On Saturday morning I met Nancy at the winter parking lot for the Sawyer River Road near Crawford Notch bright and early, ready for my third and her first trip up Mount Carrigain. This was to be Nancy’s 67th and final New England Four-Thousand Footer, a list she’d been working on for several years. For the past few years, she’d had other hikes on her mind, like through-hikes of the John Muir Trail, the Long Trail, and the Cohos Trail– but this summer she decided to finally finish off her list.
|Cool temperatures and bright leaves, it’s starting to look like fall.|
She knocked out Owl’s Head in the summer, and then I accompanied her to Abraham and Redington in Maine, leaving only Carrigain for some unspecified date in the future. That day was last Saturday, and it proved to be a perfect autumn day for such a hike.
|Signal Ridge, and getting up to Carrigain.|
The Sawyer River Road is closed for repairs due to damage from Hurricane Irene last year, but it’s an easy walk up the two miles of dirt road. We cleared that in about half an hour without realizing the miles had flown by. Next up, a few miles more on the Signal Ridge Trail, which seems to have several small relocations. All fine work by either the Forest Service or Appalachian Mountain Club.
|Much clearer and less white than the last time I was here. Still a nice view.|
We planned to do the entire Carrigain Notch loop, but weren’t sure if the clearing skies would hold out, so we left the steep part for the way down. And by steep, I mean the Desolation Trail, with a 2300 foot descent over 1.6 miles. A knee-breaker for sure.
|Yeah, there we go. That’s a big climb.|
Carrigain has always been one of my favorite mountains in the Whites, even before I first climbed it. I was up there with Yvonne last winter, on an equally clear and windy day, although today was about forty degrees warmer. Either way, there are few finer views in the area.
Up top, early morning clouds had cleared in the mountains, leaving crystal clear views all the way to the far end of the Whites, where a dense sheet of fog hung over all of Maine. We were lucky, though. Leaves just starting to turn down below, warm air with a blustery wind, and some good company at the summit, as another hiker was just finishing his sixth round of 4000 footers (and with six more to go to complete his Grid).
|Looking down into the heart of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, and the Bonds. Whitewall Mountain is the slide on the right, looking much smaller than last week’s trip.|
The return trip was a pleasant walk in the woods, down into the Pemigewasset Wilderness and back through Carrigain Notch. There were several stream beds that showed evidence of last year’s disastrous rainfall, with huge banks carved out above the rivers and drainage channels that looked to be in entirely the wrong place. Still, the heart of the Pemi just below Carrigain is a beautiful forest, and feels much more remote than any other part of that wilderness.
|A few fun stream crossings that look a little wider than they used to.|
I didn’t realize quite how far we’d walked until we arrived at the Sawyer River Road again, and saw the sky darkening already. We hustled back to the cars, arriving just before we needed to pull out headlamps to light the way. A ten-hour hiking day had given us 18 miles of walking, and a hell of a 4000 foot mountain. Nancy has finished her big goal of hitting all the 4000 footers in the northeast. What’s next? I’m sure she’ll think of something.