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


Mnts Washington & Monroe in winter!

Ever since New Years Day when I took a trek with the intention of visiting New Hampshire’s high point and some surrounding rock massifs, I thought about making a return trip. The thought of this ruminating in my mind so frequently day after day until giving in, I decided against any freshly dusted local mountains and opted to get outside once again in the peaks named for Presidents.

I wanted to get high. I needed my focus to become so myopic that the seconds passing before me twisting with the given conditions were the only bits of information surging through my thought patterns.

In other words, an escape into an alpine world is just what I craved.

The weather leading up to my climb was looking good: being a day or so after nearly a foot of fresh powder had fallen, the skies were looking clear enough for the morning, wind speeds were down and my spirits were high!

Upon mentioning my intention to climb back up alongside the Cog Railway I was greeted with many crooked heads, confused looks and “why on earth would you want to do that? that’s a terrifically boring trail..“, I listened on and on. I knew it was a very straight forward trail..and probably one that would be frowned upon as “not technical”, or not challenging enough to be considered a “real trail”.

Oh well.. my day, my trail. I thought to myself. In the weeks leading up to my winter ascent of Mount Washington, I had picked up some new snowshoes as my old trusty running snowshoes were just not up to the task anymore, the traction had become terrible, I kept snapping rivets, day by day I considered it to be a miracle that they even survived the hills and made it back to my car at all.

Today, I wanted a playground to really test out the Tubbs Flex Alp.. so that is where I went! Some variables got traded for a straight forward “this is your ascent, this is your trail.. now climb and let us know how the Tubbs perform”, is basically how I looked at my line scarred into the shoulder of New Hampshire’s mightiest.

I came prepared with, I suppose, a little bit of everything for the day, not really knowing what conditions I would encounter following the previous day’s snowstorm: Hillsound spikes, full crampons, Asolo boots, ice axe (which really could have been used, but my trekking poles did the job a-okay), I even brought along a balaclava despite the weather experts calling for low winds atop the mountains.

Anybody awake for sunrise (I was driving..) was greeted by a most majestic color display: reds mingling with yellows and oranges off in the distant sky, illuminating the surrounding frosted hilltops. My anticipation was growing palpable and I longed to be up on a ridge watching the sunrise glowing warm through across winter wonderland.

Soon enough I’d be among the clouds.

Two hours passed rather quickly and before I knew it: I had placed my National Park Pass into the window of the Subaru, geared up and headed out of the Ammonoosuc Trail Head parking lot (which I had to myself this fine morning!).

Rounding the first corner – my objective finally came into view. Such a clear morning, so unlike my previous excursion on New Years Day with 50mph winds, 85mph gusts, zero visibility with white-out conditions – I could not ask for a better day to be with nature so far today!

I was greeted at the Cog Railway parking lot by an employee who I assumed was on a smoke break, turns out she was standing in below zero temps just to say hello! She warned me that if I wanted to pass through their parking lot ever again then I would be forced to pay the $10 parking fee, I respectfully declined – asking her if any of the $10 I had just paid the previous weekend could be rolled over to today’s fee, by the look on her face.. I think I was the first person to inquire of this.

Finally, I thanked her graciously for awareness on the subject, wished her a fantastic day and proceeded to put feet into snowshoes – she was overall pleasant and probably just doing a job that her boss asked of her.. pesky hiker trash such as we!

Zero wind had me opting for a simple fleece jacket, which helped to shed my perspiration as I placed foot in front of foot, slowly slogging my way up the second steepest railway grade in the world. Passing the water tower at 3,800′, I said “good morning!” to a fellow hiker who had stopped to take in some sustainable – turns out I was not the only crazy one playing around on the Cog railway trail this morning!

In what seemed like minutes (actually about an hour..), I passed the location at treeline where I made the call to descend last time – I was now in new territory for the remainder of the hike! The snow was completely packed solid for the first 2 miles or so, thanks to the snowcat who tore a trail up the slope earlier in the morning; the climbing was surely steep, but easy going thanks to the beefy crampons and side rails of the Tubbs Flex Alp.

I was now following a solo hiker who was bare booting their way up the side of Mount Washington, leaving four inch deep ruts with every boot step, I tried to soften over the prints over with my snowshoe tracks. Finally, I saw the owner of the aforementioned boot tracks – standing up at the top of the slope, I was able to grab a few iconic photographs before they too continued over the crux and north, onto the spur trail heading to Jefferson.

This too, was my original plan: to trek over to Jefferson and back – but when I took a few steps onto the solid ice flume trail, I decided today was not the day and that I simply did not want to deal with a frozen river of rock and ice; in hindsight, I can honestly say this was the best decision that I made all day. Had I actually gone over to the third highest in the state, I would have put myself several hours behind and been trapped by the incoming snowstorm delaying my drive home – very content with my decisions to keep climbing!

Continuing up along the Cog tracks, I tried to follow the windswept crusty snow that the snowshoes bit into with ease. I peered to the left (NE) now and immediately recognized a little mount that I had read about. Crossing the frozen auto road to access this added bonus, the boulder field leading to this pile of rock was completely swept with inches of rime, some of which grew to a foot long, sideways facing stalactites jetting off the summit rocks – needless to say, I was treading very carefully and lightly among these incredible formations!

I saw this mound on maps in the past, it took one more check to remember that I now stood atop the ‘Ball Crag’ and planned my next moves toward the summit cone of Washington. Up along these lawns of Washington, the wind finally made an appearance, as did my outer shell to retain any bit of warmth in the fleece layer. Although, the hazy sun did a fine job of warming any darker layers – such as the gloves.

All was eerily quiet atop the states highest: not a soul was in sight despite the idling snowmobile engine off behind one of the sheds. The wind continued shaping and re-shaping, tossing snow crystals constantly into an evolving sculpture tight to every window and door of the visitor center until the vertical walls no longer showed, just sloped snow up to roof top.

Still. All was quiet, masked by the rush of the wind swirling, dipping and dodging around each structure, curling feverishly around the sign posts. Still, I was alone up on this peak – not a person around as I made my way to the infamous brown Mount Washington summit sign, this was my chance to snap a photograph without a line of tourists wrapping off the summit.

My intuition told me that about two minutes was all my quickly turning beet-red fingers were willing to be bludgeoned with before I had to plunge them back into the warmth of super thick OR gloves.

There was really no need for map and compass as I departed the shelter of the final outbuilding, heading down Southwesterly. The Lakes far below were hidden well under a layer of blue/green ice, the hut clearly visible and my next major destination thrusting steeply into the sky just beyond.

In a sense, I was also doing a recon mission – constantly checking snow conditions for a potential winter presidential traverse coming up soon – when the conditions are favorable!

Descending the peak of Washington, somewhat still in disbelief that an objective such as this could be accomplished and now over so quickly, I was truly all laughs and smiles as I bounded down the windswept slopes. In sections, all of the typical ankle-snapping rocks had been tucked away behind a layer of crust – what I imagine glacier travel to be like, and sure as hell I want more of it!!

It was easy to see the half-buried rock cairns, which I continued to kind of follow, keeping them in the back of my mind but really quite lax in trying to actually follow the true trail – as long as I stayed off grass and mushy things that were not rock, snow or ice, I was content!

With each step I was able to look back at the towers adorning the reaches of Washington’s summit, thinking out loud “yikes.. came that far, already!

Just prior to reaching the beautiful lakes down below I encountered the first instance where I thought a hand on my axe would have put my mind at a bit higher ease – the side of the ridge just sloped right away, and one misstep would have a hiker careening many hundreds of feet down to the trees waiting below. While probably not a fall to one’s death, there absolutely would be the possibility of catching a crampon spike and twisting an ankle, or worse – with care I traipsed through, leaning up-slope and into my trekking poles, it was really “no problem!“.

The hut was bounding with life now from groups of trekkers taking a snack break after the 2,300 foot climb out of the ravine below. I tried to ask one of the crampon enthusiasts if that was actually sufficient or if they would have preferred to ascend with snowshoes.. all I got in response was snickers and snarls, laughing at the sight of me trekking through these parts wearing only Hillsound spikes, which were admittedly not great – but the 3/4″ spike was better than nothing, that’s for sure!

I was back in my element after leaving the party vibe surrounding the Lakes of the Clouds hut and made way over to the Monroe loop trail. Short and steep. That certainly did not change in the past year and a half since I stood on these slopes with Ciara and the pups, traversing this ridge during the summer months.

The 5+ inches of snow on top of flowing ice had me wishing I had made the switch into full crampons prior to ascending, I will certainly remember that one for next time and probably leave the Hillsounds at home, we’re in crampon country up in these hills!

Again, the wind remained mild upon reaching the final push to 5,372′; photos were snapped, but most importantly.. I stood. Not prepping gear, not eating nuts or drinking rusty water, I just stood absorbing the wind, letting it sway me around space momentarily. I stood staring back at Mount Washington in the far off distance, I had to take this time to sink into myself and just be, just taking up space; thinking about home, thinking about what it was like to be here in this very minute. Thinking of the decisions that I’d made which put me on this summit at 11:15am on January 18th.

The descent off of Monroe, again, reminded me that crampons would have performed ten-thousand times better than the mediocre spike depth that I had entrusted on my feet up to this point: the 6+ inches of snow atop ice flume on the slopes proved to be just a bit deeper than Hillsounds wanted to crunch into.. essentially, I had no traction.

I may have slipped around a bit, but eventually returned in one piece back to the hut below. Happy to see folks now making their way up in snowshoes, I hoped for a nice trek down – at least one devoid of postholes from the previous onslaught of crampons chewing up powder.

I also returned back to my state of snowshoe use, tipped my hat one last time at my friends the mountains, already eager to visit once again as I turned to take the Ammonoosuc Ravine trail down. The trees slumped over, still weighty with the recent snow clutching their boughs. This was postcard country. Possibly one of the most lovely winter scenes that I had hiked in yet, just what was needed to make this already epic day simply over the top, complete with a little bit of everything, now with all of the beauty!

Some ice, a bridge or two, some waterfall hopping, a lot of powder was what the ravine trail had in store for me on the descent. I assumed as a result of this amazing weather, that I would find a slow-moving highway of winter backpackers slogging their way up the hills; what I found to my surprise though were merely two men way down by the trail head, just beginning their adventure – packed to the gills, possibly in for an incredible winter camping experience! As usual, I wished them a fantastic time and scooted by with under a mile remaining.

All the while as I climbed down along the Ammonoosuc River, I couldn’t help but just stand in awe, once again staring – watching the clear water flow through partially frozen blue and green layers hidden in the depths of river water.

As I came out of the forest, I was immediately urged to return, to turn back and walk into the woods – I did not want to believe that my trek had come to a close already, such a perfect day could not be over so soon!

Another page of climbing had come to a close, this chapter of Mount Washington along with Mount Monroe in winter had

come to a close. I had learned so much all along this solo hike, from getting used to gear in winter conditions, becoming more comfortable with tools that I had at my disposal, to listening to my body, fueling it, pushing it, and resting as needed.

I hope this recount helped learn you a few things about winter conditions in the mountains, and with a bit of preparation, showed just how enjoyable life in the backcountry truly can be. While some would argue ascending in sub-zero temperatures could be too dangerous – I too agree, but we must take the knowledge and experience learned time after time, trek after trek into the wild and apply it to each new step in the forest. Learn to recognize what sounds daring in the mountains and dial it back just a notch or two; pushing one’s self in the hills while knowing what we are capable of, not comparing yourself to the dude in $700 mountaineering boots who, likely has not had the same experiences you have.

Be yourself in the mountains, climb strong, but always work at becoming stronger than the mountains will ever demand of you.

Strive to learn more than you will need to climb smart. Be stronger than you think you will need to be. Eat foods that your body can easily fuel itself on, decide to use real food, whole plant-based foods are without a doubt, better and richer for your body. Don’t think that because hiker dude over there slopping down a pouch of stale beef jerky that you too can excel with the same junk – be surprised with how far GORP (good ol’ raisins and peanuts) can take you, and bring a water filter.. always.

Did you enjoy my trip into the hills? Let me know!

Shoot a comment here or find me on good ol’ instagram for all the latest adventures!

Have an epic trek, learn to be safe, have fun always and Happy Climbing!

– Erik


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 9.72 miles
  • 5hr 20 minutes
  • 4,721′ elevation gain
  • Mount Washington – 6,288″
  • Ball Crag – 6,106′
  • Mount Monroe – 5,372′

Thin air atop Mt Adams + Madison

On the first day of Winter my true love gave to me.. decent weather, clear skies, and alpine trails to dash through the snow.

I’ve had that voice in the back of my mind for days now. I don’t hear it often but when it perks up, I listen. The voice had remained silent for a few months now, but just again in the past several days, it has reawakened and began screaming all day and all night, trying to tell me just what I wanted to do with my time.

This is the voice of idea; the voice that conjures up lofty, epic goals featuring long loops with steep trails that I inevitably end up adoring for their brutal yet scenic nature. The voice stokes the fire within my lust for adventure, and it was back – leading the orchestra of my thoughts now into crescendo.

It had been too long since I had toed the rocks high above the treeline in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, and for the first real hike of this years calendar winter – here would be the perfect playground to get the winter gear wet yet again.

I explored options of different trails, read reports and tried to figure out which forest access roads remained open. The weather had been pure excellence lately: some snowfall days prior, light winds in the higher altitudes, light cloud cover with some freeze-thaw going on over the past few days.

Expecting that I might very well be breaking trail, my 75 liter Gregory pack (used for thru-hiking and carrying larger cold-weather loads such as additional water and clothing during winter months) was packed with anything I thought could be needed out on the trails: extra clothing, water-proof pant shells, extra socks, beanies, head lamp (that hopefully would not be needed), map and compass of course, water filter and an extra Nalgene bottle of water tucked away inside my pack, while the HydroFlask that I knew would not freeze went along for the ride on the outside of the pack.

A beautiful sunrise accompanied my commute northeast to the high rises of New Hampshire, and an even more beautiful sight was discovered when I pulled into the Appalachia trail head in Randolph to find under ten cars (in a lot that typically houses +70 on a summer day, with cars overflowing out onto the highway shoulder), some of which had frosty windows – indicating they had been parked for some time, with their inhabitants likely somewhere in the forest probably camping or hiking already.

Geared up and with a beep of the watch, all the satellites were tracking my modest pace as began the slow, arduous climb up and out of the valley. The views began behind me, stretching back out to Randolph and Route 2, showing just how far I had gone since leaving the roadside lot.

Bare boots quickly gained their white and orange attachments as the trail became several inches of soft, granular snow and post-holing was not something I wanted to contribute to a popular trail this early into the morning.

I met the first hiker of the day while just over a mile into the Valley Way trail, she was heading back down toward the trail head clearly looking shaken up and terribly emotional. Without trying to pry, I asked if she was alright.

“They told me I’m too weak and that I had to go back!”

Turns out she had hiked too slow for the remaining members of her party who had forced her premature retreat, but she sure did handle her massive 50 pound (guessing of course, but it was a huge pack..) backpack like a champ!

Wishing her a nice day, we parted and before long had caught up to her friends – I remembered their leader from my finish of the NE111 several weeks prior, over on Mount Carrigain. Once again, the guide of the group shook my hand and tried to give out his Almond Joy chocolate bars to me, I politely declined in favor of my 85% cacao superfood and espresso bean blended culinary masterpiece (just kidding.. I didn’t have chocolate up there, but espresso bean chocolate will probably always be my favorite!).

Here and there, my mind remembered images along the jaunt in that it recalled from a year and a half ago when Ciara and I took on the Presidential Traverse via this same trail, I thought I could recognize sections and precariously downed trees despite the change in seasons. Such a beautiful trail, the fresh snow acting to dampen any hint of a creek or peep in that forest.

Somewhere around 3.8 miles with 3,400 feet of climbing behind me, the trail began to level out – and now with the sunny slopes of Mount Quincy Adams shining through the trees, I knew we were getting close now!

Approaching Madison Springs Hut, the path levels out and meanders shortly along a pathway lined with rocks – but today the space between the rocks had frozen over as one large ice flume, a big mass of sticky blueish green hazed ice, the real world appears so much different, more elaborate, much more beautiful up here in the mountains.

It appeared that I had been the third hiker up the Valley Way trail this morning – the other two had dropped their packs and snowshoes at the hut just prior to ascending Mount Madison, in fact, I could see their colorful jackets up on the slopes of Madison – appearing like little ants slowly making their way up the frosty rock covered grade.

Deciding to keep my pack and snowshoes on, I began up the spur trail after them.

The winds picked up with each step, climbing higher into the thin air.

I passed the two ladies now making their descent just below the summit cone and we talked for a minute, until the winds sunk deep into my finger tips and I had to get my thickened blood pumping once again.

The summit air had a calm to it, sure it was windy, but with the mountain literally crumbling away on either side, I just stood there in space, letting the wind tear at my face, reaching through my beard. The roaring winds were serene.

I could see everything from 5,366ft – the Wildcats standing out first with their carved ski slopes, of course Washington was amidst the many with its antennae reaching further into the sky, one could almost see the arc of the Pemigewassett loop beginning with the Bonds and continuing counter-clockwise over South Twin and henceforth Garfield, before reaching the jagged white points of Lafayette and the rest of the Franconia bunch.

Knowing I had more miles to trek today I put my camera away, plunged stiff fingers back into thick gloves, grabbed for my trekking poles and began the slow descent.

The Dion snowshoes had been upgraded with stainless steel crampons underneath so the traction was superb, it was the frame of each snowshoe that had been casting my foot in varying directions as I bounded from boulder to boulder. With a few sketchy landings, occasionally I had to stop, collect the thoughts and remind myself that I was in fact alone up here and no one was along side to drag my busted ass back down this hill – it was all me relying on myself, I was my own way home.

Back at the Madison Springs Hut, I turned back to witness with my own eyes where I had just been twenty minutes prior.

Oh, the places our little legs can take us!

Onward to Mount Adams.

In some regard, this hike into the Presidentials was somewhat a recon mission, constantly scoping out the state of everything up above treeline – Ciara and I both want to trek the Traverse in wintertime, and I have set in my mind the conditions that I think would work best for us and our two fluffy quadruped brothers.

I was hoping that the flanks of Adams would be filled in by gusting snow by this time, but each jagged boulder clearly showing itself, and in fact now with partial snow and partial frost-covered rock, the ascent became even more treacherous – but I love it because each step must be so well crafted, thought out, intentional and secured in place before relying on any crampon spike to hold our weight. The other hikers continued in spikes, I left my running snowshoes on for the ascent.

I began creeping up on the two ahead of me once again, occasionally I found myself following in their footsteps.. they sure did choose an excellent route up the mountain after all!

When they stopped to yell to one another, I took in the opportunity with zero-wind to snap a couple of photos. The image of these women in bright teal jackets with trekking poles in hand and snowshoes fastened to their packs appeared so iconic for winter mountaineering, I had to soak up the classic image before they knew I was behind them.

As the two reached the summit sign and began snapping their photos, I offered to take a few shots of them together.. almost in exchange for breaking up their early morning mountaintop celebrations.

One of them offered to shoot some of me before shimmying off to their next destination, that was when I heard “hey.. I think I recognize those snowshoes!”

Between the beanies, buffs and sunglasses – I did not even notice that the hiker who had snapped my photos was none other than Michelle who I met and helped break trail over in the Wildcats with last winter!

After talking and laughing about the minuscule size the world can be at times, I wished them the best and a very Merry Christmas, agreed that we would all run into each other again some day and I began away from Adams.

False alarm! I had only made it about twenty feet down from the summit when I decided to drop my bag, have some snacks and just sit, staring face to face with Madison and enjoying its flowing flanks with all of its muted colors. It was a view that all money could not replace.

After my short, but much needed refuel, I could hear voices sailing down the valley like a sine wave from my friends over on Madison. I was alone for miles standing just above the Great Gully!

I abandoned my plans of continuing over to Jefferson as I was quite content with how my day had gone thus far, and did not want to run the risk of needing my headlamp above treeline, plus Ciara would be getting home soon with the doggies and I wanted to also spend some time with them – all of my favorites packed into one incredible day!

The return trip down Valley Way was much of the same, upon beginning my descent however, it was apparent to myself that my mind desperately did not want to leave one of my favorite places on earth – but I knew before long that we would be back, climbing hand over hand, digging trekking poles in deep as we would make our way over to Crawford Notch via the Presidential Traverse!

I began passing many more hikers as I descended, quite a few with large, lofty packs complete with all of their extraneous gear and trinkets, attached by carabiners and rattling with every step, likely going off at the beginning of their long holiday weekend to winter backpack with their buddies.

Some asked how the trails were, others simply grunted as they passed.

I was all smiles as I glissaded down, able to see Route 2 far below, through the trees as if acting as my beacon, indicating how far one had to walk to reach my Subaru’s heated seats and barrel of grapefruit that I had prepped for post hike munchies.

The trail was much more packed on the descent, most hikers ascending opted for Hillsound spikes while carrying their snowshoes. As I trekked on, the sound of big rigs out on the highway grew louder and I knew the inevitable was just around the corner.

It was still early in the day as I dropped my pack at my car, ditched the wet layers and rehydrated with as much fruit as I could fit in my belly.

This morning, I had the comfort of solitude in the forest.

I found silent reflection on the sunny slopes of these high mountains.

I made new friends and found old acquaintances while out in the woods.

I left shell fragments of an old, fragile me next to the windswept alpine mosses and as I descended, now able to stand taller than ever before.

I search to find the playful child I once was, eager to climb any boulder that stands in my path.

The day is Christmas as I write this, a good day to reflect on where the past 365 days have taken us.. a magical time to day dream about where the next year may guide us, but none of it matters if we can’t smile, laugh and love where we are today, our paths and how they came to mold us to what we are today.

Let’s be the folks who make laughter contagious this year as we climb high and run far together!

As always, thanks for following along my journey and epic adventures – a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and all that good stuff!

 

Happy climbing!

– Erik


 

Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 10.20 miles
  • 6hr 18 minutes
  • 5,495′ elevation gain
  • Mount Madison – 5,366′
  • Mount Adams – 5,799′

 


 

Favorite Gear of the Day!

Sometimes the difference between a great day and just a day out can be a simple as what is in your boots. Especially important in the chilly winter months, it is imperative to keep warmth in (without over heating) while keeping snow and water out of your boots!

 

A wild pack of Carters +Hight

5:03AM

With gear packed neatly in the Subaru, I creaked slowly down the frozen driveway; loud enough to wake the neighbors, if I had any neighbors that is!

The weather was looking stellar for a run or hike in the White Mountains, but at that time in the morning I was still unsure of where I was even headed. It is a very unsettling feeling, the knowing that you want to get out and adventure somewhere but being stricken with the anxiety of ‘what if the conditions are crummy where I go.. maybe there would be less wind, or less ice, or less traffic if I go to Vermont instead of New Hampshire..

This kind of thinking creeps into my thought pattern more than I would like to admit, it drives the mind in absolute maddening circles – does it add value to my thinking or help problem solving? No, not really. Can I do anything about it? Kind of, but only once I realize that it is happening!

I had spent most of Friday weighing my options, neatly charting what the weather forecast looked like at varying locations spanning 360 degrees out from my cabin. Would the winds be less ferocious up north but be cold as ice down south? I weighed my options with nothing that really called to my heart.

I just wanted to get out.

I wanted a long day out in the forest. I needed trails to run, mountains to climb, to get my heart thumping and legs throbbing, I wanted nature to somehow release my mind of my own thoughts, I needed nature to relieve me of the everyday cycle. I didn’t care which surrounding state it was in, the forest is where I was going to disconnect for several hours.

Still creaking down my once dirt, now frozen-tire-tread dead end road, I had narrowed my destinations to that of a few, and by the time I had regained cellphone service – I had forced a decision of a distant memory and plugged that into google maps to guide me through the blustery dark night to my trail head parking lot.

Nineteen-Mile Brook Trail Head

The drive (..thankfully!) was uneventful, google deciding that I deserved more back roads than I was accustomed to; the large parking lot already contained about 8 cars when I pulled in just as the sun was coming up over the neighboring hills around 7:15am.

Considering myself lucky to have scored a parking spot so easily (the lot fills to capacity quickly once daybreak occurs each morning, then overflow cars begin to line Route 16), I finished getting gear together and layers on before opening the door to the 23-degree world outside.

Other cars containing enthusiastic day-hikers poured in and continued to fill remaining parking spots as I tightened my Salomon Speedspikes – today’s shoe of choice as I recalled from Moosilauke just a few days prior, also confirmed by trail reports on NE Trail Conditions that the snow was packed with not enough of the white fluffy stuff to justify snowshoes.

 

Opting for a 12-liter running pack, I assumed this would be a sketchy day and probably my last of the season for soft flasks of water, if it were any colder the nozzles probably would not have stood a chance with the cold – but I live to tell, they performed just fine, a bit frosty toward the end of the hike – but thawed enough to stay hydrated for sure!

I had packed my Hillsound spikes and several extra GoreTex layers, all of which simply went along for the ride, tucked in my pack – best to have them and not need them, instead of the other way around!

7:30AM

*BEEP*

And just like that: GPS watch was recording, hands were tucked in gloves, pack chest straps tightened, trekking poles gripped and my carbide steel spiked shoes were digging into the icy layer that adorned the trail already – a good choice indeed!

A quick walk soon turned into a some-what jog down the frosty trail.

19 Mile Brook Trail; Ciara and I had been here a while back when we first played in the Carters, we loved this forest – it doesn’t take much hiking past the trail head to really feel engulfed in desolate wilderness, it truly makes one forget that Mount Washington is looming just beyond the trees to the west, bustling with folks trying to drive up its flanks – I’ll take my quiet alone time in the Carters any day, thank you!

The trail meanders for 1.9 miles to the Cart Dome Trail cut-off that most this morning would take up to Zeta Pass, Ciara and I both adored this trail and all of the switchbacks. For today, I would be continuing on 19 Mile for another 1.9 miles to Upper Carter Lake, just shy of the Carter Notch Hut where I have heard rumors of fresh bread aromas wafting far up the sides of surrounding mountains, as if to guide hikers straight to the hut!

The trail crosses several waterways, all bridged and nothing of any difficulty (the water was also low..). I could see this trail being more of a portage trail for the hut, it truly is very gradual, some gentle ascents, descents.. all while meandering alongside its namesake brook – very picturesque indeed!

On several occasions I have stood high atop the cliffs of the Wildcats peering down, almost certain I could recall actually seeing the hut from way up high; despite the cold, whipping breeze, there was not much that could have broken my trance-like stare, everything around appeared absolutely timeless: ice hung from rocks, to the warm hues of morning sunlight glowing across the frozen pond. I had found my happy place in nature!

Knowing that I had many more miles to cover before finding the comfort of heated Subaru seats once again, I began that climb. I had heard rumors of its steep grade – and I am here to attest: no.. they do not lie. Perhaps it was the added wind threatening to rob me of my balance, maybe it was the extra coating of fluffy powder on the ascent.. my quads would definitely agree it felt like 1,400 in that final 1-mile to the summit of Carter Dome!

If I actually said how much snow I had to contend with from the open (the summit is surrounded by trees but has been cleared for 20-30′ around) summit over to Hight, I would expect to get torn to shreds by the snowshoe police – I agree 100%, if I had snowshoes.. I would have been wearing them up at that elevation. Alas! I was not, so I’ll admit that I had an absolute blast romping in the 6-inches of drifted and blown in powder! Hopefully the army of hikers behind me helped to beat down my tracks as I saw not a soul all day who even carried snowshoes!

I remembered the very rocky, almost pebbly trail and how much those little rocks wanted to roll underfoot from our summer hike – luckily, I did not have any of that to contend with today, I continued to bounce through the powder like a snowshoe hare off the Dome and over to my next intersection..

Hight..? Yeah – I’ve got time for that.. I suppose!“, my thoughts are rather easy going and easy to please while out in the forest – just give me more nature, is all I crave!

Here the trail got narrow, using my trekking poles as shields, I tried to blast my way right though the near-eye sticking rigid Carter Domespruce branches.. gotta do what you gotta do to keep those eyes safe!

The wind never really calmed itself down, I was just stuck right in the midst of it though when I left the shelter of treeline and stepped out on the open summit of Mount Hight at 4,675′. The wind whipped wildly all around and actually tried to knock me over a few times – knowing this would be my open viewed peak of the day, I stood calm and let the wind whip me all over. It was a calming, beautiful destructive force – it was my time to embrace the cold, not fight it. I could fight away the cold when I picked up speed later in the day, for now – I was here to once again just breathe and stare, taking in those heavenly sights!

The descent of Hight was super fun as I was able to run full speed once hitting the icy slopes on the Appalachian Trail, but for the initial tenth of a mile (the steep part..), the rocks had a neat layer of icy crust capping the 6 or so inches of powder down below – if you can picture that.. hard crust meets shinbone at every step as the foot sinks into the powder, it was delicate and deliberate foot placement for sure!

Back on the lower altitudes and packed trail that made up the Carter-Moriah Trail, I was able to run and bound through the snow in a way that felt akin to being a child once again – the only thing was that I did not run as a child, but it certainly kept my mind ‘in the moment’, a very freeing experience indeed!

Within what seemed like minutes I could glance back, beginning to ascend once again, I could see the dome-shape of Mount Hight with a wee bit speck of Carter Dome sticking up just beyond. “Holy heck.. I was just over there!?“, seems to be my reoccurring thought when I run in the mountains!

I remember hearing about crazy blowdowns and trail reroutes and all while heading up to South and Middle Carter, as of writing this the trails appeared very similar to a year and a half ago when Ciara and I ventured though: there clearly is evidence of some nasty blowdowns, but they had been cut and logs moved off the trail. As I reported to another hiker later in the day, who inquired as to the state of blowdowns on the Carter-Moriah Trail – they are easily manageable, either step over, or duck under, nothing like a bushwhack – the trails were just fine in my humble opinion!

A quick jaunt, following prior footsteps – I stood briefly on the true summit rocks of South Carter, a 15′ spur trail to the top of a boulder with some downed trees, blink and it would be missed!

I forgot how much I really enjoyed this trail, of course it was much different today – snow softening every step along the way.

Are there wooden bridges along the Carter-Moriah Trail? Absolutely yes! I know this because when encountering one, it was somewhat difficult to see though the depth of snow – but easy to know it was under the powder when your foot cambers its way off the side of the solid wood surface and plunges the remaining 8-inches down to earth – quite a wake up for the joints!

The wind continued whipping all around each moment when the trail would hit a high point and offer a look out, the Presidentials tips looking entirely frosted from 3,500 and up. Unobstructed views in every direction made my reality seem as if I was plunged into an Ansel Adams photograph, can real life get any better than these moments?

Wishing several other groups of hikers a lovely day in the mountains, I continued on now back into the narrow forested trail to my final (last significant anyway..) intersection of the morning – continue hiking along the Appalachian Trail with Mount Moriah in my sights or take that left and head back to my car?

AT to North Carter it was going to be!

This 4,520-foot summit is not a major destination for many up here among the massives, most merely passing over as they stagger north to Katahdin or south to Springer Mountain along the Appalachian Trail. For me though, this was my destination for the day! I had wanted to visit this spectacular spur trail for quite some time now, it actually turned out to be peak #71 on the Trailwright 72 list for me, I have used this list over the past 2 years as a source of exploring new places.

Un-remark-able. Very similar summit to Carter Dome, cleared for some area but completely closed in 360 by trees. There was however, a very stunning view out to the east from a rocky ledge while en route to North Carter – the whole side-trip was completely worth the extra 20 or so minute out and back!

Back at the junction, I saw my footsteps once again. This time I would be following all of the other spiked boot prints from the folks I had passed somewhere around Middle Carter.

The memory that I brought home when Ciara and I hiked this loop a year and a half prior was that of boulders, big and small, a narrow trail and extremely slow going through here.. like frustratingly slow going over rocks that threatened to destroy one’s ankles.

How was the trail this time with a bit of snow packed onto it? Absolutely runnable, such a blast to be on, a true pleasure to experience during these brief conditions! Winter is certainly the time of the year to revel in the glory of the North Carter and later, the Imp Trail!

Several small brooks and water crossings were made easy by the spikes on the feet, bare boots probably would have slipped constantly on the frosty rocks sticking out of the water, but a quick pace and grippy gear made the going easy enough and highly enjoyable.

Like a flip of a switch and one exits the primarily dense evergreen forest and enters an extremely open winter forest devoid of any leaf cover for the remainder of the hike. As the trail becomes increasingly wet, more flattened out with clumps of leaves and less snow on the ground it is apparent that my hike was nearing the end.

One has the option however, of continuing along the Imp trail back to a parking lot quite a ways down Rt 16, or if one is savvy enough – look for the orange/pink surveyors tape just past a small stream crossing and look for a roughly cut, lightly traveled trail, this will take you to Camp Dodge.

I have never run into anyone at the Camp frowning upon us hikers passing through, and I bet with a little decency and respect for the land owners – that we can keep this well-placed shortcut open!

Without doing any bit of precise measurement, I would guess that the Camp Dodge cut-off saves hikers roughly 2 miles of hiking, and at the end of a 13-mile day over 5,100 feet of climbing, that savings is huge!

From Camp Dodge, I returned to Rt 16 with about a quarter mile of road walk, better than it could have been without that shortcut!

The Nineteen-Mile Brook Trail Head now completely full, and as others have described, cars lined the side of Rt 16. Makes me very happy to have begun my day so early, as the traffic was extremely sparse traversing the Carters – just the way I enjoy my time in nature!

I hope this helps you want to get out and experience the wilder, more remote sides of the White Mountains and any forests that are nearby – you just never know what magic is out there waiting for you to find!

Thanks so much for taking the time to share my journey, I hope you enjoyed it nearly as much as I did.. feel free to message me – or comment right on here with anything I may have missed, or anywhere that I should experience, I’d love that!

Happy Trails to you!

 

– Erik


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 13.3miles
  • 4hr 12minutes
  • 5,125′ elevation gain
  • Carter Dome – 4,832′
  • Mount Hight – 4,675′
  • South Carter – 4,420′
  • Middle Carter – 4,600′
  • North Carter – 4,520′

 


For the full low-down on why I love what Muir does.. trek on over.. HERE! 

 

Moosilauke and the South Peak

What actually is a ‘go-to’ hike? Do you have a ‘go-to’ mountain? 

Is it a hike in the forest that reminds you of being a wee tiny explorer, in years past? Or perhaps nothing extraordinary, just a familiar bouldery friend down the road to whisp your day away amongst the trees, birds and rocky crags? Maybe your ‘go-to’ has a catchy name, or even no name at all – simply a hill that only you know about!

Whatever you call your ‘go-to’ hike, this has become my familiar friend to spend mornings with, one whose slopes I love to explore in any season.. this is Mount Moosilauke.

Many moons ago, while driving back from our debut excursion to Acadia National Park (I know.. no where near the White Mountains.. but bear with me!), neither Ciara nor myself could yet claim to be New Hampshirians – we were fresh off our 3 month cross country road trip and ready for more action!

I perused lists of hiking trails near us as we continued to drive west, away from Maine. Neither of us really knew anything about the mountains of New Hampshire at this time, plugging one mountain into our GPS took us to a trail head about 87 miles from where we actually intended to park.

Trying to not give into frustration (I was not so skilled at this back then.. I have since tried to instill a ‘calmer’ mentality and demeanor), we accepted the fact that we were clearly not going to find ourselves on the trail we had our hearts set on.. time for a back up plan!

This time the expert trail finder, Ciara hopped on alltrails.com and within what seemed like a blink of an eye, had come up with a jaunt for the following morning – and boy, oh boy did this mountain have a wacky name.. the locals referred to it as some sort of “Moosilauke“.

Unaware of how to actually say the name of this summit, we developed our own language and continued to tack on the long ‘e‘, to form a type of ‘moos-ill-auk-ee‘. All we knew was that it sounded playful to our naive ears and brought a smile to our faces, a pronunciation which continued for the coming year or so.

Our intro hikes to the White Mountains proved to be one of the most magical peaks that Ciara and I had ever stepped foot on, in fact, I am certain that our pups Boone and Crockett would whole-heartedly agree (or perhaps it was the copious amounts of treats they received during the trip!).

As I recall.. Mount Moosilauke was the deciding factor to want to relocate from New York to New Hampshire – we simply fell madly in love with the surrounding mountain villages and these mountains, the terrain was rugged and seemingly not aimed at tourists, the alpine heights were of another planet, the lazily swaying grasses atop Moosilauke had our jaws dangling open.

We did relocate to New Hampshire shortly after this first trek along the Appalachian Trail to the upper reaches of Mt Moosilauke – this clearly would not be the last day spent climbing here.

I continued on, adventuring and exploring Moosilauke in every season – though blowing white-out snow, beautifully clear blue sky days, even during autumn as the vibrant leaves drifted underfoot as we squished through the meandering muddy trails.

Along our journey, branching out to some of the lesser travelled trails I visited several adjacent peaks (there are numerous 4,000 foot peaks technically with no real trails, but faint herd paths have developed as a result of frequent foot travel) such as Mount Jim, Mount Blue, the East Peak and finally several glorious ascents of Moosilauke’s South Peak.

This past weekend, after hours of tumultuous debate back and forth (..with myself, of course!), showing the inability to decide exactly which mountain that I wanted to play on, with so many recent weekends spent in Maine hiking the NE115 over there, I strongly wanted to commute as few miles as possible!

Continuing to weigh my options with the recent snow, I pondered.. would the trails be broken out? would I be stuck moving slowly in sub-zero temps? would I have the trails to myself or have to actually fight for a parking spot? I was primarily not ready to deal with hoards – I simply wanted time spent in nature, with myself (Ciara was working this weekend, otherwise she would have helped make this ‘where-to-go’ predicament much easier!).

Where are you going?“, she finally asked as nighttime approached.

Down the road, I guess“, was my response.

I exhaled a sigh of relief when I finally convinced my subconciousness that this weekend I would not be sitting alone in my Subaru for hours, clicking off the dark miles of a super-chilled 3am Sunday morning.

There are several trail heads at the base of the mountain; really which ever direction you find yourself driving to – there is a trail head for you: east from Rt 112 – ascending the Beaver Brook Trail; from the south, hikers can park and depart from the Ravine Lodge and ascend via the Gorge Brook Trail or slightly more west still via the gradually climbing Carriage Road; from the north by crossing Tunnel Brook and meeting up with the Beaver Brook trail; or – similarly to my climb this past weekend, I decided to come at the mountain from the west and hike along the Glencliff Trail.

This would become my third ascent via the Glencliff Trail – oddly enough, each trek has been in snow on moderately chilly mornings – today would prove to be as snowy and chilly as ever!

While not a long drive, it is along backroads for me which can stack on extra minutes of drive time, but I was still able to reach the trail head at an early enough 7am. With no real need for my headlamp, I shoved it into the depths of my running pack – and with temperatures dipping down to 4 degrees over the previous evening, I was filled with hope that my roughly seventy ounces of water would not freeze (spoiler alert.. while the caps frosted over, my water stayed liquid and I stayed hydrated!).

After a quick and enthusiastic “good morning!” to some sleepy eyed friends who stayed in the nearby cabins over night, I hit the trails at 7:17am – the days first tracks into the fluffy white trail were all mine!

I had been on this trail several times so I knew what to expect, but for those who have not yet had the pleasure – this trail climbs a bit over one thousand feet over each of the initial three miles, and continues gradually up the final and fourth mile to the summit rocks and old foundation stones atop Moosilauke.

Unsure of what to wear on my feet, I knew from friends on the interweb that snowshoes were still not needed this early into the winter season, my water-proof Asolo boots were still up in my attic, despite craving the relaxed comfort of my wider Altra’s but not wanting their breathability in four degree mountain air – my old pals – the carbide steel spiked Salomon SpeedSpikes were to the rescue!

I prefer any day that I don’t have to lug around heavy solid boots, and this was a great choice indeed! Quick work was being made of the snowy ascent, spikes digging into the packed surface just fine! I was off spinning in the deepest crags of my mind, trying to solve the never-ending math equations that frequently bombard my thoughts.. when I heard a loud CRACK! up ahead..

As if my eyes knew exactly where to look – there was a baby bear slumbering its way down a birch tree about 15 feet in front. The tree that this 160lb black fuzzball decided to climb just happened to be standing directly on the Glencliff Trail. I heard another crack several more feet away, this time off to the west and in the thick of the forest cover – I could not see who broke the second branch (..or was it a tree..?), my thoughts raced towards perhaps.. mother bear?

Ironically enough though, today I forgot to pack my bear bell, which typically is in my packs side pocket just jingling and clanging around – working constantly to inform wildlife of my approach, so I wouldn’t have to! I immediately broke out my ‘adult voice’ and bellowed out “GO BEAR!” and “COMING THROUGH!” into the chilly mountain air for perhaps the proceeding mile, my last ditch effort to ward off any more bears!

Luckilly, I did not have any subsequent bear (or any wildlife for that matter!) encounters. I recalled the final push up to the Carriage Road (the path I constantly refer to as a ‘ridge walk’) as being the steepest of the bunch, climbing nearly 800 feet in just that half mile!

The blue sky vistas began to peek through the evergreens behind my shoulder as I continued to climb, the morning sunrays now cast over the mountain peaks and down through the branches, illuminating the forest in a warm glow – truly a lucky and remarkable morning to be alive in the woods!

In the back of my mind, I remembered an even steeper section still, just prior to topping out on the nearly flat ridge line. Perhaps it was the early snow masking my route, or maybe there was a chance I was in better shape today than my prior accounts of the Glencliff Trail, could I have passed right over that final stretch without knowing? As I looked up searching around for my beast of a climb, all I saw were the bright orange USFS (United States Forest Service) and DOC (Dartmouth Outting Club) signs!

Once up on the ridge trail (Carriage Road), the going was much easier, the final couple hundred feet of ascent coming after leaving the comfort of all encompassing treeline.

Today’s summit forecast: Perfection. 

Only a trace breeze could be found as I stood atop the summit rocks, peering around for that pesky USGS survey marker – probably covered with snow by now. All I could do was stop for the moment, inhale intentionally and slowly, exhaling just the same, absorbing the stellar views that engulf, today’s sunrise never seemed to cease this morning as I stood quietly, breathing in rejuvenation from 4,802 feet.

I ran further down the trail in hopes of getting a better sight further east to Cannon, the Kinsmans and even further to the Franconia Ridge summits – the jagged peaks appeared freshly frosted and oh so scrumptious!

The summit was all mine as I turned to head back, I was suddenly struck with the urge to just observe. The trails beyond the treeline are dotted with ginormous rock cairns – and the one that lay at my feet just then had whisps of frozen precip and hoarfrost, such delicate growths – it is not often that I can just be in the moment and stare intently at and speculate how they formed, questioning from which direction the blinding winds blew to form such magnificent natural wonders!

8:41am

The frosty mountain air began creeping into my sweaty gloves and that persuaded me, it was now time to go.

Back at the junction to blast back down the Glencliff Trail, I stopped one final time.. “ahh what the heck, it’s early enough!” and just like that I found myself jogging comfortably through the narrow trees that lead to the South Peak.

I have visited this southern pinnacle of Moosilauke three times now, once even traipsing slowly past a young man performing yoga (..or meditation), complete with closed eyes right on the mountainside, a much needed escape any time of the year!

The summit has been clear cut (not sure when, but likely as a result of the DOC?), from which there are several side spur trails leading in various directions, but if you continue just a few paces to the east from the open summit, a black plaque can be found at shin height – denoting the gift of land from glorious land owners to the local college.

The spur trail that climbs the short distance to the South Peak (signage claims 0.1mile) is truly so short that it can be traversed in five to ten minutes perhaps, in most conditions – and in my humble opinion, is definitely worth the extra couple of steps, the vantage point looking out to the summit cone of Moosilauke is one of exquisiteness – certainly should not be missed.. if one has the time!

Back on the main trail and descending back down the Glencliff Trail from whence my day began, I tried to hold back.. but simply let gravity take hold of my legs and with short, quick steps I found myself damn near sprinting down the mountain!

As I flew down the soft packed snowy trail, several others were making their way up the slope – nearly everyone volunteering themselves to step off trail and let me cruise on by. “Thanks! Have an awesome hike up there!“, is all I had time to muster up before I was around the next bend.

No bears or wild creatures were encountered for the remainder of my trek, only about a dozen weekenders strolling along, meandering their way through the dense forest just as I had several hours prior.

Before long the path began to flatten back out; to my surprise the Hurricane Mountain Trail, which I currently have never taken, had just as many foot prints as the (as I assumed) more popular Glencliff Trail!

9:59am

Another epic journey to my favorite ‘go-to’ mountain in New Hampshire in the history books, I think it would prove difficult to day-dream up a more perfect day in these high peaks: alone on the summit for as long as I needed, I got to experience wildlife up close and more real than any National Geographic could allow, complete with epic snow-running through the Benton State Forest.

The days similar to this help make me feel truly content in life and appreciative of being able to go out of my front door for several hours, running trails in the forests and taking in sights of serenity that a person simply cannot find in video games and smoke-filled bars.

I hope this helps you want to get up, get out and go explore new trails!

If you have a ‘go-to’ hike, get out and go see it today – I can assure you, when tomorrow comes it will not be the same as it is today! If you don’t have a place to call a familiar friend, hop on over to a site like alltrails.com and find what trails may be laying in your backyard just waiting for you to discover!

Happy Climbing!

– Erik


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 8.35 miles
  • 2hr 42minutes
  • 3,734′ elevation gain
  • Mount Moosilauke – 4,802′
  • South Peak – 4,523′

 


Favorite Gear of the Day!

Bear bells let not only slumbering wildlife know I am cruising down the trail in their backyards, but also keeps other hikers or.. hunters alert to my presence. I keep one in the side pocket of my pack, or attach one to my puppies when we go out for a run or walk. One of the cheapest ways to make noise in the woods and help keep everyone safe – a bear bell will keep on working in the back woods, even when you don’t want to!

 

NE115: Mount Carrigain

3:16AM

Time to rise and shine. 

The day begins with nothing unusual: french press coffee, apples cut up for the post-hike hunger, water flasks filled, double-check shoes, gaiters, extra layers of clothing.

Check, check, and more check. 

Everything needed for a fantastic day out – sprawled on the wood floor and waiting to get all loaded into the Subie.

The frost crackles under my tires as I depart, down the driveway and eight miles further into town. As I gaze at the starlit sky above – the memories flood into my mind banks: twenty eight years ago this journey began..

1991

As a youngster we took ‘family vacations’ every weekend; camping and exploring, backpacking several nights with the end goal of standing atop Mount Marcy, we were also frequent visitors of Algonquin and Giant Peaks in the Adirondacks. These New York high peaks were playgrounds for my sister and I growing up, fast forward twenty five years and I would finally be worthy of sewing an Adirondack 46er patch on my weathered packs!

One by one the boxes of once unattainable milestones began being checked off: first, my father, our friend Wendy and I hiked all 46 peaks above four thousand feet in New York State. Next, Ciara and I stood atop several twelve and thirteen thousand footers while out west – and we only wanted to see and experience more!

At the conclusion of our cross country travels via Honda CR-V and 3 person tent, Ciara and I found this little mountain in New Hampshire called Moosilauke; together with our two doggie bro’s, we climbed that via Beaver Brook and fell deeply in love with the mountains of New Hampshire – their mostly unsigned summits ringing of an untamed wildness that we could not find in our native Adirondacks.

We were out for adventure and epic butt-sliding each weekend as we began adventuring to names such as Cannon Mountain, the neighboring Kinsmans, and as far north to Cabot; we continued our tradition of backpacking, camping, car-camping and all around exploration of White Mountain National Forest areas.

To me, hiking in Maine just seemed so distant, so foreverly far away! I had heard of these peaks, but as a 7 year old hiker – they could have existed on another continent for all I knew, we often did not make it past our neighboring Vermont or Massachussetts for family outings.

Continuing my drive to “check off” new things on my invigorating quest of health and well-being, following my first marathon and just two weeks later, running my first (of many to follow) 50K – I wanted more than anything to pay a birthday visit to this jagged peak so far away that I had heard ruminating tales of: Katahdin in far northern Maine.

I was still not convinced that I would traverse any subsequent 4000 foot summits of Maine, in my mind.. I was still just ‘out exploring and seeing new places‘.

Then it happened.. early autumn 2019 saw my Subaru and I embarking on a 3am spur-of-the-moment trip to Saddleback, the (at the time) closed ski resort in Rangeley, Maine – deeper and deeper I was falling in love with the mountains and sleepy ski villages of Maine – the autumn colors on the mountain-sides were of oranges and yellows from birch trees in ways I had hitherto not yet witnessed.

The planning continued on and on.. the following weekend saw me spending a 28 degree, frosty evening in the back of the Subaru, a first for me!

I had planned for a lofty day, and concluded by meeting some incredible new friends at the summit of the Redington bushwack. The following day, I would meet and greet more amazing folks as we stood at the old firetower base located on Avery Peak, soaking in the sunrise – in complete disbelief at the lack of wind – true luck for sure during that weekend in Maine as I stood atop Bigelow West, my 114th four-thousand foot summit in the Northeast 115.

Then, only one remained. 

That peak welcomed me at every thought to come run and frolick on its slopes and eventually stand to peer around, celebrating at its lookout tower which stands at roughly 4,700 feet.

We had accumulated a light layer of snow at the lower altitudes so I truly did not know what I was in store for this morning as I would be climbing Mount Carrigain, the season had not changed nearly enough into winter for most folks to begin posting trail reports on newenglandtrailconditions.com yet. 

I packed all I thought I would need, just in case of surprises!

The forecast was calling for clear skies, low winds and unseasonally chilly temps this Saturday for my trek in the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

To my elated surprise, the seasonal gate leading two miles to the trail head parking lot down Sawyer River Road remained open! I followed two other cars down this narrow and winding road at 7am.

Plenty of water was stuffed in my 12 liter Salomon running pack, several extra layers, compass, headlamp, map – all of the ‘extras’ that I hoped I would not need were neatly taking up space on my back as I grabbed for my trekking poles, fixed my gaiters to my Altra Lone Peaks, set my COROS Pace to record my journey in ‘trail run’ mode and I was off, bounding down the trail. 

Oh, wait.. before I could rush out onto the trails, I was bombarded by a very enthusiastic man standing about eight feet tall with chatty friends who looked straight out of the 1980’s Campmor catalogues standing nearby: “looking for the JASON Group.. or just hiking solo today?!” The man questioned. “Solo, brother.. have a great day!” I replied as I was honestly completely unsure if he was ever even talking to me.

Now my hike officially began: at a moderate pace to begin, I was quickly reminded of trekking along the old railroad grade of Lincoln Woods once again as I swooshed past several other hikers – I certainly had much less gear than most of my friends out here this morning.

Just shy of two miles I slowed to a hault, with a chatty group of boys and fathers trailing – I adored the fun they were having, but was ready to climb up and away from their raucous that echoed through the still morning air. I stared face to face with Carrigain Brook, while I would not consider the water as ‘high’ so much, the rocks were frosted over and a dunked foot this early into the day would send me straight home.

Following what appeared to be an old herd path briefly down the right bank led me to a logged crossing – slick, but easily managable!

Once across, my pace as well as the altitude began to increase steadily. Switchbacks up onto a mini-ridge doubled back along the wooded ridge – I was totally loving this trail so far! I wanted to run, but didn’t want to sweat too much until my return from the open summit air.

My Lone Peaks continued to put the first tracks of the day onto the mountain-side – until out of what seemed like a bushwhack became .. crampon prints in the snow? 

What I saw, and followed did not make sense to me – unless the owner of these tracks were into complete overkill, the trail thus far contained packed leaves and about 3 inches of powder – no need for snowshoes nor crampons up here!

I watched the tracks traipse from down the middle of the trail and dive deep into the thick of forest just straight into the woods, I began to worry for the owner of these spikey prints.. could they actually be lost out here this morning?

Again, the set of tracks emerged from the trees and when I could finally recognize the imprint of a pad.. I knew I was following something a bit more hunched over and four legged than a human – it was wildlife up in these hills for sure!

The switchbacks continued and the ascending never ceased until I came to the first lookout at 4.5 miles. This could have been my summit and I would have been beyond thrilled to experience this – the frosted trees framed in some of the finest views of the far distant Presidential range, all the avalanche scars well masked behind a coating of white powder.

I could have stood here all day just burning this incredible blue and white mountain view onto my retinas!

Around the next slight bend the iconic view up to the summit cone and lookout tower atop Carrigain came into view – my next and final destination!

Down the col and henceforth back up even higher now, past the rickety old bucket at the well and up a few pitches over some basketball-sized boulders and there was my objective, a mere twenty feet infront.

Poles and gloves were tossed aside as I found no wind to speak of at 4,700 feet as I looked at my watch – 9:24AM and I now stood alone atop my 115th northeast high peak.

Ten.. easily fifteen minutes must have passed as I stood and soaked in the views from every angle – it was time to begin my return jaunt before the hoards of weekend warriors made their ascent up the tower steps as well, and my silent summit would be brimming with activity, life and laughter once again.

With delicate steps I made quick work of the descent and within just minutes found myself staring back up the final slopes of Carrigan: “I was just up there, I did it, that really did just happen!

I met the same familiar faces as I began the switchbacks to lower ground, “dang.. you made quick work of that!” one hiker exclaimed as I jammed past and wished them a terrific ascent as well.

Stopping for a moment to say good morning to a woman making her solo climb up, she told me all about the three other occassions she had summited Carrigain and how this was not her first pick of the day; I felt like after today – this would be my first pick any day!

After several minutes and also wishing her a lovely bluebird day in the mountains, I heard from the distance: “HEY WAIT! I have a question for you!!“, she yelled back through the trees to me. I began walking back up that hill toward her, “did you actually just say this was your NH48, NE67, AND NE115 summit?!

I assured her that she had heard me correctly and just then she went absolutely eccstatic with enthusiasm, perhaps with even more than I was trying to contain! I could have hugged her for all the congrats she gave, but she was too far up the slope.

I must have passed at least 35 people from the time I departed the summit of Carrigain to the moment I returned to my car at the trail head – these folks really picked a gem to hike on this wind-less morning!

Shortly prior to reaching the brook crossing for the final time, I reached the party of dogs and folks heading up for a friends Grid finish – that was when I heard: “HEY!… I remember you from the Adirondacks!!

What a small world it really is sometimes!

A friend Ciara and I ran into at the Upper Works in the Adirondacks, who, at that time was hiking Mt Marshall for his finish of the Northeast 115! How the tides had turned and we cross paths once again, and of all days.. on my finish of the NE115!

It was so good to see old friends and talk to so many friendly hikers, especially on a day when I figured it would be me alone, keeping myself company!

The crossing of Carrigain Brook was easy this time, knowing this time where to go and where to step across that frosty log – and the remaining two miles out was one of the most happily satisfying snowy trails that I had ever ran!

I brought along Hillsound spikes, but never truly needed them – they would have just been dulled on bare rock more than anything. The Altra’s performed beautifully, despite not being waterproof they did great in the snow with my thicker Darn Tough wool socks and traction was not an issue.

Back at my car, I dove straight into the bananas and apples – completely satisfied with my day in the forest.

I accomplished what I set out to do, and had way more fun than I ever could have imagined going into it!

What a truly fantastic group of people us hikers, trail runners, backpackers, and forest hermits can be. What an incredible journey over the past twenty eight years this has been!

What began with a seven year old kid who found solace in solitute atop Mount Marcy, to an old dude standing atop Mount Carrigain breathing in youth – may the mountains and our love of adventure forever grow in size!

Thanks for following along my journey – it surely will not end, many, many more trails out there to explore..

 

Happy Climbing!

– Erik, NE115 #1013


 

Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 10.64 miles
  • 3hr 51minutes
  • 3,829′ elevation gain
  • Mount Carrigain – 4,682′

 

A long day out.

Sugarloaf via ski resort to Spaulding to Abraham, back to Spauling via the AT North to South Crocker to North Crocker, back to South Crocker to Redington via a mean bushwhack.

Or at least that was the lofty plan running though my excited mind at 1000mph as I made the drive from western New Hampshire to Central Maine Saturday morning at a cool and calm 2:45am. The sun would not rise for many hours, which would allow my mind to race, jump, hop and skip all the way along the 186 mile commute – heck, I was even convinced for a brief moment that I had actually witnessed a goat walking down the side of Rt 16 in pitch darkness.. “what the heck even was that doing out here..?“.. I never will find out what creature of the darkness was I had just witnessed.

As I sit here in a post-weekend haze with bruised legs still dotted with dried blood, hearing fellow hikers reiterate all of the ‘do not even attempt to cross the Carrabassett River‘ warning signs,  I am still not even sure that a trek like this was possible.

7:30AM 
Relieved to pull into the Sugarloaf Ski Resort parking lot to find that the morning onslaught of frigid rain drops had tapered during the preceding 5 minutes – I grabbed for my larger of two running packs that this weekends trail-fest would see, laced up the almost-still-pristine Altra Lone Peaks, once the two beeps signaled from my watch indicating that both GPS signal and my heart rate were found (sometimes its the smaller accomplishments in life that we need to focus on.. like having a pulse this fine morning!), hit Start, and with trekking poles in hand – I began up that hill.

I stopped several times during this initial 2,553 foot climb; not far into my day and I could still look back.. I could nearly reach out and touch the bottom of the cloud layer, like a whisping cotton candy awaiting my entry. Once in, however, my beautiful post-fall-foliage mountain scape was replaced with gusting winds, the unbearded spots on my face bombarded with sideways travelling snow and ice chunks – I desperately wanted to reach for my sunglasses, but hoped I could just topple over the summit rocks before removing my pack.

The 4,237ish (look around – each source you check will list a different elevation..) summit cone offered little to no escape from the torrent of weathering ice pellets, with squinted eyes I tried to discern some indication of where the path dove into the cover of the forest and henceforth to the Appalachian Trail.

Once on the Sugarloaf Side Trail, time slowed down and the one half mile trek to the AT south seemed to last an eternity. A lifetime of frosted over boulders and trees shrouded in glistening hoarfrost. Just to add a little consequence to this mornings outing, the winterized trail of course would not be complete without the ice water trickling down the middle of my path – “dunk a toe now and you will be wearing ice bricks for the remainder of the day, you won’t make it anywhere..

Still I managed to enjoy my time in this Northeast Winter Wonderland, bear bells jiggling, all I needed now was to recall a few good carols to keep the wildlife at bay.

Admittedly, I was completely unsure if my day would be what I had hoped, I was busy readying my mind for the ‘abort mission‘ phase and retreat back to the warmth of my heated Subaru seats.

Up ahead, the burnt orange hue rang through the blinding plainness of all-white-everything.

SPAULDING MTN. 150 YDS. M.A.T.C.

Steep, bouldery, more steep, super slick rock, still with the steep, and here is a bit of a view finally over to the Crockers.

Precisely how the so called 150 yard jaunt up to Spaulding went, in fact the summit was so unremarkable that I continued on.. completely unsure of when I had reached the summit until the trail topped out and began steeply once again – descending the other side.

I had found my second summit of the day, when I returned from the frost-covered boulder descent I was faced with the next question.. push on down the white trackless trail into even deeper wilderness, far from the safety of any rescue mission, or turn back now with the hopes that I could retrace my footsteps in the morning, perhaps with warmer temps and more sunshine?

My legs, still brimming with early morning energy, made the decision for me and with no time lost at the junction – I was on my way deeper, heading toward a peak containing the largest alpine zone in the state, second only to that found on the highest reaches of Katahdin.

I was now fully immersed in moose country, later in the day many hikers asked enthusiastically if I had seen any bear. If I had ran face to face with any large wildlife, I would have been spooked.. but ready for it, I was tip toe-ing through their front yards, after all!

With about a mile to go south on the Appalachian Trail, my gaze was struck from straight down to one more cast in the distance, through the trees I now saw the massive ice-covered bare granite rock faces that adorned the northern slopes of Abraham. Just then it hit me, there was no option – I was going over to that mound of rock.

I met the junction with open arms and excitedly joined the Abraham Side Trail, remnants of footprints in the grass that harked back to the wildest herd paths of the Adirondack Mountains. I wanted to run these trails, but decided to save the effort for the return trek, agreeing to focus on my footwork over the still frosty boulders.
My frozen herd path soon opened up to a jagged boulder-field, which I wasted no time auto-piloting up. Only a handful of foot prints were laid down before I glanced to my left.. the massive rock cairns continued left, not straight up this mount of shattered rock.
“Ohhhh… I see now”, I thought to myself and to my disbelief what I saw appeared to be dozens of miles in the far distance – Abraham was over there, not over here.

Over some rocks and through some woods found me now on the side slopes of Abraham where I found the hiding wind, I had not even experienced wind thus far into my day until I began up the final ascent of Abraham.

Putting my trekking poles to good use, I found myself bracing at every step ‘three points of contact at all times‘, I reminded myself before taking each well-thought out step onto frozen boulders, not a single step on this peak was flat or easy going – and I adored this mountain for that!

I would admit in hindsight that I hung out on the summit cone for a few minutes too long – but the incoming wildly whipping cloud layers were absolutely mesmerizing; initially I had my first officially clear views of the day, all the way to Spaulding and beyond to the second highest in the state, to where my day had begun.

More than once I had almost been blown away like a rag doll from the rocks high atop Mount Abraham, and somehow deep inside, I remained calm to this fact – I was where I wanted to be, I was in the right place at the right time.

The return trip was more of the same in reverse, employing my trekking poles every step along the way to keep what little balance that I still had, retracing my Lone Peak foot prints back down to treeline.

Now was the time to throw some coal to fuel the fire; coal that is, in the form of dates washed down the hatch with several gulps of water. By now the sun had rose to an angle that warmed the icy white hats atop every tree around, each second that passed found swatches of ice and snow falling to the earth which, to my heightened senses had me assuming that moose and bear were now coming at me from every angle – not in a paranoid sort of way, but now the forest simply breathed the sound of life.

One would think living in rustic New Hampshire, where I have had many black bear and moose using my driveway to reach the other side of the forest, that I would have experienced the sound of a moose call – I had not, until Saturday morning at 11:40am, that is. I don’t think I have ever experienced something that has raised the hair on my neck so abruptly, what a true treat of nature – the way its call just echoed through the valleys, I knew I was not in its path – but I had just witnessed the magic of nature, 110%.

Then, to even further my surprise this morning, I heard yet another rarity this far into the depths of pure wilderness – people. Thinking it was only a quick encounter, I simply told Ryan and Yvonne about the ice and wind, but incredible views that awaited them, and just as soon as we ran up on each other, our paths widened. Once again I was alone with the sound of creaking trees straining to remain upright from the weight of ice and snow in their boughs.

1:13pm, mile 15

I was quickly approaching the most important decision of my day: continue following my beloved Appalachian Trail north, or call it a day; retrace my steps back up the steep slopes of where my morning had begun – to retreat up and over the mighty Sugarloaf?

I was not afforded the time necessary to debate with myself the options, ‘see you in a couple of mountains!!‘, I greeted and sped by the intersection: my feet had subconsciously made the call: I was now headed AT North.

Not an inch shy of 1,000 feet is all I now had to descend to reach the river crossing, run across the old logging roads and quickly make the 1,800 foot ascent up to South Crocker.

That’s all I had to do, with what I had already tackled.. those miles didn’t seem so bad!

This is where I really hit the line of traffic; kids, parents, friends, a thru-hiker, plus several pups slowly crawling up the flooded trail as I tip-toed cautiously from rock to rock, avoiding the chilly foot bath below me at every well placed step.

The Carrabassett River thundered from down below in the ravine, all of the melted ice and snow finally making its way and adding their droplets to the white capped roar slamming down the river bed.

I had heard reports of a plank now spanning the river, creating a tight rope of sorts and an extreme sport on top of this pre-winter climbing! To my delight, the plank remained in place, held by a series of cables on one end.

One foot onto the old weathered plank. As soon as I found myself mid-span along this old piece of drift wood, it was evidenced that neither end of this plank was fastened to anything! 

Left foot led as the plank began to roll, completely off kilter – the rogue waves crashed underfoot as I tried to escape my mind from the sights and sounds below; I was off balance and there was nothing I could do about it. 

Using a trekking pole, I jammed that sucker into a nearby rock as hard and fast as my reflexes could muster up – pushed off and began to run using pure, raw instinct. No way was I going into that ice bath below – because had I not regained a slight smidgen of balance, I’d be washed away for sure far down stream!

Once on the distant side of the river, I stopped to thank whatever forces helped me traverse this mess – I did not even want to think about my return trip, all I knew was that I had to cross back while there was still daylight – that gave me about five hours to cover the next twelve miles over three summits.

I had my bail out options, but none of them were easy: ascend South Crocker to North Crocker and bail out by continuing north along the AT and add far too many miles to my day vs. return now back across the river and pick up my trekking in the morning vs. ascend these three linear peaks while following the logging roads back to civilization.

I continued weighing my options during the coming miles. 

I was greeted by many hikers now descending the South Crocker trail past the Cirque as I pressed my way from one boulder to another, through the mud and frost, clawing inch by inch to the next summit of my day.

Every step higher brought this hiker closer to views where I could see the surrounding peaks, Sugarloaf now appearing to be light years away!

As the trail topped out and leveled off, I found myself super relieved to finally reach the summit signs:

SOUTH CROCKER MTN. ELEV. 4010 FT.

As the ice continued to pelt down around me, I took a chunk to the top of my head.. stood there momentarily in disbelief and thought: “hmmph.. so this is how I get broken on this trek, I bleed to death from my scalp by falling ice.. oh the irony!

To my delight, I did not bleed much and the wack did next to nothing to alter my determined pace, South Crocker had been checked once and what appeared too far away must have been North Crocker; “they call that a mile?!

Turns out this mile absolutely flew by, concentrating on one step at a time – the trail was covered in fresh soil from the waterbars that trail crews had recently dug out in anticipation of the ‘nor-easter’ only days prior.

Fresh blackened soil, decorated with a delicate white layer that resembled permafrost and strewn with softball sized rocks made up the trail, steep down for half a mile, steep up for half a mile – with some upper body use to crawl up and over some erratics blocking my path.. that’s really all it was!

NORTH CROCKER MTN. ELEV4168 FT.

The summit of North Crocker was not quite the open views that I had read about, in fact.. I really quite enjoyed the enclosed peak! Took a walk down a short spur path to get the Northwest vistas while I chewed up the remaining dates that became my afternoon snack. All trees that encircled the orange signage indicating I had indeed reached the highpoint of this loop spur were encrusted in ice and snow, which continued to crackle, pop and drop into the surrounding forest – it sounded truly alive and not so lonesome in that moment!

The run back to South Crocker was exactly that, I had fuel back in my belly and several swigs of water from what I had been conserving (of course I had my Sawyer water filter had I actually run out, and plenty of sources along the trail from which to filter..), and I was jamming right along. Concentrating on not catching a toe on any rocks or roots, it was more like a fast cadenced dance than an actual run for the one mile back to the main junction.

My intuition told me to head out toward a herd path that was labelled as “view point”, turns out I had actually gone past the cut off for the bushwhack over to Redington! Glancing back over my shoulder, I caught glimpses of orange surveyors tape strung up in one of the trees, this lone tie indicated the start of ‘into the deeper woods’.

Initially the trail zig zagged, a few branches reaching out in attempts to jab eye sockets and tear flesh – several branches had their way with me as I could feel the sting of sweat mix with fresh red blood – simply battle scars, I suppose!

To my utter surprise, I met another couple on the return bushwhack who boosted my confidence even further as they assured me the path ahead was certainly ‘followable‘, just what I needed to hear as the sun crept even lower still in the sky above.

The so-called bushwhack actually reminded me of some of the ‘unmarked’ herd path trails that I had hiked on my pursuit to becoming an Adirondack 46er, certain seasons might require better route finding skills – but today, simply being aware and looking around provided all the evidence one needed of a trafficked pathway.

Reaching the col between South Crocker and Redington, the bushwhack spat me out to a dozer-wide old logging road; there was absolutely no question of which direction to trek though, with all of the arrows and cairns made from rocks and logs guiding the way!

Perhaps a quarter mile had passed and I began to wonder if I had missed the junction to where the bushwhack re-entered the mountainside and leaves old road, I had not. Spirits were super high as I shot a few more photos and picked up my pace into the woods once again, my day was going okay!

Weaving through standing trees, zigging and zagging, trying to keep flesh away from each sharp pointy thing, that sense of seeing the blue sky over the horizon crept in once again and I knew that the infamous summit canister should be looming very near!

Of all places, I heard voices yet again. Which really should not have been a surprise as it was Saturday in the 4000-footers of Maine, but what really perked me up was the sound of: “HELLOOO AGAIIIIN!!!!“.

Nobody but my old pals from the other side of the river, Ryan and Yvonne, making their way down from the summit – we talked for longer than I would have liked, but they were such amazing and kind folks! They confirmed that the summit was just up ahead, told me all about their terrible bushwhack down from Spaulding Lean-To up to Redington.. best part of all: Redington was officially the final, 67th summit for Yvonne – and just like that another NE67er was birthed!

Once at the summit, I found a wooden “Redington 4010” sign that had seen many snowstorms and probably more terrible storms than I had years! Just off to the right, through yet another herd path was where I located the white summit canister strapped to an old tree.

All the years that I’ve seen pictures of this hidden gem, wondering if I was capable of such a feat as reaching this coveted location boiled down to this instant, the fact that I did it. This was a huge moment for me, that canister, as simple as it is buried deep in the forests of Maine, on a summit with no official trail, represented so much for me. I did it. I did it for me. I took each step in that unmarked forest for each day that I struggled. These are the moments I live for, the mountains that take me home, the mountains that help me breathe life.

I stayed long enough for some photos, trying to forever burn this image of this summit into my memory bank – and then I turned to leave, so quickly and it was over.

Running back down the trail, I had a rad couple of trail runners to catch up to! My new friends informed me of yet another side trail that led more directly (once hacking my way through super dense forest that had grown back in!) down to the logging roads. Before we went in opposite directions they had suggested that, “if you are not trying to reach a certain mileage today.. we are more than happy to show you to our car.. and give you a ride back to yours!”

Eventually, turn by turn through this thick canopy, I began to hear their voices. Once caught back up, we re-entered the openness of old logging terrain, running off and on, the two strangers of the woods told stories of hiking this area almost a decade prior, truly an entertaining bunch!

The low trickle of the river soon turned into a roaring river once again, indicating that we were nearing the gate of the old logging road, and thence their Subaru hatchback.

They stopped their watches: 13 miles for the day.

I stopped my watch and yelled out “Nooooo!!! I have to jump around for TEN more feet!!”, was my response when I read 9,990 feet of elevation gain for the day.

Joking of course, I humbly tucked my muddy Lone Peaks onto their sides as to not get the hearty black Maine Mud all over Ryan’s Subie interior.

Super thankful for helping me along with the final miles of my day, we all talked of seeing each other some day, somewhere out on the trails. They invited me to a celebratory BBQ, I politely declined, opting instead for the spinach salad with bread and garlic hummus that I had stashed in my trunk.

I had accomplished in a round about way, what I had set out to do and quickly settled into my home for the night with dinner and a change of clothes in my near future. Life in the backseat of a Subaru Impreza was not so bad as the sun quickly set and the frigid evening temps quickly set in.

Sugarloaf, Spaulding, Abraham, South Crocker, North Crocker, Redington. 

This was my day, this is what I drove 186 miles for, this is my time with nature that I craved.

Now I settle into my sleeping bag, try to stretch out stiff limbs and get ready, for.. tomorrow I will do it all over again.

Tomorrow I will be in the Bigelow Forest Preserve for the first time, and certainly not the last time. 

What a wild, wild ride I had in these hills – and I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Happy Climbing!

Erik


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 27.55 miles
  • 9hr 54 minutes
  • 9,990′ elevation gain
  • Sugarloaf Mtn – 4,250′
  • Spaulding Mtn – 4,010′
  • Mt Abraham – 4,050′
  • South Crocker Mtn – 4,050′
  • North Crocker Mtn – 4,228′
  • Mt Redington – 4,010′

*summit heights provided by AMC