The Weeks via Starr King & Kilkenny Ridge | 9/15/23
In the early days of summer, Liz and I were plotting how to make the Weeks traverse more tolerable given its grand exposure, low water, and lack of a cop-out. The ideal conditions we discussed were breezy, but not too windy. Sunny, but not too sunny. Oh, and no leaves on the ground. Sounds greedy, doesn’t it? Well, somehow, we got exactly that on a random Friday we’d picked out 3 weeks ago.
A car spot such as the Weeks is far less than attractive for people who live in Southern New Hampshire like us. In addition to the long drive to York Pond Road (end car) itself, the drive to the start is another hour as you must drive around the entire Pilot and Pliny ranges to get over to the Starr King TH.
When we pulled onto Starr King Road, we were met with two ghosts of summer’s past: washout one and washout two. Both were passable by our SUVs and the one sedan in the parking lot, but I did experience some resistance from my front tires coming out of the rut. Ironic how the couple of yards going into this trailhead bore more difficulty than the miles of dirt road going into the York Pond Trailhead.
As we got ready to depart, we caught a glimpse of the tools the other folks at the trailhead were doling out and had initially guessed they were brushing for the Kilkenny Ridge Race tomorrow, but we never got a chance to ask as someone had to pee. Besides the surprising number of people at the trailhead though, the entire hike up to Starr King was exactly how we’d remembered it from three years ago: eroded but not so much that it’s a bother to hike, damp, and sustained gain. We did, however, have a view off Starr King this time and fascinating cloud arrangements over the Presidential Range. At the top, I redid the same photo I had taken three years prior at the fireplace and then we kept on towards Waumbek.
This brief leg did not feel the same as it did before. It FLEW and by some combination of corn chips and stronger legs, we were at the highest point of the day in no time. The next 6.2 miles after Waumbek were the only new miles of the entire day and unsurprisingly took the longest.
At first, the carpeting changed merely with the addition of multicolored ferns. Soon though, the ferns were replaced with the sharpest and most overgrown raspberry bushes to eat at my un-covered knees and calves. These plant wars only grew more severe as we summited South Weeks, whose descent was equally as gnarly with the addition of blowdowns and slick slab. The difficulties, however, nearly completely disappeared after we got into the col between South and Middle Weeks. Not so much to say it got easier and well-groomed from here, more to say that I stopped drawing blood here.
In terms of physical difficulty, I did not find any of the ascents difficult and the only descent that required care was coming off of South Weeks. Fortunately, gaining and losing North Weeks was much simpler than Liz and I had initially guessed as well.
At the summit of North Weeks, which is marked with a small pile of 4 rocks, we met a man who was testing radios for the Ridge Race which was certainly a new sight for us. After some brief conversation, we assembled in a grassy tenting area to eat some pepperoni and finish off the bag of Trader Joe’s Fritos I’d been nursing all day. It was just exceptional.
On our descent towards Willard Notch, we moved quickly but carefully down the wet roots and recently fallen leaves and were well into the end zone once we hit the junction of a familiar trail.
Despite thinking I’d never hike such an obscurity like the York Pond Trail the first time I heard about it some three years ago, my second time hiking it was somehow even more enjoyable than the first. With no views or notable features, this trail is still oddly special to me. The colorful corridor runs alongside several chill sections of a brook and is just the perfect ending to a big day, a role it has taken up twice now for me.
Once we emerged at the car, we banged as much mud as possible off our shoes and headed towards the Gorham Walmart to satisfy a craving for pineapple and precooked chicken. It was the most lovely intermission to our ridiculously long car spot.
Today’s 11.58-mile trek covered 5 peaks, gained 3,620 feet, and got me up to #76 on my hundred highest. Despite these joys, I unfortunately must report that we only saw 1 toad all day.