Thursday, September 26, 2019

August - Sept 15, 2019 hikes (Osceolas, Carrigain, Carters, "Madams")

I strongly encourage everyone to take a look at Greta Thunberg's speech to the UN.  She is a highly intelligent and well-spoken teen from Sweden who is a respected climate activist.  Her speech was powerful and I think everyone should hear it.

I got behind with posting trip reports on my blog!  Here are three links documenting hikes from mid-August through mid-September, followed by a report of last week's night hike of Adams and Madam:

My solo hike of the Osceolas 

August 31 hike of Carrigain

Our September 8th night hike of South Carter and Carter Dome

September 15th night hike of Adams and Madison
Valley Way, Scar, Airline, Star Lake, Gulfside, Valley Way
miles with around 5200 feet of elevation gain

Mom wrote about this hike on her Facebook Page, and she describes the evening well -- I am, with her permission, copying and pasting her words here.  I will add my own comments in bold here and there.

"We got more than we bargained for last night. We handled it well, and I’m proud of us. Stay calm (I was not always calm, but I kept my head.), stay together, stay warm, move slowly - that was the order of the late evening. It felt good knowing we could handle the situation, and that if we had to spend the night out that we’d likely be fine. It was also sobering to see how easy it would be for someone to panic, go down the wrong way just to keep moving, get hypothermic, or rush and get injured. Each of us said out loud, on several occasions, “This is how unprepared hikers die.”

Full story in the captions - but here’s an introduction -
The plan was to hike Adams and Madison under a nearly-full moon and enjoy the stars. The forecast called for strong winds, but nothing we hadn’t handled before. We’ve done a fair bit of night-hiking and we know the summit cones of Madams fairly well, so climbing and descending all the boulders in the dark didn’t worry us. The NOAA forecast called for a dry night and partly cloudy skies. The MWOBS forecast said there might be some brief showers here and there due to two different fronts nearby, but there wasn’t anything in the report that overly concerned us. We packed the usual White Mountain gear with lots of layers, multiple headlamps, emergency bivies, food and water, etc., and started up the trail around 3:15pm to the summit of Adams (Valley Way to Scar to Airline).
I’ll put the rest in the photos -

Starting out around 3:15pm:

This sign is NO JOKE. That sign was made for nights like our evening (I definitely did not think the sign would apply to that night when we started.):

Valley Way:

We took Scar Trail to Airline (and I got some needed redlining tenths of a mile):

More interesting trail than Valley Way (It was very beautiful!  I really liked the trail.):

The girls coming up a steep climby bit:


We reached Airline and continued up toward Adams. Again, this sign is NO JOKE. Even on a nice day, take heed. Mountain weather does what it wants when it wants:

We reached treeline and the wind was howling. We had heard the wind for a long time before we even reached treeline. We have dealt with wind speeds in the 40s before and were prepared to fight our way up Adams (At that point I thought those conditions were generally what we would be dealing with for the rest of the hike.):

The strong wind wasn’t reaching all spots along Airline. We had a reprieve here, long enough to take some photos:

Pretty fall colors creeping in. We were pushed fairly hard on the way up, and we knew that would mean we’d get pushed REALLY hard later. We were psychologically prepared for that:

Another not-so-bad windy spot:

Fall is definitely here up top (the colors were beautiful!):

Hiding behind a cairn to get out of the wind a bit and layer up:

Struggling against the wind:

The cloud descended on the summit itself. You can see the cloud blowing through and over and engulfing the tippy top. We assumed we’d be in the fog at the top and then we’d hike down out of it. We were wrong.


The summit of Adams. It was a bit of a struggle to walk - we decided to go down Star Lake Trail because we figured that would get us out of most of the wind (it did, for a while):

This photo was taken as we started to head down. Visibility got a lot worse very quickly. We expected darkness and we expected wind, but we had not expected thick dense fog - or the hard sideways rain that started soon after we began our descent and lasted all the way through us getting lost and then two hours later finally reaching Star Lake.

I had been on this trail multiple times and had a basic memory of the shape and turns of it. Still - the fog reflected our headlamps right back at us, making them good for seeing where we were stepping but not much else. We often found cairns by covering our headlamps, letting our eyes adjust to the dark, and looking for very faint tall silhouettes. We had maybe five feet of visibility (or often, less). Couple this with the wind often reaching around and hitting us, and add the rain that was hard and heavy, and it was an interesting descent.

This was a perfect situation to get hypothermia and then get completely lost and succumb. As soon as the rain turned from more than a sprinkle to a hard rain, each of us found a nook in the boulders to take off our packs and put on our puffies (we’d been in fleece to this point). Hats and gloves went on, spare clothing in our pack checked to make sure it was in plastic bags, and compass out and around my neck.

We proceeded - slowly due to the wet rocks (they were very slippery) and because I did not want to rush just for the sake of getting down and then end up lost. The instinct to just get down was huge, and we kept reminding each other to slow down and make sure we were actually going the right way.

At one point, we took a wrong turn at a cairn and went down probably half a tenth of a mile into what we then figured was a wrong area. We looked back up but could not see the cairn (or anything else). This is when we hunkered down into a little crevasse and checked our map and my compass - we were now heading toward Buttress Trail instead of Star Lake. We corrected our direction and headed very slowly and more into the wind in the right direction, seeing nothing but the boulders right in front of our feet. Again, all this in hard rain and high winds in the dark through thick fog on wet jumbled boulders. *Having a compass and knowing how to use it is so essential.*

We headed in the right direction and eventually found the trail (this was a HUGE relief to all of us) - we came across what looked like a foot path over the rocks - ten feet lower we found a path entering scrub - memory told me we were now a couple tenths of a mile above the lake. Once in the scrub, route-finding became a non-issue and we made our way slowly toward Star Lake:

Star Lake is immediately to the right here. The fog was so thick you could accidentally walk right into it if you didn’t know it was there.

We got to the hut, which could not be seen through the fog until you were standing right in front of it. We had originally hoped to sit inside and eat leftover dessert before heading up to Madison, but now it was so late (descending Adams had delayed us by two hours) that the main area was full of sleeping AT thru-hikers. We quietly filled all our water bottles and whispered greetings with kind thru-hiker who thought we were AT hikers late from the trail and looking for shelter. She was so nice, saying she could make room for us where she was on the floor. She kept asking if we were warm or needed anything. We were warm - we had never been cold out there because of our layers, and we thanked her and told her we were heading back out. She looked shocked and asked where we were going. We said we were going up Madison and then home, then said we were locals and not thru-hikers. She wished us well and said we could sleep on the floor with the other thru-hikers anyway if we changed our minds. We headed out of the hut and sat on the trail surrounded by scrub, out of the wind, and ate our Whoopie pies and some turkey pepperoni:

We sat for about fifteen minutes warm, dry, and out of the wind, eating Whoopie pies and assessing the Madison ascent. We know the route up Madison from the hut very well. It is a much easier route-finding situation for us even with low-to-no visibility - if we did not already know Madison so well then we would have called it a night and descended Valley Way after the hut visit. We felt pretty good and extremely confident in our ability to not panic and handle potential situations well given our descent of Adams, so we decided to ascend. Note - I would never have ascended with less experienced hiking partners, or if we were cold or wet or hadn’t just handled the Adams situation very well with clear heads and good thinking/navigating. The wind was roaring, and we knew we’d be in it again, but each of us felt up to it, so up we went:

Navigation ascending was a bit tricky - as with the descent of Adams, there was little to no visibility. However, I knew the feel of this trail and little details really well. Even though we couldn’t see a cairn, I knew where most should be based on the unique shape of certain large slabs nearby, or the way the trail curved with the scrub to the left on the lower sections, of the faint footbed along some of the rocks. So we made our way up, sometimes having to slow down a bit to double check our position, but without ever feeling worried about where we were going.

The wind was brutal, and at the top we had to cling and grab boulders to not fall over. We touched the summit but did not want to linger at all, not even to take a photo, so we turned around and fought against the wind (which had been at our backs on the ascent) to drop back down to that section of trail just below the summit, where the trail is sheltered from the wind by large boulders. Here we took our summit photo, even though in the photo, we are not at the actual summit.

From here, it was a very slow descent. The wind was at our faces now and visibility was nada, but again, I know this trail pretty well and could figure out where to go and where we were based on various little details of the surrounding immediate rocks and terrain. We moved slowly so as not to fall and injure ourselves, and sometimes we just needed to sit to get out of the wind a bit. (To me, this section was not as bad as going down Adams, as I knew once we got to the hut we would just go down, instead of going up another mountain.)

We reached the hut and descended Valley Way, feeling the wind through the trees for the first couple tenths of a mile down. We were ready for the car by the time we got to Valley Way Tentsite, but alas, the car was not there, so we had to hike the remaining 3.3 miles out (I was ready to be done at the hut). When we had two miles remaining, Sage checked her phone for the time (we had turned our phones off after Madison to preserve batteries, and to have additional light sources later if our headlamps all failed...which they didn’t, but I am paranoid about light sources). I guessed it was 11:45 and Alex guessed it was 11:15. Sage laughed and said it was 12:55am (I felt so bad for them.). Time flies when you can’t see the damn cairns. Got back to the car right at 2am. The girls were asleep ten minutes later, and I managed to stay awake on the drive home. Got in at 3:30 and the girls got to bed at 4am. Originally plan was to have them home by 12:30 so they could sleep eight hours before their morning classes. Oh well. They will have to be hopped up on caffeine today.

Takeaways, which I really am proud of us for doing - Stay Calm, Stay Together, Stay Warm and Dry and Hydrated. If you can manage that, then you can make good decisions and work your way out of the situation. Otherwise, it will be far too easy to panic, get hypothermia, rush and go down the wrong way and get lost, and/or get injured.

I’m kind of glad we had the experience because it taught us that there is no need to worry if you have everything you need with you to survive a night out (we thought for a bit that we might have to spend the night up on Adams). Also, having the right people with you is great - the three of us worked together as a team and were one solid unit out there. That being said, I am not anxious for a repeat experience." (I definitely agree.  It was a very hard and taxing night, but an amazing experience to share and one I am glad we got through safely.)

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