Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Weekend Away: Mount Garfield and Jigger Johnson Campground

             Photo of Ty and Tango courtesy of Dan S., Princess Piper's photo was taken by Liz W.

Mount Garfield via Mt Garfield Trail
Ascent: 8:15 - 11:30
Summit: 11:30 - 12:30
Descent: 12:30 - 3:30
Mileage: 10 mi

This past weekend was intended to be our second attempt at an overnight trip to the Bonds but we scrapped it again and instead decided to hike Garfield then spend the night at a campground.  Our hiking party included Linda, Liz, Dan & Molly, and our new foster pup, Piper from Saving Carolina Dogs.  I had spent the week fretting about the heat, Ty's paws, Piper's youth... but in the end decided everyone was coming.
From left to right: Tango, Ty, Piper
We hit the trail at 8:15, Ty and Molly streaking off ahead with Tango in tow.  Early light filtered through the trees and the dirt trail made for easy walking.  It continued as predominantly dirt over the first water crossing, which was shallow and easily traversed over stepping stones.  Piper was unsure and got a little lift to get her started.  After that, she was a pro!  If memory serves me correctly, there were two additional water crossings, all shallow and easy, even after the previous day's rain.  In a couple of places, the running water and trail briefly ran together.

Piper evaluating her options
After the trail left the sounds of running water behind, it climbed gradually and the trail became much rougher.  This is where my description is likely to become skewed, as this is when I started carrying Piper off and on, affecting my perception of the hike's difficulty. (This was done due to her young and still developing bones, not because she was tired by any means!) My recollection of this hike was that it was fairly easy, that we had done it in less than five hours, including nearly an hour at the summit.   But carrying a six month old Carolina Dog puppy is not quite the same experience!  Rocky sections were interspersed with nearly flat stretches of dirt trail, for which I was grateful.  It never became very steep; carrying Piper was extra work but never exhausting or difficult.  At times, it was broad (two people wide) and showed evidence of its former use for some sort of vehicular travel (I heard tractor somewhere?).  The slowly winding switchbacks also lend to the trail's easy grade.

Typical terrain variety:

The rest of the group was kindly awaiting
our arrival!
Shortly after the intersection with the Garfield Ridge Trail, as warned in the guidebooks, it became steep and hands were helpful but not necessary for climbing over waist-high rocks.  Little Piper wanted to do this section on her own and so, with lots of aid from the Web Master's handle, she scrambled her way to her first four thousand footer!

The summit was fairly busy, and for good reason; the views were stunning.  I spent plenty of time spinning around and I still don't think I took it all in.  I definitely didn't get enough photos, as if they could do justice anyhow!  What I wish I spent more time doing is trying to identify surrounding peaks.  Off to the right, Franconia Ridge was obvious and I was amused by the singular mound that is Owl's Head.  (Owl's Head is a remote and generally not well-loved 4000 footer that we had some interesting experiences on.)  After some time, we migrated to a large, flat, exposed rock slab that made a perfect seating area just below the summit (on the other side of it) where we had a little more privacy/less distractions (read: opportunities for the dogs to go begging strangers).  The tentsite (and a shelter?) is somewhere in the vicinity but I forgot to look for it for future trips.

Standing on the end of the old fire tower base, pano starts to the left and sweeps right over to Owl's Head and Franconia Ridge (below)

Testing continued for the Web Master Pro

Molly giving Piper tips on being a trail dog

Dan's become the official dog whisperer of our group hikes!
At our semi-private viewing area, we snacked, took photos, and met some other hiker dogs.  Not until later did I realize it was blissfully bug free as well, something I promise not to take for granted again!  Piper even climbed inside a spruce for a nap before we loaded up and headed down.  The rockiness presented some challenges, whether I was carrying or being pulled by Piper but all went well and we were able to jog to catch up to the group on several occasions.
At some point, Piper and I fell far behind the humans but Ty, Tango, and Molly returned to escort us back to the trailhead.  They were perfect guides for Ms Piper, who did phenomenal in her own right and was the first to fall asleep in the car.
Sled team in the making!?

As this was meant to be a weekend camping, we had our tents and sleeping bags ready and opted for the nearest campground I had a vague familiarity with: Jigger Johnson on the Kanc, just west of the intersection for Bear Notch Rd (closed in winter but offers spectacular views and also beautiful for fall leaf peaping by the way!).  To my delight, the campground had more of a laid back celebratory vibe than the quietude of start of the season, as it was last time we visited when I was much more paranoid about any little noise the dogs made.  This time, there were lots of dogs being walked, cornhole bags being tossed, and one droning little vacuum cleaner.
After picking up "essentials" (Woodchuck cider, hummus, chips....) and doing a quick, bare bones setup, this was a great way to relax and still be in the mountains.  The dogs were comfy and sleepy, as were we and after looking through the day's photos by the fire, we were all asleep within an hour of sunset.  I had the girls in my tent and after a short lived coup during which they seized control of my sleeping bag, we were in our rightful places and even the alert little dingo ladies slept well until the pre-dawn 5 o'clock hour.  We had all left the rain flies off to see the stars. Our experiences varied we but agreed it's getting quite cool at night despite it being August.  With the pups still tired/recovering, we were able to stop for breakfast and an errand before heading home, happy to have spent the better part (and best weather) of the weekend in the Whites.

Tybee: irritating squirrels across New England since 2009
My tent...
...Tango's tent.  I think he enjoyed having a human to himself!
At the time of this post, it costs $24 per night for a site plus $5 for an additional vehicle.  Info can be found here.  Sites are all within a reasonable (30 second - 5 minute walking distance) of a potable water spout, bear-proof dumpster, and toilets.  (FYI the bathrooms are flush toilets but do not have soap or lights so bring your hand sanitizer and head lamp at night!)  Sites are big enough for RV's and it's obvious some folks spend an extended amount of time camping.  Our spot fit our two cars and three tents with plenty of room to spare, really enough to throw a football around, had we brought one. Each site also includes a fire grate (3 configurations for grilling or roasting marshmallows) and picnic bench.  Being wooded sites, there were plenty of places to tether the dogs (they have begun to learn how NOT to entangle themselves) but we got lucky and there was a clearing in the tall pines where we set the tents up for stargazing.
This shows about two thirds of the campsite.  
Picnic bench and fire pit to the left, driveway behind me
Trail dogs turned camp dogs

Monday, August 24, 2015

Jefferson via Caps Ridge

View of Washington from just below the summit
Ascent: 7:50 via Caps Ridge Trail (off Jefferson Notch Rd - smooth, narrow dirt road)
Summit: 10:00 AM
Descent: 10:30-12:30
Total Duration: ~4 1/2 hours including half hour at the top & allowing others to pass on descent.
Total mileage: 5 miles

This one's for the folks who are contemplating Caps Ridge with his/her pup and are doing their due diligence.  Hopefully I can help provide some insight and details, which I found can be hard to come by online.  Also, because it was a badass hike!

The day before, I had to wrap my head around the fact that we were leaving Tango at home with Erick for the first time but I knew it was the right decision for him and Ty and I would not get another chance to do a challenging hike like this for awhile.  Encouragement came in the form of a new piece of gear to test from Backcountry K-9: Ruffwear's new Web Master Pro and we needed some scrambles to test it on (full review to come).
Ruffwear's Web Master Pro

We arrived early, hitting the trail just before 8:00 and in a good position between other groups.  It sounds silly, but I prefer not to be the first up the mountain ( let others awaken and shoo away the critters) but I like to be well enough ahead of others for me and the dog(s) to get into our groove uninterrupted.  I hadn't done much research on this one aside from scouring the interwebz and asking a few guardians of experienced trail dogs about the caps.  The trail began rougher than I anticipated but probably only because most of our recent hikes have had easy beginnings.  The trail was rocky and covered in roots and Ty was already hauling butt.  By the first viewpoint of the day (below), the trail surprisingly mellowed quite a bit.

Shortly after the intersection for The Links, the trail became a trek over boulders.  Frankly, I found one section to be tougher than most of the caps!  My heart was starting to skip as views began flooding my field of vision.  We went up and over the first cap and as I looked up the second cap's steep face was already staring us down.   (It was the only part of the hike I had tried to research at length and it looked like a sheer rock wall in the pictures and videos).  Ty doesn't much care how the trail changes, so long as there's trail, she's moving.  She scooted up the right side of the first pitch, met me halfway up, then led the way to the top of the second cap.  It really was not as steep as I thought it would be based on photos online and we were quickly moving on.
Ascending the first cap

Second Cap
Looking down from the top of the pitch photo'd above with a view of the first cap
From there and over the third cap, Ty let me lift her a couple times to test the handle of the Web Master Pro but she was able to pick her way on her own.  I wish I had more to report, but the story is in the photos.  The views were spectacular and the trail is rocky but not intimidating and I had to press forward; Heathen Dingo was "in the zone" as another hiker noted later on.

After the third and final cap
The summit is within view!
We climbed the final little rock pile of the summit where, strangely Ty had the most issues of the day picking a rock to stand on.  (It's very rough and narrow with not much guidance on the official "trail.")  She was really aggravated for the subsequent half hour or so while I walked over to the junction where Tango had taken a nap the last time we were here, almost exactly a year ago with my brother and while I hemmed and hawed about which way to head back down.  I tried appeasing her with kibble in her water and Cliff Bars but she scarfed it all down and continued pouting.

Summit marker?
Memorial just shy of the summit
Looking over to Adams
Jefferson's summit to the left, to the right Adams in the cloud and the trail sign for Gulfside Tr
We could have gone over Gulfside and down Jewell, about 6 miles including the Boundary Trail and road walk but the assumed payoff was more time above treeline on such a gorgeous day and potentially less abuse on Ty's pads.  But Ty was hot as it was and it was just a hint further of a distance than I was interested in doing with no guarantee Ty's paws would be less at risk for injury.  I opted to go back the way we came, which Ty was completely fine with.

Going down was enjoyable but not quite as fun as heading up.  The heat of the day was on us and it took about the same amount of time due to frequent stops for ascending hikers to pass.  It did, however, give me more opportunities to assist Ty.  She was typically indignant but permitted me to help her.  We have a system.  I say, "wait" and get where I need to be, give her a little trust pep talk if she's wary, and count up to three.  On three I lift and she jumps simultaneously.  Usually it goes pretty well!  She garnered lots of compliments, whether it be on her trail adeptness or manners and it was a really special day for me to be out there with her.

Overall, the descent is not unlike most other descents.  I only butt scooted in a couple of places, the two requiring the most caution being the steep wall of the second cap and near the beginning of the boulders (descending: after the first cap).  Unfortunately, Ty also scooted down the steeper rock faces and finished the hike with a small raw circle on each of her two front paws (despite absolutely no wear on the way up).  She only showed discomfort when we reached the parking lot, which was overflowing.  I cranked the A/C and we headed out.  We shared a Dunkin meal and she passed out, eliminating my idea of stopping at a river for a few minutes.  When we returned home I didn't get so much as a "how do you do" from Tango, who was too busy working on one of my awesome frozen treats.  His reaction and Ty's reaction to the heat confirmed beyond a doubt I did the right thing by leaving him home and that he was okay with it.  And I got a very special hike with my best girl.

No ****s were given that I left him home with Daddy (or returned, for that matter!)
I'm trying to choose my words carefully in my recommendations for other dogs, not over- or under-playing the challenges.  If your dog is a confident (mountain) hiker who has been above treeline before, with proper pad protection (pre-moisturize with a product like Musher's Secret and boots, wrap in the first aid kit), s/he'll probably excel.  That being said, your pup should enjoy scrambles.  Tango would've done it but wouldn't have had fun like Ty did; he would have just gone through the motions.  If you're in tune with your dog and ready and willing to take as many breaks as s/he needs, check paws, and turn around if necessary, go for it!  I want to stress that I don't recommend this one as a dog's first time above treeline or scrambling because that's the heart of this hike - scrambles and rough, alpine stone.  Their paws need to be conditioned to the inherent roughness of the Northern Presi's.  I had a heck of a time finding much (except from a couple very helpful folks in a FB group) regarding dogs on Caps Ridge and, while I cannot profess to know your dog's skill, abilities, and trail interests, hopefully our narrative can help you decide whether or not to go for it.  Happy Trails!