Despite the rising temperatures and spring being fully entrenched in most of New England, I haven’t had much time for hiking recently. Aside from a few walks around Portland, I’ve mostly been frantically working the last bugs from the iPhone apps. A few days ago I made a break for the Caribou Mountain at the east end of the White Mountains.
I left Portland late, just before 7, arriving in Gilead at the end of Bog Road a little before 9. The trail is on an unplowed Forest Service road, so I parked at Pooh Corner Farms, the end of the plowed part of the road. The owner of Pooh Corner (not a bear) was kind enough to let me use the parking spaces for the store while I climbed the mountain, since she wasn’t expecting a busy day of business.
After several warm days and cold nights, the snow was rock solid in the morning, but crusty and rotten underneath. I used microspikes until the trail turned off of the logging road, and immediately started breaking through the top layer of crust. I switched to snowshoes for the rest of the trip, which kept me afloat on what felt like ice for the rest of the trip to the top. I could tell the firm top layer wouldn’t last long.
It was already well above 40 degrees by the time I reached the edge of Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness, climbing incredibly steep trail on untouched snow. There had been evidence of previous foot traffic below the wilderness boundary, but it couldn’t have been less than a week old. I had the wilderness entirely to myself, not unlike my last trip there, except this time with snow at the opposite end of the season.
With the solid crust and deep snow, I lost the trail several times. In places, the snow was drifted so high that it would have been impossible to follow the actual trail in any circumstance, so I aimed for the high ground in the direction of Caribou Mountain and trudged up in the most open direction I could find. Partially because of the warm temperature, and partly because of the steep climb, I was down to a tee-shirt with no gloves or hat, and I had the vents open on my pants, but I still poured sweat. The snow became less solid, as well, making the going more difficult.
The reward was the rocky, open summit of Caribou Mountain. It’s not a tall mountain, at less than 3000 feet, but just like Speckled Mountain to the south there are plenty of views to be had. The Presidential Range was socked in with clouds, but the Carter-Moriah Range, Baldfaces, Royces, and Mahoosuc Range all stood out right in front. I had a solitary front-row seat from the summit to the valleys of the Wild River and Androscoggin from the summit while I ate my lunch. Nothing could have been better.
Clouds moved in, and the temperature dropped, but my trip down was plagued by soft snow. Even with the snowshoes and a lighter pack (no food or water for the trip down), I sank into the snow in many places, sometimes up to mid-shin. Spring is a rough time for hiking, when the snow isn’t good for snowshoeing, but it’s terrible for bare-booting. I usually avoid it and stick to roads for biking, but this season I’m training for big miles on the AT. Maybe the extra difficulty in the snow this month will just be a good exercise. We’ll see.