Carrigain Loop FKT "This was Plan D" by Ben Nephew

FKT date: September 17th, 2016
Location: White Mountain National Forest, NH
Adventure: Carrigain Loop FKT, 13 Miles, 4,000 feet elevation gain

This was plan D, and what a fine plan it turned out to be. I had originally planned a longer run on Sunday, with a similarly long plan B that was not as exposed if the forecast was grim. Plan C was for Carrigain on Sunday. The forecast for Sunday did look quite bad, with rain and high winds (50-70mph), and the possibility of thunderstorms. My conference at Waterville Valley ended at noon on Saturday, so I figured I should just head to Carrigain before the storm rolled in. I had never even hiked Carrigain before, but it has been on my list of things to do for a while based on trip accounts and photos. There is one obvious loop around the mountain that hits two major ridges on the mountain, and I decided to head out the Carrigain Notch trail, up the Desolation Trail (aptly named), and down Signal Ridge back to Carrigain Notch.

The start on Carrigain Notch is technical at first due a recent trail reroute, but this makes the more runnable section following a pleasant surprise where you can really stretch the legs out. Since I had been expecting a longer effort, I was fully rested and was able to maintain a solid pace over the first 3-4 miles. There is a small hill around 4 miles that is a nice change of pace and warmup for the big climb around the corner. The far side of the loop has some technical sections, but nothing that really restricts the pace. Overall, the first 6 miles is one of the longest stretches of fast singletrack I have encountered in the Whites. That all ends on the Desolation trail.

For the first mile, the trail is not all that intimidating and lured me into a hard effort where I could run much of this section. In hindsight, this may have not been such a good idea. When this moderately inclined mile ends, you veer to the right, and the trail comes from around the corner and hits you in the face. There are steeper trails in the Whites, but the next mile is as steep as the Wildcat Ridge and the first mile at Cannon, covering 1600 feet of vertical over technical, off-camber trail. Despite the afternoon start and the ongoing drought, this north facing staircase of darkness was still wet. This is a long, slow mile that never seems to end until you suddenly see the summit tower through a narrow gap in the trees. The contrast between the tight wooded and the expansive summit views is intense, similar to the summit of Osceola or Giant in the Adirondacks. It is more of an altar to the mountain gods than a summit tower, complete with deadly back-less stairs to sacrifice unwilling hikers. Incredible views surround you; Crawford Notch, the Presidential Range, the Pemi loop, the Sandwich Range, you are in the middle of all of it. One could hang out quite a while taking it all in, and I actually did stop to take several photos. I typically prefer to just focus on the effort of moving fast over challenging terrain, but that was definitely worth it. 

It was also not a bad idea to get myself together after the effort up Desolation and before the descent of Shattered, I mean Signal, Ridge. There is no rest on that thing if you want to survive. The footing is as bad as the Northern Presidentials with the added challenge of dense forest on either side of the jagged, narrow, ankle destroying trail. There are no real options for different lines, just straight down the gauntlet. Every time it seems like the trail is going to ease up on you, you turn the corner to another line of White Mountain IED’s. The exposed section that provides dramatic views into the Carrigain Notch is relatively runnable, though. Shattered Ridge does finally let up, right at the bottom, and by that time your legs are mostly wasted for the two mile run back to the trailhead. The soak in Whiteface Brook after the run helped with that. At around 14 miles with 4100’ of climb, this is not a massive route, but it is an intense combination of fast running, steep climbing, and technical descending that is a great addition to the shorter White Mountain FKT’s, and the trip is worth it solely for the views.

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