Finally, over the weekend of August 22nd and 23rd, I was able to break away from other commitments and head up north for a weekend backpacking trip. I cannot recall being this late into the year before actually getting out and going backpacking. Both of my sons decided to accompany me on this trip, as none of us had been to the summit of Mt. Carrigain before. While Mt. Carrigain can be done as an "out-and-back" dayhike, we decided to make a longer, more scenic loop, which afforded us the opportunity to hike through Carrigain Notch.
Saturday, August 22 (8.6 miles). The AMC Guide mentioned that a section of Signal Ridge Trail's access road had been washed away and may or may not have been repaired. When we arrived at the turnoff for the road, it was indeed closed, and a parking lot had been added at that location so hikers would have a place to park. The closed access road would mean an extra two miles of hiking each way.
By mid-morning, we were on our way. The two miles of dirt road meandered along a river, and we passed a few abandoned building foundations along the way, which we probably would not have noticed if we'd been traveling this section by car. The washed out section of the road wasn't difficult to navigate; there was still enough road to enable an automobile to pass through (in fact, an house exists along this road beyond the washout, and the occupants possess a key to the gate).
I was wearing a new pair of hiking boots I'd purchased over the winter--my feet had somehow grown in size over the past couple of years, and my trusty One Sport Moraine's no longer fit. My new boots, a pair of La Sportiva Makalu's that are crampon compatible (and therefore quite stiff), were clearly going to give me some nice blisters on this trip, so I decided to shed them in favor of a pair of Teva sandals in order to postpone the inevitable. After two miles of road-walking, we arrived at the trailhead of Signal Ridge Trail, which is a 5-mile trail that goes up over Signal Ridge (duh!) to the summit of Mt. Carrigain. There are several brook crossings over the first section of Signal Ridge Trail which were made easier by the low water level. At the 1.7 mile mark, we came to the junction of Carrigain Notch Trail, which we took.
Carrigain Notch Trail climbs gradually through Carrigain Notch (a steep valley that lies between Mt. Carrigain and Vose Spur) to height-of-land (hey, the AMC guide uses the phrase, so I will too), and then descends to a junction with Ethan Pond Trail, and almost immediately afterwards, a junction with Desolation Trail. While we were hiking through Carrigain Notch, we passed a forest ranger, who was kind enough to explain the rules regarding campsite location--I already knew the rules, but it was nice to see someone out there enforcing them. Once on Desolation Trail we immediately began looking for a campsite, because we wanted to camp nearby a water source. We found a promising location almost immediately, which was an easy 200 feet away from the water, but was perhaps just a shade closer than that to the trail. We were out of sight of the trail though, and so we began setting up camp.
Sunday, August 23 (8.8 miles). We were up early, fed, watered, packed, organized, and on the trail by 8:30 am. Almost immediately, Desolation Trail veers to the left and begins climbing steadily (and steeply) towards the summit of Mt. Carrigain. Desolation Trail is steeper than Signal Ridge Trail (the trail we would later take to descend), but we chose a counterclockwise loop because we were worried that going down Desolation Trail would be more difficult than going up. The AMC White Mountain Guide warns against descending Desolation Trail, particularly with a pack. We were very glad we chose to go the way we did.
Eventually we found ourselves on the summit of Mt. Carrigain, which has unobstructed views to the North and South. An observation deck sits on the summit, and the additional altitude (15 or 20 feet) allows for a fantastic, 360 degree view of the White Mountains. All of the peaks were in the clear except for Mt. Washington, and I was amazed at how many peaks I could see and identify. Except for some of the Northern Presidentials, and some other, lesser peaks, I believe I could see almost everything. Chocura, Whiteface, and the Tripyramids to the south along with the two Osceolas; the peaks along both sides of Franconia Notch as well as Owl's Head and the horseshoe of taller peaks that surround it to the northwest; and the southern Presidentials and eastern summits (the Carters and Wildcats) to the northeast. It was a spectacular view.
After about an hour on the summit, we began to load up to head back down to civilization. Signal Ridge Trail drops down quickly from the summit, and then hits a flat area as it travels along Signal Ridge. From here, the view back to the summit was exceptional; it made us almost wish we had ascended in this direction. Also, the view across Carrigain Notch to Vose Spur was nothing to sneeze at. The exposed rocks along the wall of Vose Spur looked great in the sunlight.
Signal Ridge Trail drops quickly down into a valley. Slightly over three miles from the summit, we arrived at the junction with Carrigain Notch Trail, which was the point where we had turned off of Signal Ridge Trail the day before. The loop portion of our trip was complete. All that was left was to hike out the remaining 1.7 miles of Signal Ridge Trail, and then road-walk the final two miles back to our car.
The weather had deteriorated quite a bit by this point, and by the time we reached the access road, it was raining lightly, but steadily. When we arrived back at the car, we discoverd that someone had stolen one of the windshield wipers (driver's side, of course). I have suffered theft, break-ins, or some sort of vandalism almost 10% of the time that I hike in the White Mountains. Given the fact that the National Forest Service is charging a $20 per year access fee, and are extremely proficient at ticketing noncomplying vehicles, it's a shame they can't do anything to help reduce crime at trailside parking lots. All in all, however, it was a great hike.
Total trip mileage, 17.4 miles
Copyright © 1998, David Lister