Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Two Favorites in One Hike: Eisenhower and Pierce

Total Distance:
    Trailhead to Eisenhower: 3.3 miles, 2750 ft elevation gain
    Eisenhower - Pierce: ~ 1.7 miles
    Pierce - Mizpah Hut - Trailhead: 3.3 miles
    Total: 8.3 miles
Time: not a clue, 7-ish hours including a couple of long breaks and taking our sweet time

Eisenhower and Pierce are two of our favorite summits - somewhat closer to home than many others, enjoyable trails with fair grades and perfect mileage for us, and above all, awesome views.  These two have a charisma, a buoyant vibe I can't quite describe but love.

Luckily, our friend Dan also has a love for these two and his dog Molly needed them for her 48's so he suggested we do a traverse.  Tango stayed home to help Erick with his homework and munch on all the stellar frozen treats I made for him while the Heathen Dingo* and I headed north.

We met at the main lot for the Crawford Path around 7:45 AM, which is really at the Crawford Connector on Clinton Rd, barely up the road from the AMC Highlands Center.  Parking at the Center is for guests only but the Crawford Path begins across the street from it.  The Connector joins with the main path at .4 miles.  The other option for dayhikers is to park at the Crawford Depot (on the other side of the Highlands Center) and road walk.  It was cool, sunny, and I was stoked for the promise of great weather. We were treated to a symphony of whines from the impatient dingo ladies for the brief, bumpy 2 mile drive to the Edmands Path trailhead.  Both of these lots fill up very early, hint hint!

Eisenhower (4760')
Edmands Path (2.9 mi), Eisenhower Loop Tr (northern side) (.4 mi)

The girls were almost immediately off trail together.  Molly was wearing her Ruffwear Approach Pack for the first time after a strike against all forward movement when she first wore it according to Dan.  Add in affection from strangers and the sound of chipmunks luring her into the woods and she quickly forgot about it.  While the girls did their thing, we enjoyed a very mildly graded trail and good footing.  It was a little damp and a bit rocky at times.

Being that the trail lacks intersections to serve as markers and I'm terrible at recording time or gauging distances, my notes aren't very useful but with the help of the 4000-Footers of the White Mountains, I know it was around 2.2 miles that the trail began to require a little more knee-bending over larger rocks  or the trail itself was smooth rock and we passed the last water source, which ran with the rocky trail for a few yards.

*The weather gods looked kindly upon us but ALWAYS be prepared
for abrupt changes when traveling above treeline*
Just shy of the junction with the Crawford Path, we walked out of the trees and onto a narrow stretch of boulders.  We could see the AT wind up to the north towards Monroe and Washington and the bald hump of Ike's summit was to our immediate right.  The Eisenhower Loop Trail led us the last .4 miles up to the wide summit.  The trail is short but fun - an alpine path of fine gravel carved around and over rocks that keep travelers away from the low alpine plants.  The views in every direction, even down, are fantastic.

All that's left to reach the summit.  For perspective,
there is a tiny blue dot near the top that is another hiker.

Unfortunately, I overexposed the photos todaybut the sky was brilliantly blue
with puffy clouds providing a wonderful sense of depth.
Very near the summit
The ladies were less than pleased with the amount of time we spent at the busy summit but we had very good reason.  Saturday was Flags on the 48, a yearly memorial to 9/11 where a flag is raised on each of the 48's and, while we were unofficial participants, we were lucky to be there when the team arrived and raised the flag.  All around us, I could see flags on other peaks through my binoculars.  Powerful isn't quite the right word but I'm sure many readers can understand the emotional impact of taking a moment to reflect with the US flag flying high above us at 4,760 ft.
FOT48 Team arriving, summit cairn to the left
View facing south.  Center is the Eisenhower Loop Tr and just off to the right outside of the photo is Pierce.

Eisenhower - Pierce
Eisenhower Loop Tr (southern side) (.4 mi), AT/Crawford Path (1.2 mi), AT/Webster Cliff Tr (.1 mi)

Ty finally crossed the line between antsy and stressed so we departed, Ty prancing along ahead. The other side of the Loop was as steep as our ascent but fun to navigate.  Between Ike and Pierce officially became one of my favorite ridge walks.  It is mellow and entertaining.  It took us over smooth rock surfaces and through scrubby trees, teased us with views (especially to the west), and required some fancy footwork here and there when damp.  Alas, it was quickly over and when we turned a corner, there was the sign for the Webster Cliff Trail.

Pierce (4312')
Webster Cliff Tr (.7 mi), Mizpah Cutoff (.7 mi), Crawford Path (1.5 mi), Crawford Connector (.4 mi)

View back towards Pierce from the AT near the junction with the Webster Cliff Tr
A moment later we were on the summit of Pierce.  There were two flags, the first on a ledge just shy of the summit and one beside the summit.  We took our photos, chatted with a pair of women who had just begun their 48's journey and moved on, choosing to visit the Mizpah Hut on the way down. (Going straight down Crawford is easier and shaves a few steps off the mileage.)
View of the first flag from the Crawford Path
The Webster Cliff Trail was the toughest part of the day.  It was rocky, damp, and sometimes steep.  Still fun, as we hadn't challenged ourselves much that day!  It was nice to spend some time outside the Mizpah Hut under the increasingly cloudy sky.  Of course, Ty tried to waltz right through the open door....  We relaxed for awhile and checked out the Nauman Tentsite.  I decided we must spend a night there next year.  From the hut to the Crawford Path (Mizpah Cutoff) is far less steep than the section above but plenty wet and rocky.  My camera's battery died at the hut so no photos but much of the way back is already described from the last time we visited Pierce.  It was an enjoyable and quick hike down.  The girls let loose, chasing more little critters than on the way up, and taking their sweet time about coming back to the trail too! (Don't worry, we could hear the critters yelling at them from far up in the trees!) Carolina Dogs have a natural affinity for outdoor pursuits, a light double layer coat that makes them adjust well to all seasons, and impressive endurance.  For these reasons, they often make great hiking dogs but we have to spend quite of bit of time training to combat their other natural instinct - to chase!

This was a great hike and very, very dog approved!  Tango wasn't feeling 100% and I wasn't sure how warm it would be along the ridgeline or he would have enjoyed this one too.  We got extremely lucky with the weather; your experience may differ (noteworthy for the 2 miles spent above treeline).  Eisenhower is a great first foray into the alpine zone for green pups. (Pierce falls somewhat in the alpine zone as well but hardly enough to begin acclimating them, I don't think.)  The whole traverse might be a little long for dogs new to hiking, depending on what other activities they do regularly but that's not for me to speculate, one can always turn around.  The mountains will always be there!  Overall, the terrain offers better footing than many other trails in the Whites, which would allow for strong hikers to make this a half day adventure or, like us, take in the wonder that is the Southern Presis's.  Water is plentiful on Edmand's Path, can be obtained at the hut, and within .5 miles of the Crawford Path trailhead.  Both peaks and the AT are popular and you will likely encounter many other hikers.  We probably met about a half dozen dogs as well.  Everywhere but from Pierce's summit to the hut is easy-going as far as 4K's are concerned, and you're in the Presidential Range no less!  You can also bypass Webster Cliff Trail altogether by sticking with the Crawford Path.  Beautiful weather, fun trails with friends, and lots of compliments about Ty and my tattoos had me smiling all day (but this is about the dogs, right?!)
Mark this day - a Tybee smile caught on camera, so it must've been a great hike!

*Our suspicion is that Ty is a Carolina Dog mix, a unique and primitive breed.  They're also known as American Dingos, hence her nickname, no Aussie dingos here!

CD's also make great Ruffwear models!

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