Sunday, September 18, 2016

Hiking Files: Surprised by Mount Tecumseh

I won't spend too much time on the why and the what of not posting here on the ToTR blog in a LONG time, but I will say that I am not doing much trail running lately.  In fact, it has been nearly two years since my last ultramarathon, which ironically was my 50k PR.  Especially ironic considering that nowadays I am perhaps in the worst shape I have been in all my life.  More on that some other time though.

This post is the first in a number of posts on my current pursuits on the trails.  You can take the running out of the trail runner, but you'll never take the trails away from me.  In full disclosure, this post should come later after a few others covering my recent adventures, because it is really just the last one in a succession of adventures this summer in the mountains, but you need to start somewhere, even if it is out of sequence.

Okay, all prefaces aside, let's get on with the adventure!

A little after 9:00 A.M. on Sunday, September 4th, I found myself standing at the base of the Waterville Valley Ski Area in New Hampshire.  With pack on back and poles in hand, I thought about how I was a little disappointed to be here and not walking along the Livermore Road trail on the way to the Tripyramids, but there was another part of me that realized deep down inside that this was the right decision for the day.

It was almost like the feeling one gets with a DNF during an ultra run; Sure, you aren't realizing the glory of the finish, but you are acting in a manner that is a bit of self-preservation play, so you can come back some other time to complete the ultimate goal on a day when you have the right stuff.

In all fairness, this hike was the second hike of a long weekend in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  The previous day was spent hiking to the top of Mount Garfield with my family, and because we were staying in Waterville Valley for the weekend, I had grand thoughts of snagging another 4000 footer or two while being in the area.  Given that the Tripyramids are a longer and more technical hike, I thought it would be a great option, since I could get a much earlier start.  One of the logistical issues of hiking the Whites for me is the 2 to 3 hour trip from Massachusetts to the trail head.  Already being 15 minutes from the Livermore Road trailhead, this would give more time to complete the roughly 12-13 mile trek without worrying about travel time to and from the trail.  The other upside was that the loop hike for the Tripyramids would allow bagging not one, but two, 4000 footers in the process (North and Middle Tripyramid).

I also had the option of doing the relatively short trip to the top of Mount Tecumseh, which is barely high enough to be on the 4000 footer lists, and is considered a walk one does when the weather isn't great and often times the second (and less exciting) part of a 4000 footer double day with Mount Osceola.  This is mainly the sentiment because the summit views are limited and the majority of the trek is among the trees.  Having bagged both Osceola and East Osceola last summer, I was leaning toward the excitement of the Tripyramids, not the perceived snoozer of a half day hike on Tecumseh.

As I sat in the room Saturday night plotting my route and checking mileage on the maps for the Tripyramids, I couldn't help but think about how rubbery my legs felt from climbing Garfield, how my hike on Sunday would be solo (breaking the 'hike with a buddy' rule), and just generally that I didn't know what I was getting myself into with the Tripyramids.  After searching online for trail reports and summaries, I found the general sentiment was that the Tri's were a tough hike, one report rating the difficulty as 'Sign the Will'.  I slept on it all, and when I woke up in the morning and realized I simply am not in the shape I need to be in to scramble up and down rock slides, I opted for Tecumseh.

So that is how I arrived here at the base of the Mount Tecumseh trail, looking forward to what I expected to be a gentle ascent up into the hills to snag another 4000 footer.
First time across Tecumseh Brook

Steps from the trailhead, a brook babbles across the trail without a bridge, and the hiker is forced to use rock-hopping skills from the get-go.  Across the brook, the trail gently rises up from a starting elevation of about 1900 feet, and about 15 minutes from the trailhead I encountered the first crossing the Tecumseh Brook, which resembled more of a dry river bed than a flowing brook.  

Having made it across the rocks, the trail became more like the terrain one would expect to find in the White Mountains - scattered with various rocks and roots, and nothing that warrants taking one's eyes off the ground very long, which is necessary to ensure each step isn't the last step before a trip and fall.  It really is what makes the trails of the White Mountains challenging, because you really have to think about most steps, turning 20 minute walking miles into 40 minute mountain miles.

Talk about roots!  
Steep down to the Tecumseh Brook...
Quite candidly, though, the first 1.1 miles of the Mount Tecumseh trail are quite serene and less technical  when compared with other mountain trails in the Whites.  While there were sections of roots and rocks to contend with, I felt like I was able to move faster than usual over this first half of the trail, and pushed the pace a little.  In checking the map, the trail only rises about 600 feet in this first section to the second crossing of Tecumseh Brook.

Nicely organized stones...
The serenity and peace of the hike was also due in part to the lack of others on the trail, in fact, while I did see a couple other hikers at the trailhead, all the contact I had during this first section were the birds and the wind blowing through the trees; It was perfect.

As I walked along this section, there were many parts where it seemed there was a lot of trail work done in the past, and the rocks were neatly organized to provide steps and staircases along the way:
Eventually the trail meandered down to the Tecumseh Brook for the second crossing, this time with more water to contend with:

At this crossing of the Tecumseh Brook, the trail takes a definite turn up in the difficulty category.  The Whites are famous for the aggressive straight line trails up the side of the mountain, using switchbacks and gentle grades only sparing.  On this ascent I wasn't really paying attention to mileage and elevation, as I was just trying to enjoy the trail and every step, and upon the crossing of the Tecumseh, I had a loose understanding that I was about halfway to the top.  With the first 1.25 miles in the book, being completed in 45 minutes, I generally felt fresh and happy, and the quicker pace and good time made me feel like I was flying.  Dare I say it felt easy??

Oh how the mountains remind you of how small you are!

Shortly after the second crossing of the Tecumseh there is a short, steep uphill, which leads to an intersection.  One way leads out of the woods to a view over the ski slopes of Waterville Valley, and in the other direction the trail does a sharp switch back, ominously showing the steepness and difficulty that lies ahead over the next mile:
Up AND over...
Time to pick a line...
You'd think stairs would help the steep... you're wrong.
I tried to continue to fast pack with an intentional pace up the mountain on this section of trail, but my heart was pounding like a tom-tom drum after the first 10 minutes of trying that.  I was still alone with my thoughts and the sounds of the forest, but the stress of exertion was making me paranoid that I was quietly being followed or stalked by something.  Shortly thereafter I came across the following large rock formation, which made what looked like a nice home for a large, meat-eating, animal, certainly not assisting with the quelling of my paranoia:

As I slowly moved higher and higher up the trail there was definitely more of a temptation to look at my Garmin to get an idea of how high I was on the mountain, and how much more of the steep climbing was left before the brutal ascent would end.  That is part of the experience with these smaller 4000 footers, you really don't get the alpine zone effect, where getting closer to the top means shorter trees and more clearings to catch an inspiring view to help bump your spirits and energy levels to climb higher.  Really the only encouragement were the cold breezes that, even if falsely so, seemed to show some progress in making it higher up the mountain.

I still hadn't seen or heard much in the way of humans and animals on the trail with me, short of this camouflaged fellow, who I had only spied because of how slow I was going up the trail:
Making better time than me!
Finally, after thoughts of hiking all the way to the top by myself, I had a bit of a shock when this random four-legged friend came out of nowhere to pass me; Not even a bark to let me know he needed the trail!  It was actually a nice surprise because while I couldn't see his human companion when I looked down the trail, he did the total hiking dog move, running 20 feet up the trail ahead of me, and then scampering back down the trail, disappearing back to the side of his human.  We played this game for about 20 minutes until he and his human left me in their dust about 3/4s of the way to the top.

After about an hour on this challenging section (only a mile in length), having climbed about 1300 feet in that hour, I finally reached the trail intersection with the Sosman Trail and the Summit Trail to the top of Tecumseh...

Riding the wave of relief that I was done with the steep part, I confirmed my direction with the map, and headed on what felt like a victory lap.  About 5 minutes further up the trail, I came to another trail intersection showing a couple different ways to the top, which felt like either a joke or a hallucination.
I think Alice had it easier in Wonderland!
At this point I checked my mileage and the map, and I was convinced I was far too close to get lost, but I had to make a decision, and it appeared that the left spur was the shortest way to the top.  Sadly, though, as I moved up this section, it was found to definitely be shorter, but more technical.  On the bright side it did afford some of the first views to the north and west.
Oh brother...
After clearing the craggy portion of the summit trail, I climbed over pine needle carpeted trails (nice), to finally come through the woods to the open porch of the Mount Tecumseh summit, overlooking Waterville Valley:
Initial view of the mountains and valley...
Had company on the top...
Panorama of the 'porch' view...
One of my fellow hikers at the top using the summit cairn... hiker fail.
Beautiful views north on a true bluebird day. 
The slide (also the trail!) up North Tripyramid... a reminder Tecumseh was the smart choice for me. 
When I arrived at the summit I was met by two others that were eating an early lunch.  In true "trail 'tude" form, I was greeted by the others instantly and we talked about our trips to the top, as they had come up via the Tripoli Rd. trail. As I sat back, feeling great to get the back off my back, I mentioned how I was pleased that it only took a couple hours to ascend.  I found my two new fast friends were cross fitters and had made MUCH better time than me, and then proceeded to bang out some burpees on the summit while we chatted.  You have to love how you meet all types on the trails!

Having no where to really be, I sat down and enjoyed my trail snacks and the fabulous views.  The other two had a dog with them, who wanted to share my Clif bar, and wasn't shy about his intentions.  As we continued to chat, another group of three made it to the summit, and shortly thereafter, another group of four arrived, and it became a little crowded for the small summit, but it was definitely a fun, social crowd.  By the time the next group of five showed to the summit, I realized I had been lounging for about 45 minutes enjoying the views and the conversation, and decided it was time to head down to the valley.

I wanted to go back the other way on the summit loop to try to avoid the craggy rocks on the summit trail that I had ascended, and headed back down the trail, looking for an obvious intersection.  Finding an unmarked trail going left, I assumed this was the right way.  As I moved down the trail, I found some great views east toward the ski resort, but no trail...
Heading back down the mountain from the summit...
Trail's end...
Panorama of the view south and east...
Ski free!
Zoom of the lakes region beyond the cell tower at the top of the Waterville Valley slopes.  (Not a level shot, embarrassed as a photographer, but a cool shot). 
Once I realized I was lost, I headed back to the summit, on what turned out to be just a 15 minute side trip.  I resolved that the end-around path to the summit going the other direction was down the Tripoli Road trail, and I saw the rocky descent down that trail from the summit, and just decided to head back the way I came.

The descent was pleasant, and I made it to the intersection with the Sosman Trail and the Mt. Tecumseh Trail in about 10 minutes.  I decided that since I had no where to be once I got to the bottom, I'd stay on top for a while and explore the Sosman Trail.

The Sosman Trail is a spur trail on the top of Tecumseh that leads to the top of the ski slope at Waterville Valley.  At a half mile in length one way, I figured a bonus mile was well worth the adventure, and looking at the map, there really wasn't much elevation change from where I was at the trail intersection.

The terrain on the trail was really pleasant with a few rocks, but mostly pine needle carpet.  It inspired me to run a little bit, even with the weight of my big hiking pack on my back.  There was one section that was a bit technical, but provided a nice technical change, and a cool view of knob that is the summit of Tecumseh:
From the top of the technical section of the Sosman.
View of Tecumseh's summit knob.
Eventually the Sosman Trail opens to a clearing with a cell tower, and then a short wooded section leads to the top of the ski slope at Waterville Valley.  The Sosman Trail is definitely a recommend if you make the trip up to the top of Tecumseh, as it provides a few clearings with overlooks, including one with a hidden bench for weary hikers...
Top of Waterville Valley Ski Area

Shameless selfie... maybe I can get the chairs running to take the easy way down.
Downhill, with the Tripyramids taunting me in the background.
Cell service was great :-)
One of the views Sosman provides.
Here you're resting?
I was actually surprised as I made my way back to the Mount Tecumseh trail intersection because there were a lot more people heading up the Sosman Trail from the summit.  As it turns out, many people will hike to the top of Tecumseh, then take the Sosman Trail to the top of the ski area, and follow the ski trails all the way down to the parking area in order to avoid the steep and rocky terrain on the descent.  There was a part of me that considered it for a moment, but I felt that was too easy, and not in the spirit of hiking up and down the real trail.

The descent on the 'steep and rocky' was actually really fun and great training with using my trekking poles on descents.  The steep trail provided moments where I was moving so fast I felt like I was slaloming down the slopes, but it felt like a controlled chaos because there always seemed to be rocks to make the next step, and it was easy to pick and follow a line.
Dropping down fast!
Follow the steps...
Rock to rock...
As I made it down to the vista of the ski slope and the end of the steep, challenging section, I was crossing paths with many hikers that were headed up the mountain, and it was a bit awkward to answer their "Not too much further, right?" questions when we passed.  I definitely didn't want to ruin the surprise for them (or dissuade them from continuing on), but just encouraged them to keep moving up, and the view at the top is totally worth the effort.

The afternoon light changed the appearance of the forest, and the same trail I had traversed in the morning seemed different in the life of the afternoon and the additional people on the trail.  It really is one of the small, yet magical, parts of spending a day on the trails, because the same stretch of trail can change drastically with different light, or just generally a different vibe when experiencing it during a different part of the day.

From the vista switchback, I headed down the short steep trail section to the water at the Tecumseh Brook crossing and took a few extra minutes to relax and dunk my bandanna in the cold water for a refreshing break.

From there I walked for a while with a couple that was moving at about the same pace, and we clicked off the last mile quickly, making it back to the dry crossing of Tecumseh Brook in what seemed like very little time.  It was definitely a nice landmark to reach because I knew I was almost home!
I can smell the barn, and the post hike pizza!
Inspired, my weary legs quickly moved down the rest of the trail, over the small brook crossing, and out of the woods to the parking lot.  As I looked to my left upon exiting the trail, again the Tripyramids loomed, beckoning me to come take the challenge.  I laughed a little, because Tecumseh provided a great day of hiking and adventure, and was a fantastic choice for this beautiful day.

Some other day, Tripyramids...
With the completion of Tecumseh, I add another peak to my list of bagged peaks in pursuit of the New Hampshire 4000 footers, the New England 4000 footers, and the New England 100 Highest lists.  Once again, hiking in the Whites has proved to me that one cannot expect anything when they head out on the trail, because each trail has its own personality and provides a unique experience.

Tecumseh was a great day of adventure, and provided a nice capstone to a weekend with two summits, and a third weekend in a row where I have had the privilege to be hiking in the Whites.

Tecumseh by the Numbers

Mount Tecumseh, Elevation 4,003 ft.
NH 4000 footers: #6 of 48 (Tecumseh elevation rank 48th)
NE 4000 footers: #7 of 67 (Tecumseh ranked 67th)
NE 100 Highest: #7 of 100 (Tecumseh ranked 67th)

Start time:  9:20 a.m.
End time: 2:44 p.m.
Trip time:  5 h, 24 m

Ascent: 1:58
Descent (minus Sosman): 1:38
Sosman Spur (Round Trip): 0:31

Total Distance covered (Garmin): 6.55 mi., Map Miles: 6 mi.

Starting Elevation:  ~1850 ft.
Summit:  4003 ft.
Gain-Loss: ~2153 ft.

Hike Log - Time & Distances

Trailhead   0.00 mi.   9:20 a.m.
Tecumseh Brook Crossing   1.13 mi.   10:05 a.m.
Intersection Sosman Trail / Mt. Tecumseh Trail   2.2 mi.   11:01 a.m.
Mount Tecumseh Summit  2.72 mi.   11:18 a.m.
Leave Summit   2.72 mi.   12:04 p.m.
Leave Summit after wandering to view   2.82 mi.   12:18 p.m.
Intersection Sosman Trail / Mt. Tecumseh Trail   3.34 mi.   12:30 p.m.
End of Sosman /Ski Slope Top   3.84 mi.   12:45 p.m.
Leave Sosman / Ski Slope Top   3.84 mi.   1:02 p.m.
Intersection Sosman Trail / Mt. Tecumseh Trail   4.35 mi.   1:18 p.m.
Tecumseh Brook Crossing   5.42 mi.   2:05 p.m.
Leave Tecumseh Brook Crossing   5.42 mi.   2:08 p.m.
Trailhead   6.55 mi.   2:44 p.m.