talking to me.
Now my hike officially began: at a moderate pace to begin, I was quickly reminded of trekking along the old railroad grade of Lincoln Woods once again as I swooshed past several other hikers – I certainly had much less gear than most of my friends out here this morning.
Just shy of two miles I slowed to a hault, with a chatty group of boys and fathers trailing – I adored the fun they were having, but was ready to climb up and away from their raucous that echoed through the still morning air. I stared face to face with Carrigain Brook, while I would not consider the water as ‘high’ so much, the rocks were frosted over and a dunked foot this early into the day would send me straight home.
Following what appeared to be an old herd path briefly down the right bank led me to a logged crossing – slick, but easily managable!
Once across, my pace as well as the altitude began to increase steadily. Switchbacks up onto a mini-ridge doubled back along the wooded ridge – I was totally loving this trail so far! I wanted to run, but didn’t want to sweat too much until my return from the open summit air.
My Lone Peaks continued to put the first tracks of the day onto the mountain-side – until out of what seemed like a bushwhack became .. crampon prints in the snow?
What I saw, and followed did not make sense to me – unless the owner of these tracks were into complete overkill, the trail thus far contained packed leaves and about 3 inches of powder – no need for snowshoes nor crampons up here!
I watched the tracks traipse from down the middle of the trail and dive deep into the thick of forest just straight into the woods, I began to worry for the owner of these spikey prints.. could they actually be lost out here this morning?
Again, the set of tracks emerged from the trees and when I could finally recognize the imprint of a pad.. I knew I was following something a bit more hunched over and four legged than a human – it was wildlife up in these hills for sure!
The switchbacks continued and the ascending never ceased until I came to the first lookout at 4.5 miles. This could have been my summit and I would have been beyond thrilled to experience this – the frosted trees framed in some of the finest views of the far distant Presidential range, all the avalanche scars well masked behind a coating of white powder.
I could have stood here all day just burning this incredible blue and white mountain view onto my retinas!
Around the next slight bend the iconic view up to the summit cone and lookout tower atop Carrigain came into view – my next and final destination!
Down the col and henceforth back up even higher now, past the rickety old bucket at the well and up a few pitches over some basketball-sized boulders and there was my objective, a mere twenty feet infront.
Ten.. easily fifteen minutes must have passed as I stood and soaked in the views from every angle – it was time to begin my return jaunt before the hoards of weekend warriors made their ascent up the tower steps as well, and my silent summit would be brimming with activity, life and laughter once again.
With delicate steps I made quick work of the descent and within just minutes found myself staring back up the final slopes of Carrigan: “I was just up there, I did it, that really did just happen!”
I met the same familiar faces as I began the switchbacks to lower ground, “dang.. you made quick work of that!” one hiker exclaimed as I jammed past and wished them a terrific ascent as well.
Stopping for a moment to say good morning to a woman making her solo climb up, she told me all about the three other occassions she had summited Carrigain and how this was not her first pick of the day; I felt like after today – this would be my first pick any day!
After several minutes and also wishing her a lovely bluebird day in the mountains, I heard from the distance: “HEY WAIT! I have a question for you!!“, she yelled back through the trees to me. I began walking back up that hill toward her, “did you actually just say this was your NH48, NE67, AND NE115 summit?!”
I assured her that she had heard me correctly and just then she went absolutely eccstatic with enthusiasm, perhaps with even more than I was trying to contain! I could have hugged her for all the congrats she gave, but she was too far up the slope.
I must have passed at least 35 people from the time I departed the summit of Carrigain to the moment I returned to my car at the trail head – these folks really picked a gem to hike on this wind-less morning!
Shortly prior to reaching the brook crossing for the final time, I reached the party of dogs and folks heading up for a friends Grid finish – that was when I heard: “HEY!… I remember you from the Adirondacks!!”
What a small world it really is sometimes!
A friend Ciara and I ran into at the Upper Works in the Adirondacks, who, at that time was hiking Mt Marshall for his finish of the Northeast 115! How the tides had turned and we cross paths once again, and of all days.. on my finish of the NE115!
The crossing of Carrigain Brook was easy this time, knowing this time where to go and where to step across that frosty log – and the remaining two miles out was one of the most happily satisfying snowy trails that I had ever ran!
I brought along Hillsound spikes, but never truly needed them – they would have just been dulled on bare rock more than anything. The Altra’s performed beautifully, despite not being waterproof they did great in the snow with my thicker Darn Tough wool socks and traction was not an issue.
Back at my car, I dove straight into the bananas and apples – completely satisfied with my day in the forest.
I accomplished what I set out to do, and had way more fun than I ever could have imagined going into it!
What a truly fantastic group of people us hikers, trail runners, backpackers, and forest hermits can be. What an incredible journey over the past twenty eight years this has been!
What began with a seven year old kid who found solace in solitute atop Mount Marcy, to an old dude standing atop Mount Carrigain breathing in youth – may the mountains and our love of adventure forever grow in size!
Thanks for following along my journey – it surely will not end, many, many more trails out there to explore..
– Erik, NE115 #1013
Overall stats for the day:
Recorded with COROS Pace
- 10.64 miles
- 3hr 51minutes
- 3,829′ elevation gain
- Mount Carrigain – 4,682′