Not having been in the Whites for several months, it was about time to knock off another 4000-footer that I'd not yet done. I didn't feel like something long and relatively uninteresting, like Owl's Head. On the short/scenic side of the ledger, Flume, South Kinsman, Carrigain, and the Wildcats were some of the hikes that I wanted to get done.
In the end, I chose Carrigain. The access road to the trailhead is closed in the winter, and the trailheads to the other peaks are not. So, this beautiful pre-winter late fall day would be a great time to get Carrigain done -- while the road remained open.
Early morning twilight and a few puffs of alpenglow-pink clouds greeted us as we parked in an empty parking lot at the Mt Carrigain / Signal Ridge trailhead along the Sawyer River Road. Our plan: ascend Carrigain via the Signal Ridge trailhead -- the shortest and most scenic way to the summit.
The trail was in horrible shape at first, following a very eroded old forest road. I'm not much of a fan of extremely bouldery eroded pathways, so I was glad when, after only a few minutes of walking, the trail crossed Whitehouse brook. Things smoothed out considerably after that, as the path ascended, paralleling flumes and cascades as it ascended beside the brook.
After a moderate ascent, we reached a height of land, after which the trail really flattened out (and became very smooth, too). From here to the base of Signal Ridge, the trail is a very easy, essentially flat walk. Pleasant!
Junction with Carrigain Notch Tr
Eventually the trail splits, with the Signal Ridge trail heading off to the left, and the Carrigain Notch trail continuing straight ahead. Soon after this, we crossed wide (but shallow) Carrigain Brook. The trail continues on the level for a bit, but then starts to ascend. We had beautiful clear morning light streaming down on us here, and the walk through the fallen leaves of the open deciduous forest was beautiful (although with all the fallen leaves, 'twas a bit hard to see the rocks underfoot on the trail).
Soon the Signal Ridge trail starts the ascent up Signal Ridge itself. On the map, this looks exceedingly steep. It was steep, but the path that the trail actually takes is not quite as straight-up as is indicated on the map. There's a reasonable amount of traversing back and forth, which lessens the grade. The footing is rocky and rough along the entire ascent to the ridgecrest. We started to encounter a minor dusting of snow above about 3,500 feet, and there was a couple of spots with a bit of ice. Nothing at all wintry, though.
Middle part of Signal Ridge Tr
Finally, we gained the ridgecrest, and started to make our way along it. I had read about the scenic open section on Signal Ridge, and was looking forward to seeing it myself. They day was perfect for it - crystal clear!
The Southern Presidentials
The open section is indeed scenic. The ridge is forested with low scrub on it's west facing side, and is open on it's steep, east-facing side. The bent of the gnarled trees also indicates that the prevailing wind here comes from the east -- strange for a region that has prevailing westerlies. As far as views went, the higher Presidential range gleamed white in the distance, with the spires of the summit station on Mount Washington easily visible. Closer in front of us was the deep V of Carrigain Notch, and the talus slopes and fissures on Mount Lowell above it.
The Rocks of Signal Ridge
Continuing along the ridge
As we walked along the ridge, we could see we didn't have much left to go. The truncated summit tower on Mt Carrigain was easily visible, and it wasn't all that much more elevation gain to get there. Soon the open section of the ridge ended, and we descended, back in the trees, to a very shallow col. Then, it was back uphill for the final push to Carrigain's Summit.