By GORDON DUBOIS
As we were nearing the summit of SW Twin, we hit a wall of scrub fir that was as dense as anything I had ever experienced. Fran Maineri, my hiking partner, and I were stopped cold in out tracks. We had started our climb around 8:30 that morning and had made relatively good time climbing the western slope of this rarely climbed mountain. The temperatures were in the high 30s and a chill had penetrated our bodies as we attempted to bust through the thick undergrowth and blow-downs that resembled "pick–up-sticks". We only had a third of a mile left to reach the summit, after hiking from 13 Falls Campsite, via the Twin Brook Trail. As we tried to punch through the firs, our clothing became soaked with melting frost that dripped from the trees, as the sun warmed the air. It seemed almost impossible to continue as we struggled deeper into the fir barrier. Should we turn back, before we become hypothermic or continue on through the maze to reach the summit? Fran and I considered our options. I thought, "even if we make the summit, we have to find our way back through this impossible tangle of trees and blow downs". My legs ached and my clothes were soaked. I reached for my water bottle and it was gone, the last of my water, snatched from my pack by the arms of balsam fir that barred my way. Why go on? In the words of George Mallory, the noted British mountaineer who perished on his 3rd attempt to summit Mt Everest, "Because it's there."
Back in June I joined Beth Zimmer and Dave Unger for an attempt at summiting SW Twin, a 4,357 ft. mountain, located in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. The mountain is trail-less, therefore one must bushwhack using a map, compass and/or GPS to navigate. The mountain is rarely climbed due to its isolated location, cliff bands and the dense forest that surrounds the summit.
The three of us planned to hike into Red Rock Pond, via a series of abandoned logging rail beds and tote roads that crisscross the area. Between 1880 and 1920, this area was heavily logged and there are many remembrances of the by-gone logging era, including rail trails, clearings where logging camps once stood; even cook wear, bed springs, and other artifacts can be found in this vast wilderness area. JE Henry, the Lumber Baron, was infamous for his vast land holdings and logging prowess.
By following an abandoned rail bed we were able to reach an area near Red Rock Stream that looked to be the site of an old logging camp. After making camp we found a series of tote roads that led us to Red Rock Pond, a beautiful tarn lake that sits at the bottom of a glacial cirque. The trek to Red Rock Pond was certainly worth the effort. After scanning the walls of the cirque I decided that a climb from this direction would be difficult and possibly dangerous as the slide is made up of broken rock and scree. At this point we decided to hike back to camp, spend the night, and head home in the morning. We vowed to return, using a different approach to summit SW Twin. And I did return!
Three weeks ago Fran and I decided to give it a go, and attempt the climb from Twin Brook Trail on the western side of the mountain. Most climbs of SW Twin start from the Franconia Brook or the Twinway Trails. We couldn't find any information from internet resources that the approach we were considering had been attempted before, so why not try? We hiked into 13 Falls Campsite and spent the evening. The summer had ended, and autumn was coming to a close. There was a distinct chill in the air and snow was possible that evening. When we awoke in the morning we joyfully found clearing skies and a warming sun, a great day for, "a walk in the woods." We began our journey by hiking a mile up the Twin Brook Trail and then heading into the woods, following a predetermined compass bearing that would lead up a steep section of the mountain. The woods were relatively open with few blow downs, but several rock scrambles slowed our progress. We thought this new route was going to take us to the summit in record time. Little did we know what was waiting for us as we neared our goal.
When we reached the ridge, we stopped to take in the views of Mt. Garfield and Lafayette. We knew it was now a short distance to the summit and were anxious to celebrate our accomplishment when reached the apex of our efforts. However, much to our chagrin, we ambled into the dreaded fir wall that we had read about. We had planned our route with the intention of avoiding this solid mass of scrub spruce and fir. We learned quickly that we hadn't bypassed it at all and were literally neck deep in tree limbs. Fran and I were determined to push through, no matter what. We had gone this far, we couldn't turn back now. It took us well over an hour to go one third of a mile to reach our goal: the canister jar hanging from a tree on the summit. We signed in on the small notebook that's stored in the canister, ate a sandwich, took in a few limited views and began our trek down the mountain, this time taking a more north-westerly route. Amazingly, this route was relatively free of the miserable scrub growth that hindered our previous route up the mountain. The climb down was rather steep in sections with loose rock and scree hampering our decent. But we did make it back to the Twin Brook Trail in one piece, but with a huge thirst after losing my water bottle in the scrub.
When we returned to our base camp at 13 Falls, a heavy rain began to fall. We quickly packed up our gear and began our trek out of the wilderness and into civilization. We were elated that we had stood on the summit of SW Twin, a mountain that few people climb. Only 6 others had preceded us in 2015. For Fran and I this could have been the most difficult bushwhack we have ever done. Why put ourselves through this? "Because it's there." (G.M.).
As we made our way along the Franconia Brook Trail we were met by several groups of NH Fish and Game officers and USFS staff. They were searching for a missing hiker named Claire, who disappeared in the area we had been hiking. She had been missing for several days and the outcome of the search seemed grim. We later learned that her body was found in the Gale River, where she most likely died trying to cross the steam that was swollen by heavy rains. This was a sobering moment for both of us. It reminded us of the fact that the wilderness can be a place of splendor and beauty. But it also holds risks and dangers.
- Category: Lake Style
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