Carrigain was the destination of choice for Tuesday. A few hiking companions also had the whole day off too, so after our lists had been compared and the choices narrowed down, the weather checked, and a carpool set up, we were off to hike Carrigain. I had only been to Carrigain once before on my all season 48 finisher, so I was happy about a return trip.
We got an early start at 7:30a, heading up Sawyer River Road for the two mile road walk to the Signal Ridge trailhead. The road walk was exactly what most road walks are, not totally interesting, but a good warm-up for the rest of the hike. This one had the added interest of being able to see through the leafless trees down to the river and to old brick foundations that you wouldn’t see in the summer due to the foliage if you were able to drive down the road. In less than an hour, we were at the Signal Ridge Trail ready for the next section of the hike. The trail had already been broken out by previous groups from the weekend, so snowshoes were mainly the traction of choice. Microspikes worked fine for one of my companions for the road walk and first section of trail. The first water crossing was nicely snowbridged and the first 1.7 miles to the junction of Signal Ridge and Carrigain Notch Trails was easy, with only a little elevation gain.
After a stop at the junction, we started the next section of the hike, the part that would actually take us up to Signal Ridge itself. We quickly completed the next few water crossings, some of which were partially bridged and one that wasn’t at all. The water was low, so the crossing was pretty easy with the exception of careful foot placement due to wearing snowshoes.
Then the ascent really began. And continued. For about 2.5 miles. I remembered this part as being long, and although it isn’t super steep, it is just long. Being mentally prepared for the long ascent is just as important as being physically prepared. With some careful pacing and breaks, we finally arrived at the beginning of the open section of Signal Ridge. It actually came up a bit quicker than I had thought, which was kind of nice! We stopped and geared up – we had experienced and heard the wind all morning, and knew as soon as we stepped out of the trees that it would be more intense than what we had already experienced. I could already tell it was colder than the lower elevations, and it was a good time to try out one of my latest hiking purchases, some gauntlet-style expedition mitts. My hands tend to get cold quickly and I know that staying ahead of the game by keeping them warm is much better than trying to warm them up after they’re already too cold. It took me a while to figure out how to use my hands due to the new added bulk, but I eventually got everything sorted out.
We stepped out into the wind, and while we enjoyed the views, we also had to pay close attention to what we were doing. Unfortunately, my goggles were not quite in place and the wind literally ripped them off my head. Fortunately, one of my quick and agile hiking partners pounced on them, or they’d be out in a ravine somewhere. As soon as he returned them to me (while I was still trying to sort out gloves, hiking poles and now a loose pair of goggles) and we started on our way, one of his snowshoes came unbuckled and he had to carefully and quickly scoot across one of the narrowest sections of the ridge into the safety of the trees.
Whew! We made it across, and were glad to be exposed for a short time with only minimal problems. Afterward, my companions provided some weather information: a temperature of 17 degrees, but with 30 mph winds. Certainly below zero with the windchill, but my hands were warm and certainly worth the purchase of the mitts! With all gear securely back in place, we hiked the last little bit up to the summit, enjoying the winter wonderland of a bluebird sky and heavily snow-laden trees. We arrived at the observation tower and were happy to be there in a reasonable amount of time, under 5 hours. Although the highest summits of the Presidentials and Franconias were in the clouds, on Carrigain there was plenty of sunshine, blue sky and loads of peaks to see! Two of us climbed the fire tower to experience the views and the wind, and to snap a few photos of ourselves.
After enjoying the summit it was time to descend, go back across the ridge, and make the long descent back to Sawyer River Road. This time the ridge was crossing was thankfully uneventful, with all the equipment staying in properly in place. It was actually much more enjoyable, too!
Then there was the descent. We picked up the pace and finally, just about when I felt my knees couldn’t take too much more, the trail leveled out and we were back at the stream crossings and trail junction. With a bite to eat and a brief break, we were on our way to the road. Once there, it was time for the walk out, which seemed much longer than the walk in that morning. Doesn’t it always?!? We saw a few groups snowmobiling, actually the only people we saw all day beside each other, and that was a nice bonus as the road had been packed out a bit by the snow machines. Back at the beginning of the road, we got the total trip time from the official timekeeper: 8 hours, 11 minutes. Not too bad for a winter 14 mile hike!
Thanks to my two wonderful companions, we had a great day of sunshine, blue skies, fun company and an overall good time tackling one of the longer winter hikes!
Special thanks to my companions, Greg and John, for not only a great day, but also for use of some their photos!