Ascent of Gulf Hagas Mountain on 2012-02-18

Climber: William Musser

Others in Party:Chuck Holden

Others with no summit attempt:
karen Musser
Martha Holden; and Susan Collette
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, February 18, 2012
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
Peak:Gulf Hagas Mountain
    Elevation:2600 ft / 792 m

Ascent Trip Report

Picked the wrong line to summit and failed. We did not want to simply hike up the AT - we wanted a more interesting adventure as part of our ski-in camp weekend, so we selected the western face and it was simply not finishable. Would have required a line contouring the SW ridge as we suspected (far more deciduous trees) but we wanted to minimize our time bushwhacking the virgin snow, and we thought following another group's compacted steps of their ascent might help. That presumed they picked a good ascent line through the conifers. Presumption wrong!

Trip started out with us meeting the Holdens and half of the Collettes in Boston and driving up to Greenville, ME and renting our equipment. Set off from the AMC Winter Parking and descided to split off the Katahdin Ironworks Road and take the only groomed "black" difficult cross country trail in the Little Lyford Camps area. The hedgehog Gate Trail turned out to be more than half of us could handle at times especially the two of us from FL on cross country skis for the first time. Karen fell 8 times, Martha at least 4 times and I fell once. We had a nice three person pile up at the bottom of one steep icier narrow section with a sharp turn.

Not the best trail to take to camp to learn how to turn and stop x-country skis, but we made camp with the wooden cabin (wood stove heated) provided by AMC at Little Lyford Ponds. Next morning the 3 ladies stayed at the cabins waiting for Russ to arrive, and Chuck and I descided to try out the equipment on a summit of Gulf Hagas Mtn from the cabins. It snowed the night before and we had a nice ski up the East Side trail to elevation 1600 where I finally got the feel for x-country skis. We found the boot prints where the the AMC guides told us two others attempted Gulf Hagas Mtn earlier in the week. We were surprised that they attemtped with skis and boots only. Their ski boots only compressed the snow about 8 inches deep so they had better climbing conditions as we had so we put on our snow shoes. Still, we were sinking 12 to 18 inches in places even with snow shoes. Chuck lead the way for over an hour making nice steps which was good since it was only my second time on snow shoes and I had some trouble with them fitting on my ski boots and they fell off no less than 8 times, typically when we were stepping over blow down and they got snarled.

We followed their remaining tracks up past the deciduous trees into the firs and spruce. By now it was about 15 degrees F outside. Eventuallly, the tracks we followed ended as the slopes got steeper and steeper. Their tracks turned back a good 400 feet from the top so they did not make it. We kept fighting to pass through the thick conifers. We found what we thought was the top but had to skirt around patch of thick evergreen trees and found a wall of snow at a 60 degree angle. We had to back out of the entanglement of blow down and that put me volunteering to lead the way kicking steps up the wall of snow. The snow kept collpasing and it was like climbing in sand, each step plunging down 24 to 30 inches trying to compact a step. Kicking in steps with our knees and boots we climbed up back to the trees and were rewarded with a slab of snow covered rock with only a 40 degree angle and great unobstructed views of Baker mountain.

Climbing the 16 foot wall of snow took 20 minutes because of the depth of powder and the ensnarling little confiers. We were tired but above the wall so we plugged on to what we thought was the top of the mountain once again, and were rewarded with an unexpected sea of tiny conifer seedlings spaced about 18 to 30 inches apart on a 45 degree slope the rest of the way to the top. You got to be kidding? Only 150 feet more to the top and we were nearly out of time. Fifteen minutes later, we made another 40 feet and it was beginning to be futile. Branches scratching out eyes, ski poles being hung up on every branch, snow shoes were sinking deep in the powder and the angle kept us sliding down more than half of every step. We needed a machette and pruning shears to clear through the mess of young seedlings (1 to 2 inch diameter trees). You hate to turn back so close to the top but we were out of time and the futility of this bushwhack was no longer fun. We had tested the limit of our snow shoes and were less than 100 feet from vertical top.

What had taken about 2 hours to climb expending considerable energy, took 15 minutes to go down back to our skis. The ski trail back was great till we got to the Lodge to Lodge trail then we found the last mile all iced up and I fell on the last hill-duck walk and decided to walk the final half mile.

Will go back and do the entire range from the AT some time but so much for a western face bushwhack. Ha!
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1770 ft / 539 m
    Total Elevation Loss:2070 ft / 630 m
    Round-Trip Distance:21 mi / 33.8 km
    Quality:5 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Skis, Ski Poles, Snowshoes, Hut Camp
    Weather:Snowing, Cold, Breezy, Overcast
Lows 12F highs 30F; Snow off and on on approach; summit attempt clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:1530 ft / 466 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 1100 ft / 335 m; Extra: 430 ft / 131m
    Loss on way in:430 ft / 131 m
    Distance:14 mi / 22.5 km
    Route:AMC-WP to KI Rd to Hedgehog to East Side to bushwh
    Start Trailhead:AMC Winter Parking  1500 ft / 457 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:1640 ft / 499 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 1400 ft / 427 m; Extra: 240 ft / 73m
    Gain on way out:240 ft / 73 m
    Distance:7 mi / 11.3 km
    Route:Bushwhack to East Side Tr to Camp
    End Trailhead:Little Lyford AMC Camps  1200 ft / 365 m
Ascent Part of Trip: Gulf Hagas

Complete Trip Sequence:
1(Attempt) Gulf Hagas Mountain2012-02-18 a1770 ft / 539 m
2Indian Mountain2012-02-19 b2248 ft / 685 m
Total Trip Gain: 4018 ft / 1224 m    Total Trip Loss: 4018 ft / 1225 m

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