Monday, August 29, 2016

Visiting the rockpile via Tuckerman Ravine

Route: Tuckerman Ravine Trail - Crawford Path - Southside Trail - Tuckerman Ravine Trail (lollipop)
Distance: 8 and change
Elevation gain: approx. 4,300 ft

So we did it, we finally did it: the headwall of Tuckerman!  I know, it's summer, and the dogs don't own skis, so it's not all that special but we've only ever ascended via the west or AT from the north and it was awesome!

Our friend Vanessa had plans for a Presi Traverse with a group and Hannah, Paula, and Terri had plans to ascend Washington via Ammo with another group yesterday.  After many itinerary changes and an overblown desire not to plan on a road walk, Tuckerman appeared as the only option for me to head up, potentially see both groups, and offer a bail out option (albeit not the best) for Vanessa since she didn't need all of the southern Presi's for her list.  Not that I never wanted to do Tuckerman but I simply had an inexplicable lack of desire to experience the headwall.  As much as we love hiking to the bottom and watching the skiiers and boarders in the winter, the rest was take it or leave it.

Having woken up late and running timing numbers through my head, I was overthinking a bit up to the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.  But when we snagged the spot right beside the turn-around area at the northern end of the main lot and it was already sunny out, hence lifting the ban on off leash heathen dingos, my hopes soared.

Regrettably, it was a little warm for Tango already but Tuckerman Ravine Trail is doable in warm conditions and we went nice and slow for the "old man."  Most of the usual trickles had dried up but Tango won't drink what I offer until he "has to" so he and I plodded along slowly while Ty crisscrossed, chasing and staring down the multitude of feisty red squirrels.

Tuckerman Ravine trail is, as I've said before, the definition of moderate.  It isn't quite as even in grade as I previously said; better, there are some leveled out sections that offer nice breaks and the grade never goes beyond a certain steepness that I wouldn't consider "steep." My guess is also that the snowpack in the winter makes it more even until one nears the lean-to's where it levels out.

The composition of the trail is almost entirely small, smooth boulders well-rooted in the dirt; while it looks like a minefield of ankle-twisters, it's pretty enjoyable and easy trekking.  The uniformity is amazing to me.  If I were to see similar conditions on, say, on Tecumseh, I would have a mini-hissy fit, as one can see the rockiness go on forever.  But these rocks are smooth and vision only goes so far before a gentle curve or break in the incline.  I wish I could speak more poetically about this trail.  I love everything about it, down to what can't be described about the "feel" of it.

Further up the trail were a small handful of opportunities for water and the first glimpse of the ravine wall could be seen through the trees.  While the trail was still relatively quiet, the lean-to's of Hermit Lake were buzzing with activity and excited chatting.

We passed the caretaker's cabin and I tried to take a couple of pictures that captured the bowl's magnificence.  I feel very out-of-New-Hampshire there but it's distinctly New Hampshire White Mountains at the same time.

The next section to the bottom of the bowl began quite benign but overall, is steeper, rougher, and rockier than previous sections.  As I begrudgingly dragged myself up a staircase of irregularly shaped steps, I started to wonder what I had committed us to.

My next thought was how different things appear in the winter and, while I didn't invest too much thought in it, was puzzled over where exactly "lunch rocks" was.  The area was all huge boulders and a small brook we drank from that I thought was a roaring stream further to the left of the trail than it really was.  I never did get my bearings as I shifted focus to not falling and the beautiful waterfalls coming down the headwall.

Here is where I say Tuckerman Ravine was not what I expected.  I had an expectation of very steep with lots of scrambles in my head.  It is steep. Quite steep, and, by comparison, sure, "very" steep, but not outside what we've done elsewhere.  Don't misunderstand, it was challenging and awesome and I loved every minute of it but the minutes flew by faster than I anticipated.

Grooves in the rocks by trailmakers

Although it doesn't really look like it, there are a lot of steps, some that were seemingly carved into what human feet needed them to be.  I would love to do a little research on the making of the trail when I get around to it.  The steps were helpful for going up but even more appreciated on the way down (more on that later).  Only towards the top of the headwall were there a couple of short scrambles that Tango had a little difficulty with, either in physical maneuvering or picking a route.  We also encountered some broad slabs with water trickling over them that called for careful and planned footsteps.

I didn't pay any attention to it, but there were some sharp drops

Looking down a small scramble.  Most similar
sections offered a herd path around
After walking across the small waterfalls that looked so beautiful from below (they're trickles/shallow), we were essentially walking along the edge of the headwall for a bit before cutting into the ridge.  

From the junction with surrounding cutoff trails, we took a right and continued on Tuckerman Ravine Trail.  It was .8 miles of rock hopping to the summit.  I love rock hopping but this trek just didn't do it for me.

You know what really doesn't do it for Ty?  The summit.  Had we not had plans to meet people there, I would've bypassed it.  We walked to the first set of semi-enclosed benches before the first set of sliding glass entry doors because the glass, exterior wall, and bench made a nice little protective cove for her.  I laid down their sleeping pads and we sat.  Tango thoroughly enjoyed all the attention they got, Ty did to a degree then retreated to her spot as needed, and I played with my phone, getting intermittent service to check in with everyone.

In her safe place on her mat
After 45 minutes and cold feet from the wind, I decided to head down to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut, also along everyone's projected route.

I don't have many photos of the Crawford Path from yesterday.  I've shared a description of it before and we hit a bunch of rare gaps between groups that allowed us to sail and enjoy the trail without constantly moving over.  I wanted to simply enjoy that!

The plan from the night before involved Vanessa and I utilizing the Tuckerman Cutoff from the hut to descend.  Still quite a ways from the hut, we encountered a trail sign for the cutoff.  Taken aback and worried I had miscalculated on backtracking, we plunked down for snacks and map reading.

As I was deliberating I looked down Crawford for some insight and saw a glorious white and caramel pit bull with a pack on.  My heart flooded with relief - it was Lilo!! I was so happy to get to run into her and Hannah after worrying I wouldn't get to see anyone all day.  I love solo hiking and small group hiking but the point of today was to get to do a bit of both.

We chatted for a bit, took photos of the stoic Lilo (who was not at all impressed with the diversion) and Hannah departed for the summit.  She mentioned that Paula was at the hut and Terri was not far behind, as well as a handful of others from their group.  After deliberating and trying to distinguish topo lines on my second choice map (forgot the zoomed in one at work), I said to heck with it, and headed down Crawford in hopes of seeing them.

Just a couple minutes later, I saw two dogs down below and, from what Hannah said, hoped it was them and it was.  One group member, Mel, was having a tough time with legs cramps but was powering on like nobody's business. Paula and Terri's Denali paid us the same level of attention as Lilo ("yeah, hi, whatever"), and Mel's little Emma was simply lovely.  Paula said there was another sign for the cutoff below but we were so close to the initial junction, I didn't want to ask too much more of Tango, and it was nice to get to see people and dogs I knew (even if through Facebook!) that I backtracked for a few minutes with them.

Emma, such a perfect trail dog for her young age!
Seasoned Denali getting a pat from mama
At the sign, we said goodbye and Ty and Tango made our exit.  Other than a pair of guys with a beautiful, shy German Shepherd approaching Crawford Path, we had the whole stretch of the Southside Trail (I think) to ourselves.  Thick grass blown over by the wind, massive cairns, quietude, and views for days - the loveliness of the trail countered my disappointment for bailing on Vanessa.

Yards from the junction at the top of the headwall, I got a text from her that they were taking the shuttle to the visitor center where my car was and the hope was that we'd get to meet up for them to get a ride back to Pine Link (in the end, my time estimate for descent was overblown and they got a ride from a family on vacation shortly before my arrival so I got to help some thru-hikers hitch over to Wildcat so all's well that end's well!)

Down the headwall was not as sketchy as I expected.  Although steep, the steps were very helpful and there were only a couple of areas of wet rocks.  It was a bit of a challenge with people coming up but by and large, our timing was excellent and the "bubble" of dayhikers had passed.  More annoying was the few times that we leapfrogged with someone barely too slow to be behind but who would catch up each time we took a necessary water/paw break.  I noticed that the rocks were warm so I made the pups stand in water whenever possible even if they didn't want a drink.  Having people behind us at inopportune places throughout the day also limited my picture taking (for better or worse!).

Possibly the same scramble shared in the
early portion of this post....
Steep and narrow on one side, easy on the other as most
of the tougher sections were

Someone needed a down, stay to stop tailgaiting!

The rest of the way down passed quickly and was a lot quieter, which was a nice ending.  I even threw on headphones for the first time when it got a little tedious.  By the end, we were pretty spread out with Ty back on alert as we cut over Old Jackson Road and unnamed paths while Tango fell behind.  I doled out treats liberally to keep spirits up.  I love the relationship we have and when the trail affords us the ability to be both a close-knit team and work within that relationship to do our own things.
Must be nice, having an alpine pool fed by a waterfall all to themselves!
Tango got a very long deep tissue massage for his efforts when we got home, as did Ty, though I definitely owed him a little extra something for powering through!  Aside from the summit and logistics of working around so many people, this was a great hike for Ty.  It had a little of everything she loves and challenged her.  We all loved Bigelow Lawn on the way back to Tuckerman Ravine and  were fortunate for the kindness of other hikers and park visitors.  Tango absorbed all the attention he could along the way, especially at the summit.  He needed and deserved it because yesterday was tough for him at times, as was the heat.  It was hard for me to realize that he struggled where upper body strength was needed.  A rough and tumble dog in great shape will love this hike.  With encouragement, others can do it though I would consider the ravine very sketchy at certain points for anyone but a trail-savvy dog due to the narrowness or steep drops.  I can't even imagine bringing a dog who needs a leash.  What you will need though is paw protection, just in case.  I learned today that Ty has one paw in rough shape but she didn't let on yesterday.  Now we're resting up for the next adventure!