On Saturday, we tackled our second consecutive weekend of hiking. This trip was just Ben and myself as we visited an old friend in an old neighborhood – the Royces in Evans Notch. East Royce in particular we’ve been on a couple of times. The first time was in winter when we suffered a failed attempt which was due largely to poor planning and execution (hiker’s hint: don’t plan an 8 mile snowshoe for 5 hours of daylight and remember to bring food). We then revisited a couple of years ago over Memorial Day weekend we ended up finishing but that was at the height of my leg issues and it was definitely a struggle. By tackling both East and West Royce we also had a unique hike in that the peak for East Royce is in Maine and the West Royce peak is in New Hampshire.
The trail starts nice and flat with a few crosses of the Mad River. Then the climb follows a spine that parallels the Mad River and has a couple of turn outs for some nice waterfall views. The grade was pretty moderate with some decent steep sections. Like last week, we made really strong time up to the connector trail as we broke off towards East Royce. This is also when we first met the snow. After last week’s adventure I was not terribly pleased by this. Even worse than last week however, these trails were not nearly as packed down and the snow was much softer. We hustled as quick as we could, climbing up the final approach to East Royce. We made good time over the first 3.4 miles and 2500′ feet in just under 3 hours.
We made good time over the Royce Connector back to the Royce Trail and this is where things started to go sideways. Just about the entire path from the Connector to the peak of West Royce had snow in it. And just about all that snow was the sort of packed, mostly loose post hole material. While it took us less than three hours to go 3.4 miles and 2500′ of gain for the first leg of the hike, this leg took us over 2.5 hours to go down 500 feet and back up 600 feet across 2.4 miles. It was also the first time that I became frustrated at being on the trail. I was leading the way and knew that we were moving slow. Every few steps would result in a post hole that would range from ankle-deep to hip deep. On top of that it was very hard to follow the trail as there were very few blazes and there was a lot of winter blow down which was in the way. As I mentioned in the Moriah report post holing can get you hurt with your knee or ankle getting jacked up. But it also scrapes and bruises your shins and legs and gets your feet soaked. Additionally it is physically exhausting to battle through that much post holing and it definitely took its toll on us.
After a brief lunch and visit with some fellow hikers who followed our footsteps up West Royce we headed off and started down the Basin Rim Trail. This trail follows a ridge which looks out over the Basin Pond. This trail had more snow on it, although on the south side of the mountains it was not as deep and easier to move through and over. We also met some pretty decent blow downs which completely obscured the trail. Twice we had to take the packs off, break off branches and crawl through tangles of downed trees. Finally, we got below the snow line and beyond the blow down. But by that point we were battered, bruised, scraped up and exhausted. We mustered up as much as we could and dug deep. Ultimately however, we finished in a little over 9 hours.
As we were walking back to the car Ben laughed as he reminded me that the Traverse is more than twice as long, three times the elevation gain and we would have only 4 more hours to complete it.
I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me.