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alpine zone

Mt Adams, September 2010

My plan was to ascend Mt Adams via King Ravine trail, weather permitting.
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After parking at Lowe's store and exchanging a few pleasantries with the folks inside (the employee who showed me her photos of the recent helicopter rescue and regaled me with tales of other recent evacuations; an elderly couple with Maine license plates whose grandson was finishing his 48 on Garfield), I stepped onto the trail at precisely the crack of noon.
you should see an image here Orchid on the trail: helleborine with one fruit.

When hiking solo on an easy trail, I allow my mind to wander. To my chagrin I found I had a song stuck in my head: "Airplanes".

Can we pretend that airplanes in the night sky
Are like shooting stars?
I could really use a wish right now

If Hayley Williams had been hiking beside me, I'd ask her what she meant by "pretend". Aren't airplanes already just like shooting stars, as far as wish-granting capabilities are concerned? As a matter of fact, aren't airplanes more effective than shooting stars at granting wishes that involve people travelling long distances? On the other hand, if you're wishing that a chunk of rock or metal would burn up in the atmosphere, then shooting stars are a lot more reliable.

From Lowe's Path I took a left turn onto King Ravine trail. Passing over a slight bulge while still west of Spur Brook at 2900 feet, I was intrigued to see that all the trees were very small. I couldn't figure out what happened to the older trees. It's an unlikely spot for an avalanche, and there was no evidence of logging (there were some large stumps, but they were broken, not cut).
you should see an image here Remaining on the King Ravine Trail, I crossed Spur Brook...
you should see an image here which became increasingly frothy...
you should see an image here culminating at Mossy Fall.
Soon I began experiencing the bouldery chaos under which the floor of King Ravine is buried. There are two sections of particularly large boulders, I'll call them the Lower and Upper Jumbles. I had reached the Lower Jumble.
you should see an image here Shortly I had a view ahead. The clouds were low, but the weather seemed stable.
you should see an image here I left my pack by the trail while I climbed out onto some giant boulders to get a better view, and that's when it started raining. Then it started pouring.
By the time I had returned to my pack and covered myself and my gear in waterproof layers, the rain had diminished. The sky to the northeast was actually blue - but the wind was from the northwest. I had gambled on good weather when picking Mt Adams for my destination, and I'd even worn my summer shoes, which have terrible traction on wet rock. This could turn into a very long day. I made up my mind that unless the weather improved significantly, I'd turn off the King Ravine Trail and onto the shorter, easier Chemin des Dames.
you should see an image here Soon I was at the Upper Jumble, and I had a decent view of the Chemin des Dames, and Durand Ridge at its top which was out of the clouds.
you should see an image here I could only see part of the King Ravine Trail, due to heavy clouds which probably indicated wet rock. It's the Chemin des Dames for me.
you should see an image here But first I took a short detour to the entrance to the Subway. It looked like fun (and the interior was still dry), but I was anxious to make upward progress before the rain returned.
you should see an image here The sky to the north seemed to be clearing, but I didn't know how long that would last or what clouds might be hiden behind Norwell Ridge.
you should see an image here Once I'd started climbing up Chemin des Dames, the sun broke out.
The sun lifted my mood immensely, and I finally got that stupid "airplane" song out of my head as I began singing a tune from "Annie": The sun'll come out... tomorrow! Bet your bottom dollar that ... tomorrow... there'll be sun! There must be a reason why I hike solo so often...
you should see an image here Here's a photo of the Lower Jumble in sunlight.
you should see an image here Soon the clouds were lifting far enough that I could see Crag Camp.
For a trail named after one of the longest, bloodiest battles in history, the Chemin des Dames is a lot of fun. Generally there's no real exposure, but a fall would still result in injury, as the rocks are jagged with irregular gaps between them. My slippery shoes and awkward wooden hiking stick kept me engaged in searching for secure holds. As the rocks began to dry in the sun I picked up my pace.

The rocks weren't quite dry, though, and anyway my hiking stick is a plain wooden broomstick, with no rubber or metal tip to give it any grip on rock. I was leaning on the stick with my right hand when it slid out from under me, pitching me to the right. I caught myself on a boulder with my right hand, pushed off in almost a one-handed pushup, grabbed my hiking stick before it vanished downhill, tossed it ahead to safety, and caught myself with my right hand again. Thinking about it immediately afterward, I thought it must have looked pretty cool. But then I remembered the strange noise that had escaped my lips during this process - kind of a yelp, squeal, grunt, and moan all at once. I told myself that maybe, someday, the noise would be cool too. Maybe it would even be adopted as the kiyai of some esoteric school of kung fu.

Close-up of a length of heavy chain, loosely held in a burly fist. Pan at waist height while slowly zooming out, to reveal an assortment of clubs, knives, and similar weapons, held in a casually threatening manner by a gang of ruffians dressed mostly in black. As the camera retreats we see that the gang has cornered a slim young man dressed in white. The man in white drops into a martial arts stance. The gang members all laugh and raise their weapons. Then the young man gives a high-pitched, squealing, moaning, cry. Cut to weapons clattering on empty pavement as the gang members take to their heels - all except one rather thick-looking fellow. One of the other gangsters pauses his flight long enough to yell to him: "He knows Broomstick Style! RUN!"
you should see an image here Anyway, the Chemin des Dames was a fun scramble. Near the top there was a little keyhole to squeeze through, followed by a miniature catwalk; and then I could see the top of the trail.
you should see an image here A view of the King Ravine headwall from the top of Chemin des Dames.
Up on the ridge the wind was fierce; I had to adjust my grip on my broomstick to keep it from blowing out of my hand. I took a few steps north for a view, then sat on the lee of the ridge for a snack.
you should see an image here The longer I delayed, the more the sky cleared. Mt Madison became visible for the first time.
you should see an image here I had a good view of Crag Camp.
you should see an image here And of course a view down Durand Ridge toward the Crescent and Pliny Ranges.
you should see an image here Passing showers made a rainbow over Gorham.
you should see an image here As I climbed, the wind remained strong but not dangerous (it was blowing me away from the ravine), and the clouds continued to lift until Mt Madison was almost completely sunlit.
you should see an image here When I passed the top of the King Ravine trail it was in the sun, and nearly dry.
you should see an image here Once I crossed the Gulfside trail, however, I was heading into the clouds.
you should see an image here For a while I could still see the clear air below me.
you should see an image here A group of hikers passed below without seeing me.
you should see an image here The summit was completely fogged in, and had the fiercest wind yet
By luck I reached the summit about the same time as three hikers who were completing a Presidential traverse. We all huddled together in the lee of a boulder to rest for a few minutes before going our separate ways: they down to Madison hut (hoping for hot soup and their first glimpse of sunshine in hours), me down Lowe's Path for a long walk into the teeth of the wind.
you should see an image here Beginning my descent. Luckily the wind began to diminish.
you should see an image here Sunshine breaking through over Sam Adams peak.
you should see an image here My route: down to Adams 4 peak.
you should see an image here More sunlit clouds over Sam Adams.
you should see an image here Golden light at Thunderstorm Junction.
you should see an image here I love the alpine zone in the evening!
you should see an image here The light was beginnning to fade...
you should see an image here View to Mt Madison and J. Q. Adams peak.
you should see an image here Madison as silhouette.
Not long after I'd left the summit, the summit was briefly cloud-free, but I didn't care, I was enjoying the soft light, the views, and the opportunity to snack on wild berries. I was fully absorbed in a little patch of blueberries when from the corner of my eye I caught a blinding orange flash. The sun had emerged again and a wisp of cloud not half a kilometer from me was absolutely incandescent. Of course it was on the far side of a small ridge and drifting out of sight. I raced up the ridge to try to get a photo, but to no avail.
you should see an image here I did pause long enough to shoot Mt Madison in sunset light.
you should see an image here Madison and J.Q. Adams in the last of the direct sunlight.

I reached treeline just as it got dark, about 8:30. Congratulating myself on my timing, I put on my headlamp and headed down the trail. I'd forgotten that Lowe's Path is annoyingly damp and slabby from treeline down to about 3000 feet. After a few slips, I had to slow down, barely managing one mile per hour over this section of the trail, and cursing my choice of footwear once again. I made up only a little time in the lower stretches and reached the trailhead about 11 PM, the end of a great day in the mountains.