Mount Colden: Trap Dike

May 3rd, 1993; thoughts and attempts at comprehending my all-encompassing newfound alpine environment flowed like flood waters from smokey-gray clouds high above. From 5115’ above the sea, my seven-year-old eyes felt as gigantic as the planet upon which I now stood; the views from Algonquin Peak allowed the most mesmerizing images of other nearby High Peaks.

That’s crazy! People actually climb that?!” I screeched out as my father pointed out Mount Colden on the other side of the puddle that I would eventually come to know as Avalanche Lake. The route his finger traced through the thin air was rarely traveled back then; he spoke of it as: The Trap Dike.

February 18th, 2017; snowshoes crunched through the blinding snow drifts as my hiking partners and I traversed the fluffy surface of Avalanche Lake at 2,885′ above sea level; gazing in all directions, we were surrounded by massive rising mounds of sleeping granite.

That’s crazy! People actually climb.. that.. IN WINTER?!”, I huffed through my balaclava, pondering in bewilderment at the brightly colored figures dangling from their ropes amidst the chute of white and blue ice flow.

I would come to find out climbers worldwide flock to this natural wonder year-round to test and hone their rock climbing skills, and to see what the hype is all about.

Despite the more recent reviews of the route necessitating fixed ropes, harnesses and all the modern climbing gear, the first recorded ascent of the Trap Dike took place by Robert Clark and Alexander Ralph around 1850, two trappers who ascended “to get a better view”, without the use of any gear other than their determination and crude work boots!

The prospect of ascending the Trap Dike for myself initially became reality just shortly following the summit celebration atop Haystack Mountain on June 4th, 2016 as my father, our hiking partner Wendy and I became ADK 46ers, #9480, 9479 and 9481, respectively.

A local climbing legend and guide had offered, as a birthday and finishing gift to Wendy, to take the three of us using ropes, harness, helmets and modern climbing gear through the treacherous Trap Dike, to the summit of Mount Colden.

The morning of our first attempt came and went as we watched the rain tumble from the sky, we would not be climbing that day; we set another date and prepared just the same, the result was simply another wash-out. This happened four times before contact with our guide simply ceased and it seemed as if an ascent of the famous Trap Dike for us three may never unfold.

Shortly after the excitement of possibility faded from our memories, I ended up moving east, further away from my hiking crew and into a new (to me) forest known as the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

I never forgot about my desire to climb the rocks within the Trap Dike, but unfortunately a commute requiring a third of a day kept me from frequenting the Adirondacks, especially the Trap Dike. In my mind, the weather, timing, training and mindset – all had to fall into an alignment of absolute perfection to take on such a task, an occurrence of perhaps once in a lifetime.

In what felt like a blink of an eye, 2020 began as normal as ever; winter ascents of Mount Washington, trail running across the frozen spin drifts high above the 5000’ alpine gardens, even an ascent of the 4680’ Mount Carrigain welcomed me as the 1013th member to stand proudly atop all 111 (really 115 by now) peaks in the Northeast states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York) above four thousand feet – in short, it felt like life as usual!

As April 2020 rolled in, my focus shifted on converting my 2005 flat-nose to a livable school bus; my heart craved the mountains but cringed at the idea of the hours required behind my steering wheel to access some of these far-off wildernesses.

It has been too long since a good hike”, I thought almost daily – nothing but local peaks and trails called to me.

There was a statement that I had read in the American Alpine Journal which resonated deeply within me, surfacing each time I thought of traveling for a trek: “careless mistakes occur more frequently when you hike without purpose or a desire in your heart.

After what felt like months of walking trails without purpose, the bulb in my mind’s eye appeared to shine with a glimmer of light: Trap Dike; the two words encompassing my every thought.

I began checking the weather, “just in case”.

I checked multiple weather apps and stations, studied recent trail reports as if they were holy scripture, learning my route quarter mile by quarter mile – always “just in case”.

Arriving back from work on Wednesday, July 8th, I had yet to fully commit to the idea that, tomorrow, I would be starting early and driving to the Adirondack Mountains.

Gear was brought out, dusted off and packed, soft flasks filled with water, dates pitted and tossed into a bag alongside cashews.

At 8pm, I had done all the prepping required, I could not dwell over the weather reports any longer, for, I had nothing left to learn from their charts and graphs. The mountains received a brief flash of rain during the prior 24 hours, aside from that they had been bone dry for the past 4 days.

I had my window. My time was now.

Without an ounce of anxiety in my blood, I awoke at 1am to make coffee and get some over-night oats ready for the long commute.

Fingertips traced the steel shell of my school bus-tiny home as I said my “see you in a few hours”, climbed into my Subaru and set my GPS to the South Meadows lot, located just northeast of the ADK Loj.

Arriving around 6am, I remember being remarkably calm and feeling at peace, still unsure if I would be successful or fall to my death during the next several hours.

Altra Lone Peaks were laced up, running pack straps were tightened, GPS watch set to record, outhouses used. Unsure of what else I could do to ensure a perfect day – following some light stretching, I simply began down my trail.

Next destination: Marcy Dam.

I had been to Marcy Dam dozens of times by now, but never via this northern approach, I often wondered about the trail on earlier excursions, few folks used it as a direct approach to these High Peaks, avoiding the over-crowded Loj parking lot on weekends.

This was a fantastic warm up, lightly running and swinging my arms, getting my body warmed up but not to tax it yet. The trail was much like any old jeep road, some lightly eroded areas which gave way to rocks and roots, but overall, this was the perfect path to initiate my journey!

With gradual ups and downs, I switch-backed gently, meandering through the forest; expecting to encounter bear or moose in this (what seemed like, at 6am..) desolate tract of land – I found none but the occasional red squirrel on its hunt for a nutty breakfast.

Reaching the 2.5-mile mark of my trek, there was a quick descent over delicately hand-placed stone leading to the Marcy Dam area. With the aroma of coffee and sausage in the air, I encountered my first group of fellow hikers, backpacking and now getting ready to begin their own day of adventures.

I knew these trails well, having traversed them in every season and essentially every hour of the day and night – the last time I had been on them was in snowshoes with likely 5-6 feet of packed snow on the trails, today the jutting rocks made their appearance, reaching up out of the rich, dark soil that I have come to remember the Adirondacks for. The scent of nutrient-rich dirt permeated the crisp morning air which lingered along the trickling brook at my ankles.

Swinging right and crossing the bridge which spanned Marcy Brook, I was now on a straight shot to Avalanche Lake. The wet boot prints that I had been following over the previous several miles were now gone; I was alone out in these woods.

With care, I placed each foot, knowing that a twisted ankle out this far – with no sign of cell service, would make for a much different kind of adventure, one which I did not care to be a part of today!

Crossing logs and boardwalks, I twisted and turned over freshly cut trail and became sandwiched between the sheer cliffs of Avalanche Mountain on my right and Mount Colden on my left.

Growing closer to my next destination, I was now able to employ hands to shimmy over fallen boulders and around trees to enable tight turns in the trail; my entire body began to feel more alive as I ran deeper into a more desolate forest.

Arriving at Avalanche Lake, I immediately remembered why I filed this view under the “my favorite places” tab in my memory banks. Complete serenity is what I found once again down at the shoreline of the Lake. Not a single sound of human existence broke the silence as I stood there, first with eyes open until they drifted shut and I let the slight breeze float off the water’s surface and henceforth my entire being.

This is what I came for; this is the experience that I did not know my soul had been missing.

After soaking in raw peace and solitude until my sweaty body reminded me that hypothermia was indeed real, I continued. Beginning in a counterclockwise fashion around Avalanche Lake, I now found myself in a ‘big kid’ playground!

Bouncing from boulder to boulder, up and over ladders, under trees and eventually making my way to the (newly rebuilt) long wooden planks which guide hikers over the surface of the lake, this area is known most commonly as the Hitch-Up-Matilda – the story of how this name came to be is quite fascinating – but not one for today, I’d recommend researching it, if you’re a self-proclaimed ADK history buff like myself!

One cannot cross this entire section without stopping briefly to let your jaw drop and gaze in awe at the view across the lake – the Trap Dike begins to come into focus and the mound of rock and tree debris becomes real, showing its massive scale of a landslide and geological rift in the mountainside.

The narrow section separating Avalanche Lake from Lake Colden now marked new terrain for me. I ducked out of view momentarily as a trail maintenance crew hiked by with bulging backpacks and axes swung over their broad shoulders, with the appearance of having lived in the forest for the past three months, they looked like some tough women for sure!

I momentarily assumed that if they learned of a solo hiker taking on the devilish Trap Dike at 7am on a Thursday, they may try to persuade me of an easier route, but they simply continued on their way having not noticed my presence.

Stepping onto the bushwhack which takes climbers from marked trail to the base of the ‘Dike, I had read reports of this section being near impossible to follow in one shot. I had no difficulty, there were several herd paths which meandered in several directions but having read folks advising to ‘stay down toward the lakeside’, I did not have to backtrack at all.

Within perhaps 10-15 minutes, the thick trees opened, and I was able to peer back across the lake to where I stood just minutes earlier, behind me lay the sleeping giant.

At this point, there was no question of where to go, of where to begin – so, with solid footing, I began into the narrowing slot.

It was immense. I felt microscopic standing in such a rock-fall zone as this.

All my climbing, hiking and running had led me to this point.

Thankful for low water as I began climbing, the rocks were like pedestals as two hands were used to get one foot, then two feet up onto each ledgy rock.

Periodically turning around, it became almost dizzying how fast I was losing the Lake below me. As it fell into the distance, the pinnacle of Avalanche Mountain at 3,800’ came into view, and beyond that – Algonquin Mountain, atop which I stood at age 7 with my father as we looked down into the very spot where my heartbeat thumped like falling rocks.

I wished for my father and Wendy to be there sharing the experience with me, yet thankful for absolute silence when I could lean into the rock and absorb the echo of nesting birds calling for their mates, or the crash of fresh rainwater tumbling downslope next to my palm.

At one point, my judgment took me for a swing to the right, just to climb about 30’ up steep but sticky rock to reach an area of loose rock and scree which I deemed a death walk if I proceeded, reluctantly I turned back to descend, fully utilizing my bum and all four extremities for maximum traction.

Its difficult to say if this is the time when my fear grew, for, I was not afraid of where I had found myself – simply heightened alertness, awareness that this was indeed real, one slip now and that was it.

Completing that descent, I ferociously fished around for another route: to the left was a wet, black rock chute which spanned about 15 feet, vertically and featured the waterfall – to the right were finger holds of perhaps fingernail width, enough for maybe ¼” of shoe material to grip off camber.

I stood momentarily weighing my options and letting my pulse regain a more normal pace upon coming off my scree slab just moments prior.

Finding that the consequence of a slip, although not completely vertical, would send me perhaps 25’ onto jagged boulders beneath, I decided to attempt the blackened chute where I could not avoid the rushing ice water.

Employing new techniques, I faced away from my ascent, braced the slick, moss-covered walls with elbows and scissor-kicked with my feet to apply maximum counterforce to all rock surfaces, inch by inch I began shimmying my way off the near-flat ground below me.

Upon finishing the crux move of my day, I again stood momentarily, peering back into the wet chimney-chute that I had somehow just climbed, “holy shit, holy shit, HOLY SHIT!!” was all I could think to say aloud as I looked all around, the realization sinking in that perhaps, today, I had survived the Trap Dike.

Knowing I was only just beginning my day, I could not stop laughing and enjoying my time on the rocks yet remained mindful that there was still serious climbing to do!

Above the full body climbing that I had just completed, the rocks in the coming section changed to a creamy-white, their texture turning from mere granite to coarse sandstone-like.

I followed this white stone as the water still trickled, now on my right. I judged my progress with Algonquin as an elevation aid, across the rift below. I was starting to level out with it, only moments earlier it seemed to tower as it watched its novice climber far below.

Trying to remember my trail reports, I carefully gauged when to jut out onto the slide itself to my right, following that the remaining couple-hundred feet to the summit cap of Mount Colden.

The tacky, creamy-white rocks followed me onto the newer slide (Hurricane Irene, 2011) where I followed bare rock with its remaining old forest growth to my left.

The rock on the slabby newer slide was pitted and incredibly tacky, especially for my trail running shoes – I made quick work of this slide, simply one foot in front of the next – but sure as hell my quads and glutes began to scream at the unrelenting climb! To stop for a moments rest meant standing at a 45-degree angle, which proved completely uncomfortable and encouraged me to press-on, up that hill!

Thankful for dry, optimal conditions, I imagined the outcome from one slip at this location: a tumble down the midline of the rock slab that could potentially send a climber for an unknown distance before careening off the drop straight behind me, truly nothing to stop a slide, certainly nothing to hold onto.

Still climbing ever higher, I began to see boot prints in rich Adirondack dirt up above me – was this the end of my route? Indeed, I was able to locate the marked trail and quick trek off to the open summit rocks of Colden.

How fitting that I spend my climb of the Trap Dike in solidarity, now standing atop the summit at 8:18am, the slight breeze engulfing my body as if to hug and congratulate it on an excellent climb, and good survival!

Refueling on some water and taking in the sights of alpine bog laurel around me, I decided to make my descend before the morning hoards of hikers swarmed the summit.

Group after group, the ascending hikers stood by in awe as I bounded down the trail and they inquired as to where I came from, what time did I start, where was I going in such a rush.

I was simply going at my comfortable pace with my sights set on a bowl of watermelon back at my car!

Spirits were high as I cruised back down to the false summit of Colden and could look back to first the slide which was my route up this massive pile of rock, then back on the forested dome that was quite simply: Colden.

On the run back out to my car, I was overwhelmed with the sense of gratitude for the mountain letting me explore once again.

The watermelon had never tasted so good, these shoes never felt so good to remove, my heart was full, I felt complete.

That was, after all, The Trap Dike of Mount Colden.


Of note from the writer:

Black Diamond climbing shoes went for a ride in my 8L running bag all morning, along with a GoreTex jacket, beanie, gloves, Sawyer water filter, compass, waterproof paper map, 16oz hydration and bag of dates & cashews

Consumed during the run was ~5oz of water mixed with mango/lime Muir Energy plant-based electrolyte powder, that is all. Outstanding day!


Overall stats for the day:

  • 13.9 miles
  • 3,268’ elevation gain
  • 4 hours 10 minutes
  • A million smiles
  • Avalanche Lake: 2,885’
  • Mount Colden: 4,715’

 

Happy climbing!

 

Erik

The Dartmouth Fifty, almost

The legendary Dartmouth Fifty Miler is the name by which I have heard it called; whatever name you prefer to give this long-haul, it consists of roughly fifty consecutive miles trekked along the beautifully scenic Appalachian Trail. Beginning in downtown Hanover on the Dartmouth College Green and following the 2×6 white blazes, which the AT is so well-known for, all the way to the 4,803ft summit of Mount Moosilauke.

Actually if tacking on the +3,200 foot ascent to Moosilauke at the end of a long run was not enough, the trek technically ends on the other side of the massive pile of rock, at the Ravine Lodge which stands at 2,460ft.

Packing for this adventure was more or less a scavenger hunt; the notion to take on this section of trail came to me just shortly after running north from Mount Cube about 8 miles to the top of Webster Slide Mountain and back. The trail was generally dry, gently rolling with some leaf litter covering the rocks here and there. It seemed like a great idea and honestly with everything going on in the world, those hours spent cruising through the tunnel of wildlife had me contemplating a future of six months spent running, jogging, climbing, hiking – whatever would transport me from Katahdin to Springer Mountain down south.

My mind felt prepared to spend time with myself throwing down some miles!

Since I did not take weeks or even months to accumulate much gear or snacks, I used what I had. Rummaging through my Gregory 75L pack that accompanied me on the Northville Placid Trail thru-hike and most of my longer winter snowshoe treks, I ransacked through folded zip-lock baggies for unopened packets of Muir energy and any unfavorable bars that had henceforth been tossed aside.

Stockpiling 5 or 6 slow-burning and fast-burning Muir energy gels, an old all-fruit bar, along with my bag of thrown together nuts, seeds, raisins, this time I also threw in a handful of crystallized ginger chews which were purchased for who knows what reason so long ago, perhaps being excessively thirsty and hungry would make them palatable once again!

Like every other outing I go on, I always bring the essentials: map and compass, Sawyer water filter (packed two 16oz soft flasks and 1.5L camelback style pouch) knowing I would have a plethora of stream crossings to re-up at, I also brought along my long time ultra running favorite – medjool dates!

Part of the reason I had about 24 hours of packing and prepping (I knew the route from living more or less on one of the trail heads I would be passing, so route finding was essentially all set) was that all the stars miraculously aligned – the weather gave several days of sunny and dry allowing any snow to continue to dissipate (or so I thought..), a coworker who lives basically on the Green offered the use of his driveway for me to stash my vehicle while I had coordinated a pick up once finished at the Ravine Lodge – in my mind, this was my time and I didn’t know when or if I would get another chance in the near future to embark on the Dartmouth 50, my time was now!

Given the window of good weather, I was looking at 40s to start and warming up to roughly 65 degrees with increasing sun as the morning wore on, I opted for a favorite pair of running shorts (proved that I can run 54 miles with zero chafing back in September!), the blue Mount Desert Marathon longsleeve tech shirt that I basically live in, an option of buffs and Smartwool beanie and Gore-tex outer layer, just in case the sky wanted to throw me any curve balls during the day.

Opting for Altra Lone Peaks with matching gaiters; I stuffed my Injinji toe socks into each shoe, grabbed for my trekking poles to improve stability on the uphills and I was good to go. On a side note, I have found that toe socks, while I cannot stand the feeling of anything stuffed between my toes, they work for my long runs – especially if I know that my piggies will be wet for a while, just the added security decreasing the ugly chances of rubbing or blisters.

Let’s go run in the dark!

After a quick breakfast of rye oats topped with nuts and seeds, gear was loaded into the transport vehicle (Ciara’s Honda, she offered to be my ride for the journey!) and we began the early morning trek into Hanover, NH.

Arriving at the Green, we just sat in the car for a minute looking around, watching the early morning traffic which was minimal due to the Stay at Home orders while the COVID pandemic was taking place. Most traffic consisted of Dartmouth College Security which struck us as slightly funny since the college had not been in session for weeks!

The starting line doesn’t wait forever so with a long hug and a kiss or three I said my goodbye’s and thank you’s before using the short walk to Robinson Hall as a slight warm up for the calves before starting my timer.

I was now in this journey alone. Two people in this world knew who was running these dark streets and where this mad-man was running to.

Without really planning for it, my day began from the Dartmouth Green at precisely 5am.

I gave one last wave to Ciara and the doggies (who were now both heads out the back windows, tongues flailing, excited for anything at this point) as my headlamp clicked on and I began the slow shuffle past landmarks which only felt familiar during daylight hours.

Before I knew it I was crossing route 120 with no traffic (so strange.. this is such a busy stretch of college-town-road!), passing the Co-op where I patron so often and running behind the ball fields.

I was now on it; running the Appalachian Trail, on a section which I had never been.. and loving every bit of it, the trail was rocky and steep in sections as it switchbacked its way over bare granite to the split for the Velvet Rocks AT shelter.

Soon after passing the shelter signage, the trail began closing in as rocky moss-covered ledges were illuminated by way of headlamp beam, my trail started rolling over all of the contour lines that had been studied on topo maps in the months leading up to this fine morning.

Glimmers of light appeared occasionally off in the distance from where the layer of dense cloud ended, overall the path grew a blueish haze as the morning sun began to illuminate my way.

My mind was absolutely astonished at the places both my feet and the trail were taking me this morning! Through boggy areas which featured long, winding bridges, up and over boulders which lay in my path forcing use of hands to vault over, and naturally this wouldn’t be the Appalachian Trail without a foot submerged into a blackened muddy abyss to start my trek – all in all, I ran through a self-systems-check: breakfast was staying down, ankles were loosening up, pack felt good, nothing was rubbing, my mind was at ease: I just felt good.

Somehow the road crossings began to blur by; first Trescott, then Etna road was in my rear view mirror. I didn’t feel fast, but landmarks seemed to wiz by faster than I had anticipated!

Before long, I found myself on a beautifully manicured, PCT-style trail featuring a single-file beaten down pathway when a gun shot rang out a bit too close for my comfort. I later found out this was likely the 6am shooting of a turkey, either way a little unnerving that I was out there in the woods alone – my pace may have spiked just slightly during this section!

As the sun continued to break the night away, I could not help but laugh at myself – every fallen tree reminding me of my encounter of being followed by curious moose only several days prior, thankfully no moose were out to get me this morning!

Familiar territory

Through the dim morning light as I cruised in and out of picturesque boggy areas there grew the image of headstones in the distance, I was running straight toward them! Across the paved road, I had just passed a spot in which my drive home often took me; so many afternoons I had spent day dreaming of how nice it must be to encounter such a green velvetty-mossy knoll while the world needed me nowhere else but on the Appalachian Trail.

Moose Mountain, the South Peak

Through some old evergreen forests, across some winding brooks, up and around some mild ridge lines and before long, I was away from the road and entering logged territory. For a moment I seemed to be a lone trespasser, running the still blazed AT via single-file path through an old field.

My adventurous mind wanted to believe an old artist lived here, one who lived a lonely but fully content life, coming out to their field just to sit quietly under their trees and watch the seasons change, noting the change of hikers’ attire as the years passed from 70s to 80s, then 90s and eventually to present day.

Snapped back to Saturday, April 25th 2020. Checking the stats on my GPS watch, the time read 6:50am when I hit 8.5 miles into my 50+ mile day. Still feeling good, surprisingly good in fact – I had only tripped over my trekking pole once, luckily a forest floor of mud and leaves were there to break my fall!

Making the beeline up the shoulder of Moose, I encountered my first real wildlife – and shockingly not this peaks namesake moose but a chunky black bear lumbering up ahead, likely nosing its way around in search of breakfast. I began some encouraging hoots and hollers, making the 250lb ball of fur aware of my presence so I could politely pass by. Luckily, showing no interest in me it scampered off the trail, I was relieved to see that it had no wee baby bears tagging along!

Much like all other destinations along my trek up to this point, the bright orange DOC (Dartmouth Outing Club) sign stood proudly showing that I had now reached the high point, trying to slow my breathing, I was content to be back on familiar turf and heading toward home!

Last time that I had run from my home to the summit of Moose Mt it was somewhere around autumn with colorful leaves on nearly every tree – what a difference now! Early spring and no leaves blocking my view into the ravine east, I felt like I would be able to see any big animal before they could spot me (forget the fact that they would smell me from a mile away..!).

I began looking at the trail from which I came as chapters in my story; I had closed the Velvet Rocks chapter, passed the unknown road crossings that in the days leading up I had put in much time studying on Google Earth, I had the South Moose chapter softly closing behind me and within minutes the same with the North peak.

Descending Moose Mountain’s North summit the sun was now in full-warming effect, what a beautiful morning to be out on the trails, zig-zagging down from bare rock to leaf-covered AT, switchbacking my way steeply down to my next destination:

Goose Pond Road to Holts Ledge and onward to the Dartmouth Skiway

I had run this section of today’s adventure last fall while dull leaves still clung tight to the branches from which they came. It was much like a corridor or a hallway taking the walker from one set of rolling hills to another. This time around the wooden planks spanning the boggy area just upstream from Pressey Brook displayed much more wear and tear from the 3 million annual AT trekkers, some appearing new had snapped and were now shooting spouts of murky water straight up at the passerby!

From these planks peering in the northern direction, however, is one of the finest views that I have found along this stretch of trail, the southern portions of Holts Ledge forming the northern backdrop from the pool of water.

Shortly into my hill climb which traverses more or less right up the spine of the ridge, I decided this sixteen mile mark would be a fine point to actually take my 8L running pack off, let the sweaty back breathe momentarily and dive into my first snack of the day, a handful (..maybe two!) of deliciously moist medjool dates.

Each and every turn I took, finding views back toward North Moose first and finally the southern counterpart further in the distance, I was amazed at what distance I could see through the trees and down into gullies and to far away marshes – certainly I would notice any larger creatures before I snuck up on them? I hoped fate would work in such a way for me!

A little uncertain of where I was on my climb up to Holts Ledge, I simply took it a few steps at a time; a few turns at a time, remarking to my inner child about all of the moss covered boulders and how badly I wanted to jump off this trail and go climb on them – perfect for the bouldering enthusiast of the climbing world for sure!

Reaching the beautiful overlook spot, I stopped momentarily to shoot my first text message letting Ciara know of my progress and that I was still somewhat on track for the time schedule I had planned.

I could understand why this section of the Appalachian Trail had become so well trafficked and somewhat eroded, the views are easterly out to Winslow Ledge (the ‘other‘ side of the Dartmouth Skiway) with a bit of Smarts Mt just behind, even Cardigan can be seen off in the distance, such a relaxing spot if you can nab these open ledges to yourself on a calm day!

Beginning down, the trail does some switchbacking, passes some minor waterways, but the trail finally becomes packed dirt with some rocks sticking out – perfect terrain to get some speed going and really feel like a trail runner bouncing from rock top to rock top (just don’t catch the toe of a shoe or that may end your day!).

Within what felt like minutes, I zoomed passed the spur trail on the left over to the Trapper John Shelter. As the leaves had not yet grown in, I could still make out the 1,948′ summit of Bear Hill just beyond to the west, which was a fantastic bushwhack over fallen leaves with some bare rock on the steep ascent, great little rewarding climb!

Arriving at the Dorchester Road/Dartmouth Skiway trail head, the air was silent, most folks still at home while New Hampshire remained under Stay At Home orders, to keep the nasty COVID-19 at bay.

I pass this section of the AT daily on my way to work or into town as I live 4 miles down Dorchester Road, lovely little spot and such a sense of being incredibly lucky to have this all in our backyards!

But that did not mean that I had actually learned where the white-blazed trail goes through this stretch to Smarts Mt! I knew it cut into the woods from the Skiway, but in prior treks all around this area all I had found for the first mile or so were merely snowmobile paths, and today there was no snow!

Trails were indeed still melting as the days grew longer and had turned into a river of mud underfoot; I cautiously yet boldly tried to employ trekking poles to make the most of each leap, bounding from log to rock with the occasional foot plunge up to the ankle as I mistook a mound of grass for something sturdy!

What really brought my attention to the present and the fact that I was doing okay was a familiar face of two fellow runners who live basically across from the Skiway, they were out for an early dog walk together. Amazed at how far I had traveled under my own power, and partially at my ambition to go all the way, they wished the best and we parted ways, back into the woods I went.

Being fearful that Grant Brook would be high with the springtime melt water mixed with any recent rains we had accumulated, I was thrilled to see that today would not be the day I became washed away by white caps two miles from my cabin doorstep, and with that I was one obstacle closer to my next road crossing!

I had found several months back, here in the woods standing trail side along the AT a stone monument with both northern and southern AT distances. Everytime I see this, I can’t help but stop my mind and ponder the amount of long haul trekkers who had stopped here, maybe having their moment of enlightenment at this very spot.

Having friends who had hiked the AT come to find out that I live so close to this stone in the trail, several had sent me photos, selfies during their own excursion standing next to the very stone source of energy and will to keep walking; a sort of magic, I suppose!

Onward to Smarts Mt and beyond!

Still surprised that the US Forest Service had barricaded off the Smarts Mountain Trail Head, I was even more surprised to see that someone had actually driven into the bright orange barricade, to the extent that the laminated sign was torn from the impact and the entirety of gate was off to the side..essentially allowing folks to park in the lot if they disregarded this warning sign which was printed and signed USFS!

Still feeling decent, I took the inclines as efficiently as I knew how, being completely aware that I first had a 1,500′ climb to Lambert Ridge, just to drop back down a few hundred feet to the “base” of Smarts Mt to ascend the additional 1,000ft or so up to the tower location atop the mountain!

The sun was out, I had the trails to myself and the views to where I had come were spectacular! I could even see all the minor ponds and summer cabins of who made up my neighbors, certainly a view I don’t think I could grow tired of seeing!

My first “oh no!” moment came just on the backside of the Ridge as the trail changed from very runnable open rock sticking straight up to a sea of white as far as the eye could see. It was incredibly beautiful, but not the sight I wanted to see at the end of April – and definitely not when I still had twenty-eight miles to run!

The snow was rotten, completely hollowed underneath and each step gave way to a mystery of off-camber rocks below, and if I found reprieve from ankle-breaking rock, it was only to plunge my foot into fresh, frigid melt water down below – had my ankles needed an ice bath, this would have been very welcome indeed!

Deciding to press on, staying hopeful that once I hit the south-facing grade of Smarts Mt, hopefully the sun would have melted the trail and I could make some progress.

I was wrong as wrong gets.

As I gained altitude the melted snow that I had encountered a half mile earlier was now frozen solid. I stood, braced against a tree on this twenty percent grade, looking up.. then looking back down.

I had my Hillsound spikes which I absolutely expected to use on Moosilauke as I could see from a distance that mountaintop was still very white. I, however, did not expect to fumble with traction yet – with twenty-eight miles to go.

Quickly doing some crude math in my head I made the call. I determined that a fourteen-hour day was tolerable, but if I continued at this slower pace while dealing with rotten snow, solid ice and melt water – essentially if I couldn’t guarantee a clear path ahead, I would be running back into darkness during the descent of Moosilauke, not really what I had in mind for this trek.

To my surprise, I was totally content with what I had accomplished! I had run twenty-three miles from the Dartmouth College Green in downtown Hanover, through some of the most beautiful rolling hills I could have ever asked for. I saw bear and loads of wildlife and buds just starting their springtime journey to life, I was thrilled actually.

My biggest concern, I decided on the long arduous hike back to the main road and thence back to my home, was that if I had continued along out of sheer stubbornness, that I would run the risk of forgetting all of what I had seen and experienced up to this point and would only be able to focus on how crummy it was to break through snow and ice every step, or how long it had taken me to complete – and that was absolutely not what I was out running for!

I had failed my attempt at the Dartmouth Fitty miler, but in my own regard.. I came out a winner!

I love the places I saw, the (very few..) people I got to wave to and say good morning to, the views breathed life back into my soul when I wasn’t even aware that my reserves were being exhausted in my day-to-day.

I feel that I made the call at the right time, I have nothing but incredible memories – one of the finest even being standing on the Green at 5am, trekking poles in hand, pack on my back in the dark as cars crept by and I could look over to Ciara and the pups and think to myself with a smirk: “I’ll see you in a few miles“.

And with one wave, a good long hug and a kiss I’ll always remember – they were gone and I was alone with my own mind on this dark tunnel before me.

– Erik


Overall stats for the day:

  • 28.24 miles
  • 7hr 10 minutes
  • 7,743′ elevation gain
  • Altra – Lone Peak 4.0 shoes
  • Dartmouth Green – 540′
  • Velvet Rocks Hill – 1,243′
  • Moose Mt, South Peak – 2,283′
  • Moose Mt, North Peak – 2,303′
  • Holts Ledge – 2,110′
  • Dartmouth Skiway AT TH – 878′
  • Lambert Ridge – 2,380′
  • High point on Smarts Mt – 2,782′
  • (Smarts Mt – 3,238′)

 

Blueberry Mountain

We needed an escape, a place to meld back with nature – to relax and get away, a place for both puppies and their human counterparts to roam free and stretch their legs – fourteen days is too long to be cooped up.

Our sights were set on other destinations, but when we realized just how swollen all of the brooks and streams had become from the recent onslaughts of rain storms combined with inevitably warm springtime temperatures, turning the final crusty bits of rotten snow to white capped torrents heading downstream. We began searching for another something local.. a destination both new and exciting for all of us!

I had noticed on the short drive north that we were close to the eastern trail head for Blueberry Mountain. Just along the western flanks of the more popular Mount Moosilauke, the Glencliff trail head became my u-turn spot just prior to pulling off High Street to gain access to the gated Long Pond Road.

Like I said, our objectives were originally regarding other peaks in the area from this trail head – the fact that Blueberry was right there and totally accessible was a complete bonus and worked out fantastically for us!

Quickly locating the trail head parking lot (which was still gated from the winter about a tenth of a mile in from where we parked) about a mile into our day, all signage directed us to leave our road walk and diverge left (northwesterly) onto the Blueberry Mountain Trail, initially following old logging trails.

Both of us remarked about how the narrow, well tracked-out trail reminded us of the well-kept scenic trails of the west coast.

Dry leaves turned into patches of mud with some rock-hopping and before long we were climbing, which did not let up until we were standing on the bare summit rocks a little while later.

The eleven-percent grade continued through varying forests along our narrow walkway, through low-hanging evergreen boughs brought closer to eye-level by the weight of recent snow, all around looked like meandering side spur-paths, together we wondered if any of them whisked adventure seekers off to secret destinations.

Before long our soft trail turned into bare rock slab; weaving around patches of still-frozen ice we were thrilled to be greeted by sunshine as we closed in on the height of land.

During the entire trek up Blueberry mountain we could glance back over our shoulders and be greeted by a waving Mount Moosilauke nearby; the trail-less Mount Clough and Jeffers also visible as we panned our gaze counter-clockwise from the Mighty Moose.

Unfortunately, this morning we were not treated to the plethora of blueberries that our once tree-less peak offered its visitors, we found no wildlife scurrying around, only patches of stubby conifers adored the forest floor which was still dotted with open granite.

The bare rock made navigating quick and efficient, even when trail markers and rock cairns were sparse – we merely continued climbing “up”.

When we encountered the oncoming footprints in the snow (hikers traveling to Blueberry from the west), our topographical instincts told us to swing off on a spur trail to the right (northerly), which eventually brought us to the thick steel rebar remnants of possibly the old geological survey tripod, and onward to the actual high point of the mountain.

After taking in the scenery, putting names to surrounding peaks.. and of course, petting puppies for as long as we could, we retraced our steps in the snow back to open rock slab. Finding a nice open ledgy area with a fantastic backdrop of Moosilauke with fresh snow lining its rock slides that zippered up its ravines.

We both remarked how different the descent appeared now that the sun had melted the minuscule layer of ice that had adorned the slabs during our climb only a short time earlier.

Passing one fellow hiker, we exchanged casual greetings all while keeping our prescribed social distance and wished each other a wonderful trek.

Within minutes, we found ourselves back on the lower logging roads, traipsing through the muddy leaves from last autumn and thinking of how lovely our apples and oranges were going to taste once we arrived back at the Subaru.

And with that we tossed another fantastic hiking adventure into our grab bag of local trails; Blueberry Mountain, maybe next time we find ourselves here we will continue on to the trailless summit of Jeffers or venture over to the top rocks of Owls Head cliffs to the south.

We both agreed that next time we will pack a bit of food and some tea to enjoy on a sunny day with a bit of warming breeze – who knows, maybe we will even be welcomed to a mountain with rolling slopes of blueberries as far as our eyes can see!

Enjoy nature, happy climbing!

Erik


 

 

Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace GPS watch

  • 5.64 miles
  • 2hr 57 minutes
  • 1,496′ elevation gain
    • Blueberry Mt – 2,662
    • 52WAV #45

Exploring local trails

Have you ever experienced your backyard?

Not just peering at the beauty of it through your dismal kitchen window, but really gone outside to stand in the (hopefully) cool, crisp morning air while the finches and chickadees greet you; all around is the scent of wet maple and hemlock mingle with the familiar terpenes emanating from your swath of pine, spruce or fir.

Have you ever stopped long enough to notice the little fungi that flowers (yes, mushrooms do “flower“) on that fallen log everytime it rains?

Do you ever wonder what mysteries lay beyond that 200-year old stone wall that casts a moat of familiarity and would be safety around your property?

Secretly curious why someone, such a long time ago clear cut that path which calls to you daily during your morning commute? Where does it go? Could there be a lost pond at the end of that trail that no one has the time to explore lately, in such a digital world? Maybe that was the trail Huck Finn would take to go catch all of his fish.. you’ll never know if you don’t take the time to explore.

Be the explorer.

Now that the glorious high peaks with their expansive views and spiderweb-like network of trails are off limits for most of us who abide by the ‘no unnecessary travel‘ guidelines put in place by local and state agencies; and yes.. perhaps as you read this you can look out your kitchen window to find an alpine paradise.. but unfortunately, I along with many others, do not.

So, if you’re like me then you may find yourself feeling a little stuck indoors on the treadmill (I don’t own a treadmill.. and hopefully you don’t either!) reading about, and deeply craving the forests once again.

Want to explore local places but don’t know where to begin?

These days there are loads of free GPS and mapping apps that can be installed onto your smart phone. While this is hardly the most reliable method to employ when you are actually away from civilization, it can be the cheapest to start with; if nothing more, just to get an idea of local trails, nearby mountains, dog parks, and even some of the “lesser-used” paths!

Before taking to my local paths, I typically prefer to use any number of mapping websites while I have the luxury of a larger monitor (and somewhat reliable WiFi!) of which to view the network of linking paths; alltrails, caltopo, peakbagger are all some of the pages I will cycle through, you may notice that one source may offer you older logging roads while another may show other details like wetlands, not found on other maps – this is why I try to check as many resources as possible to get an accurate and up-to-date idea of which paths lead where.

Particularly in wintertime it can be nice to have access to trail reporting websites, where users can log in and give detailed (and often very helpful) logs of which trails they have used lately, including important factors as any blowdown to contend with, stream or river crossings and their status (height), even including what gear they recommend for a pleasurable and safe trek into the forest.

It should go without saying though: while it is nice and super convenient to have the access to GPS and mapping apps on our smartphones (many of which do operate in airplane mode, thus conserving battery life), if you don’t have the initial WiFi to download the topo for a region, you may find that your map is blank with you as a blue dot lost in a featureless ocean of nothing on your screen.

Also worth noting, while using a mapping app to track your location is very convenient – these apps have a way of sucking the battery power while using the screen near full-time. It can be helpful enough to simply use your phone’s app as a back up, checking occasionally where you are located at the moment; only if needed – this way the battery power will be conserved for in the event of an emergency, when you may really need to know and follow a certain direction back to safety.

What turf do you want to run, hike or bike on?

Often times it is possible to determine what kind of surface makes up a trail network by reading a topographic map; consult the legend, typically dirt logging roads will have a different line-type, color, or level of boldness than a foot-traffic only path. It may be possible to determine how remote a trail system is by even noting per the map if the area contains man-made bridges or waterbars, all indicators of recent (safe to assume within 10-20 years, this may not always indicate a path is maintained yearly or even monthly, check the date on the map!) trail maintenance.

While it is probably safe to conclude that if it is winter outside then there is likely snow covering the trails – but with a little preliminary digging online or into local maps (check local co-ops or coffee shops for maps or info for local trails!), you may be able to conclude if these trails garner the traffic that will give you a nice packed surface following a good dumping of snow, or if not – perhaps you need to be prepared to step into a pair of snowshoes and break your own trail through 12-inches of freshly fallen fluffy snow.

Some trails around where I currently reside cycle between being host to mountain bike and running trails by summer/fall and ski, snowshoe and even snowmobile trails by winter and spring – a little digging and research should help answer your questions of what you can expect to trek on!

So many trails, so many surfaces!

  • Hiking path – will probably be the most enjoyable for trail running or exploring with your pup; chances are you will find a maintained trail with the occasional rock or small boulder to step around or over; could be wide enough to permit anything from single file all the way up to four or more folks to trekking side-by-side (although with 6-ft for social distancing, this may not be applicable at this time!); likely a marked trail with painted blazes or color-coded discs
  • Mountain bike path – similar to a hiking trail with possibly more obstacles to contend with, this can be anything from roots, rocks, sandy trails, narrow wooden bridges to skirt over and through boggy areas; if you know you are on a confirmed mountain biking trail, don’t wear ear buds, stay alert to possible incoming traffic, yield to on-coming bikers if these trails are designated for bike-use; likely a marked trail with painted blazes or color-coded discs
  • Snowmobile path – similar to mountain biking trails as far as who has the right of way, at least with snowmobiles you should be able to hear them coming from a distance; these trails are typically groomed flat for snow machines in the snowy months, often times over-grown and appearing out of commission in the late-spring/summer months; can prove difficult to follow at times (especially once ferns and new growth comes in), with a bit of research you should be able to track down a copy (online or at a local convenient/gas store) of up-to-date snowmobile paths, or contact your local snowmobile club for more info; paths can be marked/emblazoned, some clubs will even have signage at trail intersections indicating refueling stations or distance/direction to the next town
  • Old logging roads – may not take you exactly where you want to go; certainly be mindful of active logging traffic; logging roads can be quite rugged, hosting stumps, logs or small downed trees laying directly in your path (perfect if you are training for an OCR..or obstacle course race!); underfoot you may encounter a muddy, slushy or sandy path depending on time of year, many logging roads are littered with tree and wood chips which may seem soft for running, but can prove to be strenuous on the ankles; these paths are likely not marked so do your research before setting out on them!
  • Herd paths – the forest really only needs three foot steps on the same patch of earth cover before soil becomes so compacted that drainage is impacted and many root structures simply die; mosses become trampled, ferns and saplings all pushed aside with twigs broken from repeated travel; while herd paths are also not marked or blazed (possibly not even listed on recent maps), these trails will begin to test your route finding instincts; if there has been any recent traffic, tracks will be naturally easier to follow in the winter; by the time autumn hits and leaves begin to drop, these paths can become difficult to follow – spend a bit of extra time before setting out really becoming familiar with the direction of travel such as “after the path circumnavigates Pond #1, it will climb East to 2400′ and swing North continuing along a ridgeline Northwest for 1.2 miles before reaching the old Kilkenny farm house and outbuildings”; you may find neon colored surveyors tape from prior parties in these woods, best to not follow or trust unless you placed the tape and are familiar with its direction!
  • Bushwhacking (off-trail) – make note of where you depart the marked trail or roadside; be super observant of your surroundings while off-trail, make mental notes of contours and nearby hills, valleys, ravines, steams, ponds as you pass to try to picture where you are currently on the topographic map – this will be easier in winter or early spring before new growth limits how far you can see; leave ‘breadcrumbs’ in your mind of which direction you went, keep the idea of a known object or mountain in the back of your mind such as “Peak #2 should always be to the south during my trek”, if that is true – this may not remain factual on longer traverses or as you crest a number of ridges and peaks, etc

A note on bushwhacking: while it is extremely rare that you will find markings along the trail, this is where having and knowing how to use a map and compass is imperative, this skill may be what stands between you stuck overnight on a trail.. lost, and your warm cabin.

Another option that can be used is to tie a small piece of surveyors flagging/tape every so often to mark your own path into the woods, can be used to follow your way back – but be cautious, if you do not travel in an “out and back” fashion, you absolutely must trek back in your original path and take down all of your flagging, do not leave a mess for others to clean up, or even worse.. for someone else to follow resulting in them becoming disoriented and possibly more lost than they were!

Will I see wildlife?

Depending on the time of year, yes – there could be a good chance on encountering critters as you explore new places! Typically, where there is water: brooks, ponds, bogs, wetlands you will be able to find the beginnings of the food chain. Beginning with lifeforms that live in the water, whether it be stagnant and swampy or flowing downstream there may be frogs, fish, insects or seaweed and mosses which give life to larger forms of life!

Around wetlands can also be a great place to run into moose and bear depending on where in the world you’re located, just outside of my cabin doorstep lay home to hundreds of square miles of protected land – the perfect environment for larger animals (currently my muddy driveway contains what looks like a highway of moose tracks); while you think it may still be winter in your neck of the woods, that doesn’t mean that bear are not beginning their waking cycle, coming out of hibernation in search of berries, wild edibles or your mushroom jerky (if you still consume beef jerky, might I recommend trying mushroom jerky as an alternative, its both healthy and delicious!).

While this article is in no way trying to scare you into believing nature is just waiting to devour your whole being the second you step into the forest, it is simply a pleasant reminder that we are surrounded by nature, upon stepping onto remote trails.. we are entering their world, we are the guests as we trek the woods.

Big animals are all around us, chances are we may just not see them – I think they would want it that way: they have the eyes on us, we are the visitors. Be aware that if you go into their habitat with a fist of salmon and expect to not be followed, you are being really very silly. Animals are naturally curious, especially if they smell something interesting while you have stopped to check your map (as in, you are not ruffling leaves or rattling a bear bell or making some noise), they may just creep in to check out what you are munching on – depending on just how hungry they are can dictate how this encounter goes.

As a good rule that I try to abide by – eat before you enter the woods, wash your hands of all foreign food scents, try to stick with water and things that don’t have strong aromas; save the savory foods for when you get back to your car (it’s a good idea to always bring back up food, but if possible keep it sealed up for an emergency – I do this with my bag of gorp.. Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts, it’s there in case I spend longer than anticipated in the woods, but I don’t want to invite the curious to my path!).

Travel times

Be aware of how long it may take you to adventure in these newer trails; you may want to slow your pace and really observe your new surroundings, take photos or just hang out at that new pond you just discovered! Being aware though, while you are planning your adventure, a clear path that has not had recent rain or flooding can be traversed much faster than a trail that just received 6-inches of snow that you now have to break through.

This is where having the luxury of recent trail reports can pay off, just so you have some heads up as to what you are getting yourself into.

Will you have to break trail through fresh powder?

Are the temps rising in the afternoons forcing you to glissade across melting snow that sticks itself like super glue to your snowshoes, adding pounds of unanticipated weight to each step and wearing out your leg muscles that much faster?

What about that recent windstorm that knocked down an entire growing season worth of leaves, camouflaging your path with a sea of wet orange, red and yellow leaves that slide like ice when you step on them?

Maybe this windstorm also brought branches and limbs.. or even worse.. entire stands of trees down that you will now have to climb up and over to gain any progress.

Whatever the current conditions are can either make your adventure a smooth one, or can slow you to a crawl; maybe you brought water and food for an hour long run while you find yourself stuck in a half mile of 10-foot deep blowdown forcing you to crawl under, over or around to get back to your car – turning your hour long adventure into a full afternoon (or more!) out in the forest.

Dress for the Temps

Think about what time of the year you are heading out into the forest; is it summer where the temperatures don’t typically drop below 65 degrees overnight, and you’ll retain good visibility underneath the forest canopy until 9pm, or is the calendar creeping toward spring or autumn with temps dropping as much as 30-60 degrees as the sun drops below the horizon, maybe once the sun starts to go down you only find yourself with half an hour before stuck in complete darkness.

A little planning can go a long way and make you much more comfortable should you find yourself being out on the trails longer than you anticipated!

Pack smart

What do you need to bring, if you are only planning on being on these new trails for an hour or two to stretch the legs, why bother weighing yourself down with any extra gear? Why would I pack a jacket if its sunny and 75-degrees now? I can last all day without food and water, should I even need to bring a pack?

There was a time I sounded exactly like this, that was.. until I learned the hard way that bringing extra is never a bad idea!

Sure, if you are planning on trail running, why would you want to be weighted down by a pack or with extra water sloshing around?

Be realistic when you make your plans to explore and just let the thought enter your mind for a moment: what will I realistically need to comfortably spend an unplanned night out?

Hopefully you won’t actually need your whistle to signal that you are lost without cell service. Seeing as prices have dropped significantly in the past years, many folks these days carry a Spot or InReach – some type of personal location beacon in case things really go wrong and cannot get themselves to safety under their own power.

But.. back that thang up! Before you let yourself need to be rescued, think about what you would need should you be stuck and not able to get yourself out until the sun comes back up.

During this wild time we find ourselves, with COVID-19 reeking havoc throughout the world – do not expect the same Search and Rescue efforts to even exist. Should you find yourself needing their help in the forest, it may take considerably longer to amass a team to rescue you, or even worse – this help may never come.

Do not expect anyone to have your back, pack extra because you need to.

Do you have extra snacks?

Did you bring your water filter that weighs next to nothing?

What about that spare jacket you didn’t think would be needed at 1pm when you set out?

Did you actually bring a pack with a map and compass that you know how to use, do you really know where you are or did you just run wild through the forest thinking the trail was 50-feet that way when it was really 50-feet in the opposite direction?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have brought extra socks, or a buff to wrap around your head or neck?

What about the headlamp that you didn’t think you would need, I’d bet now you do!

Did you carry your trekking poles that you never leave the trail head without? Sure, they may help with balance.. but what if you need to secure a twisted ankle, it sure would be helpful to have the poles then!

Remember those hand and toe warmers that you never left your car without all winter, why not toss an extra pair in your pack for an unplanned overnighters?

While not even large in size any longer, it has become so easy to carry a good blade with us into the wild to be used as needed: cut sticks into a smaller size, open plastic packaging on that candy bar that you cannot grip since the sun went down and left your fingers without all of their natural feeling capability; while you no longer need to look like Davy Crockett running mad through the forest with a machete, there are hundreds of multi-tool companies out there these days, and with such lightweight materials (metals or ceramics), why not carry one – likely you will never need it, but when you do.. you’ll be happy it went along for the ride in your bag!

So many little things that can be tossed into a pack and thrown on your back that weigh next-to-nothing, can all either be never needed, or that extra little detail that make survival possible – or just endurable enough to get you through the night as needed.

On top of carrying extra things to make your survival life easier, take the extra couple of minutes while at home and learn how to use everything that goes into your pack, likely amenities and various equipment can be doubled into dozens of other uses.. with a little ingenuity and practice-work before entering the forest!

And lastly, just remember that nature is like a second home to us; respect nature and we will be rewarded ten-fold. But nature is truly wild, anything can happen – and if we spend enough time in nature, everything will happen; things will go wrong, we will get hurt, we will run into big creatures in the forest.. but if we prepare our minds and bodies and try to learn from others mistakes.. we will be that much more likely to turn a negative experience into an opportunity; to remain calm, learning and growing with nature.

Stay healthy and found out there!

Happy climbing!

– Erik

 


Winslow + Sugar Hill traverse

What is a person actually to do when all of their sources say “don’t go out there.. stay in here – but be sure to wear this mask, some eye protection and of course a sterile gown if you must spend any bit of time out of doors.. and don’t even think of coming within six feet of your neighbors, they harbor the sickness!!

This is what it has come to.. everything is off limits now-a-days.

What began with simply keeping a safe distance and remembering to wash your hands has spread to zero-travel of any sort. Not what I am all about, that’s for sure!

I mean, I totally get the quarantine and distancing bit – but it’s a little difficult for me to stomach the idea of not answering my hearts desire to breathe in nature. Pure and raw nature, with no noise or air pollution for miles; honestly I think my mind would be a very grim place to inhabit without a bit of ‘disconnect’ every once in a while!

This is working from home: Day 3

While able to sneak in a ‘pre-work’ run each morning, I decided to enjoy the sunrise during what may be one of the last mornings of fresh snowfall here in western New Hampshire. I had been eye balling a few bumps off in the distance as Ciara and I would take the pups for walks in the early springtime afternoons; finding it hard to believe that the humps that I had been tracing on the topo maps were really that close, I could almost reach out and smack their peaks!

6:35am, 19°

Thinking that I really did not need to add on the 2.5 miles from cabin door step to the Smarts Mt trailhead at the Appalachian Trail crossing, I graciously got dropped off. Standing all alone with trekking poles in my grip, snowshoes at my feet, GPS watch trying to make a solid satellite connection and our long good-bye kiss still lingering on my lips.. I stared up into the dark forest wondering what I will get myself into.

Being a resident of this naturally beautiful area in the far southwestern White Mountains, I have done a fair share of bushwhacking, but honestly much more in the high peak area than in my own backyard – well that was all about to change today!

With the image of the topographical contour lines still fresh in my mind, I was able to lay out my ascensionists plan several steps ahead.

Might as well start here, climb this hill.. perhaps that climb will afford a better view!” I thought to myself.

The eight inches of the fluffiest snow had fallen the previous evening which had been compacted into a grippable six inches sitting directly on top of the thick, impenetrable older crust – just another reason I was content being in the treeline and not a place where this fresh snow could shear off the old layer below!

Stopping every couple hundred feet, I took each opportunity to gauge my progress by the changing perspective of nearby Lambert Ridge across the gully (Smarts Mt with its fire tower sticking off the summit was also clearly visible during the entire hike). Knowing that I was to follow the shoulder directly up for a bit of time, I checked my maps once every so often just to confirm I was still on target.

Being unable to find much beta about this bushwhack, I saw a few folks online had reported climbing the trail-less peak, but that really was it, I was delightfully shocked when my thick, switchbacking bushwhack opened up to a clearing and an incredible view of the sun rising up from the east.

I actually don’t think there are many folks hiking this because while I saw no posted signs that came right out and stated “no trespassing” at all during my day – I know from living here that all of the local hunters basically live during the autumn months in their tree stands which are peppered all throughout these woods.

During the entire ‘whack through this fairy tale forest up to Winslow Ledge henceforth Sugar Hill and back down toward my residence, I think I may have trekked directly under 5 or 6 tree stands for hunting, who knows how many others that just simply did not stand out! Needless to say, I would recommend bright colors no matter the time of year around here!

Anyway, picking a route back into the forest that I thought could have resembled a path or old logging road, or maybe just my inner monologue becoming hopeful for an indication of previous adventurists.. I just continued in the general direction where I knew I could find the ledges if I walked far enough.

My wishes were heard after all!

I intersected an old logging or snowmobile path (with no fresh tracks), with the toss of a coin I decided to swing right onto this logging road which proved to be the correct direction as indicated by the “Dead End, Do Not Enter” sign faced for on-coming traffic.

Continuing to meander through the forest, the morning sun now began to shine through the trees, casting a warm glow onto both myself the snow. My path continued to climb and each time I checked the map to verify the correct direction, I only saw myself grow closer and closer to the summit crown.

Upon topping out there were no signs to welcome, no jars with summit registers to document the journey, only a hint of prior foot traffic in the area. Through the trees to the west I could see the residual haze of cloud (inversion) hanging over the river, usually I could count on being the morning commuter socked in that Connecticut River haze; quite a feeling to now be standing above it all, glancing down at the vistas!

My original plan was to follow the ridgeline southeasterly and drop down in the col before ascending once again to Sugar Hill, on the far east-side of several rolling bumps. For some reason I made a last minute executive decision to trace my line closer to the ledges, hitting the last nub which sat tall like the prow of a ship – sure glad I had because finally, for the first time of the day I had clear views through the trees; incredible sights out to North and South Moose Mts and the cloud lingering over the Connecticut River off in the distance, I was thrilled and in my element!

What looked next like a simple “trek down a bit, then hike back up a bit” on the map had me navigating around a few brief drop-offs, I really had to glance ahead to not get myself walled-off, necessitating a swift turn around.

Naturally, like nearly any time in the woods, occasionally I was able to peek through the trees before me and spot the first – or westerly peak of the two Sugar Hill bumps, “all the way over there huh? I’ll believe it when I’m standing over there..“, was basically how my recurring thought process was going, knowing that soon I needed to be back to the cabin to begin my day of working from home.

Hitting the low-point between Winslow Ledges and Sugar Hill, I slammed directly into increasingly thick new-growth saplings and super dense forest, I was immediately happy with my decision to break out one of my 12L running packs for this nimble dipping-and-dodging adventure!

As I stopped to ensure I was still on the correct (trailless) path and still trekking toward the correct bump in front of me, I stood in silence taking in all of the torn up trees, patch after patch after patch; dozens of rings of saplings had been scratched by bear claws – marking their territory or just stretching in the springtime air? I was hopeful that the markings were as old as they appeared, and perhaps left over from just before they all hunkered down for the winter?

I couldn’t be too certain when I could see dark spots from the tree resin staining the day old snow, either way I noted my findings and happily proceeded toward my next destination!

My uncertainty grew again as the scratch markings on the trees grew more frequent and now I had blue spray paint on the trees every so often, marked with numbers as if signifying bear dens? Now my imagination threw ideas all over the place!

Being somewhat relieved that there was no recent evidence of bear activity so far this spring, no snow trampled down like they do around their dens, nothing other than the scratched trees, I bounced along through the forest on my way to the real Sugar Hill.

Quite certain I had stood on the high-point atop the more easterly Sugar Hill nob, I turned to retrace several of my steps before scooting down a drainage to the north that I spotted on the hike up the hill. Knowing this direction would essentially lead me downhill, eventually intersecting with other snowmobile trails we had been on recently, I continued to follow what I could not decide was an old trail or just a brook running under the snow.

I knew I was reaching familiar territory when the hillside leveled out and I snowshoed directly into a planted grove of spruce and pine. Through one more way-over grown logging road which dead ended at a barbed-wire fence, I knew the only way home was up and over – as long as the wire was not electrified!

With a gentle tap of my trekking pole, I was relieved when I did not witness a blue flash or sparks shoot all over (as an after-thought as I type this.. aluminum trekking poles.. perhaps not the best way to check for a hot wire?). With great care I kindly stepped up and over this wire fence to the fresh set of logging truck tires just beyond.

Left or Right?

Could have gone left and come across houses in 50-feet, or were the well traveled trails off to the right where I would be home ten-times sooner than taking trails to the left? It was all a gamble at this point. Right, I chose to trek off to the right to see where that took me – about a mile into this old road walk and I now recognized some summertime trails where Ciara and I ran with the boys!

Hopping a few more locked gates and fences, (all of which are owned by my landlord and whom has given us discrete permission to use his land for hiking, running and all around roaming when hunting is not in season) I came out to more used trails and a very familiar Dorchester Road which runs along the shore of Reservoir Pond.. which will take me home!

Home Sweet Home

Of all the hundreds of times that I had driven, ran or walked this dead end road to our cabin in the woods, I don’t think I witnessed it in such a way as I had this morning. The blue sky was the blue-est I had ever stared up at, the snow melted and softened the road under my heavy mountaineering boots, the birds sang their springtime’s finest tunes – it was in this moment that I was not plagued with the threats of COVID-19; I was alert to my surroundings, letting the raw power of nature fill my lungs – for that brief instant.. I was one with nature.

Truly thrilled to call this place my home, to be able to walk out my front door and trek down the road to any number of trailless summits where there are no mass gatherings at trail heads, no picnicking at the high-points. Just many square miles to get out, unwind, tap into the beauty of a snowy springtime landscape, and just be for a while.

I hope you can also find a place that fills your heart too, it’s really what we all need in wild times such as this.

Eat plants, stay healthy – and as always – Happy Climbing!

– Erik

Oh.. and on a side note as I get ready to whip this post into the wild bloggosphere – I had to do some digging online; what I thought were “bear claws” digging at the trees are typically signs of moose or deer who had gnawed on the tree bark, actually eating it to get nutrients and things out of it! Fascinating!

Gauging at how high up the trees that I have seen these markings – and by the huge number of moose we have here in this part of New Hampshire (I have had many in my backyard just nibbling on buds!), my instinct is to suspect it was created by moose.. not entirely settling as I don’t know at first thought who I’d rather run into.. black bear just awakening or a confused, dazed and hungry moose!!

I can tell you.. it is a very sobering experience to have a moose trot along behind as you run the trails just to glance back and see that you made no headway on the moose lingering just behind!

Anyhoo – if you have any info on animals eating/stripping tree bark, I’d love to hear about it! Lovely creatures we have around here!

Did I say something inaccurate.. please let me know! Thanks as always for following along my wild journeys!

Happy Climbing!

 

– Erik


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace GPS watch

  • 6.19 miles
  • 3hr 2 minutes
  • 1,791′ elevation gain
  • Winslow Ledge – 2,282′
  • Sugar Hill (east peak) – 2,099′

 

North & South Doublehead

A leisurely start to another day of adventuring found us back in Conway, New Hampshire; turns out the rechargeable and lithium batteries that the United States Post Office refuses to handle gave us a splendid reason to pack ourselves and a bit of gear into the Subaru and point our compass east.

Seeking out mountains, plant-based pizza, quietly tucked away bookstores and the new-ish REI Coop to intercept a few new USB rechargeable headlamps for our Long Trail thru-hike!

With both hearts and bellies full, the four of us (Ciara, Boone, Crockett and myself!) bounced over the frost-heaved back roads, passing what looked miniature A-frame alpine ski villages with street names such as Vail and Chamonix, we certainly felt transported right out of our familiar White Mountains!

Knowing that we would be keeping our pups on leash (as we normally do), we humans secretly longed for trails all our own to roam free on. No luck today, with decent wintery temps outside and predictions of clear skies – the makings of sunset were legit, we were hardly surprised to find a handful of others at the start of the trail – even several Sprinter vans gave evidence of a spectacular van-life unfolding!

Feeling like I was acquainted with minor details regarding these neighboring mountains, each weekend I repetitively saw the names of North and South Doublehead among the trail reports for our other adventures. Today though, we went into this afternoon jaunt with ideas of what the trail map looked like, how the trails themselves were laid out (which direction to travel in case we got off trail.. the usual details I’d research before a hike), but not as much history and back-story for the area as I typically prefer – and honestly, sometimes the mystery of not knowing who came before us keeps the conversation sharp, fun and lively!

Our two German Wirehaired Pointers were more than satisfied with our slow start as they both got some unscheduled, early treats for sitting calmly and behaving while we happily waited for a few other pups with their owners to pass by.

It did not take long for our breath to resemble puffing locomotives, expelling rhythmic steamy clouds step by step ascending the Doublehead Ski Trail. Footing was excellent, we climbed in Hillsound spikes as our boys ran trail-side to trail-side, darting from tree to tree sniffing possibly the most interesting smells of all time!

One couple descended, ripping past on their skis with their own pupper-dog yipping at their heels. They stopped briefly to chat and ask all about our brothers. Once they had their fill of dog-petting, we wished them a very nice sunset ski and proceeded up. Step by step we kicked our toe spikes into the freshly re-frozen terrain.

Being a moderately wide ski trail, the views rose from the horizon radiating warm hues of sun-setting behind us; before long we had an incredible view of neighboring Mount Washington greeting us, illuminated like a pastel-colored ball of gelato in the distance over Ciara’s shoulder.

Topping out on North Doublehead we stood for a brief moment in time taking in a hint of breeze through the trees. The cabin, however, was absolutely bursting at the seams with commotion – the laughter emanating from the likely owners of the remaining cars back at the base lot.

It was interesting to me that the guide books all list the North peak on the “52-With a View” list, unless we missed some crazy-epic views out back beyond the cabin, the north summit left a bit of something to be desired.

Hoping to find our mountaintop “with a view” we continued back onto the main trail once again, beginning to descend almost immediately.

From the summit of North Doublehead, we left the bustle of the cabin behind us and picked up the Old Path south which loses about 300′ in three-tenths of a mile; perhaps it was the fading daylight or it could have been the glissading descent through several inches of unconsolidated snow, but the path down to the col seemed to be a moderately steep one in these conditions!

Blasting through the next intersection, knowing that the setting sun would be greatly reduced of its color minute by minute, quick work was made on the trek over to South Doublehead. Some slight meandering and mild switchbacking gave way to incredible look-out ledges on the hikers right.

The skyline now shone with deep pinks and residual glowing nectarine hues, it was here that I think I found my happy place!

Completely unsure if I had actually reached the “high point” of South Doublehead, I consulted one of my GPS/mapping apps which indicated indeed, I had not. Actually, depending on which map you consult – you may get differing direction of where the high-point of the mountain is located; some indicate the ledges that I visited initially to be the summit point, while others continued down the New Path and onto the short spur past where the New Path swings right and down grade.

Either way, both locations had great views! I suspect that some day Ciara and I will return with our pups, a plant-based power lunch basket and in good weather sit atop these rocks and watch the hawks ride the thermals!

It was so serene and lovely up on South Doublehead.. which directs my thoughts to the namers of Iceland and Greenland; perhaps they threw the title for “52 with a view” at North knowing that it would keep the scores of hikers away from the peace and amazing vistas found at South? Not likely, but also not sure!

Capturing the final moments of color in the sky before all shone a dull grey, I began retracing steps rather hastily now. I had occasionally jogged in my Asolo mountaineering boots, while not something I like to make a habit of, they are nicely supportive for the ankles and honestly.. if a person would want to hike with 5-pound weights on their feet, these boots are a darn good option for getting that extra leg work out!

In what felt like a fraction of the duration to ascend, I saw the intersecting signage at the bottom of the final hill and without breaking stride, slammed left – back onto the Old Path which began cutting down the mountainside then continued with a swing off to the left, lessening the grade.

Up and over mounds of snow, launching myself gleefully off ledges of fresh powder with the occasional one-legged glissade for style-points, I was reminded of childhood again as I leaned into each turn, hugging the new growth saplings as I meandered each switchback. It felt amazing to gain speed and just cruise down the trail as the light grew dim, letting the cares of the impending work day slip from my thoughts.

Eyes darted from the snowy path before me to the next foot placement henceforth to the surrounding forest, side-to-side I scanned for the slightest bit of movement or glowing eyes watching this wacky hiker galloping down the mountainside in a fit of laughter! I am happy to report that not a moose nor a bear was spotted (or startled!) on my speedy descent.

A very quick half-mile was tackled before reaching the lower Y-shaped intersection where we had passed not long ago, continuing back down familiar terrain along the super solid Ski Trail. It’s always amazing to me how easy it seemed to jog down this path, possibly warmed up from the slow slog up-slope earlier or perhaps enticed by the thought of seat heat once back at the Subaru helped to hustle our trek out.

Any further to go and I think we would have been breaking out the headlamps, but as the last bit of light dwindled we slowed to a walk to complete the remaining quarter-mile or so, enjoying every last bit of trail time that we had.

Just like that.. sadly another adventure was coming to a close but (..happily for our taste buds!), not before we made a side trip to The Met in town for iced lattes and a black coffee containing several glorious shots of espresso – just the late night fuel we craved to keep eyes pried open for the two-hour drive back to our cabin.

It was a very lighthearted day, late- but perfectly timed start for an incredible sunset in the mountains, no where else we could want to be (..except maybe wrapped in an electric blanket, cozied up with each other and a good book!), great company, awesome eats, good trekkin’ – long-days are always welcome, but I am totally already looking forward to the next short-day out for us!

Interested in more of these 52-With a View sort-of jaunts? Be sure to check out my other post, a quick read all about this list of hikes.. right over.. here!

Be well, stay healthy and have happy climbs!!

– Erik


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 3.93 miles
  • 1hr 54 minutes
  • 1,988′ elevation gain
  • North Doublehead – 3,053′
  • South Doublehead – 2,939′

Headlamp Analysis

How many straps do you need to hold the light onto your head? Do you want to see up close or far into the distance? What’s actually the deal with the red, green, blue.. why not just a simple white light? Is the strobe-light function really just for ‘dance-party-mode’? How can a person choose between disposable Lithium batteries, rechargeable nickel-metal hydride batteries, or sticking with solar power to re-fuel your headlamp?

Convenience, reliability and some degree of comfort are key not only when traveling in absolute darkness through chilly alpine terrain or the dense night forest, but also when you are stranded on the side of the road at 3am and need to change a flat tire. While I always recommend carrying a spare headlamp, the first step should be starting with a reliable, powerful headlamp in the first place!

So while I will try to answer all of your questions and make the arduous task of choosing a headlamp an easier one for you, let it be known – I’m not going to sell you to any one particular brand, my goal here is not to review a certain headlamp that I’ve used, but to review features that I have found helpful or even perhaps detract from the overall user experience; so if you have an allegiance to one particular brand, great! That’s a fantastic place to start and see what they are doing with the available technology, but I have found that when you really want to keep your options open to finding what works best for your needs, throw that brand-favoritism right out the window!

Where is a good place to even start? Fish around online – most companies have online sales going in rotation, so it’s actually hard to not find a deal these days! Try an outfitter such as REI.com, or visit a local store to check out your options in person!

Cost

The first thing to keep in mind is that as the price of a headlamp increases, this does not necessarily translate to ‘more-power’, ‘more-features’, or even that the headlamp will out-perform a cheaper headlamp – it really depends on what you need your headlamp for; some folks need a headlamp that is sealed to the highest standard for the roughest conditions, some need to see further or in a more broad are, while others want to know their headlamp will last for several nights of a multi-day outing or event.

Maybe you have heard the term ‘lumens‘ tossed around, this is a great start to figuring out if a certain headlamp is just right for your needs. Typically, a headlamp that is listed as higher in lumen power will illuminate a bigger area and give you a brighter light output.

Brightness

This is good to keep in mind because if you are not running mountain tops in the darkness, you may do just fine (and save yourself quite a bit of that hard-earned cash!) with a headlamp lower on the lumen scale. If you dig around enough you can find headlamps ranging from 25 – which may be great for lighting up camp or reading in the tent, all the way up to a bewildering 1000 lumens – which may be great if you need to be spotted from the space station!

While you may think “bigger is always better”, one thing to keep in mind is that if you use a headlamp with higher lumens, your battery will be drained much faster than a lower light. One way to avoid this is to stay mindful while using your headlamp, if you don’t need the extra illumination.. think about dimming your headlamp by switching through output modes to conserve battery life, saving the full blast of power for when you really do need it.

Turning your light output down certainly helps preserve your night vision too; once switching from a bright light to complete darkness, for most people it takes the rods and cones of their eyes anywhere from ten up to thirty full minutes to completely regenerate and become sensitive to darkness once again.

Beam color

One ingenious feature of the modern headlamp is the varying color modes; fortunately these red, blue and green filters are not just for your backwoods dance parties any longer!

  • red light – excellent for reading at night or for seeing short distance like getting up to use the privy at night because the red does not dilate the pupils, thus preserving your hard earned night vision
  • blue light – mostly used for map reading at night, but also great for seeing in foggy conditions
  • green light – also excellent for night vision around camp and for those hunters out there, it has been said that the green light does not scare away fish and wildlife as easily, however, I have found that the green option is not as common the red or blue, so you may need to narrow your searches if green is a must!

Another feature that is finally common on most headlamps that you’ll want to keep an eye out for is a lock. Too many times I have been told that my pack is lit up while I had been walking down the trail at night, completely unaware! This is a great way to render your headlamp completely useless, if it turns on unintentionally draining your batteries – so I always make sure my headlamps can lock, and that I do actually set them to lock-mode when stashing them away in my packs!

Size & weight

The size and weight of a headlamp is an important element to keep in mind also – no one wants their neck to strain from having a weighty piece of metal and plastic on their heads, plus the heavier your headlamp is chances are you’ll have to keep your strap tighter just to keep it in place!

Do some digging if you are questioning why similar size headlamps vary several ounces in weight and it is not obvious why: perhaps the shell is thicker or made of different materials to absorb the impact of being dropped or smacked into overhead rocks while caving, maybe it has a regular (old school) light bulb instead of a newer LED bulb, perhaps the headlamp is designed to tolerate harsher conditions, or fully sealed to go diving with it!

Don’t be afraid to ask the “why” questions!

Headlamp straps & comfort

Whether you are in the market for your first headlamp or just an upgrade, you have probably seen the different strap set-ups available. This is very important because if you are going to wear a piece of equipment around your head for many hours overnight, you’ll want to ensure it is as comfortable as possible! Manufacturers offer headlamp straps made with different materials, greatly varying their elasticity.

I find that for wearing a headlamp on a climbing helmet, generally the one horizontal strap will suffice – especially if your helmet has the handy tabs to clip the headlight strap into! Lately, I have grown incredibly fond of a certain headlamp that has a strip of ‘anti-slip’ gel laced into its’ strap, helping to keep it in place while not needing to crank the strap super tight.

One downside to many one-strap headlamps is that during the use, and exacerbated by sweating, the headlamp will begin to slip down your forehead.. this can be infuriating, especially if you are trying to concentrate on critical foot or hand placement; one remedy for this is the addition of another strap that runs vertically over the head – all of these straps should always be easily adjustable.

But if you cannot find a headlamp that will fit your needs or budget with three straps, it never hurts to wear a beanie or Buff under your headlamp; while not perfect, this prevents the strap from sliding down your forehead – and adds a bit of padding to the whole set-up!

Bulbs

That brings me to the actual light source itself! The weight of headlamps has been greatly reduced since the proliferation of LED bulbs – which have a much longer lifespan and longer burn time due to consuming far less battery power than conventional light bulbs.

How many bulbs do you need? Each bulb is included in the headlamp for a reason, and most of the time numerous bulbs won’t fire up all at one time either; some are aimed for distance while some bulbs act more as a flood light for improved near-vision, you may even notice the red bulb off in its own dome of housing – it all depends on the R&D team at each manufacturer!

It has also become standard for headlamps to have some adjustability in aiming the actual beam housing, allowing the user to point the beam up or down without straining your neck constantly.

Batteries

Here is where headlamps differ the most: how do you want to power your torch?

There is nothing wrong with a headlamp that strictly runs off a swath of AAA or AA batteries – in more recent years I have converted all of my standard headlamps to run on rechargeable AAA batteries, the only downside is that rechargeable batteries just do not last as long for one use as something like a lithium battery.

I have had lithium batteries last for a full year in the harshest of conditions (sub-zero winter frosts, roasting summer heat, drenching springtime rainstorms, etc.), these batteries certainly outperform most others in cold wintery conditions – so if reliability is what I crave.. lithium is more expensive but really an excellent choice.

Rechargeable batteries are great for my running headlamps where I know the duration should not be more than two or six hours of use, then I can put them back on the charger to top off – but honestly, taking them out and putting them back in every time I want to use them gets tiresome real fast!

Several companies now make headlamps that can be recharged via USB cable; I feel as if I had been secretly asking for this ever since doing my last 9-day thru-hike. Having the ability to top off batteries with an external battery pack is priceless (I charge the battery pack via solar panel while I hike or camp).

Features

Or better titled: sequential button-pushing.

For me, simple is better. I have owned too many headlamps that require the user to commit a Morse code-like sequence of “hold that button and tap this button”, or “press three times quickly” – when my fingers grow stiff from cold temps, a series of button clicks seems like the most difficult task, and I’ve certainly been there in a panic because I had difficulty even pressing a button once!

While easy is nice – pressing a button once to turn a light on or off may be the preferred method for most, it goes without saying that having options of beam strength or light brightness is absolutely key to unnecessarily draining your batteries prematurely.

Not all headlamps give the option of picking your own brightness settings, some have a preset several options while others allow the user to press and hold to choose just the perfect setting.

I suppose what it really comes down to is taking your headlamp out before you set out on your adventure and get to learn its settings, play around with what the buttons do – and for those truly tech-savy nighttime adventure seekers – there are headlamps now on the market that allow you to set all of your headlamp settings via an app on your smartphone, which is great.. as long as you have the juice left in your phone to power all of these apps!

So is there really one best headlamp? No, not really – like I said, it depends on your intended use, your needs and what environment that you will be using your headlamp in.

I only hope this helps you make an educated decision on your next purchase – it is surely an important one – and a piece of equipment that will hopefully be in your pack for years to come!

 

Got a question about any of the headlamps that I’ve used or need any specifics?

Let me know! Email, IG, FB, or leave a comment on here and I’ll be happy to help ya!

 

Have fun, hike safe, climb smart and stay bright!

Erik


Northville-Placid Trail – Pt 2

As Ciara and I begin the more-and-more frequent discussions of our next long distance trek through the woods, I thought it would be a most splendid idea to get the last days and final arduous miles of our May 2019 trek of the Northville-Placid Trail (NPT) off my mind.. I mean, this is only running 9 months behind its original publish date.. final 55 miles.. here we gooo!

Day 6 – Part 2: Lake Durant (re-supply) to Salmon River Tent-Site

The afternoon remained crystal clear; blue skies with a touch of wind – just slight enough to dry our sweaty clothes and soggy gear. We all finished our cucumber and tempeh sandwiches, polished off the final gulps of fresh watermelon juice and stuffed down all the cold, crisp grapes that our hearts desired.

Were we really ready to don our 75 liter packs again? Our tired shoulder and back muscles creaked at the thought of being loaded up once again. Using the tailgate of Tuesday’s ‘pit crew’ vehicle, we reluctantly slid into our shoulder straps and slowly stood straight, bearing the full weight that we desperately tried to distance our minds from during the last several hours of down time.

Hugs were exchanged, perhaps even a few sweaty tears were dropped as we said our good-byes once again: our trail just out of the parking lot began immediately ascending into the forest to where the warm sun rays broke through springtime leaf cover.

Back on the trail, Ciara and I continued on and on.. recounting all of the lingering flavors and scents – all of the home comforts that Tuesday had graciously brought to us thru hikers, the tastes of home that we so badly did not want to depart with!

It seemed that if today had a theme it would be something to do with ‘logging‘; the path that we followed was tremendously scarred with such activity, each of us (and our pups!) climbed over downed trees, slogging our trail runners through sandy logging roads that I had actually remarked to Ciara, appeared nearly identical to the aftermath from the Mount St Helens 1980 eruption/landslide photos that I had seen while watching documentaries: the trail was absolute chaos to traverse.

One positive though, was the fact that there was no active logging taking place – no trucks or equipment to dodge as we made our way through this unsightly disaster area, which truly was a surprise given that we walked through on a Wednesday!

After several miles of following bright logging signs and dense blowdown, we reached the lovely sight of water: Tirrell Pond, where we happily swung north (left) along the pond for, there was a lean-to site but it appeared that the bridge to the campsite had long been washed out; very glad to not be traveling over this ponds’ outlet.. we continued left!

Tirrell Mountain appeared in the distance beyond the shimmering water and even when I had no experience rock climbing, I wanted only to dump my pack along the shore and ascend its glossy, gray granite slopes!

Reaching the tip of the pond we stopped momentarily to stand in the sands of what-would-have-been a fantastic tent site, complete with a beach – such a gem of a find!

Eager to find a home for the night, we pressed on into a forest that we thought would simply never end. We searched either side of the trail for what we thought would be an open grassy patch to pitch our tent, all we found was occasional blowdown (easily stepped over!) and a lovely, but dense birch forest on either side.

The miles passed so slowly as we made our way, sensing that we were truly alone for miles in either direction – we simply continued the only way the forest allowed, knowing (by my map) that there was “some-sort-of road” up in the distance.

After what seemed like an entire new day of trekking, our NPT bisected a quicksand-like desolate dirt road which stretched to both our left and to our

right.

“Which way?”, Ciara asked – eventually she found the blue “NPT” trail marker stuck to a tree off trail with an arrow signifying we head toward a bridge in the distance.

Into the muck we sank, I actually felt somewhat guilty for leaving my shoe imprints in the road – but had no other way to travel unless we trampled moss on either side of the trail.. to the bridge we slogged!

On the other side of the bridge dipped a cut-off path wide enough for a narrow vehicle.. the best part of this spur road, however, was the sight of a fire ring several feet from the waterside.

This was home.

Packs were dropped again, tent set up, wood was gathered (the night ended with no fire).. and naturally, grapes were devoured! Just the sweet juicy goodness that we required after that walk in the springtime sun, and as we listened to Salmon River lap at the shoreline, together we lay there speculating what tomorrow may bring.

Day 6 (part two) stats:

  • 7.18 miles
  • 3hr 44 minutes
  • 722′ elevation gain

Day 7: Salmon River to Plumley’s LeanTo (Long Lake)

Awaking from possibly the best night of sleep yet on our multi-day trek, I briefly walked our road barefoot, letting the sand massage my constantly wet and shriveled up toes – I guess folks pay a lot of money for this kind of foot-treatment back home!

Coffee and breakfast complete, once again we packed up – neither puppy dog wanting to step into their harness – but we had miles to go; according to the map, today we would be reaching the actual high point of the Northville Placid Trail; unable to locate a name as we did not actually pass over a ‘summit’, but the trail traversed between the named peaks: Salmon Pond Middle-West Peak to the east and Salmon Pond West Peak.. to the west!

Prior to beginning the gradual climb to our ‘scenic view point’ however, we did encounter possibly the most beautiful open-grass field of the entire trek! Complete with a petitely arced bridge mid-field, we stopped to take many photos – the grasses grew nearly as tall as our pups packs and gently swayed in the morning breeze – it was surely a sight we will never forget!

Back on the climb though, and without knowing otherwise we could have mistaken this land for any gentle-grade mountain found in upstate New York: we had rocks, roots, vistas behind us, yet another magical place to find ourselves today!

We never actually found the ‘look out’ spot listed on our map, perhaps it was shrouded in springtime growth, needless to say we both greatly enjoyed what we had before us, no need for anything more! And as soon as we reached the crux, we began a steep decent down the northern side.

In the far distance we could even spot our next destination: Long Lake.. but how could it appear so many miles away? Neither my eyes nor legs wanted to believe that speck in the distance would be our next rest stop!

Descending from the Salmon Pond peaks, eventually we were kicked out onto muddy forest access roads where we awkwardly stepped into sunken truck tire tracks which we reluctantly followed for several more miles; our spirits occasionally lifted by signs trail side indicating we were growing closer to the town of Long Lake.

Remarking to each other that someday we would return to ski the beautifully remote trails which spider webbed in every direction, we continued until our hanging jaws stopped us dead in our tracks.

We had reached the longest boardwalk that I had ever encountered; nearly a full mile trek of log underfoot, meandering gently through boggy swampland on either side – I don’t think either one of us had seen a trail quite like this – to this day I am amazed at the craftsmanship that went into such a lengthy creation!

As the sound of auto traffic intensified, we talked to fill the air with the idea of lunch in our very near future.

It was a strange sensation to put feet back onto blacktop once again – which we followed out of town and past quaint residences or vacation homes, while we didn’t see anyone around it was nice to have each other!

Reaching the trail register at nearly the end of Tarbell Road, we dropped packs once again, layered with jackets and all collapsed onto the grass in search of lunch: oranges were top on the menu – still fresh from our re-supply with Tuesday yesterday.. and oh boy did that orange juice hit the spot!

Next stop: Long Lake!

Surprisingly, this is one area of the Adirondacks that I do not remember ever visiting as a child, but I am surely glad we did on this trek!

Crossing the outlet, climbing over boulders and rocks, we reached the trail and kicked our way through nearly a foot of last years fallen birch leaves, which lit up the trail with the brightest yellows, oranges, and speckles of reds – at that time there was no place I could imagine enjoying more!

I stopped to take photos of little white flowers with pink and purple stripes (Carolina Springbeauty.. or Claytonia caroliniana), mushrooms of all shapes and sizes lined the trail – it all appeared to be straight out of an 1800s post card!

Now, for the first time in what seemed like days we encountered hikers and other friendly folks out enjoying this incredible stretch of nature alongside the ‘Lake.

We had our choice of camp spots and lean-to’s but decided to cross our fingers, hoping that the finest of the lake would be available.. and much

to our delight – it was!

Following a short spur trail toward the lakeside we set up ‘home’ for the night in Plumley’s lean-to, which had a short trail out front to filter water, another out back to a boulder where I sat watching ominous storm clouds roll in; all around we found debris that had washed ashore from neighboring lake homes as we roamed around, becoming explorers while we had packs off!

Our first night with the luxury of a roof over our heads, which came at the absolute perfect time – before long the sky grew dark grey and the rain began spitting on us overnight. Needless to say, we were content and dry in our sleeping bags while we slept the rain storm away!

Day 7 stats:

  • 17.28 miles
  • 8hr 46 minutes
  • 2418′ elevation gain

Day 8: Plumley’s LeanTo to Duck Hole

Awaking to the pitter-patter of rain still bucketing down on the lean-to roof, I unzipped the tent door to confirm what I heard: it was raining. But I wanted coffee.. and no rain had ever stopped me from morning coffee!

 

Ciara and the boys slept as I filtered water, waiting for coffee water to heat up over the MSR stove – the sound of MSR Pocket Rocket will always remind me of these mornings as it resembled a jet taking off.. next stop.. Coffeeville, USA!

Within a short walk, we were offered an outhouse; despite its front door laying on the ground adjacent, we still felt blessed to have that little nook to get out of the rain and accomplish what was needed!

With a late start to the morning, we packed up like usual after concluding our long breakfast of tempeh with hot sauce (this treat really grew on us over our thru-hike, sure to grace our taste buds next trip, I hope!) and plotting out our next moves – we talked now with hesitation as we ruminated over warning signs on our map such as “Caution: Beaver Activity” and “Caution: Blowdown Area“.

We knew we were in for a slow slog as we prepped our minds for what was to come!

Once actually out on the trail though, we passed several re-routes which thankfully avoided several boggy areas. The sound of water crept back in, the rains had returned. With several minutes of dry walking, we had the time to once again equip with rain gear once again.

Upon reaching Shattuck Clearing, we thought we had seen the worst of it – in fact, up to this point.. we had not seen anything.

The deafening thunderous crash of river whitecaps broke any silence we had and before long, we could not hear one another yelling – despite being only feet away from each other.

This was Cold River.

When the map reads ‘Cold River’, they mean no joke – the air chilled as we lost elevation and continued toward the sound of chaos. Our spirits were lifted if only briefly at the sight of a suspension bridge crossing the raging river. Minutes earlier, as we walked toward the river, we spoke grimly – not knowing if we could get around this obstacle, we then considered the fact that we may actually have to retreat after 115 miles of walking this path.

We thought the worst was over. The river was crossed, we breathed calmly again – proceeding to all have a snack and sips of water, readying for an easy trek along the shore toward our next camp spot. Wrong again.

We entered the “Caution: Blowdown Area“, depicted on my topo-map, and this time the map was clearly not wrong. The rain came down in buckets turning the worn trail underfoot into a slick mud slide. Up and down, over wet terrain we went, over trees, under trees.. slowly progressing, our hands only growing increasingly numb by the minute.

Honestly, my mind was not in a good place at this point (yeah, yeah.. it’s nature, enjoy nature..). My numb extremities crawled up into my Gore-Tex jacket sleeve, using trekking pole straps just to keep each pole from falling away; hands nor feet could get any more wet.

I stopped dead in my tracks staring in bewilderment: the Cold River came up and over the Northville Placid Trail – trail markers off in the distance under feet of foaming river water.

With water cresting as far into the woods away from the river as we could see – there was no way around but through.

Cold. The river water was frigid, it took no time at all for me to question how this body of water came to be named. The air surrounding the river was growing icy as elevation dropped, and up to our knees we began.

Slowly the miles crept by, somehow we advanced down this trail – I knew the alternative – and there was no going back now: the only way out, was through.

I knew how far we advanced by the tributaries we had passed – next stop was listed as “footbridge“. Just prior to reaching the Ouluska lean-to where “we could dry ourselves there and build a fire there if needed“, I think I said out loud at least once – the cold blood from my fingers and toes began to skew my memory.

Just.. Walk.. Forward..

Did we find the footbridge? Yes, we did.. wait, actually – we were completely uncertain of where we were, I thought we had reached the footbridge – every aspect of our surroundings indicated that yes, we had in fact reached the footbridge.. where the hell was our damn footbridge??

Directly in front of us was another swollen river flowing into the Cold River – so with that, I knew exactly where we were.. the footbridge had broken away from our side of the shore and drifted down stream: we could clearly see what used to be a footbridge was now a collection of toothpicks half under water.

We grew desperate, cold, I began to panic. Seeing the lean-to across the river – we now had to find a way across, but how? Not a chance either of us could actually swim through this torrent! Dogs would be swept away in a second.. assuming they were crazy enough to follow human counterparts across this raging mess.

I began to scour the shore: searching for anything, for a sign of hope that we could proceed without certain hypothermia. Swimming was out of the question. I had a coil of rope.. but had not thought that I needed to bring enough rope to span a 30-foot river!

The only chance we had lay draped across the river, with violent waves lapping up and over: a log. Not a speck of bark remained on this log, it was completely glossed over by prior torrents of water and perhaps countless winters. Would it hold us? Not sure. Would it crumble into the white-capped river below? Maybe.. I was the first to jump at the chance to find out.

This log was indeed slick.. absolutely no denying that fact, but in that moment all extraneous thoughts fell away, all of life’s concerns trickled out of my mind and followed the path of the stream: it was me vs this icy log.

Unsure of how I actually survived this delicate walk – I tiptoed, then sprinted full-on while tread lost traction across the remaining half of the log as I felt my traction disintegrate below my trail runners. I could have knelt down to kiss that sand – never had I been so relieved to stand on solid ground!

My attention now went to my friends remaining on the other side – I swear, I was witnessing this river growing deeper as the seconds passed – as if trying to swallow this log, effectively keeping us from safety.

First, Crockett lunged himself onto the glossy wooden water crossing, pausing just long enough for confirmation from mother back on shore of a job well done. I desperately called his name until he proceeded toward me.

In all honesty, I have absolutely no recollection of the mind-bending seconds of panic surrounding Ciara and Boone crossing this log –  I do however, recall very clearly thinking that today would be my first rescue mission, and I did not cherish that thought.

Once on the other side and all safe the hugs and kisses commenced – we survived possibly the scariest moment of my life in the woods, next thru-hike.. bring rope!

Geared back up, we began the 20-foot trek up to the lean-to; turned out there was a young couple sitting in the lean to the entire time.. and never heard any of our shouting or screaming over the crashing waves. We exchanged a brief recount of our trip thus far, all I knew was that they had made it to this point.. we could surely make the trek out!

I think my mind was numb for the next hour or two following that river crossing, unable to tolerate much more adrenaline than what it had just experienced.

We passed the site of the Rondeau Hermitage, a place of ruins and antiques that I had wanted to photograph for years leading up to our adventure – but as the rain proceeded to come down in sheets, we blew through that intersection without batting an eye.

The blue NPT discs grew extremely sparse now, at times I was even unsure that we were trekking the correct path – only to be reassured by signage indicating Duck Hole was just ahead.. thankfully we were still on the correct trail!

Not far out of Duck Hole, the snowy trail returned. Half rotten old snow, we post-holed with every careful step – slamming shin-bones into a hardened layer of crust found just below the surface.. it was no surprise that the lack of patience, hunger and sleep deprivation now grew palpable.

Convinced that we would find another gem of a tent site just prior to needing headlamps, we sloshed through more mud.. even slipping down the trail several times. Needless to say, our level of disagreement between one another grew until we both gave in and pitched our three-person tent along the side of the trail, certain that we would not encounter a single living hiker at this time of the night, here in such remote wilderness.

Goodnight bears. Goodnight moon.

 

 

Day 8 stats:

  • 20.18 miles
  • 10hr 1 minute
  • 2343′ elevation gain

Day 9: Duck Hole to LAKE PLACID!!

Don’t quote me – but I think this final night I actually slept for 36 minutes.

It was a rough night, to say the least.

The sun was not even a glimmer of hope as I decided to myself “now I make the coffees!

The gentle sound of both dogs waking to yawn, then back to sleep coincided nicely with the sound of Ciara’s clear frustration with me as she slammed over to the other side of her sleeping bag, I couldn’t blame her a bit; we were all over-tired, hungry, ready to trek out but were all still soaked to the bone from the prior days onslaught of downpour and sketchy river crossings.

I think she ate two bites to my nine as I cooked our final day of homemade black bean pasta, couscous and veggie something-or-another.

The only questionable spot on the map standing between the morning of day nine and Lake Placid was one final: “Caution: Beaver Activity“. In my mind, we took on the worst yesterday.. so at least I was convinced: today should be a slice of cake!

Departing the Roaring Brook area (where we camped for the night literally on the trail..), we started with possibly the fastest pace of the trip yet. I had Crockett still attached to my pack and possibly sensing the end, he pulled hard with every step, sending my pack straps straight into my hip bones; with each step my patience with him grew more and more thin.

Grin and bear it, I reminded myself.

Someday, I would like for all of us to return to the Wanika Falls area – it was truly a beautiful sight, but unfortunately we had a rendezvous with Ciara’s mama, Tuesday – so on we trekked at lightening speed. We could see the fast flowing falls in the distance cascading majestically down the mountainside, a place I would expect crowds.. but luckily for us, we found none!

Today’s stream-crossings were no less frequent: muddy trails, 10-foot brooks every quarter-mile or so kept our shoes and toes nice and cold (insert sarcasm here), but to our delight the sun was shining and our speed kept our tired bodies more than warm enough.

The trail meandered around standing water – Crockett almost taking me into each as he lunged for toads.. really anything that moved was fair game for his chasing – even blades of grass dancing in the wind were pounced upon!

We passed a trail crew during our final miles, thanked them for their hard work (secretly wishing they were ahead of us earlier in our trek!), the volunteers inquired about our trek up to that point. We were extremely happy to have met them.. until they shattered our reality with the words: “enjoy the next 5 or so miles!“. Ciara and I were convinced, per our map that we had gone further in the day, we were not ready to hear the grim news of five more miles to trudge.

Those miles were near silent, we walked over bridges and around bends in the trail, I tried to take in the beauty of it all but desperately wanted some joyful laughter between the two of us back again.

As we began to pass more day-hikers who smelled of cologne and cheap perfume, we both knew that our nine day exploration journey was nearing the end.. somehow, I was not ready for our trip to end. I was not ready to get in the car and be whisked back to the doldrums of everyday life. I craved the simplicity of survival, of walking, of filtering water and heating food. I secretly craved more trail.

We eventually happened upon the road, the trail head, the parking lot of cars with folks driving in only to take selfie photos with the Northville-Placid signage, which indicated: Northville, NY – 135 miles.

We had walked from Northville, I felt we earned our selfie with that sign.

Only we knew what we had endured during those nine days over one hundred fifty-three miles (according to my GPS tracks).

Others had walked our trail, but we had our stories, our blowdowns, our breakdowns, our love of the trail.

Today was our day, today we completed what we only dreamt for so long.

And with one text message, we found out Tuesday did not expect us until much later in the day.

Turns out Tuesday still had many hours before she could be here to get us.. so with the hike still fresh in our minds, we broke out a sleeping bag, curled up and sat next to Chubb River.. covered in mud, soaked with sweat, not ready to give up our trek yet.

With the morning sun beating down, we drifted off.. dreaming of our next long hike.

Day 9 stats:

  • 10.6 miles
  • 5hr 2 minutes
  • 1070′ elevation gain

Northville-Placid Trail

Total Stats:

  • 9 days, 8 nights
  • 153.83 miles tracked by my GPS watch
  • 18,460′ elevation gain tracked by my GPS watch
  • 21,855 calories burned (according to Strava)
  • Altra Superior 4.0 – shoes worn by both Erik and Ciara

52 With a View

Are you perhaps new to hiking in the glorious state of New Hampshire?.. Or maybe you are looking for a different type of adventure – something with a slight twist from the typical “New Hampshire 48”, the 4000-foot summits?

While lists and “peak bagging” is not for everyone, I found it can be a charming way – or even a guide as to what to hike next, Summit of Doublehead Mtor where to adventure next!

There have certainly been many weekends where I’ll sit by the fire with coffee nearby and ponder my options – and really, the options for good trekking in New Hampshire really are endless, so how could a person simply ‘run out’ of options for fun mountains and places to adventure in this massive state?

There are days when I have absolutely tossed twenty or more peak-names around in my head, plotting my would-be adventures on topographic maps only to sit back and think aloud, out of near frustration: “but nothing really.. calls to me.

There are many out there who would scoff at the idea of having a list of mountains to “check off”; pick a mountain, climb it, picnic on its summit, which-ever-way you want to enjoy new trails – and that’s it, check it off the list, done.

While I can honestly say, yes I use lists as more of a ‘guideline’ of what is available to me locally or wherever I may be traveling to on any given weekend – I am definitely not one of those folks who will conquer a trail just to remark: “never again!” – there are always different seasons, varying times of the day – such as a sunrise or sunset hike; trails can absolutely be hiked any time of the year.. but with proper gear for winter travel, of course!

The options for a good, satisfying trek are truly endless with a good imagination and desire to get outdoors!

So, where might I be going with all of this?

To a list that most have probably heard of – if you have stepped foot on any trails in NH already, or found yourself striking up a hiking-related conversation with other hikers’ – most have certainly heard of it!

52 With A View.. or better seen in print as: 52 WAV

This was a sort of challenge created by a few hiking folks that absolutely took off – these are not your typical ‘high peaks’ as they all fall under the four-thousand foot mark, so you won’t find the Mount Washington massifs on here!

Obviously, as the name implies, at least at the time that the list was mustered up – in 1979 (revamped in 1990), there were views on all of these mountain tops. Well, naturally, shrubs grow thicker, trees often times grow taller – but I have found most of the views that once made these place names a hikers’ destination still provide incredible panoramic views.

Why hike off the 52 WAV list?

For really any number of reasons! As in my case, there are weekends where I’ll ruminate over contour lines of a map and for a moment become somewhat depressed that no trail really beckons to my soul – these are typically shorter, easier hikes to trek than some others found in the White Mountain National Forest.

But what is really captivating for many folks (myself included at one time or another!) is that upon completion of all fifty-two summits, the kind organizers offer a finishers patch to spice up your pack, tack into a frame with your favorite summit photo, or just hang onto and collect ‘memories’!

In an effort to make this a ‘one stop shop’, and of course a ‘thank you‘ for reading along – I’ll kindly include a bit of info as to where you can get your own 52WAV patch.. later on in this post, below!

At the time of writing this, I cannot claim to have hiked all of the mountains on this list, but I have either solo’d or trekked with friends along many of these routes – so, of course you can comment on here or shoot me a note on any social media platform with any questions – if I don’t have the answer – I will gladly find it for you!

Where can I find these 52 With a View?

Just do a search on your favorite web-browser and you will find a plethora of trail reviews, maps you can print (always have a hard copy of your planned hike.. and of course, know how to read your map!!).

One site that I have become familiar with that even offers hikers’ a spectacular App for any smart phone to track your progress or even use to simply pinpoint where these hikes are located is Peak-Bagger (I threw a link in there for you, just click the text!). I enjoy this page/app because it is super easy to add dates, elevation gain or any special notes about each hike that you would like to have all in one convenient spot to quickly refer back to and jog your memory!

Plus, one epic feature is that you can select a tab to view the lists that your ascended peaks fall under, select which list you want to view; the map that is generated contains way points signifying each peak to signify where they are located with green dots for climbed or red dots for ‘to-still-do’, I love it!

Do I need any special gear to tackle these magical mountains?

 

No way! Well.. maybe some binoculars or good snacks if you think you may want to relax and observe nature during some of the time not spent trekking17 miles to a secluded 4000-footer in the middle of the National Forest!

While the trails are generally easier jaunts in the forest, they still provide steep trails – after all, this is still New Hampshire, and most of these trails are still located next to their taller cousins.

Just be aware of what season you are hiking in: if you naturally feel you can articulate your feet and ankles on our east coast trails with simple grippy trail runners or approach shoes, that should do you just fine in three of our seasons!

Of course, be mindful that these trails are no different: they get steep, they get wet, they get massively eroded down to rocks and roots, you absolutely can still twist ankles – these are still hiking trails into the forest – don’t ever assume that you The author on Smarts Mt - fire towerwill have cell phone service anywhere on any hiking trail in New Hampshire!

What are the peaks?

I’ll include a list of names and elevations as a starter for you (also below), if I wrote about my hikes to these destinations I’ll graciously link those pages to the names, so just click away, read and enjoy! However, if you don’t find a link to a hike that you are interested in.. there is a good chance that I just have not written about my adventure yet.. these things take time! 😉

Please feel free to reach out to me about any one of these hikes – if I haven’t yet climbed it, I’ve likely put in a bunch of time researching the peaks, so please do reach out if you would like any additional info here!

..52 With A View..

 

  1. Sandwich Mountain – 3,960′
  2. Mount Webster – 3,910′
  3. The Horn – 3,905′
  4. Mount Starr King – 3,898′
  5. Shelburne Moriah Mountain – 3,735′
  6. Sugarloaf – 3,700′
  7. North Baldface – 3,600′
  8. Mount Success – 3,565′
  9. South Baldface – 3,560′
  10. Cherry Mountain – 3,554′
  11. Mount Chocorua – 3,480′
  12. Stairs Mountain – 3,468′
  13. Mount Avalon – 3,440′
  14. Jennings Peak – 3,440′PeakBagger.com - 52WAV map
  15. Percy Peaks (North Peak) – 3,420′
  16. Mount Resolution – 3,415′
  17. Magalloway Mountain – 3,383′
  18. Mount Tremont – 3,371′
  19. Three Sisters (Middle Sister) – 3,354′
  20. Kearsarge North – 3,268′
  21. Smarts Mountain – 3,238′
  22. West Royce Mountain – 3,200′
  23. North Moat Mountain – 3,196′
  24. Imp Face – 3,165′
  25. Mount Monadnock – 3,150′
  26. Mount Cardigan – 3,123′
  27. Mount Crawford – 3,119′
  28. Mount Paugus (South Peak) – 3,080′
  29. North Doublehead – 3,053′
  30. Eagle Crag – 3,020′
  31. Mount Parker – 3,004′
  32. Mount Shaw – 2,990′
  33. Eastman Mountain – 2,939′
  34. Mount Hibbard – 2,920′
  35. Mount Kearsarge – 2.920′
  36. Mount Cube – 2,909′
  37. Mount Willard – 2,865′
  38. Stinson Mountain – 2,840′
  39. Black Mountain – 2,820′
  40. South Moat Mountain – 2,760′
  41. Black Mountain (Middle Peak) – 2,757′
  42. Dickey Mountain – 2,734′
  43. Iron Mountain – 2,726′
  44. Potash Mountain – 2,680′
  45. Blueberry Mountain – 2,662′
  46. Mount Israel – 2,620′
  47. Square Ledge – 2,600′
  48. Mount Roberts – 2,582′
  49. Mount Pemigewasset – 2,557′USGS marker atop Mt Cube
  50. Mount Hayes – 2,555′
  51. Middle Sugarloaf – 2,539′
  52. Hedgehog Mountain – 2,532′

For information about receiving a patch for your determination and love of adventuring.. I have been told to direct you to:

  • Mark Tuckerman
  • PO Box 718
  • Center Harbor, New Hampshire 03226

Also, be sure to check out a few of these resources for a bit of further reading and research bliss!

All along The Long Trail: Jay & Big Jay Peaks

What..? Come on Erik! Really.. another ski resort?

Yes! I mean, well.. not really just another ski resort – this mountain – which does feature a spider-web of ski slopes, lifts, gondolas, even topped with a restaurant adorning the highest summit boulders; yes – this is the Jay Peak that you have heard of. Year after year, season by season – commercials and radio ads try to convince you that your season will not be complete until you ski their lines, or mountain bike their glorious routes.

This is ski country, but you won’t find me strapping into ski or snowboard bindings for this excursion – for, I am here to taste.. The Long Trail!

Located just a mere twenty minutes (by car.. just a bit longer by foot!) from Journey’s End, home of the Long Trails northern terminus; this 274 mile foot trail cuts directly over the highest point of Jay Peak and continues southward through the state and reaches its endpoint upon entering the lovely little town of North Adams, Massachusetts.

A part of this hike was being used as recon mission for when Ciara and I take on the nearly month-long trek with our puppy-dogs, but seeing as today’s hike featured more blowing snow than mud and cool autumn sunsets.. landmarks were noted and the good times were commenced!

With realistically two options of where to initiate my hike, I chose the more popular trail head located on Route 242. Depending on which direction you are entering from – I came from the east and dropped down onto the main road, passing the official parking areas for the ski resort and within several windy miles finding the hiker lots located on the left bank of the road.

Finding two lots, I chose the second simply because it actually had what looked like trail head signage, a kiosk with maps and a fenced off area with gigantic solar panels. Both lots were plowed well for my 8am start time, and much to my surprise – my Subaru had completely free-range of the lot when I pulled in.

I was actually shocked to notice the parking lot filled with perhaps 25 to 30 cars when I arrived at the end of my day – but after talking with a few folks prepping their skis and split boards I found that most others out this windy morning were staying at lower altitudes, east of the main road on the Catamount Trail.

There were signs indicating that I had parked in the correct lot, but it took digging out my phone and firing up the AllTrails app to locate where the Long Trail actually crossed the road and re-entered the forest. Turns out I was very close to the trail, just out of view of any official markings or signage.

Gear choices could have been negotiable, but I chose the new Tubbs Flex Alp snowshoes for my traction source.

The trail cuts off Route 242 and instantly begins to ascend steeply up the side slopes of Jay and its surrounding mountainous nubs. Barely 20 feet into my climb and I already wanted to stop and make some photographs of the tiny hut just out of sight of the highway, remaining private enough for a 6-10 hikers to find refuge if needed. I did not see any nearby signs indicating whether overnight camping was permitted or not (but thought this may be a perfectly sheltered, wooden platform for our Long Trail journey, if allowed of course).

I absolutely cannot wait to re-hike this section of trail in the coming warmer months; I often times find my mind glancing around in the winter, trying to get an idea or create a rendering of what the surrounding topography might look like under these feet of snow! I bring this up because this section of the Long Trail appeared to be in a gully, the trail was very well packed (I probably could have gotten away just fine with spikes on my boots) with suggestions of multiple feet of snow off to either side.

All around was evidence of prior bushwhackers and backcountry skiers taking advantage of the freshly fallen powder as they created their own lines down to the base of Jay Peak.

Cutting through a beautiful forest dotted with old, gnarly white birch the trail ventures through several small open groves – making the mind wander off to a time in early spring with birds singing, buds budding and blue skies as far as the eye could see, certainly a place I may not leave when we revisit during our thru-hike!

When I say that the path began ascending the side of the mountain, it really did not stop until climbing nearly 1,500 feet and topping out about a mile and a half later, bisecting the ski trails.

I made the mistake of not remembering that my hiking trail actually crossed the ski paths and continued along the broad rocks, in my error I ended up simply continuing along the ski trails – I’ll let it be known though that this peak was actually not open to skiing (another pleasant surprise), the ski trails were littered with rocks and open patches with grass blowing in the high winds.

It was super eerie roaming around the summit (honestly, at this point in my trek – I did not step foot on the actual peak yet!), seeing the unoccupied restaurant with chairs neatly turned up and stacked on the tables – very reminiscent of the then closed Saddleback ski resort in Sandy River, Maine.

The summit screamed for me, but I did not answer.

Wind, wind.. and occasionally even more wind! The wind this morning was absolutely nuts, blowing in circles from the instant I left the shelter of the forest canopy and stepped out onto the ski slopes. Needing an extra layer I ducked between building and what remained of the carved out summit cone, fighting through sideways blasting winds for my Gore-Tex shell, the moment the fleece layer was protected I instantly warmed up. Ready for more!

Glancing down the ridge, I spotted my next objective. But how to obtain this so-called bushwhack of northern Vermont? I had read the reports, checked the maps, now the 3,786 foot rock massif stood quietly before me – just a wall of gusting, screaming wind roaring between my snowshoed boots and the summit. Make that trek!

Unsure of how to locate the herd path over to Big Jay, I simply began trekking down the empty ski trails – I could remember reports of folks instructing to ‘look for the repaired fence‘.

I quickly put distance between myself and the high reaches of the 3,858 foot peak of Jay. The only direction that made sense to my mind was to trek down one of the ski slopes to where the grade of the ridge appeared gradual enough to hopefully contain a path.

Bushwhacking Big Jay

According to maps and tracks, I had descended southwest about three-tenths of a mile and located the famed fence. Perhaps this barrier had been broken in the past, it was in superb shape at my arrival – in fact there was even a fence.. fitting behind the fence allowing skiers and all-around adventurists to slip between and around – all the while I was looking for a literally busted up fence, with jagged planks to limbo under!

A quick glance at the French and English signage (so close to the Canadian border it makes sense!) and I was officially making footprints on a trail that I had anticipated for so very long!

Had there been an award for ‘biggest grin’, I would have taken home first place.

Herd path? More like hard-to-miss path!

I suppose had the skiers not come before me and packed down a six-foot wide path with their angled skis, it may have been slightly more tough to follow, and in Big Jay’s defense – there were plenty of areas where the fresh powder had blown and drifted clear over the ski tracks. Some idea of navigation came in handy today!

Within minutes of trekking through a most lovely forest, I could glance back and see just how far I had come – it looked like miles to get back to the pointy Jay Peak!

The terrain continued to roll but all the while, I could glance up and just slightly off-centered left there stood my peak, and naturally that too appeared to be miles away! All I could do was keep on laughing, continue my solo fun-fest and leave my snowshoes pointed at that big ol’ rock up ahead.

Reaching the col, it was back to climbing – which was gradual, some steep parts to really test out the traction on the new Tubbs snowshoes; I really enjoy the security that these snowshoes offer, they constantly felt stuck to whatever terrain I put under them – packed powder, loose fluffy powder, crusty ice, several feet of powder (as was the case when I reached Big Jay’s summit), the snowshoes aided me in crushing any place I wanted to venture!

Noticing several spur trails swinging off to the left (east), I continued straight toward the behemoth reaching skyward in front of me; but I recalled the articles I’d read earlier of several skiers who decided to actually slash their own ski trail down one of Big Jay’s faces – thinking I had found memories of these cuttings.

End of the line.

“This can’t be the end!” I pleaded with myself – I suppose one could argue that the path did continue onward southerly, but in all essence of the word, it terminated here.

Glancing around, I thought I saw where skiers had continued down the mountainside – I was certainly not here to follow their descent, however!

Assuming that I had reached the summit, I poked and prodded around.. looking for what bit of land might stand just a few inches taller than where I was, into the deep, fluffy snow I bounded.

Branches had been snapped, twigs all broken off.. to me, that meant that people had slammed their way through these trees – for one reason or another! I followed through the sharp, stabbing branches.

One glass jar hanging by a yellow cord, containing a yellowed pad of paper.

This is what I climbed for, this glass jar hanging from a green summit sign which eloquently read BIG JAY. This is why I drove hours north, this is why I strapped snowshoes and laughed my bum all the way up that hill.

In all honesty, I had no idea that this trail-less summit even contained a summit canister; I knew that there was at one time or another, a canister that had been stolen – but I was completely unaware that it had been replaced.

10:18AM on January 25th, 2020 – I signed the summit register.

I sat there, kneeling in the snow, guarded from the gusting winds over head. I did it. Glancing through the register, I noticed it had been several weeks since anyone had located the canister and signed in, and there I was.. scribbling in granite to last all eternity.

I climbed my mountain; or at least that’s how I chose to remember it!

The trek down showed the strength of the wind around – my tracks had been blown clear over, but with a decent idea of direction I bounced down the hills, up and over rolling topography, back through the col and stopped short by the first friendly faces I’d ran into of the day!

Three skiers grunting their way up the bushwhack path, the first two said hi and inquired about the state of trails ahead, the final was (my best guess) a young teen – she exclaimed that this was her first day on skies! and they were all skinning their way over to Big Jay.. impressive to say the least!

Back to my hosting ski trails, I was still alone on Jay’s slopes so I weighed my options.. go directly up to the summit via a steeper path with open rocks and blowing grass – why not, I thought aloud and fired my breath off into ‘slow and steady’ mode.

Greeted by winds as I opened back up onto 3,800 feet, I could see weekend riders shredding it up and making passes on a minor peak within the resort – I was still alone on Jay, well.. except for the one guy hunkered down under a flight of wooden stairs trying to get a cell signal on his phone, he never saw me waving to him though.

The stairs leading to the actual summit were roped off.. so more bushwhacking is just what the doctor ordered! In all actuality, it was maybe a 25-foot light scramble up some boulders, some icy, primarily snowy though and in short time I found myself standing on the pinnacle.

There were elegant stone benches and signs scribed with the names of both hikers and locals, complete with varying tidbits regarding the Long Trail; I would have read them if it had not been for bursts of high winds – I needed to use trekking poles to stand upright, creating a sort of tripod with my body and trekking poles.

Finding the USGS survey marking disc atop this pile of rocks, I let out a few salty tears.. which may have been exacerbated by the blinding winds tugging to sandblast my corneas behind sunglasses.

Seconds seemed like minutes as I finally decided enough was indeed enough.

It was time to retreat, back down the ski slope and finding my path, ducking back into the canopy of forest protection: I was back on the Long Trail once more today.

The decent took what seemed like minutes, almost galloping down what took so much effort to climb, I let gravity guide my body in a ‘controlled fall’ down the mountainside until I began running (almost literally) into dog walkers and other friendly forest goers.

Those without snowshoes left a trail of evidence behind them as heels plunged into the packed snow, I hoped my wide footprint would help disguise their destruction – perhaps it would take another bout of snow.. it is still early winter, after all!

The sound of traffic grew louder and before long I saw the wooden structure once again.

 

My day was done, my mountain had been climbed.

 


Overall stats for the day

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 6.15 miles
  • 2hr 57 minutes
  • 2,890′ elevation gain

Interested in how the Tubbs Flex Alp snowshoes held up on my trek along The Long Trail in Vermont? I’ve put quite a few miles on these puppies over super varying terrain – don’t forget to check out my post about the Tubbs snowshoes.. right.. over.. here (click the link!)!!

As always, thanks for following and reading along! Let me know if you have any questions about the hike or my gear.. or anything! Have a great time in the mountains – and whenever you find yourself needing fresh gear.. don’t forget to use any of the REI.com banner ad links found here.. or on the right column of the home page.. it helps put gas in the Subaru and bring you more adventures, gear reviews, trail reports, races recaps.. whatever fun stuff happens.. you know it will be fueled by plants and brought straight to you – Cheers! Happy Climbing!

– Erik!