Shawn and Elleing on summit of Whiteface

Whiteface (4020')


2005 June 06

May 2005. Rainy and cold. Rain was in the forecast for every weekend in May. So much for starting the hiking season early. Even if we had opted to make a trek in the wet last month, it was so cold that the snow remained deep until the last week of the month. Winter wouldn't end. Weathermen received death threats. Birds flew back south. Women and children wept. And spring never came. June did. And with it, summer. Skipped spring entirely. At least it wasn't raining. But, hike with temps in the 80's? Too hot. Then again, it could revert to winter next week. We should go. We'll keep it small. Get this season started. Do something close. Whiteface.

When we gathered for the commute each of us took turns commenting on the heat. Alternatives were suggested. None were taken. No Kayaking. No beaches. No central AC. We would swelter. The choice was made. Eight miles and a half. Two thousand feet and nine hundred arriving at just over four thousand feet above sea level. Haze. Bugs. Sweat. Whiteface.

08:00 - Left the house

It was a nice drive. Mostly because I didn't. Ash, co-hiker and sole photographer on this journey, was the driver as well. I could ramble on about quaint Ashland, even quainter Holderness, and even quainter Sandwich. This was Golden Pond, after all. But first, I should really mention the seemingly laid-back-local cashier who corrected me when I mentioned that shoplifters will be shot upon exit. "Noooooo," she said, slowly and politely as if anything that violent could never happen here and I'm a dolt for suggesting it. "It will just set off the security system." And just when I thought she was done making me feel like some mentally corrupt city slicker, she continued, slowly and politely, "which will activate the self-destruct mechanism." My lame attempt at morbid humor had been turned back on me. Outwitted and slightly nervous, I anxiously awaited for my credit card slip to print while she explained that it was slow because the call is routed through Indonesia.

Our little twilight zone adventure over, we soon arrived at Ferncroft Road off 113A and the trailhead. A rather nice trailhead with large fields and a passing brook. There was no question that we wouldn't be needing any cold weather gear, so we emptied our packs and headed down the road the Blueberry Ledges Trail. This required a short walk across Squirrel Bridge and through some private property. (If the owners happen to be reading, "Thank you, it's much further and not as nice hiking in the other way!") We weren't in the woods but a few minutes when we were attacked by hundreds of swarming, blood-sucking beasties. I normally don't use deet on my skin, but I had scarcely little clothing to apply it too. Ash reassured me I'd die of a different form of cancer before I died of Deet cancer. I felt better. (It also helped to visualize loathesome mosquitos using my sweat as a wading pool and soaking up a toxic surprise that would kill them long before it would kill me.) Yes, the over-heated hike had begun.

trailhead parking area

11:00 - Started - >80 degrees

Things actually went very well all the way to the summit. The trail was ideal, but it was hot. It started out very mild and became progressively steeper. (In fact, it eventually became one of the steepest sections of trail we've had to negotiate with substantial four-limb scrambling near the top.) We could see the peak of Whiteface off in the seemingly hopeless distance. It lurked beyond a sea of vegetation like a remote island. In three hours we would rest on a granite beach and enjoy the quiet that the forest affords those willing to travel the distance.

There were an increasing number of vantage points as we reached the peak and we stopped at several. Thunderstorms threatened to erupt at any moment, but didn't. A pine tree worked it's way out from under the north side of a massive boulder. Painted Trilliums bloomed along our route and we encountered no other hikers until we reached the summit. It was the epitome of hiking solitude that keeps me and many others coming back for more.

Tree _under_ north face of rock desparately reaches for the sun.

13:45 - Summit

Solitude and quiet vanished after we reached the summit. At first, there were only two other hikers. So we moved to an isolated section of granite beach and admired the stunning views of Lake Winnipesauke. Then two more hikers arrived, but they kept to themselves on their own little section of beach. Agreeing that this was enough for today, we ate our lunch and would skip the Passaconaway loop. We could spend the extra time here absorbing the serenity of our isolated surroundings and stare at haze-filled valleys a few thousand feet below.

South South

It was then that a venerable army of Immaculate Conception Catholic Boys Boarding School students convened on a ledge directly in front of us. They shouted wildly to pass the enormous, King-Kong-Sized bag of Peanut M&M's. Brother Jeremiah beckoned Brother Jonah to leap a chasm to the rock he had settled on. The moved about in hyper spurts. It seemed the surreal experience of that Golden Pond General Store had caught up to us. Sugar they did not need. Water they did not carry. Shorts they did not wear. In fact, except for three of the nearly 20 students all wore beige khaki pants that were considerably muddied below the knees. (Which made some fashion sense since shorts may have clashed with the golf shirts.) Apparently they missed the 10 person, group limit suggested by the WMNF in the Backcountry Rules, although I guess they weren't camping. They beckoned one another while we laughed about our sudden loss of tranquility.

The ledge prior to the invasion.

14:30 - Descent

Well motivated to depart the chaos that had overtaken our experience, we gathered our things and went on our way. We passed a couple just below the scrambles. I mentioned that they were missing the summit party and they informed me that was why they had stopped where they were. Just then, a buzzing noise that seemed remarkably familiar increased in volume. The adolescent entourage had concluded their summit stay and was headed down the trail. We had only moments to sidestep to an outcropping of rock and avoid being overrun by the gravity-propelled procession. Ironically, this was a convenient pit stop since it happened to have an excellent view of the cliffs of Whiteface. After they passed, we resumed our descent. A passing hiker asked, "Is it crowded on the summit?" I assured him that it had been but now was not. He seemed relieved.

Face of Whiteface

I have to give the hyper-energetic, color-coordinated youth some credit. Whenever I encounter large crowds on the trail there is typically a proportionate amount of litter. On this occasion, there was none. Apparently they're learning something in Center Harbor. What we did encounter were bugs. The temperature increased as we descended and with it the population of airborne pests. By far more bothersome than any battery of boisterous boys be buzzing Beelzebubs bent on biting beleaguered bushwhackers.

A couple A-10 Warthogs were flying maneuvers as we neared the bottom. Jets aren't usually what I like to see when I'm out in the woods, but A-10's fly very low to the ground and I would have liked to have seen them flying below us. An A-10 is an unusual looking jet with a single-minded purpose. Destroying tanks. They fly very low to the ground, surprise the enemy, and then climb rapidly to safety. One problem. There aren't many tank wars left to be fought, so they'll be phased out soon. We watched them fly around, perform some fancy aerobatics, and create quite a raucous before we continued to the base of the mountain.

17:00 - Finish - 67 degrees

We cleaned up and changed clothes then headed to the Woodshed for dinner. The Woodshed is a very nice restaurant nearby that has started to draw an impressive list of celebrities. Katherine Hepburn was a regular there when On Golden Pond was filmed at Squam Lake. Michelle Pfeiffer and Sean and Robin Wright Penn have since added to the list as well as several others. The dining area spreads throughout several rooms of a renovated farmhouse. The prime rib is their claim to fame although I generally prefer the duck. It's a casual restaurant with a formal decor that doesn't exactly make it a great après-hike location, but it's one of my favorite places to eat and we were in the neighborhood.

The drive home was pleasant. Mostly because I didn't. The photographer drove. I rested. And reflected. Well worth it. 41. Whiteface.