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 Dry River/Southern Presi Backpack 9/30 - 10/2 
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Peak Bagger
Peak Bagger

Joined: Sun Jun 27, 2010 5:03 pm
Posts: 254
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 Dry River/Southern Presi Backpack 9/30 - 10/2
It's disappointing to see how few trip reports are posted on the site anymore, and I'm as much to blame as anyone for that. In my case, one of the reasons is that I didn't have a chance to do any really interesting hiking in NH this year (although my wife and I did do some fabulous hiking in Mt Rainier National Park and North Cascades National Park in August). Summer flew by as usual, and I hadn't done any backpacking. I wanted to get at least one trip in before the snow flies, and my son was up for it too, and the weather forecast for the weekend was pretty good. We evaluated several options and finally decided on a Dry River trip with a partial traverse of the Southern Presidentials. I'm not used to carrying a heavy pack, and I'm not getting any younger, so in an attempt to save a few ounces, I didn't bring a camera and just took a few pictures with my phone.

It was cool and cloudy on Saturday as we drove up, and it actually rained for a good portion of the drive. Weather.com had said that the rain should stop around 9:00 AM in the north country. Well, it was still raining at noon, but it was dry when we arrived at the trailhead on Rte 302 in Crawford Notch around 1:00. Our plan for Saturday was to hike to Dry River Shelter #3 and spend the night there. I had hiked the lower portion of the Dry River Trail a couple of years ago, up to Dry River Falls, but had not been on the trail north of that point. I like the trail a lot, especially the original sections. But there are a lot of short relocations that were necessitated by the damage from Tropical Storm Irene, and some of these are a little sketchy - typically rough, muddy, and steep up and down on the river bank to bypass a section of the old trail that was washed out. The skies looked threatening a few times during the day, but fortunately we didn't get any rain. We stopped at Dry River Falls on the way up:

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The WMG says it's 6.3 miles to the shelter; my GPS said 6.6 miles, so it's somewhere in there, with 2200 feet of elevation gain. We made great time, arriving around 4:00. It's a great shelter, in a nice spot right on the river with a firepit in front, and there was nobody else there:

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We rested for a while, then ate dinner. I had collected some sticks and we had a small campfire. It was only enough wood for a half hour or so, but it was enough to warm us up and dry out our socks. By then it was backpacker bedtime (7:30 or so). The temperature dipped into the 30s overnight, but we slept pretty well to the sounds of the river.

On Sunday, our plan was to climb the Oakes Gulf headwall to the Crawford Path, then hike over Mt Monroe, Mt Eisenhower, and Mt Pierce on the way to the Nauman Tentsite next to the Mitzpah Spring AMC hut. The climb up to Lakes of the Clouds had about the same elevation gain as our Saturday hike to the shelter, but in about half the mileage (3.3 miles), so it was much steeper. Partway up, the trail leaves the river and we started to get views of the headwall through an area of dead trees:

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Eventually we broke out of the scrub into the rocky climb at the top:

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The summit of Mt Washington came into view, looking almost close enough to touch:

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The air was crystal clear and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. But the wind was really blowing near the top, coming in from the west so it hit us right in our faces as we reached the ridge. That's when the winter hats and gloves came out (although my son insisted in wearing shorts for practically the entire hike). When you reach the top of the headwall, you get a great view of the Lake, the hut, and the mountains beyond. The trail follows right along the south side of the lake to the hut:

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The hut is closed for the season, but it was nice sitting on the benches in the sun while the building protected us from the wind. I checked the MWOBS website and saw that it was 40 degrees at the summit with 30 to 35 MPH wind speeds. I thought the wind felt pretty strong. I can't even imagine what it was like for all those people on the Caribbean islands when the Category 5 hurricanes came through.

We wanted to hit the summits, but we had never hiked the short sections of the Crawford Path that bypass the summits. Neither of us ever expects to redline the WMNF, but we figured that we had to do those Crawford Path sections while we were up there. So we left our packs and climbed the north side of the Mt Monroe Loop to the peak, then came back down and walked the Crawford Path around the summit. Same thing at Eisenhower, but in reverse: we walked the Crawford Path around the summit, then up the south side of the Loop to the summit and back down. We ran into a few people at Lakes, and a few more on Monroe, but very few for the rest of the hike. It was great to have this beautiful section of the Presidential Range almost to ourselves on such a nice day:

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We continued on to Pierce, stopped briefly to say hello to the gray jays, then on to Mitzpah Spring. We stopped in at the hut briefly (where they had one single guest registered for the night), then picked out a nice tent platform:

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It was about 4:00 and we were the first ones there. I thought we would be the only ones, but to my surprise, a number of other campers trickled in over the next few hours, and about six platforms were occupied. This is a nice place to camp too. In the morning, we had gray jays who joined us for breakfast at the campsite (the picture isn't great because I had to take it with my right hand while the gray jay was landing on my left hand):

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We weren't sure what route we were going to take on Monday back to Rte 302. One option was to hike over Jackson and Webster and down the Webster Cliff Trail. But I wasn't crazy about descending that trail with heavy packs, and we weren't sure we wanted a hike that ambitious for the third day. Another option was the Mt Clinton Trail down to the Dry River and then back out the way we came. I was a little wary of this route, because I remembered Granite Guy's and Gibba's report from a couple of years ago, and I think they said it was muddy, not in great shape, and sometimes difficult to follow. A third option was to take the Dry River Cutoff to the Dry River Trail. According to the WMG, this is much easier than the Mt Clinton Trail. I ended up asking a member of the hut croo, and he highly recommended the Mt Clinton Trail over the Dry River Cutoff. He said it was really nice and wasn't too difficult to follow, but you just have to pay attention at the river crossings.

In the end, we took his advice and started down the Mt Clinton Trail. This trail has some challenges, but I actually really liked it. There have obviously been a LOT of blowdowns over the years, but the trail crews have done a lot of great work to clear most of them:

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We found the tentsite that GG and Gibba mentioned in their report. It's a nice little spot, flat and decent sized, and seems like it would be a good place to camp. But it feels really remote, and I can't imagine that it gets used more than a few times a year (the site is just past that downed tree):

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The trail closely follows a tributary of the Dry River, and it crosses the brook MANY times on the way down. The crossings were easy for the most part, and you get lots of nice brook scenery, with the rocky streambed and many small cascades:

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There are also places where there a lot of downed trees, presumably from Irene:

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There are some significant muddy sections, and we did lose the trail a few times and had to backtrack to find it again. It's also pretty steep in sections. But overall, it's a good trail. At the bottom, the trail kind of just peters out and it wasn't clear where we were supposed to go. We were at a section of the Dry River where the riverbed is very wide, but the river itself isn't (at least not on this day). We knew we had to cross the river to get to the Dry River Trail, but we couldn't locate the trail on the other (east) side of the river. Eventually we saw a series of large cairns right in the riverbed on the west side (same side as the Mt Clinton Trail), and we followed them for a couple hundred yards and then saw where we were supposed to cross:

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The crossing wasn't difficult, but I don't think I'd want to be here in high water. The width of the riverbed indicates that this river is much bigger in high water, and I know that there have been drownings over the years.

Once we were on the Dry River Trail, we had about three more easy miles back to the trailhead on Rte 302. One thing that surprised me was the lack of color in the mountains. A few years ago, I did a backpacking trip through the Bonds on this same weekend, and the foliage was spectacular. And last time I was in the Dry River Wilderness two years ago, it was about one week later and the colors were great then too. This time, the predominant color was ..... green. There is a little color starting to come out along the river, so maybe it will be nice over the next few weeks:

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The final section of the hike went quickly. Here's a parting shot of the great suspension bridge that's about 1.7 miles from Rte 302:

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Back at the car at 11:30 and headed home. All in all a great trip, and it felt good to get an overnight trip in. Statistics (according to my GPS until the batteries died, then estimated via the WMG):
Day 1: 6.6 miles, 2329 ft elevation gain
Day 2: 9.8 miles, 3738 ft elevation gain
Day 3: 5.9 miles, 200 ft elevation gain


Wed Oct 04, 2017 10:35 pm
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Sovereign Woodsman

Joined: Sat Jul 28, 2012 2:40 pm
Posts: 1652
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 Re: Dry River/Southern Presi Backpack 9/30 - 10/2
Thanks for posting this! I miss everybody and their adventures. By the way, don't take Hike-NH literally, there have been reports from all over (check out Kathy's contribution earlier this year from out West).

Everything is late this year - we actually were baking peach pies with fresh peaches. And there are no cranberries in the stores yet. None at the Fryeburg Fair, either. I wonder if the cold wet spring pushed everything back, or something more sinister. However, there is some nice color along 16 going up north.


Fri Oct 06, 2017 1:32 am
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