Mt. Carrigain by Desolation Trail (October 27, 2012)

9.5 hours
Sawyer Road, washout victim of hurricane Irene, had just reopened, facilitating the access to Mt. Carrigain. The standard climb up to Mt. Carrigain is in an out by the Signal Ridge Trail - I had done that twice before. This time Peter Wyatt and I wanted to do something more enterprising by going through Carrigain Notch into the Pemi Wilderness and then climbing the back side of Carrigain by the Desolation Trail. We set out on the very gradual climb up the Carrigain Notch Trail. All but the beech leaves were on the ground and we climbed in a world of orange and grey, with views of mountain outlines through the bare trees (left). As we approached the impressive V-shaped notch we followed a large dry river bed (right), an incongruous sight as this does not seem like an area subject to flash flooding.
Carrigain Notch has very sharp walls, as can be appreciated by the famous view from Zeacliff, and we had hoped for great views of these walls through the bare trees, but alas as we got to the notch the forest turned to spruce/fir and little view was to be had. There were still occasional glimpses of Vose Spur (left), which flanks the notch on the left, and cliffy Mt. Lowell (right), which flanks it on the right.
The notch marks the entrance of the Pemi Wilderness (left) and from there we descended into the Pemi Valley. We met a lone hiker (our second of the day) who had done our circuit in reverse and spent a night in the woods. He was planning to hike up Vose Spur before exiting. Vose Spur is part of the "New England 100" which assures it a clientele. It has no trail to the top but apparently there is some herd path. This was enough for Peter and I to put it on our list of future hikes. We continued down into the valley as the Carrigain Notch Trail followed old and straight logging roads (right) until we reached the junction with the Desolation Trail.
Now the fun was about to begin, as the Desolation Trail is depicted by the AMC Guide in very dire terms - very rough, steep, slippery, all those things. The beginning of the climb, up to 3,500 feet, was in fact very gradual as the trail still followed an abandoned logging road. In some places there was an abandoned telephone wire sticking out from the ground - the line that ran along the road. But then at 3,500 feet the road stopped and the trail all of a sudden got much tougher - steep rocky scrambles requiring hands and feet (left). That went one for about 300 feet and then the trail became distinctly less rough - still steep but nothing out of the ordinary, just a no-nonsense New Hampshire trail shooting straight up the mountain. The AMC Guide advertised this as an area of virgin pine forest and indeed there were a lot of big trees and a mess of downed trees (right).
Thus we got to the top of Carrigain at 4,700 feet. So far we had only seen two hikers all day but we found the top of Carrigain to be overrun by a large and loud group of dog-lovers. Fortunately the dogs did not care to climb the fire tower and so Peter and I headed up there for peace and quiet and wind and great 360 degree views (left).
The tower initially put us at the base of a fog bank rushing up the mountain from the east, but eventually the fog lifted. We had hazy views NW toward Zealand, the Bonds, and Franconia Ridge ( above right) and great views of Crawford Notch just to our north (left). Carrigain Notch, from where we had just come, was hidden by Vose Spur (right). Views were clearer last time I was at Carrigain, but the billowing fog this time added to the experience.
After we had our fill of views we came back down (gone were the dogs) and proceeded down to Signal Ridge, an open shoulder of Mt. Carrigain (left) with more outstanding views. From Signal Ridge we had a better view of Carrigain Notch (right) than from the top. We also had views to the east towards Conway (bottom left) and looking back toward Mt. Carrigain (right). On my previous visit to Signal Ridge I had noted that you could see four ski areas but this time it was too hazy - all we could make out were Attitash and Cranmore to the east. After again getting our fill of views we made the uninteresting trek down Signal Ridge and back into the lowlands, where a newly rerouted trail made use meander until we finally got to Carrigan Notch Trail for the easy trek back to Sawyer Rd.

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