Winter has finally arrived in the Whites… it’s about time.
I felt like racking up some miles today, and Whiteface and Passaconaway made sense for a few reasons.
- I could make a reasonably long trip out of them by way of an out and back on the Dicey’s Mill and Rollins trails – 13.2 miles on the trails, probably an even 13.5 including the walk from the lot to Dicey’s Mill trailhead
- I hadn’t been on either peak in calendar winter and I only have 12 left for the winter NH 4000 footers (10 now!)
- I had only been to Mt. Whiteface once, in June of 2010, one of only 4 (3 now!) NH 4000 footers I haven’t been to twice or more
- Whiteface was also the NH 4000 footer I had been to least recently – 5 and a half years
I left Newburyport nice and early and started hiking at 8:15. I’ve been on the junk food hard lately, so I wanted to hike fast as well as far. Once the legs were loosened up, I held a 4 mph pace for quite a while, almost to the junction with Rollins Trail at 3.4 miles.
This was not a difficult thing to do today. The trail was in great condition for speed. Just enough well packed snow to smooth things out and cover any ice. Dicey’s Mill Trail is also a pretty straight, gradual incline until you near the summit of Passaconaway. I track my progress by keeping an eye on Mt. Wonalancet.
So that I wouldn’t be tempted to get home earlier by taking the Blueberry Ledge Trail down when I got over there, I took off down the Rollins Trail when I reached it – I’d summit Passaconaway on the way back. This was an insurance policy… I wouldn’t likely descend Blueberry Ledge in these conditions alone anyway, knowing what the many ledges probably looked like (I’m picturing more ice than snow).
Ah, Rollins Trail. You beautiful, miserable thing. It’s a fun and pretty hike, but it feels like 5 miles, not 2. The 3 limited views you get on it at even intervals are nice though. They appear out of nowhere, you don’t realize you’re approaching a view, all of a sudden its just there. These would be nasty ones to get too close and slip up on – they’re on the tops of legitimate cliffs.
The first cliff-top view was a reminder to try out my new Hillsound “Trail Crampons”. FWIW- today was one of those “I’m going to hike however I want” days. I saw people barebooting, spiking, and snowshoeing, all very happily. I would have barebooted all day, but wanted to try the new gear.
After a grueling final climb to Whiteface’s summit, you’re rewarded with… this.
It’s like the Owl’s Head of the southern Whites. Low (4,020′), rugged, but without the satisfaction of being really far away from everything (?).
Continuing past the summit in this direction (south), you’ll get to some views on the ledges pretty quickly, but I didn’t do this today.
Heading back to the east on Rollins Trail, there’s a nice view of Passaconaway.
Passaconaway is only just over 4000 feet (4,043′), but it’s a big, wide pyramid/dome of a mountain – symmetrical and beautiful.
Back on Dicey’s Mill Trail, Passaconaway makes you work for the summit. It’s Tripyramid-esque, in that the terrain is at angles and grades that work your knees, and feels longer than .9 miles. I dropped my pack in the woods at the first big rock step (you know exactly where this is if you’ve been here before). I don’t usually do this. I’m not really sure why – just seems wrong. I guess I figure as soon as I’m at my farthest point from my pack, I’ll break a leg or something. Oh well, today I rolled the dice, in honor of the trail’s name.
There is a great view north near the summit. The Tripyramids, looking very symmetrical, appear to be a stone’s throw away. I could see the inverted wishbone-shaped slide on the east side of Franconia Ridge (but the summits were in cloud). Everything in between was looking good in a fresh coat of snow and some spotty rays of sunlight.
I was moving at a good clip on the flat sections of Rollins Trail, but went pretty slowly up Passaconaway, knowing as soon as I stepped off the summit, it was on. Just after the steeps descending from the summit, I put it in high gear. I was between 4 and 5 mph the whole way to the car from here, with one quick stop for water.
The stretch between the stream crossing on Dicey’s Mill Trail and the parking lot is a nice walk through flat woods and people’s yards. It’s one of my favorite low altitude spots in the Whites, and I usually find myself walking backward for the final stretch to the car. It’s like a living postcard you don’t want to look away from.
At 3:15 with tired legs and plenty of daylight to spare, I loaded up the car and headed for home.