Sunrise attempt #3,457: North & South Twin Mts

We were feeling lucky..

The routine was the same, the anticipation for this early morning trek in the White Mountain National Forest was way high once again when we saw the weather forecast: Friday indicated rain that should be tapering off overnight; the most exciting forecast came next: Saturday AM – clear, Saturday PM – clear, Saturday overnight – still clear with low winds all day!

We, being Ciara and I with our two German Wirehaired Pointers, Boone and Crockett in tow were balls of excitement as I filtered water for the coming day, tails waggled as she bagged up treats and snacks for the boys. They have this innate sense amongst them – seemingly they can tell by now – through our enthusiasm and probably more so by the stacks of gear that come out of hiding from our “gear closet”, that they are a mere several minutes away from a wonderful day of new scents to sniff deep in the forest and high on the mountain tops with their human counterparts!

I had been able to visit the summit of South Twin only a handful of months ago when I took on the 32ish mile long Pemi-loop, although I did not want to hang around long that day on the summit rocks, I was able to explore like I usually do – in search of a bronze USGS survey marking disc.

We decided to try North and South Twin while Haystack Road was still open, as we only had several weeks left in the warm-month hiking season before the Forest Rangers would lock the gates once again in preparation for the winter snowfall.

We had tried this hike once in the past, in what was perhaps the coldest weeks of winter 2019: our hair (my beard!) immediately frosted over upon exiting our car, the boys paws quickly gathered snowballs so big that they looked weighted down and terribly uncomfortable with every step, as we approached the stream crossings and despite being able to bushwhack around several crossings, we could not force the pups through frigid water like that: the day was quickly aborted in favor of a warm coffee shop.

Today’s attempt was made at the end of September, so the nighttime air still gripped some of the late summer warmth.

Arriving at the trailhead late after a daily grind of work at the hospital, the sun had already long been down behind the surrounding peaks. We hit several patches of fog on the two-hour drive northeast but when we got out of the CR-V to stretch our legs one final time before bed, we were jumping for joy over the millions of brilliant stars illuminating the clear skies!

If the Honda was perhaps six inches longer, Ciara and I maybe would have slept a bit better – but we certainly did not have to search for warmth with two extra big, fluffy doggie bodies snuggled around our curves!

4:34am

Beginning in headlamps, I wanted terribly bad to glace up to the sky to see the same brilliant speckles of starlight from the previous evening, but so far everything just shone mat black. Leaves and bark shimmered from the morning dew from overnight, but neither of us were convinced that our parking lot residence actually saw a drop of rain.

We always seem to agree about how truly magical it can be to hike the same trails in different seasons; when we were on this trail months earlier with many feet of crisp snow, we could still recognize what lay underfoot by the way we ascended gradually on what appeared to be an old run-down bobsled track (I’m quite certain it wasn’t, the trail only appeared that way!).

Conversation was light and fun as we made our way in complete darkness (Ciara strained to see with her poorly charged headlamp, mine shone just slightly better, guiding us all over rocks, roots and several minor stream crossings) with the Little River roaring just beside our feet.

We thought of just taking the regular trail, but upon looking at the caps of white water and wet rocks, our decision was quickly switched to simply follow the “bushwhack” through the woods (the unmarked trail cuts left just prior to the first stream crossing), eliminating several of the silly back-and-forth stream crossings.

What a feeling though, when we did have to make our way across this roaring brook and cut that 45 degrees southwest; such an ‘in-tune’ feeling of heightened awareness as all other pesky, mind-muddling thoughts quickly float right away down the river and all our thoughts remain with is the urgency to pick the correct combination of rocks to bridge this waterway safely!

I crossed first, luckily we both had our running packs on so we were much more nimble and flexible along the water, far better off than trying to rock hop with my 75liter Gregory! With my heart now completely thumping out of my chest, I glanced back from dry land across the river, trying to help light up the rocks so Ciara could safely traverse too – one slip into this chilly water at 5am would quickly change our plans for the day!

Like most things she does, Ciara made the crossing look effortless.. even ending up in my arms at the last boulder as she did a pirouette of sorts (unintentional? I’ll leave that for the judges!); the boys maybe not so much.. but they were unscathed and that was all that mattered, a quick shake off and it was like they never saw river at all!

Across Little River at last was now where the trail really began to climb, and it did not stop until we reached the summit rocks! Gaining over one thousand feet each mile over the next several miles – perhaps we were simply emerging from the dense forest, or the sun was actually beginning to rise.. headlamps got ditched as we could now see around us: we were in a cloud for sure!

That did not stop us or put a damper on our moods, it simply had us adding a waterproof layer around our core to help us stay dry from the drippy branches that we encountered at each and every step.

We remarked back and forth about how beautiful the forest now became, as the daylight dawned – we made plans to return over the winter with one goal: butt-slide down this luge track of a trail; straight, steep and perfect!

We had heard talks of an overlook just prior to the wooded summit of North Twin, finding this also completely shrouded in dense fog – without hesitation we continued on, in search of clearer skies on the other side of this White Mountain rock pile. Only moments later I stopped dead in my tracks, turned to glance at Ciara, who looked as if she had just witnessed a ghost manifest before her, “What the heck even is this trail?!”

I don’t think either of us had ever seen a more beautiful and soft trail on the east coast, super indicative of the thoughtfully laid out and maintained west-coast-style Pacific Crest Trail, we were cold and wet but that did not prevent us from picking up our feet to put us into the ‘we-ran-this-trail club’!

Despite the lack of views we were still having such a blast being the only early-risers out on the trails so far this morning. We saw North Twin pass underfoot with its short and stout summit cairn, knowing we were returning via this exact path, we continued on over to South Twin with its notorious 360 degree views and open summit rocks.

Just shy of a 300-foot descent over some slick, dew covered rocks, we reached the col and began to climb yet again. Hand over hand we were able to easily climb up, over and around boulders and bare rock – we were having such a blast in the mountains!

Somewhere around 6 miles into our day, we zipped up our jackets and made our way out and into the freight train wind, gusting over the 4,902′ summit. Still up in a fog, I am always fascinated by watching the actual water droplets soar past my face, evidence of truly being high up in the cloud!

Photographs were taken and footprints were all we left on the summit rocks as we turned to say goodbye to South Twin, we would return another day to bask in its epic views.

Originally, we had discussed pressing on and continuing over to West Bond, as Ciara had not yet been over to that little peak that jets up above the Pemigewasset wilderness, but we were both more than happy to save that jaunt for another day and to simply be satisfied with the trek we had just undertaken, after all we still had to make our return trip over the rushing river!

Before we had begun our hike, I was completely ready to press-on over to West Bond since we had been starting our hike so early in the morning – but by the time we reached South Twin and realized we really were living the cloud-life (and would tack on an additional six miles!) and would not receive the sunrise as we had hoped, I was totally content with our decision to head back – after all, this decision would leave us with enough time in our day to drive the extra several miles to the new REI store in North Conway – today was their opening day!

I am always amazed at how new each trail appears when we begin in headlamps and then to see the entirety of surrounding forest, it’s like stepping foot there for the first time all over again!

This time we stopped on those open rocks just after re-summiting North Twin, we were about to witness something absolutely incredible.

As we sat on those rocks, we could still see the clouds gusting tumultuously all around us – and in a matter of seconds – they split. The clouds continued drifting east toward the mighty Presidentials as overhead we were rewarded with the bluest skies imaginable. The views now stretched out to the north and west for miles, we could probably see states away, but my focus now was on the changing leaves; the surrounding mountainsides and forest canopy of evergreens were magnificently dotted with deep reds, vivid oranges and the brightest yellows – what a truly magnificent panorama spread before us, almost better than a sunrise!

Still, we had the mountain and all of these new views to ourselves. Looking back, I often wonder if the majestic artist palette of brilliant color were perhaps enhanced by our eyes peering into white and grey constantly for the preceding several hours of daylight, a mind game of sorts, I suppose.

As soon as we had our fill and began to descend once again, the voices through the trees began and never ended until we reached the car – all of the other friendly hikers who also had Friday off were now making their way up the steep slopes of North Twin, not knowing the cloud we had reluctantly called our norm, for all they had now were the surrounding vistas and blue skies!

Just prior to tackling the Little River crossing and all of its slick round rocks for the final time, we said “good morning, good climbing!” to a seemingly very nice man with an accent that I could not place.

Much further to the summit?“, he asked.

I was lost, searching for the words to softly break the news that he had yet to begin his 2,300 foot climb to the peak. His head hang, dripping a steady stream of sweat as he continued, we simply wished him a nice day of climbing.

Back on solid, and relatively flat ground (back on the bushwhack trail) Ciara suggested that we pick up the pace and trail run through this paradise of fallen autumn color, the trail was absolutely stunning and incredibly runnable for the most part!

Back at the car we could not stop remarking on how amazing our hike into the mountains had been, and despite not seeing the sunrise we had truly hoped for – we were rewarded with some of the finest views and the most magical cloud inversions that we could have ever imagined!

We ate our snack of grapes and apples as Ciara took all of us into North Conway where we found a most delicious lunch of marinated tofu panini’s with rich cold brew coffee for desert – and then like moths to a flame – we made our way to REI.

With such an amazing day in the mountains, and epic plant-based lunch in our tummies – we drove home all smiles, ready to do it all over again.. and maybe actually catch a real sunrise one of these mornings high atop the mountains!

North Twin Mt was my 47th summit over 4,000 feet in New Hampshire.

North and South Twin Mts put Ciara at #44, with some catching up together – we are beyond excited to spend our 48th summit together, although our climbing will never end at the end of a list!

Some of the finest hidden gems are found not contained on any list, we will never stop exploring new places!

Happy climbing!

– Erik


 

Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 11.92 miles
  • 6hr 52 minutes
  • 3,983′ elevation gain
  • North Twin Mt – 4,761′
  • South Twin Mt – 4,902′

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