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!

 

Layering for the outdoors

Gone are the days when we can simply wake up, roll out of bed, gulp down a fresh green juice, toss on yesterdays shorts while refilling packs with water and snacks before taking advantage of 16+ hours of daylight.

Now it seems like we have to decide between boots, shoes, shorts, pants, convertible pants, leggings, base layers, longsleeve or short sleeve, puffy jacket or fleece jacket, rain or wind jacket, beanie or simply just a trusty ball cap?

Seems like enough layering options these days to require a fist full of Ativan!

Where to begin, how can the adventurist possibly decide which is best, or what will keep them safe? Is there any magic combination that will ensure a safe trip into nature and back? Not really, but we can certainly aspire for darn close! So how can we make some sense of a 10,000 sq ft box store full of gear?

Be prepared for the worse, but hope for the best!

First, since this fits into each and every category as a “no, please don’t”.. cotton. Cotton soaks up moisture and takes too long to dry, some exceptions exist on a hot summer day, but I am stubborn in my ways: cotton has no place in a hikers backpack unless it is after the hiking and climbing is done for the day, perhaps for lounging around camp.

Layering for Summer

What should you look for when purchasing clothes for fair weather hiking? Lighter colors, breathable fabrics, if it was not apparent in the last paragraph.. cotton is not a great option for hiking in, so it is best to choose synthetics or light wool layers during the warmer months.

*Short sleeve vs long sleeve shirts – synthetic materials are the way to go these days, prices have come way down in synthetic materials since the 1980s, so we might as well put them to use! A snugger fit will help transfer sweat and moisture away from the body faster, while a looser fitting shirt will act like a wind tunnel and funnel wind right up and over the hikers back or chest.. while this may be refreshing after a good climb, sitting on a bare summit trying to enjoy a sandwich could have you reaching for additional layers sooner! Also, a longsleeve shirt gives a person the option of rolling the sleeves up or down as needed – and at least having the option of sleeves allows you to block UV rays from the sun.

My vote: a light longsleeve shirt with a zip or button up neck, collar to help cover the neck as needed, sleeves that can be rolled down to block the suns rays or rolled/pushed up to help vent sweat during an ascent.

*Shorts vs pants – shorts are lighter (typically) and breezier, letting that mountain air flow wherever you need it most! Pants help with UV protection from the sun, any extraneous sticks or pricker bushes a hiker may encounter while bushwhacking, but possibly most important pants offer protection from ticks and other biting insects found along the trails.

My vote: while I often hike in running shorts, if I know the trail is wide and I’ll be moving quickly, however.. my longstanding preference is for zip-off, or ‘convertible’ pants that offer the option of legs that zip off, switching into shorts on the fly, and most of the pant legs that zip off can even fit over boots without removing them!

A side note that can and should be applied to any garment while choosing clothing for layering is the color; keep in mind that lighter colors will help reflect sun rays, helping to keep the wearer cooler longer, but also lighter colors help deter ticks – while darker layers will soak up the sun rays, keeping the hiker warmer, darker layers have also been found to attract ticks!

*Buff – at least one of these stretchy fabric tubes can be found in my running pack, super versatile, these can be worn as a hat to absorb sweat and block the sun, around the neck for much of the same or even on the wrist like a fancy tennis player to wipe sweat before it gets into the eyes!

*Sunglasses – offering year round protection, and not just for sunny days – sunglasses offer eye protection from pointy sticks while bushwhacking and comfort while traversing snow or bright colored rock, I always have a pair of sunglasses on my face or in my pack – just in case!

*Hat – brimmed hats offer not only additional UV protection from sun rays, but can help block some glare.

*Boots vs trail runners – boots offer additional ankle support, especially beneficial while backpacking or carrying multi-day heavy loads into the mountains, typically boots are more water-resistant than simple trail runners while running shoes offer more flexibility in the foot, better range of motion, occasionally better grip on slab rock also! Some consideration will have to go into what the trail conditions may look like, how wet, eroded, grade/steepness all should be factored in when determining footwear in the hills.

*Gaiters – in some form or another, these are year-round for me. Whether they are ‘expedition’ style gaiters, more insulated and fitted for winter travel, or simple fabric ‘dirty-girl’ gaiters, some shoe companies like Altra are making gaiters specifically designed to fit their trail runners. Gaiters are just an additional form of protection, blocking sand, pebbles, twigs, pine needles, anything you don’t want falling into your shoe and inevitably under your foot while hiking!

My vote: gaiters year-round, heavier insulated gaiters are great for winter travel, keeping snow our of your boots while keeping warmth against your calves – but unfortunately a lot of the taller, knee-height gaiters are not terribly breathable and can trap a lot of sweat against the lower legs, quick fix? Unzip or loosen them for a minute when a snack break is taken, let your legs breathe too!

Layering for Spring or Autumn

The same applies as far as synthetic layers and zip-off pant options, but now begins the magic of layering –

+ Base Layer (wicks moisture away from the body)

+ Mid-weight Layer (traps warm pockets air next to the body)

+ Outer shell (repels wind/precipitation)

Often a debatable rule, but one that I have found to work well – I have found it is best to start hiking in a layer that will have you cool, but not chilled, definitely not actually shivering – knowing that the body will warm up gradually over the first 10-15 minutes, or during the initial 1-2 miles. If you are still cold after a mile, put light gloves or a hat on, still cold after that? Put an extra layer (shirt/fleece) on.

Like the saying goes: if your toes are cold, put on a hat.

*Long sleeve – wool is classically known for its ‘anti-stink’ properties, great for distance hikers! One longstanding downside to wool however, is its itchiness – but this has been somewhat remedied by treatments during production, but can also be achieved by washing wool gently with a bit of vinegar (google it.. to find how much vinegar to put in your laundry!), synthetic long sleeve shirts can become smelly faster – I find it easiest to just wash any of my tech layers by hand with gentle soap (Dr Bronner’s works wonders..for everything!), whatever you do – fabric softener cannot be used on synthetic layers, the chemicals will strip your clothing of all moisture-wicking properties!

My vote: a brightly colored (think..hunting season), collared long sleeve that has the option of rolling or pushing the sleeves up to block sun rays, fitting just snug enough to not waft air up my chest and become drafty, but not tight enough to be constricting or overly noticeable to the hiker!

*Mid-weight/fleece – some can be found with a laminated outer layer, or DWR (durable water repellent) coating from the factory, but I have been relying on a fleece shell for years! Why fleece? I grew up hearing my parents say “your fleece is made from recycled Coca Cola bottles!”, which I thought to be fascinating.. many fleece jackets are manufactured from recycled materials, which I love to support! Fleece jackets are moderately breathable, allowing sweat to vent out but adversely letting that pesky wind tear through right down to your base layer. Another downside to fleece is that it does not pack away as easily as other options, remaining a bulky layer from start to finish.

*Mid-weight/”Puffy”/insulated jacket – first off, I love these jackets.. but not so much for during the hike. So far in my short history of owning a down/synthetic insulated jacket I have grown to prefer them before or after climbing or hiking, but not during. Why? Many reasons.. they are not as durable as other options (like fleece), one snag on a branch and there goes all your filling! Insulated jackets are not all created the same, here again, there are also synthetic and ‘naturally occurring’ fills (goose, duck, or other waterfowl). Both variations take quite some time to dry once wet or sweat-through, but synthetic fills are raved for retaining their loft when wet. However, over the longhaul – synthetic insulation looses its ability to re-fluff after being wet, while natural down can go through a wet-dry cycle many more times, lasting much longer than synthetic in the long haul!

*Mid-weight/”Puffy”/insulated vest – same as above concerning the fill, fabric and durability, but some prefer the puffy vest to keep warm air against the core while allowing free-range of motion for the arms. Once again though, I would save an insulated vest for a snack break while on trail or for back at camp, but not while actually hiking or climbing due to its ability to simply soak up sweat easily.

*Mid-weight options: hood vs no hood – natural instinct tells me it would be better to have a hood and not need it, best to have it right there if it is needed, but what if your outer shell has a hood – would that become too cumbersome and restricting to have two hoods? Will the hood fit over a hat, beanie, or helmet for climbing? Will a second hood run the chance of getting in the way, or blocking your view when you need to see your rope while belaying? All of these questions must be asked when purchasing layers.

Layering for Winter/colder temps

Now that we have the basics of layering down, what can be done to help protect our base and mid-layers? Another layer or two, of course!

*Outer shell/wind jacket – often can be packed up to the size of an apple when not needed, but can be tossed over a long sleeve or fleece layer in seconds to add a layer of light water-resistance. The wind jacket will keep your hard earned heat trapped and close to the body, for a short period a simple wind jacket will help light rain or snow bead up and fall away – while it doesn’t take long for these layers to become saturated, they typically do dry rather quickly.

*Outer shell/rain jacket – typically just a bit heavier than a simple wind jacket, these shells are usually treated with DWR from the factory or contain a GoreTex layer (as durability and water-resistance increases, often so does price!). While these layers work great to keep rain and snow on the outside of your layers, they often times work just as well at retaining heat and moisture inside of the jacket – but now-a-days better jackets can be found with arm pit zippers and vents of all sorts to help breathability.

My vote: base layer + fleece + thin (easily packable) GoreTex (seam sealed) jacket. Highly versatile and can be combined with a plethora of other layering options, a good rain jacket can often times double as a wind shell. The only drawback to a treated rain jacket that I have found is the maintenance (hardly troublesome as far as gear goes..), a treated layer must be kept clean, free from oils (sun tan lotion, grease, etc), dust and dirt, scratches and tears as small particles easily enter the pores of the jacket that are designed to allow the hikers sweat to escape while being too small for fallen water droplets to penetrate. A bit of gentle soap and cool water can help keep your rain jacket working like new – and for DWR treated layers, another coating can be store bought and applied at home, or sometimes a quick trip to the dryer, tumbled on low heat can help revive the DWR treatment!

*Outer shell/winter jacket/parka – basically a one-use type of layer, these are not stowable, winter coats do not collapse and fit easily into a pack, they often times are heavy and do not breathe, and what’s more.. parkas are typically expensive. So when should they be used? In extreme conditions, cold and wind – or when the hiker is just not moving much, such as belaying or in between strenuous activity, they are also great for lounging around camp.

Of course, by now combinations of these layers can be found – companies trying to come out with the next best idea, zippers in new locations, features that guarantee you’ll stay cooler and dryer longer. Endless amounts of money can be spent on layers and a hiker these days will probably not feel as if they have “everything for every situation”, the key is being able to use what you have and adjust layers for varying weather conditions; build up a small arsenal of quality clothing that can be utilized.

The key to layering is just knowing that heavier is not always better, knowing that a hiker will have to add or remove layers throughout the day or week-long backpacking trip.

As one famous adventurer stated: “You sweat, you die.

Basically what they meant was.. once you get soaked with sweat and you are forced to stop mid-hike without dry clothes to change into on a windy or chilly day, you will become hypothermic extremely quickly.

Pack smart, think ahead, hope for the best but plan for the worst conditions, and always dress in layers!

 

Happy climbing!

– Erik

 



A fantastic company who has been helping modern climbers, hikers, boaters, skiers, get their layering down correctly since 1938, REI has a great selection, frequent sales and discounts, and a membership program that offers real cash back rewards on all your outdoor purchases!

Simply click any of the REI links and images around here and REI will kick us some loose change, it costs you nothing other than one click on the link so they know who sent you!

Cheers and happy trails!

 

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′

 

Bigelow Preserve: Avery, West and a Horn

Thirteen miles in the Bigelow Forest Preserve.

6:10AM

Morning found me with tucked, cramped legs in the backseat of my Subaru; eager to stretch them straight after the prior day of long miles and steep climbing, with one deep breath to shake the seven hours that my watch claims that I winked, I received a dusting of frosty flakes from my side window – a reminder that it was colder outside than was predicted overnight.

I was hoping to wake up, clean up the back of the Subie a bit and maybe find a little breakfast before the sun really began to show its colors. I decided to call the Chapel parking lot at Sugarloaf my home away from home for the evening as I lay in my sleeping bag typing away until all the casual bar goers stumbled to their cars and made their way away from my camp spot parking lot.

This morning was absolutely stunning, I had a feeling that I was in for an even better day than yesterday – but with the tangerines and red raspberry sherbet hues beginning to trickle into the quickly fading deep blues of an overnight clear sky.

I had to hit the ‘autopilot’ switch on my morning routine just to get out of my warm cocoon, crawl to my front drivers seat, foot on the clutch, super cold keys in the ignition and as if it were still 80 degrees outside the boxer motor sprang to life and my seat heat was pumping hard while I finished getting gear prepped.

My new friends from the prior evening told me all about where to park and which unmarked road to be on the look out for as we descended Redington, which was now plugged into google maps on my phone, ready to guide me to my next big adventure of my long weekend in the Maine wilderness.

At the parking lot, the echo of two dudes in their frost-covered tent filled the air with deep bellowing laughter as I topped off my two water flasks, consulted my waterproof paper map one last time before it found its new home tucked in the smaller of my packs – the Black Diamond Distance 8L that I have grown to adore so immensely!

My go-to thru hiking Darn Tough wool socks helped my feet ignore the fact that my Lone Peaks were still dampened with crusty mud, once laced up – we were all ready to beat the crowds and hit the trails!

7:14AM

Trekking poles in hand, I began the slow shuffle to get the blood flowing once again – past the SUVs that just seemed to deposit themselves sporadically along the remaining drive to the actual trail head – the blackened, road-wide mud bogs must have intimidated the drivers of these luxury “off-road” vehicles.

In a matter of minutes, I reached the first bridged crossing – the outlet of Stratton Brook Pond where a youngster dressed in more goose down than an arctic expedition was fishing, trying to catch his fresh morning breakfast. We exchanged waves and ‘good morning’s as I let my feet chose the leisurely pace and continued down the most elegantly glowing trail; the morning rays softly illuminating the yellows and oranges of the forest canopy around me.

Feeling as if I finally found several square miles of pristine autumnal forest where the preceding windstorm had avoided, I tip toed across frosty wooden planks, gripping up the initial open rock slabs and two quick miles later, I found the intersection where I hoped to return later this fine day: The Fire Wardens Intersection with the registration box where it is recommended all hikers fill out a small tag with identifiers, helping to show how much traffic this area truly receives.

I decided to hike the loop this morning, ascending the steep Fire Wardens Trail, re-visit the Appalachain Trail again today (this time traversing South along the ridge), then descend the Horns Pond Trail back to this very intersection. I had originally planned of following the AT down off the ridge, but when my friends from yesterdays adventure highly recommended the Horns Pond Trail as being more gentle and picturesque, I was all about it!

The views behind me as I quickly climbed along the Fire Wardens Trail arrived within steps and did not leave my back until many miles later, I could see straight out to the ski slopes adorning Sugarloaf, the alpine zone high atop Abraham even further beyond was clearly visible, the Crockers were there too, wrapped in a blanket of fall foliage colors.

Several switchbacks and climbing later, I ran into a peculiar hiker standing atop one of the tent pads off a side trail, he stood there with a hefty pack by his side and an unlit cigarette in his hand asking me of my backpacking plans. Letting out a chuckle and thinking of my tiny pack on my own back, I admitted that I was only up here for the day.

My nicotine fueled friend advised that crews were out cleaning up large scenes of blowdown from the windstorms that rolled through in the days past. From the distance of where he stood all I heard was “thirty blowdown sections” and “Horns Pond Trail – impassable“.

I thanked him for the heads up about my planned escape route and we both agreed that as crews with chainsaws were actively working to clean up the Appalachian Trail, that this would have to be the trail I plan to pick up later in my day.

I’m not a huge fan of changes to my plans, but honestly my attention to either trail had been about equal – driving east to Maine the prior morning I had already planned on descending the AT, that is until it was recommended that I focus on the Horns Pond Trail instead, in my mind, I could go either way really – the only downside was that taking the AT would add quite a few miles to my day: add more miles of clear sailing vs. faster descent through a jungle of fallen evergreens??

After leaving this mysterious backpacker and his tent pad, I found what had been referred to as “the longest staircase in existence” – indeed it was a long one, however, I was left doubtful of these lofty claims.

Four miles into my morning and I was now taking the southern facing flank of the Bigelow ridge step by step, exchanging more morning greetings with other backpackers just off trail as they packed up their tents and tried to wipe their sleepy eyes back to wake.

I could see up above that the horizon was coming quickly and within minutes I was fully immersed in the baths of morning sunlight as more ice and snow toppled from frozen tree branches – I was now on the Appalachian Trail and in the col between my next two destinations!

BIGELOW MTN. – AVERY PEAK ELEV. 4088FT.

8:52AM

Zipping past the quaint caretakers cabin, with no evidence of any inhabitants this morning, I began my final jaunt over to the open summit of Avery along some of the most jagged east coast granite I had ever experienced. Along the upper reaches of 4000 feet, the boulders were encased in a fine hoarfrost so fine that just collapsed underfoot and turned quickly to a slanted ice-skating rink that slid each well-thought-out footstep in every angle imaginable.

It was all worth the risky, methodical climb/crawl over these Appalachian Trail boulders because when the morning sun rays shone through and slapped my frigid cheeks, I was in a state of comfort that I had yet to reach this weekend. I stood on the high point of Avery peak next to the windswept orange summit sign for what seemed like eternity, my gaze slowly traveling from peak to peak, taking in the views.

I heard about the old stone remains of the fire tower, with the adorable single track path leading over – I took that brief trek over with a little bounce to my step.. playfully tapping off one rock after another, escaping my mind to a place of ridge running bewilderment.

Not expecting the lower, 4088′ Avery peak to be home to any of my sought after USGS survey markers, I almost cut my summit experience short as to spend more time over on the westerly summit; to my great surprise however, I found not only the one survey disc outside of the fire tower remains, but two more embedded in the rock inside of the square shelter! I was in a heavenly world of glory up on this sub-peak!

Once again, before making my way further into my day, I simply stood with no distractions – glancing all around, at the frost that adorned the alpine grasses and stubby trees, the cloud inversion melting through the valleys, the stringy linear clouds that streaked through the otherwise blue sky, the birds that hopped from ground to branch searching for their breakfast of seeds and twigs who otherwise did not know how lucky they were to call these great heights ‘home’.

These were the views that I don’t ever want to set slip from my memory banks..

Just as I turned to leave, I heard voices.

Two backpackers made their way up as I wanted to begin my trek down – we ended up talking for a brief minute about how lucky we were with the given conditions. Turns out they had been up here just several hours earlier to watch the sunset over the landscape – must have been remarkably stunning!

They mentioned that Avery peak was their very first 4000 foot peak, I congratulated them and mentioned that West Bigelow, hopefully in my very near future, would mark my 114th peak in the northeast – their excitement was tangible as they reached out to enthusiastically shake my hand upon learning this!

Wishing each other a lovely hike and remainder of our day out in the forest, I made my return trek down to the col intersection, hand over hand, bracing over the slick, frost covered boulders.

Already having all the photographs that I wanted to take, I blew through the intersection and ran nose to nose with a barking puppy dog, “don’t worry, she’s fine.. just going to bark at you!” said its young owner Captain Obvious, as I passed by.

I had all of the views now, it was hard to believe that only minutes ago I was standing upon the highest rocks of the green and gray mound behind me. I could still see the cross-shaped summit sign atop Avery Peak, but my friends evidently had moved on by now.

BIGELOW MTN. – WEST PEAK ELEV. 4150FT.

As I reached the final major summit of my day, I took a breath and in an instant of exaltation, recounted all of the one hundred and thirteen summits prior that led me destined for this fine moment. Two fellow hikers glanced over but did not muster up a single word as they passed, I simply wished them splendid travels. Contently now, I had the summit of West Bigelow and the surrounding summit rocks all to myself.

Once again here, the views did not disappoint – if forced to choose either to spend my day upon, it would unanimously be back on Avery, but this westerly peak had different vistas still, spanning even further down the ridge west, my next destination.

Trekking down the ridge, I was reminded of time spent on the Presidentials back in the White Mountains, sloping drop-offs on either side with a neat single track, easily runnable bumpered on either side and slightly built up with excess basketball-sized boulders – such a lovely path to find myself on this morning!

Once the steep descent was over and I found myself back in the forest canopy where it continued to rain down ice and slushy snow clumps, the going was slick, but oh-so-smooth and encouraged a hastened pace. From rock to log and from log back to rock my Lone Peaks bounded, quick-stepping to keep from plunging into the frigid standing puddles which lined my morning trail.

Despite hiking and running in many similar forests and mountain ridges, I caught myself numerous times persuading my thoughts, that this was truly the finest, remaining desolate and unencumbered wooded ridges that I had ever sunk a trail running shoe lug in!

Two miles of watching the sun glisten through the southern facing trees and traversing through snow and mud, even more up and over bare rock – I was all smiles at my ‘whole-body-running-and-climbing-escapade’!

Finally, after what felt like a dozen miles – I could glance back with the increasing elevation and peer behind me, now with summit number 114: the West Peak smiling back at me, tipping its hat in approval of my epic fun run!

BIGELOW MTN. – SOUTH HORN ELEV. 3831FT.

With the orange summit sign strewn across the trail, I glanced around and ahead down the trail, “looks like a sort of summit to me!” A few brief moments to soak in these views now at an even further angle and I was on my way, my thoughts going back to the looming four hour drive and.. not wanting to leave this magical forest, but my desire to just be home with Ciara and the boys.

Making quick work, I bounced effortlessly down the carefully laid rocks that became yet another staircase, luckily not slick this time – descending the South Horn over what seemed much further than the half mile estimated by the signage down to Horns Pond.

What a fantastical area tucked away in the woods – each entrance to the surrounding plot of land came complete with a laminated map designating which paths led to the pond, the group shelter area, various camping areas – a very complete, colored map containing hand drawn images of the area; I chose to continue along the white emblazoned trail, south along the AT.

Upon checking my AllTrails app maps that conveniently work even while in airplane mode – I discovered that I, in fact had not passed the 0.2 mile cut off onto the Horns Pond Trail.

Just as I questioned my options: keep going extra miles to the AT to descend off the ridge vs attempt the Horns Pond Trail not knowing the current state of blowdown hindrances, I heard voices coming my way! Three young men with the most adorable french accents, reminiscent of early explorers.

I questioned their tortuous ascent, they gave many descriptive attributes regarding the trail, being sure to include the bit about their friend almost dying in the blowdown.. unfazed by this I focused on the one word which reverberated through the darkest, most masochistic corners of my gray matter: “do-able“.

The instant these young lads informed me that this blowdown was treacherous, yet “do-able” – I was totally all in. I did not want to add an extra six or so miles onto my already longer than I would have liked day: I was going to visit the fresh blowdown, I was prepared for a bushwhack, I was tackling the Horns Pond Trail after all!

What started out as a ‘not so bad, what bushwhack were they actually referring to..?‘ kind of trek thus far quickly turned from hopping up and over 1-2 downed trees across the path at a time to – ‘whoa.. uhmm.. there is NO trail here..‘ and absolutely no indication of which direction it went under easily 8-10 feet of deforested matchsticks laying in utter chaos.

Stabbing pine boughs sticking in every direction, trees entangled and facing every which way, when I stood finally atop the chaos.. what was there to see? Not a one tree in this catastrophe remained standing for quite a surrounding distance.

I recalled the one section of blowdown we encountered as a child where my mother and father handed my sister and I up and over, down and under trees that very much resembled a similar circumstance.

I was able to spot several pieces of orange surveyor tape tied around branches, but completely uncertain of what they pertained to – or even how old they were, perhaps older than this debris and marking something else entirely?

Several times I had to guide myself off tree trunks into the abyss below, an entanglement of spruce boughs and all things cushy, yet still pointy and snapped off branches stuck in every direction imaginable. It was a portal straight to hell.

Eventually, while proceeding in a generally southern direction – I was completely unaware of where the trail emerged from this thick mess, and knowing that if I went in the wrong direction, even 2 degrees off course for long enough, I’d never find my way back to the blue blazed trail – I reluctantly consulted my AllTrails app. Turns out.. I was still on the actual trail, I could not believe it for a second, not a single icon of a used trail remained for as far as my eyes could see!

But knowing that I just had to continue through this mess.. I pushed on, determined as ever until I looked down and saw a blue 2 by 3 inch swatch of paint streaking along one of the downed trees, this was my path after all!

Another twenty feet or so showed me back to the beaten path – the original Horns Pond Trail. I had time to make up, and was now out of the path of absolute destruction; clear, soft and moss-covered as far as the eye could see: I took off with a sense of necessitated speed on my mind.

As I exited the thick evergreen slopes of the Bigelow preserve and entered the colorful deciduous leaved canopy of a lower altitude, I now knew that progress was being made and my sought after intersection would soon be in my sights!

Without even taking a half-second to say good-bye to the registration box, I slammed my direction to the right and proceeded back onto the original Fire Wardens Trail that would soon have me sitting in my Subaru – all I could think of was my hidden stash of fresh, juicy apples that Ciara and I picked the weekend prior, waiting to quench my thirst like the finest watermelon imaginable.

I met another couple as I continued running ‘home’, said “hello!“, as I ran past they let the steady stream of questions spurt out.. questions that could not be answered if I were to continue running. They asked where I had come from as it was somewhere around 12:30pm, I asked where they were off to this late in the day; backpacking somewhere after they ascend via the Horns Pond Trail that I had just tackled.

Without trying to scare the wits out of them, I softly let them know of the adventure that lay ahead – without missing a beat, the man of the group chose to respond with: “well.. I’ll have you know.. that.. that.. we CAME OUT HERE FOR AN ADVENTURE!!” I wished them well and a fantastic trek and thus began my final mile.

Having no reason to hold back, I was cooking down the trail, fully warmed up and perhaps sweating a decent bit now.

Past the bridge where Mr Goose Down was fishing earlier this morning, past the tight community of North Face tents that popped up along the road walk in, and scooting around the muddy bogs that enveloped what resembled road remnants.

No one was around as I slowed now to a walk, looked around for a hidden stash of Appalachian Trail water (from Trail Angels), of which I found none – but I had some in my car, so it was all okay! My jacket and shirt was the first thing to come off as it was not so frigid cold anymore, and I was now a hot, steamy mess!

Without service, I loaded my run into my COROS app to be transferred to Strava later, composed a loving text to Ciara that would be sent along once back in service down the road.

Once again: foot on the clutch, boxer motor hummed to life, google maps was set – and I was ready to beat the 4hr 8minute estimation that they set for me, it was more of a challenge then an estimation.. right?

The entire next 5 miles of on-road travel consisted of me staring intently in my rear view mirror saying quietly to myself ‘holy hot damn.. I was totally just up there!!!

Reflecting on my long weekend in Maine is hard to say sombering, but it was indeed an epic weekend of pushing myself beyond what I thought easily capable of: ~42 miles with 15,000’ of elevation gain with the opportunity to visit 8 incredible four-thousand foot peaks of the Maine wilderness.

I’ve wanted to do this for a while, lived for quite some time with the uncertainty of if a journey like this would ever actually take place – and now knowing that it has, I am left with one final thought: I have one four-thousand foot peak in the northeast remaining until I can count myself as one of the NE115’ers – I can recall being a 6-year old aspiring climber brainstorming this daunting feat, just thinking of all the excuses life would throw my way, all the reasons as to the why I was not cut out to hike all of these amazing summits.

I have never been so close, and in due time will never be aspiring for this goal ever again.

A truly incomprehensible list of gradual check marks.

What an incredible journey it has been, and will always continue to be.

There was a time when nothing made me feel like a real person, no will to experience life, until I re-discovered mountains and met an amazing gal with two fuzzy puppies in tow, butt-sliding her way down from the Lyon Mountain fire tower in the NY Adirondacks and literally knocking me off my feet.

Here’s to many more outdoor adventures, may they help you also feel alive inside!!

Happy trails, Happy climbing!

– Erik


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 13.01 miles
  • 4,281′ elevation gain
  • 5hr 8minutes
  • Bigelow – Avery Peak – 4,088′
  • Bigelow – West Peak – 4,150′
  • Bigelow – South Horn – 3,831′

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

 


 

Saddleback & The Horn

I write this from the back of my Subaru; wrapped up in a sleeping bag and munching on bananas, fresh off the trail and spending the night in Maine – which is quite fitting as I am recounting my excursion from last weekend.

Saddleback.

The name of an old time favorite back in the Adirondacks, I’ve seen that Great Range gem in every season – and it never gets old in my humble opinion! But with an epic steep climb up an old landslide resulting in some of the finest views one could possibly hope to find anywhere in the Adirondack state park.

However, this is of a different Saddleback, this is the Saddleback of Maine! Turns out this was not even my ‘first pick’, in all honesty, I suppose I had just simply not thought of it! All of my sights were tuned into the big brothers in the area, with names like Bigelow, Sugarloaf and Redington (which is an almighty bushwhack!).

As per my typical planning regime: I began checking the weather the instant that I returned to work on Monday morning. Knowing that most accurate mountain weather apps generally do not broadcast that far out into the future, I just could not resist the temptation to day dream even for just a moment on this Monday work day!

Weather looking good, my sights quickly switched to researching trails – I was in the mood for something out of the ordinary – my destination didn’t have to be the steepest trail, or even the longest hike imaginable, sometimes I just want different – such as several weeks ago – Ciara and I went for a spontaneous sunrise hike in Vermont, turns out not far off the trail was an old airplane fuselage from a mountain-side crash landing many moons ago (spoiler alert: the pilot lived!).

When I realized that I was contending with a +4 hour car ride one way to hike any of these far away four thousand footers, I knew I had to re-organize my thoughts.

Saddleback was the closest of them all; I sat there at my laptop with several tabs of google-maps open thinking nearly out loud, “why had I not looked into this by now?

At about 3 and a half hours one way (still seems crazy as I type and hear the words aloud in my head!), Saddleback would afford me an extra hour and a half of time back into my day – which was perfect because this was one weekend when I need to get there and get back to spend time with Ciara and the doggies!

So.. what’s so ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ about this Saddleback place?

First off, it’s a ski resort. I really didn’t look into the details, but after returning from hiking via the ski slopes.. I almost want to dig in deeper! The resort is closed, but all of the quickie google.com searches for Saddleback Mountain have informed me that there is a person or group actively trying to re-open the resort for the 2020 season.

The resort itself appears to remain in great condition, only a wee-bit eerie when I pulled into the lot with not a soul to be found, no sounds, just pure silence – and as I peered into the windows as I passed, the chairs were all up on the tables but everything else has been removed: 110% eerie.

Second cool factor is that there are multiple ways to hike this hidden gem! The Appalachian Trail traverses the summit ridge and continues over to other series of bumps and rocky outcrops, the nearest being also one of the 4000-footer summits of Maine, wicked Bonus!

As I returned from my morning jaunt up along the ridge, I had several people (from different groups of hikers) asking me where the pesky trail was! Trying to be helpful, I pointed them to the slopes around back of the lodge to where I began my ascent, “it’s back there, you can’t miss it.. but if you do.. just keep climbing until you can’t climb no more!

The talus-filled ski slope that made up my trail.. and it was much like a trail after all, began as a muddy single track width of boot and trail runner prints quickly sprawled out onto a poorly maintained maintenance access road – and got steep, real quick!

About 20 solid minutes of warm up climbing was all it took, and within minutes the once sprawling fall foliage vistas were completely shrouded in white mist as I quickly ascended into the blanket of ominous cloud cover – but for those few brief moments of incredible views – I could tell Maine was darn close to Peak Foliage around there! The yellow birch leaves and deep reds mingled with the rusty orange hues, all offset by the spruce and evergreen needles sprinkled throughout just seemed to spread out and unroll across the countryside like the most vivid quilt ever quilted!

Nearing the ridge line, the winds masked the sounds of thru-hikers who made their beds in one of the shelters just off the crest of the ridge – the scent of their bacon and maple syrup wafted through the air. Now over 4,000 feet, the air was growing more and more tumultuous, whipping the heavy cloud layer all around, whirl-winding that sweet maple syrup right up my nose!

Once out on the ridge line, visibility narrowed to a slim 15 feet in any direction, the whipping wind was alive and in full force now with 40-50mph gusts forcing me to brace each step with my trekking poles – mildly nerve-racking to say the least while trotting down open granite slab with a drop off to the right that disappeared into who-knows-what kind of abyss far below.

I was very pleasantly surprised with my inaugural break-in of my first pair of Altra Lone Peak 4.0s! They seemed to grip the bare rock better than any other shoe I had hiked in, I expected them to give up their hearty traction and send each of my legs flailing in varying directions.. I can pleasantly say that the Lone Peaks did stellar – now I just need a bit of snow and ice to test them in!

It really was not difficult at all to follow the ridge despite being shrouded in a thick undulating cloud layer – the AT was marked very well – and the notorious white blazes almost appeared to have been recently repainted! There were of course large rock cairns every so often to follow when the snow flies and the visibility is reduced to footprints.

I thoroughly enjoy a hike where I can employ my arms and legs both – and Saddleback was definitely the hike for that! Heading over to The Horn just over a mile away saw a lovely granite sidewalk that was easily runnable (even when wet!), rocky scrambles, a deceptively thin wrought iron ladder that looked as if I would step through each rung, and boat loads of rocky outcrops that would have made great resting view points had I not been over four thousand feet up in the clouds!

Once up the last steep pitch to the summit rocks of The Horn at 4041′, I quickly spotted the burnt orange MATC signage surrounded by boulders helping to keep it upright in these torrential wind gusts. I have grown accustomed to the dark brown signs with yellow text found in the Adirondacks, the rough wood plank signs of the Whites, but the uniqueness of these bright orange trail signs found on Maine mountains still seem so exciting and new to me!

The summit of the Horn is one that there could be fifty people stuffed onto the summit rocks, and with such an open summit, there would be plenty of space between groups as to not be jammed on top of one another.

After several photos and slamming gusts of wind later, my fingers made the call that it was time to pack up shop and head back to warmer pastures found in the treeline!

After a run through the col, and beginning back up the Saddleback side I was quickly stopped dead in my tracks. Just several quick moments of when the sun began to shine through the clouds, even from up so high the views to the west began to shine through the cloud that I reluctantly called my ‘home on the ridge’ for this morning.

I could literally see the water droplets that made up this cloud wiz past my face, but now they were so few and far in between that the most colorful artists palette of fall foliage shone through – to the untrained eye, a passerby may assume that the cold wind was whipping tears across my face, I might just say that it was such a magical experience to be there in that moment!

The mind blowing color shots did not last long, as I traced my steps and ascended back to the peak of Saddleback, I found myself alone again on this pile of rock. I did some exploring now though, checking out the old stone shelter that rose several feet off the backside of the peak. I was able to find an old USGS survey marker and for a change, just simply stop in time, walking slowly and intently, simply taking in the sights that surround my feet; looking at the colors of the alpine moss, watching grasses sway in the breeze, even birds all around that tried to defy wind speeds – it was all an incredible experience.

When I had my fill of playing explorer, I recalled my three and a half hour drive home. I met many families with youngsters making their way up, I wished them all a safe and fantastic trek up to the summit; most saw me still wrapped up in my Black Diamond wind jacket and eventually asked about the weather up top. It was only then that I admitted how strong the gusts were, how bone chilling the water droplets screaming by any bare skin had felt, but most importantly – I wanted each person who ascended after me to have the same magical experience that I had, whether they saw the clouds part or not! 

The Altra Lone Peaks make super quick work running down the boulder and mud slopes while heading down to my car, I have been thoroughly impressed by them – and not too sure why it took me so long to get around to taking them for a spin on the mountain-side!

Another hugely successful and enjoyable day – Saddleback along with the epic Horn traverse was my 5th and 6th four-thousand-foot peak in the incredible wilderness of Maine.

I am truly excited to venture back here again soon and see what other gems lay waiting for me and my Lone Peaks!

 

Until then,

Happy Climbing!

– Erik

 


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 6.8 miles
  • 2hr 29 minutes
  • 3,255′ elevation gain
  • Saddleback Mt – 4120′
  • Saddleback Horn – 4041′

 


A Frosty Sunrise on Mt Abe

The mercury has officially dropped to sub-thirty degrees as I sit here next to the crackling woodstove with a fresh cup of locally roasted black coffee and reflect on the events that unraveled yesterday.

Ciara and I had been trying to once again watch the first glimmers of morning light while perched high atop a rocky crag before the swaths of weekend warriors pack to fill the mountain tops. We are not awfully picky – any summit with several degrees of an open easterly vista would suffice just fine for us!

We also wanted to make the most of our weekend travels, finishing the day with the first apple picking session of the season – which helped sway our decision even further, to consider venturing back to Vermont this time! As I write this, New York is in its prime for fall foliage; New Hampshire, where we currently reside is not far behind – we have loads of reds and oranges bursting from the hillsides of Smarts Mountain which is bisected by the Appalachian Trail, naturally we assumed Vermont would be looking quite alright, with being stuffed somewhere in the middle of these two states!

For the week leading up to our nighttime hiking adventure, Ciara and I tossed names and locations of hikes and trails back and forth via text message while at work. One stuck; we had both climbed this peak in the past several years, but never together, and I had never taken on the trek from the south.

Okay enough dragging you along – after checking the weather, consulting our maps and the bonus of knowing several excellent apple orchards in the area for afterward, we decided on hiking Mount Abraham (Mt Abe to the locals!) which is found smack-dab right on the Long Trail that runs North to South (..or South to North!) through the Green Mountains of Vermont.

In the past, I had taken on Mt Abe via the Sugarbush ski trails that connect from the east and create a sort of loop to Mount Ellen at 4,083′ first, then running the ridge (Long Trail south) back over several other sub-peaks and past the ski slopes to Mount Abraham. This time Ciara would be showing me the section of Long Trail that departs out of Lincoln Gap and runs to the north!

With the weather reports unchanged and still completely clear for Saturday morning, we had our water flasks filled, jackets packed, rechargeable headlamp batteries topped off and all in the car heading west for a frosty 3am departure.

Arriving at the trail head for Lincoln Gap, we quickly found that we were not the only masterminds to conjure up the idea of watching what we hoped would be an incredible sunrise from the summit rocks of a Vermont four-thousand-footer! We could even see a string of LED lights with their soft glowing warmth in the back of another hikers’ car as they too probably questioned their twenty-seven degree start decision.

Our new solo hiking friend jostled by merely seconds before we set our watches to record as we exchanged our brief “good morning, good hiking!” greetings. For the next several minutes, I could track her headlamp zigging and zagging its way through the forest along the trail ahead of us, both Ciara and I worried that we would be leap-frogging and annoyingly on each others heels the entire 2.8 mile trek up to the summit, which thankfully did not happen!

It’s amazing how time seems to speed up to a blur when hiking up a rocky trail in the darkness; for years I’ve contemplated this topic; could it be that our mind simply chooses to focus on the circle of details which are illuminated by our headlamps, or that we are just not awake enough to be stricken with the burden of time passing, perhaps our minds race down the rabbit hole of internal concerns – the ‘what if’s, or ‘what is out here in the forest’, even the ‘what is watching me that I cannot see?’.

Whatever the case may be, I have simply noticed that miles and minutes always seem to coast by much quicker when the trail underfoot is cast aglow by our headlamp bulbs.

From start to finish though, the four words that tumbled haphazardly through my minds eye repeated over and over and over again: I Love This Trail.

What began as super-soft single track, meandering through the dense Vermont forest, quickly transformed into a rolling masterpiece of rock hopping literally up the shoulder of Abe. The trail continuously proved to us that the original builders did not have a fear of ascending too fast, over the course of the 2.8 miles required to ascent this peak, we climbed 2,270 feet, with barely a flat spot to rest our calves – which is great when all you want to do is beat the sunrise to the upper reaches of the alpine-zone!

Not long into our hike we passed the cut off for the Battell Shelter; continuing on our Long Trail trek, we were taken directly through the camp – unfortunately for the thru-hikers’ still bundled up in the lean-to, we were unaware of their silent presence until my headlamp shone directly onto their colorful sleeping bags – so sorry my friends!

Around the peripheral views around our narrow headlamp beams we could now see through the trees our first glimpse of blue sky – which could only mean one thing: daylight was growing near!

Minute by minute, what we initially perceived as dark blue hues transformed to lighter shades and hence giving way to the deepest reds my eyes have ever witnessed scorching the horizon.

Awww yeah, let’s gooo!!” Ciara belted out as we came to the first real rocky scramble up the shoulder of Mt Abe and knew that our private sunrise was only minutes from being at its peak color.

Our boys handled the open-rock faces with ease, to be expected though after all this time hiking together. Our Altras performed just fine, Ciara breaking in her new Lone Peaks on this early morning hike and having nothing but rave reviews all morning long!

Cresting up over the top, we had by then encountered several frozen pools of gathered rain water filling in cracks around the rocky summit, peering around with headlamps we could now see evidence of the previous days windstorms – low laying alpine scrub oak engulfed in directionalized hoarfrost, shimmering with rainbows at each hint of light.

What a sight!

We had reached the summit at 6:17am, just in time to find the sky alive with every shade of peach, tangerine, grapefruit, and the deepest hues of dark beet, surrounded by the yet-to-be-lit indigo blue around our 4,000 foot summit, casting a warming glow on the deep sea of rolling cloud cover to our west.

I could count on one hand the few times we had stood atop a mountain and witnessed such a breath-taking undercast; just last week in the White Mountains we had witnessed the foggy cloud cover blow free from the summit rocks of North and South Twin mountains, but this was something different altogether – today we stood high above the low-laying cloud cover, where it only remained on the west slopes of each ridgeline.

Luckily, we did not have ample wind at the summit, which was absolute perfection for walking around gloveless to get a time-lapse sunrise on our GoPro, several panoramas and hundreds of iPhone shots of all angles from the open rock summit of Mount Abe. By the time we had our fill of sunrise and watched our burning orb rise into the sky, my fingertips were beyond ready to dive back into my gloves. Being 29 degrees at our early morning departure – it most certainly was no warmer from where we stood above four thousand feet!

Naturally, our trek back down now seemed completely new, with views far into our periphery and into the surrounding forest scapes! For the first mile or so back to the Battell shelter and camp, our senses were absolutely beaming to life with the aromas of evergreen, spruce, dotted with notes of cotton candy and sweet fruits – oh, how I would love to bottle up this scent.. or better yet – just never leave this forest that I love so dearly!

As we descended the slippery slopes, we could hear the party train coming around the corner. Ten, maybe twelve people made up this group – and I would believe that each and every one of them had asked Ciara what kind of puppy dogs we had (German wire-haired pointers), were they related (yes, they are brothers), do they like hiking (they do better on steep slopes than we bipedals do, plus if they were off leash they would cover 45 miles while we cover 5, in other words: they love the mountains also!), will this tire them out (we could walk one mile and they would sleep all day, or they could wear their full packs and cover 30 miles with us, never showing signs of tiring! They are rockstars!).

I love the reactions we get from folks we pass as we descend, inquiring as to when we began, how long it took, was it cold up top – and my favorite which typically comes judgmentally from the ‘dudes’: did you actually make the summit??

Today, my response was: Yes! We had the luxury of being alive to see the sunrise, and we just happen to find ourselves standing atop the summit of Mount Abe.. and it was pretty darn epic! The most incredible part of being able to watch this glowing orb of sun rise high and begin a new day for us is to see the smiles that shine bright on Ciara’s face, I’m sure I had a grin just as big – but hers is much nicer to look at!

Sending our new friends wishes of a good climb together, we proceeded south down the Long Trail and continued our amazing morning of cheerful laughter and light conversation. Like a light switch being flipped on, out of the dense evergreen forest we plunged deeper into a picturesque fall foliage postcard, now twisting and turning more gradually backtracking toward our parked car.

Looking at each other, we knew what each other thought: we never regret beginning a hike in the dark when we realize how many other hikers’ the morning glow will bring onto our trails, we must have passed nearly thirty other hikers’ by the time we could hear the road and found ourselves back at the Lincoln Gap trail head.

What were two parking lots dotted with four vehicles at 5am was now a full used-car parking lot on either side of Lincoln Gap Road, alive with cars and trucks traveling in either direction, waiting for their chance to jump on a parking spot!

Now with no regrets of frosty fingertips only forty-five minutes ago atop the summit, we were completely thrilled to have just had witnessed what we may call – the finest sunrise from atop any mountain of our lives!

At just shy of a six-mile round trip – Mount Abe proved to be a splendid mountain top to breathe in life while letting all of the unnecessary daily thoughts that clog our gray matter just slip away and be in the moment together.

I feel this will be a tough hike to top moving forward, but that is really okay – as each hike is unique in its own way, we might not know just for what exactly at the time of planning an excursion, but while en route we are sure to find just what we are meant to learn whether we ‘make the summit‘ or not!

Happy trails and good climbing!

– Erik

 


Overall stats for Mount Abraham:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 5.69 miles
  • 3hr 46 minutes
  • 2,270′ elevation gain

 


Favorite Gear of the Day!

What is more important for a sunrise hike than simply being able to see your way up to the summit rocks? Not too much really.. that’s why my vote goes out to our headlamps!

Black Diamond makes a little bit of everything, which is usually a downfall for most companies.. but I have yet to see where Black Diamond has cut corners in any of the alpine gear that they make – everything is manufactured to perform for the long-term and get you through the darkest, coldest, hardest days out in the back country.

Just pair some rechargeable batteries and keep them topped off for hours of bright LED power for your next sunrise hike or nighttime trail run!

Baxter State Park, Maine – Day 1

As if I never even drifted to sleep, I jumped out of bed at 2am to the sound of Led Zeppelin blasting from the four 16″ JBL’s directly beneath my pillow.

This was how the Hamilton’s knew it was time to shovel in some apple cinnamon oatmeal, wash it all down with several tall glasses of fresh orange juice, lace up our Merrill boots and pack like sardines into the ’91 Toyota Corolla with all of our gear. Our weekend routine looked a little something like this for many years, making the trek to our secret hiking and camping destinations that my father would give tantalizing clues about; with names like “Giant” or “Hurricane”, my 6 year old brain would run wild – assuming these were the hidden spots where dinosaurs still ran wild.

Our hiking adventures back then all took place pre-internet, so the bookshelves where I was known to nap (I could still fit behind the books!) were filled with huge manuals and text books; one could find my fathers college books, early writings of astronomy – and also by far my favorite cluster of books: the Mountains. He owned books on climbing, backpacking, snowshoeing, a small library of maps and Appalachian Mountain Club trail guides, and several books recounting early expeditions up Everest; tucked neatly next to the Everest texts, one would find the guide to Maine mountains and trails along with crisp maps of Katahdin.

Back in those days this mammoth pile of rock was no different in my mind than.. say.. the book it butted up against: Everest. They were both beyond my scope of understanding – I only knew each mountain as one and the same: they were big, scary and they killed those who did not respect the mountains.

Fast forward nearly thirty years later and still no one in my family had attempted this hike, granted it was quite a drive to get to – pushing +11hours one way from where I grew up, there were so many other summits to relax on and lovely trails to explore in our own backyards!

Ciara and I made a list of ‘goals’ for 2019, wrote these goals on pieces of paper and tacked them on the wall where they hung out in plain daylight to glare us in the face, as if to mock us for not attempting them yet. One of our recycled pieces of paper simply read: “Katahdin, 5268ft”.

Honestly, it was a reminder for myself that I had always wanted to stand atop its summit, but knowing that it was still a 7hr drive from where we now resided in New Hampshire – I did not consider it to be a likely goal for 2019 – unless I could get Ciara to join, but overall I did not know how to tackle this as dogs are not allowed within Baxter State Park, but yet the recycled piece of paper remained there glaring at me, laughing at my longing to attempt Katahdin.

It may have been a combination of checking mountain-forecast.com, baxterstatepark.org, and knowing that Ciara was working all weekend – but finding a decent weather forecast for Sunday, realizing that the entire parking lots where the three main Katahdin trails initiate – I jumped on a $5 parking pass for the Abol trailhead as the lot where I had done all of my research thus far was sold out deep into the future every day.

I was happy with my decision, it signaled my trip to Katahdin as officially ‘begun’, knowing that I.. if nothing else.. I now held a parking pass for Baxter State Park – should the cards fall in my favor and I actually take the long trek North. This literally was the only planning set in place up to this moment: well at least I had Step One checked off – so pumped to actually be the proud owner of a Baxter State Park parking pass! I assumed that I would simply sleep in my car, or better yet, drive up the night before and not have to find a place to rest – just drive up, hop on the trail, summit this behemoth and drive back home, seemed easy enough to me if I turned on my stubborn genes and just get the task done!

The following day found me looking around for a small tent spot, at the request of my lovely adventure partner! Finding all of the campgrounds were booked to the max within the State Park, I ended up with a $30 site at the New England Outdoor Center – despite having no campground map or being able to choose a particular site, it looked promising based solely on the quality of the website. I would find out if this still proved true upon my arrival Saturday evening.. assuming the plans continued to unravel in this positive direction.

Continuing to check the weather daily, almost obsessively as the clouds turned to rain which then turned to ‘chance of t-storms’ Sunday afternoon, I still remained hopeful as the weather never seemed settled for even 5 minutes leading up to the weekend!

When a new waterproof National Geographic map landed in my Post Office box Thursday evening – I think this was the realization that things were getting pretty serious, my pilgrimage to northern Maine would indeed take place!

Friday evening all I wanted to do was teleport home from my work day to begin the task of packing; I foraged through all of our running, tenting and backpacking gear – throwing anything and everything that I thought might be useful in an “organized” pile: if I thought there was a chance I would want a certain piece of gear out on the road, I packed it. I had my entire Subaru Impreza for all of my junk (*very important gear..), so I filled that sucker up with anything to make my weekend top-notch (and a successful one)!
The drive was literally 6 hours and 47 minutes from our cabin to the entrance to Baxter State Park, which consisted of one stretch of asphalt upon entering Maine that my GPS rattled off in a robotic SIRI-esque voice “continue straight for ONE HUNDRED and EIGHTY MILES!!” All I can say is – thank the good heavens for the Rich Roll Podcast and for snacking on peaches, apples and my 5lb bag of carrots that I had picked up in Plymouth, NH during my grocery run earlier in the morning!

Saturday was most definitely the better-weather-day, the Subaru read 91 degrees outside and sunny, some humidity.. nothing brutal and all enjoyable! Driving straight to Baxter State Park and informing the gate attendant of my parking pass for Sunday, he asked “are you sure you still want to enter the park today??”, heck yeah I still wanted to enter the park today! It was just barely 1pm, which meant my day still had plenty of time for exploration.

I held secret a desire to scope out several other summits should I arrive in time on Saturday, which I did, so bring on the dang mountains! Being on my internal radar for days prior, I researched the loop beginning at the Slide Dam parking lot/trail head and trekked up to and over North Brother, South Brother and one I had never heard of – Mount Coe.

From the gate house the parks Tote Road began west, circling under and around the massive bump in the earth known as Katahdin. I was able to see the other parking lots as I made my way, the Abol campground and day-use lot where I would begin the next morning, as well as several ponds that all looked rather lovely for a picnic.

What the actual hell is that?!“, I exclaimed to myself – peering through the trees at a slab of gray rock that appeared to be pushed up damn-near vertical rising up from the forest floor. Checking the map to see where I was directed and trying to narrow my options, I guessed it to be an anomaly in the topography marked appropriately on the map as ‘Doubletop’. Remembering that I had heard its name tossed around in some trail guides or text somewhere or another – the climb looked epic!

I began to fall deeply in love with this part of Maine and the forest where I now found myself!

I must have been wearing my lost puppy face as the State Park Ranger left his truck and walked over to my side of the car. Being totally prepared for him to break the sad news that this lot was full and that I would unfortunately not be able to adventure in the forest surrounding these Brothers that I had read so much about after all – nope! I found myself speaking with one of the kindest Rangers yet as he talked highly of the campground where he was care-taking (in the park) and how special these mountains and trails were to him.

Asking if my intention was to climb North Brother, I sighed and confessed that it was and I could clearly see that I showed up just a few minutes too late. He pointed to a spot of grass next to a white BMW and said “there you go.. just don’t hit the trees!”

My love and respect for Baxter State Park continued to grow!

Quickly prepped the gear, filled all water flasks and hit the trail before the sun could get any higher or hotter in the sky!

Instantly, I stepped my Altra’s onto what I would not hesitate to claim were the ‘sweetest’ trails I had ever run on.. up to that moment! Of course, they had their share of rocks, roots, and streams running underfoot – these northern Maine trails had me reminding myself that I was indeed still in the east.. and not running somewhere in Oregon, truly a magnificent place!

I stopped in the sun to watch a beaver drift by with absolutely no sense of urgency around his pond, craving my own switch to a more relaxed mindset, perhaps that of the floating beaver!

Departing the beaver pond I continued up the Marston Trail climbing beyond the 2400ft contour line, passing several hikers in the opposite direction. Finally found myself catching up to a gentleman heading up to the summit rocks of North Bro who said hello and immediately directed his complaining to the “bushwhacking” that he found himself doing to make any progress up the trail, this was where he confused the heck out of me, as I found nothing but smoooooth sailing up these incredible Maine trails!

The summit of North Brother at 4143ft is completely exposed with open boulders making for a scramble that would have made any agile youngster on the playground screech with joy! The Altra’s clearly giving ample traction as I leapt from one rock to the next, making my way to the weathered wooden sign at the high point of the mountain!

After soaking in the views, getting my first real glimpse of Katahdin and thinking “ehh..it really isn’t that mean looking!”, I retraced my steps, wished my new bushwhacking friend an exceptionally great day and continued due south to my next Brother of the day.

Within what seemed like minutes I reached my next destination, the signage indicating that I now take the spur trail and cut southeast to the 3942ft summit cone of South Brother. Again, leaping from boulder to boulder (admittedly I was searching for any signs of an old USGS survey marker!) taking in the sights, soaking up the vitamin D and attempting to outwit the blood suckers of the mountaintops!

Between South and Coe is where the trail really showed any signs of blowdown or insecure footing – but dang did I continue to grow fonder by the footstep of these mountains and trails!

What I knew was that the loop trail basically passed directly over the peak of Mount Coe, and that was about it. Despite being a mere 3795ft at its high point, Mount Coe’s views definitely did not disappoint!

Peering back to where my feet had taken me, the sights were breathtaking! Glimpsing off to the east at tomorrows task, the views were completely reminiscent of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, these ginormous beasts of mountains spiking up above tree line and their ever-reaching shoulders seemingly stretched for miles and miles in either direction!

Atop Mt Coe, I just by chance turned my phone off of airplane-mode after snapping a few panoramas and videos – despite what the brochures read, I immediately found full bars – which led my thoughts straight to Ciara! I sent several messages to let her know where I was and that I had survived the mind-numbing drive, I think she was relieved to hear from me!

But as a precaution, I don’t ever assume that service will be there.. I just happened to be completely lucky to find it around 4000ft with no trees to block the signal!

Not long after leaving the summit rocks of Coe, I found myself standing tall among the scree and bare slabs of an enormous old rock slide (perhaps the ‘J’, of the O.J.I trail.. named for its neighboring slides?). The slide had its share of mini-waterways trickling down the bare rock which made my mind on high alert before trusting any footsteps!

Believing that all of my epic ‘west coast style’ trails were behind me for the day, I reached the end of the slide..and yet again onto an even more beautiful trail heading back to the junction! This time I was graced by the calming sound of rushing stream running directly next to my feet, an even more welcome perk amongst this mid-summer heat!

What was a joy to run on during the beginning of my trek heading in was now an extreme blast to let loose and cruise  for the final miles of my day! I somehow had soaked both feet making the jaunt up and down North Brother so by this time I was in a playful ‘go-mode’, splashing and cooling my tootsies off in the fast flowing streams.

The parking lot was near-empty as I finished my first day of running the mountains of Baxter State Park. Drippy shoes were ripped off and strewn out in my backseat with hopes that they would dry ever so slightly before stuffing stiff feet back into them tomorrow morning.

Following the dust storm from a pick-up truck heading back to the main entrance of the park, I couldn’t help but notice how sore my face had become – that’s what a day of laughing and big ol’ grins will do, I suppose my situation could have been worse!

My park exploration of day #1 had come to a close as I pulled onto the NEOC campground road and tried dearly to figure out how this place operated. Convinced that it was a ‘free-for-all’, ran by high schoolers – yet happy enough to have a place to watch the sun drift behind the mighty Katahdin, and a flat piece of earth to rest my tired eyes for the evening.

Tomorrow would be an even more epic day.. 

 


 Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 10.56 miles
  • 3hr 59minutes
  • 4,163′ elevation gain
  • North Brother, 4143′
  • South Brother, 3970′
  • Mount Coe, 3795′

 

 

 


Want to continue on and see what happens, I’ll tell you…

Katahdin happens, that’s what. Read all about it.. HERE!!!