Mts. Whiteface and Passaconaway

Submitted by Pat

Mountains: Mts. Whiteface (4,020) and Passaconaway (4,043)
Date: May 6, 2006
Time: 9 hours and 30 minutes
Miles: 11.9
Elevation Gain: 3,747
Steps: 36,535
Trails: Blueberry Ledges -- Rollins Trail -- Dicey's Mill Trail
Holy Shit Factor: high on the Ledges

Picture Gallery

Nancy and I climbed Mts. Whiteface and Passaconaway yesterday - our first two 4,000 footers in New England. Were we psyched? You betcha.

I am up at 4:30 and see false dawn (I hear the Woodcock's mating song) before heading to Nancy's for our 6 a.m. take off. She is up, ready and awake. The drive up goes quickly, although Map Quest took us 15 minutes off course. The country in the Sandwich, NH area is beautiful. Mountains everywhere. Beautiful homesteads. We pass though Holderness where my father went to school and see Squam Lake where they filmed On Golden Pond. We even see a moose. I see her on the side of the road, make Nancy stop and turn around so she can see this wonderful young female. Wow.

We find the trailhead without a problem and see a couple of folks getting ready for their hike as we march out, big smiles on our faces, happy and ready to go. We strip to shorts and short sleeves - well, I do - Nancy is in shorts, a sleeveless shirt and a thin fleece. We start hiking at exactly 9 a.m.

As we climb higher we see wildflowers, mostly red trillium, something yellow that looks like a Johnny Jump Up, and Yellow Trout Lilies, as well as Hobble Bushes blossoming in white and yellow. The trail starts off at a reasonable pace, not too much steep immediate up hill so we warm up nicely. Then we start to climb a trail called Blueberry Ledges and it is true to its name - Lots of ledges and the uphill climb is pretty grueling. We are both drenched in sweat - Nancy sweats on her head and face and I sweat all over, hands, arms, legs, torso, face and head.

Both of us feel strong, I much stronger than I did on our 19 mile hike last Saturday and she a bit less, so we equaled out nicely. We trade the lead as we trudge up the ridge. We stop at our first overlook and eat an apple. It has been hours since we ate breakfast and it tastes delicious. It feels great to take those heavy packs off for a while. The folks we met in the parking lot pass by and we chat - they are friendly, experienced hikers. We catch up to them at their next rest spot and hike on until we come to a series of difficult scrambles.

Scrambles are rock climbing areas that force you to climb with hands and feet. Steep and challenging to find handholds, short pitches that put my adrenalin in overdrive. I am stoked. Me, with my fear of heights. Nancy, who has skydived and bungee jumped, meets fear as she leads us up the first pitch. I ask if she is ok and she says she is scared, pure unadulterated scared. I ask if it would help if I go first so she can see what I do and copy me. She says yes, that would be good, so I go first and she follows, bless her courageous heart. When she falters, I tell her to grab my hand and she does and she makes it. I feel strong and powerful and so in my body and heart that nothing can stop me. I am amazed that someone in so much fear is able to hear me or see me. The views from the Ledges are amazing.

Once up, the view is astounding, amazing, wondrous, perfect. I am so happy to be me, in that place, with Nancy, seeing what I am seeing. I feel blessed. The other hikers find us again and we chat about the wondrous view and what we are seeing - like what mountain is that and what mountain is that? - before moving on toward the top. One of the guys invites us to eat with them - and during that conversation a great quote is spoken: "There aren't too many assholes at 3,000 feet." We feel like members of an elite club. Our apple has filled us for the moment so we move on.

Whiteface has a treeless top, perfect for lunch, but we are not hungry after our apple so when they showed up, we ask them to take a picture of us and move on over the ridge that forms the cirque that is the Wonalancet Bowl and connects to Passaconaway.

OK, so it's 70+ degrees and we are in shorts and short sleeve shirts when we start crossing this ridge. All of a sudden the trail is filled with ice and packed down snow. Dang, it's slippery. We put on our Stabilicers (plastic foot beds with cleats on the bottom and Velcro straps on top that fit over our boots) and hike comfortably up and down the ridge. At one point, I post-hole (step onto rotten snow and my leg falls through up to mid-thigh) which is not fun because the snow is mostly ice crystals and those ice crystals are sharp. When Nancy finally helps me out my lower leg is kind of nasty looking. Then she falls in and I take her picture. Payback.

The Stabilicers I had on are Mary's; they are too small and the cleats are too worn down. They do okay on the flat but on steep downhill pitches, I am scared. Nancy is in front and waits for me as I inch my way sideways down a steep, iced over rock. Suddenly the cleats let go and I fall on my right side - bang and slide down for maybe 5-6 feet all the while grabbing for something to stop me. I've fallen hiking before, but not so that I lose control of my descent. I bruise my right hip, bruise the right side of my right knee and land with my left shin smashing down onto a root that says a most definite Howdy. Nancy is freaked but I tell her I am fine - we had promised that we wouldn't lie about stuff like this so I don't. I tell her that I am a bit bruised but otherwise fine and good to go.

By this time, Nancy has fallen once herself although in a less damaging fashion. Her butt is going to be sore tomorrow. Anyway, on we go and as our hunger becomes more insistent we begin looking for some view spot, overlook, anything besides the tight trail surrounded by hemlocks that we are walking, to eat our lunch. Just as we are about to give in and stop at a very mediocre spot, I move on up the trail another hundred feet and find a lookout of the highest order. A large rock, with a sheer drop and views to die for. We take off boots and socks and eat our sandwiches and carrots and drink our Gatorade and feel like a million bucks. 1:16 p.m. - Lunch stop.

The group behind us catches up after a while, each person making a comment (a nice one) as they go by. Finally we gear up and head out the Rollins Trail toward Passaconaway. This peak, when we look at it from Whiteface and our lunch spot, looks inhumanly far away. It is like, "No way, man." But onward we go with the narrow trail undulating all the way. We reach our hiking friends again and pass them as we head up toward Passaconaway's summit. Up and up and up and although we take our stabilicers off we have to put them on again to get up to the summit, which to our dismay is not even marked. So we stand there among the trees and hi-five before heading down to a nearby overlook. Passaconaway summit: 3:15 p.m.

Again we take off boots and socks - I change my socks for dry ones - and sit on a warm rock to inhale every moment of the view and the experience. A junco comes close to us, perhaps looking for food, but he is brazen and wonderful in his wildness. After 20 minutes of rest and a snack of carrots we look at each other and say, ok, it's time to head down now and so we do at 3:53 p.m.

Down and down and down and down, steep and gradual and steep and gradual and finally it is just gradual and then almost flat. We trade the lead every half mile or so - it is hard to tell. Our knees are talking to us, but we ignore them and keep walking. Mile after mile after mile until Nancy says to me on a lead change, "OK, take us to the parking lot", and from there I walk and walk and it feels like freakin' forever before we finally leave the woods and step onto a private landowner's road with still another .7 miles to our car. This is a hard time for us - long, interminable descents toward the end of a hike. Nancy keeps exclaiming about the beauty, the weather, the perfect temperature, the breeze. Then we both lose it and start talking about how goddamn long the trail is and will it ever end.

Yes, we can do this - at this point Nancy is ahead of me, my knees decide they are too old and too tired to continue at that pace, any pace, any longer. I trudge a couple of steps behind her until we reach the car. Oh joy, oh bliss - taking off our boots, putting on sneakers, using the port-o-potty, and actually sitting down is heaven. We reach the parking lot at 6:30 p.m.

From there we drive to Ashland (and it takes forever) and Nancy buys me dinner at the Common Man - that's when and where we realized that next time we will just bring food to eat for dinner and save the hour of driving that we suffer through afterward. Too much food and off we drive toward Keene. We arrive at her house at 11 p.m. and I still have a half hour drive ahead of me. No problem, although once I get home I can't wind down so I don't get in bed until midnight.

We have perfect weather, manage our time and friendship with alacrity and poise, and knock two 4,000 footers out of 67 off our list. Are we psyched? You bet.

2 of NH 48
2 of 67 in NE
2 of the NE 100 Highest