Sunday, August 31, 2014

In which Zahnna climbs North Twin (#32)
but South Twin summit (#33) proves elusive

Zahnna near the summit of North Twin, gazing at the unattainable summit of South Twin in the distance.

Today (Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014), Zahnna and Inca trekked to the summit of North Twin Mountain, 4,761 feet above sea level. This put Zahnna at #32 on the list of the 48 N.H. peaks above 4,000 feet, so she's two-thirds of the way there.

Zahnna and Inca did not, however, make the summit of nearby South Twin Mountain. Ledges between the two peaks proved too much for a 12-year-old German Shepherd to traverse safely, either up or down.

So we turned back. We'll get South Twin some other day, some other way.

Eventful hike: three dramatic river crossings in the first few miles, and then a mountain fly that divebombed straight into my right ear and stayed there. Finally came out, but for awhile I swear it was still in there, trying to burrow further. Yeesh!

Weather: warm, dry, and sunny—but that would change as we climbed.

On the river crossings: I'm told these are potentially the most difficult of any White Mountains trail, and I wouldn't be surprised. Even in late August, at low water, the Little River comes rushing out of the mountains with impressive power. (Who picked that name, anyway?)

Inca hadn't ever encountered that much water moving so fast. After nearly getting swept away by the current, she realized the value of rock-hopping, at which she proved pretty good.

"That's one sure-footed dog," exclaimed an older gentleman on the opposite bank who watched us hop our way across. (Zahnna, true to form, just waded through.)

A great view is no competition for a good smell.

Typical for the Whites, trail just below summit goes over a tough escarpment that proved impossible for Zahnna. So I tied Inca to a tree above and scrambled down to give a boost that turned into an exercise in muddy full-body canine lifting.

Zahnna doesn't like being picked up, especially on a narrow ridge at 4,600 feet. So the poor dog freaked. She got over it quickly, but this used up everyone's patience for any more such escapades.

Summit area of North Twin packed with gnarled krummholz. The place looks like a Christmas tree farm just gone to hell. Trail follows level flat area on ridge, which (when you could see) seems like the crest of an immense wave of stunted pine trees that fall away on all sides.

At the North Twin summit: #32 for Zahnna, #4 for Inca.

No view at summit cairn, but great outlooks nearby via side paths. From these, you could see South Twin summit, just over a mile away.

Well, sort of. Blue skies still ruled above, but low-level overcast was blowing from the south out of the Pemigewasset wilderness, up and over South Twin, putting the open summit in and out wind-driven clouds.

And where we were, a stiff wind was gusting probably to 30 mph, pushing scraps of clouds and chilly fog up from the valley below and directly past us, like a fog machine in a theater. Sudden realization after sweating our way up to the ridge: it was cold! So hypothermia was another factor in our eventual decision to turn back.

Also, time. Later-than-planned start got us to the trailhead at 8:30 a.m. We made it to the North Twin summit sometime shortly after 11 a.m. Getting to South Twin and back would add at least two hours, and we were due back at home base by late afternoon.

Still, I figured we'd push on. What sealed the "turn back" call was what happened next: heading south off the summit on the "North Twin Spur," the trail ran over two rocky ledges that were difficult for Zahnna to handle, causing her to grunt loudly each time she landed. Not a good sign.

And then we found ourselves staring down a "chimney," meaning a steep pitch of bare rock that requires a hiker to use all available limbs to ascend or descend.

It looked like 30 feet to the bottom, where the path twisted away at a weird angle to God-only-knows what next. There was no way Zahnna could make it down safely, never mind up. So that was that.

But no biggie. I have to keep reminding myself it's amazing we get as far as we do on these adventures. With an aging German Shepherd, any trail at any time is liable to be a dead end.

So returned to the North Twin Summit, but not before having to boost poor Zahnna back up the two ledges she'd just scrambled down. Ooof! But with time pressure no longer an issue, and with the wind letting up for the moment, we settled onto a vertiginous ledge for snacks and water.

Inca explores the North Twin summit ledges.

And there it was again, behind us, and now in the clear: the bare peak of South Twin, 4,902 feet (eighth tallest summit in the Whites) rising from the krummholz, some distance away but close enough for human silhouettes to be visible moving about the summit. Maybe next time. As they say, the mountain will still be there.

Lower part of the North Twin trail is mostly on a former railroad bed, making it a real racetrack. So, on the way back, after finishing the last river crossing, we ran the final mile or so, getting us to the trailhead at 2:30 p.m.

Mooch in silhouette: You got any food on ya?

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