Mount Colden: Trap Dike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had my window. My time was now.

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

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

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

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

Next destination: Marcy Dam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Of note from the writer:

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

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


Overall stats for the day:

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

 

Happy climbing!

 

Erik

The Dartmouth Fifty, almost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s go run in the dark!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Familiar territory

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

Moose Mountain, the South Peak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward to Smarts Mt and beyond!

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was wrong as wrong gets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Erik


Overall stats for the day:

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

 

Exploring local trails

Have you ever experienced your backyard?

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

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

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

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

Be the explorer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So many trails, so many surfaces!

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

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

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

Will I see wildlife?

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

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

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

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

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

Travel times

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

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

Will you have to break trail through fresh powder?

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

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

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

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

Dress for the Temps

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

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

Pack smart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have extra snacks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay healthy and found out there!

Happy climbing!

– Erik

 


Headlamp Analysis

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

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

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

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

Cost

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

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

Brightness

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

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

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

Beam color

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

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

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

Size & weight

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

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

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

Headlamp straps & comfort

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

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

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

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

Bulbs

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

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

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

Batteries

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

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

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

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

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

Features

Or better titled: sequential button-pushing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Erik


52 With a View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why hike off the 52 WAV list?

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

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

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

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

Where can I find these 52 With a View?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

What are the peaks?

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

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

..52 With A View..

 

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

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

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

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

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!

 

A wild pack of Carters +Hight

5:03AM

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

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

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

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

I just wanted to get out.

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

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

Nineteen-Mile Brook Trail Head

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

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

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

 

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

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

7:30AM

*BEEP*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AT to North Carter it was going to be!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Trails to you!

 

– Erik


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

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

 


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

 

Moosilauke and the South Peak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s summit forecast: Perfection. 

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

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

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

8:41am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9:59am

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

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

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

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

Happy Climbing!

– Erik


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

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

 


Favorite Gear of the Day!

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

 

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

 


 

Sunrise attempt #3,457: North & South Twin Mts

We were feeling lucky..

The routine was the same, the anticipation for this early morning trek in the White Mountain National Forest was way high once again when we saw the weather forecast: Friday indicated rain that should be tapering off overnight; the most exciting forecast came next: Saturday AM – clear, Saturday PM – clear, Saturday overnight – still clear with low winds all day!

We, being Ciara and I with our two German Wirehaired Pointers, Boone and Crockett in tow were balls of excitement as I filtered water for the coming day, tails waggled as she bagged up treats and snacks for the boys. They have this innate sense amongst them – seemingly they can tell by now – through our enthusiasm and probably more so by the stacks of gear that come out of hiding from our “gear closet”, that they are a mere several minutes away from a wonderful day of new scents to sniff deep in the forest and high on the mountain tops with their human counterparts!

I had been able to visit the summit of South Twin only a handful of months ago when I took on the 32ish mile long Pemi-loop, although I did not want to hang around long that day on the summit rocks, I was able to explore like I usually do – in search of a bronze USGS survey marking disc.

We decided to try North and South Twin while Haystack Road was still open, as we only had several weeks left in the warm-month hiking season before the Forest Rangers would lock the gates once again in preparation for the winter snowfall.

We had tried this hike once in the past, in what was perhaps the coldest weeks of winter 2019: our hair (my beard!) immediately frosted over upon exiting our car, the boys paws quickly gathered snowballs so big that they looked weighted down and terribly uncomfortable with every step, as we approached the stream crossings and despite being able to bushwhack around several crossings, we could not force the pups through frigid water like that: the day was quickly aborted in favor of a warm coffee shop.

Today’s attempt was made at the end of September, so the nighttime air still gripped some of the late summer warmth.

Arriving at the trailhead late after a daily grind of work at the hospital, the sun had already long been down behind the surrounding peaks. We hit several patches of fog on the two-hour drive northeast but when we got out of the CR-V to stretch our legs one final time before bed, we were jumping for joy over the millions of brilliant stars illuminating the clear skies!

If the Honda was perhaps six inches longer, Ciara and I maybe would have slept a bit better – but we certainly did not have to search for warmth with two extra big, fluffy doggie bodies snuggled around our curves!

4:34am

Beginning in headlamps, I wanted terribly bad to glace up to the sky to see the same brilliant speckles of starlight from the previous evening, but so far everything just shone mat black. Leaves and bark shimmered from the morning dew from overnight, but neither of us were convinced that our parking lot residence actually saw a drop of rain.

We always seem to agree about how truly magical it can be to hike the same trails in different seasons; when we were on this trail months earlier with many feet of crisp snow, we could still recognize what lay underfoot by the way we ascended gradually on what appeared to be an old run-down bobsled track (I’m quite certain it wasn’t, the trail only appeared that way!).

Conversation was light and fun as we made our way in complete darkness (Ciara strained to see with her poorly charged headlamp, mine shone just slightly better, guiding us all over rocks, roots and several minor stream crossings) with the Little River roaring just beside our feet.

We thought of just taking the regular trail, but upon looking at the caps of white water and wet rocks, our decision was quickly switched to simply follow the “bushwhack” through the woods (the unmarked trail cuts left just prior to the first stream crossing), eliminating several of the silly back-and-forth stream crossings.

What a feeling though, when we did have to make our way across this roaring brook and cut that 45 degrees southwest; such an ‘in-tune’ feeling of heightened awareness as all other pesky, mind-muddling thoughts quickly float right away down the river and all our thoughts remain with is the urgency to pick the correct combination of rocks to bridge this waterway safely!

I crossed first, luckily we both had our running packs on so we were much more nimble and flexible along the water, far better off than trying to rock hop with my 75liter Gregory! With my heart now completely thumping out of my chest, I glanced back from dry land across the river, trying to help light up the rocks so Ciara could safely traverse too – one slip into this chilly water at 5am would quickly change our plans for the day!

Like most things she does, Ciara made the crossing look effortless.. even ending up in my arms at the last boulder as she did a pirouette of sorts (unintentional? I’ll leave that for the judges!); the boys maybe not so much.. but they were unscathed and that was all that mattered, a quick shake off and it was like they never saw river at all!

Across Little River at last was now where the trail really began to climb, and it did not stop until we reached the summit rocks! Gaining over one thousand feet each mile over the next several miles – perhaps we were simply emerging from the dense forest, or the sun was actually beginning to rise.. headlamps got ditched as we could now see around us: we were in a cloud for sure!

That did not stop us or put a damper on our moods, it simply had us adding a waterproof layer around our core to help us stay dry from the drippy branches that we encountered at each and every step.

We remarked back and forth about how beautiful the forest now became, as the daylight dawned – we made plans to return over the winter with one goal: butt-slide down this luge track of a trail; straight, steep and perfect!

We had heard talks of an overlook just prior to the wooded summit of North Twin, finding this also completely shrouded in dense fog – without hesitation we continued on, in search of clearer skies on the other side of this White Mountain rock pile. Only moments later I stopped dead in my tracks, turned to glance at Ciara, who looked as if she had just witnessed a ghost manifest before her, “What the heck even is this trail?!”

I don’t think either of us had ever seen a more beautiful and soft trail on the east coast, super indicative of the thoughtfully laid out and maintained west-coast-style Pacific Crest Trail, we were cold and wet but that did not prevent us from picking up our feet to put us into the ‘we-ran-this-trail club’!

Despite the lack of views we were still having such a blast being the only early-risers out on the trails so far this morning. We saw North Twin pass underfoot with its short and stout summit cairn, knowing we were returning via this exact path, we continued on over to South Twin with its notorious 360 degree views and open summit rocks.

Just shy of a 300-foot descent over some slick, dew covered rocks, we reached the col and began to climb yet again. Hand over hand we were able to easily climb up, over and around boulders and bare rock – we were having such a blast in the mountains!

Somewhere around 6 miles into our day, we zipped up our jackets and made our way out and into the freight train wind, gusting over the 4,902′ summit. Still up in a fog, I am always fascinated by watching the actual water droplets soar past my face, evidence of truly being high up in the cloud!

Photographs were taken and footprints were all we left on the summit rocks as we turned to say goodbye to South Twin, we would return another day to bask in its epic views.

Originally, we had discussed pressing on and continuing over to West Bond, as Ciara had not yet been over to that little peak that jets up above the Pemigewasset wilderness, but we were both more than happy to save that jaunt for another day and to simply be satisfied with the trek we had just undertaken, after all we still had to make our return trip over the rushing river!

Before we had begun our hike, I was completely ready to press-on over to West Bond since we had been starting our hike so early in the morning – but by the time we reached South Twin and realized we really were living the cloud-life (and would tack on an additional six miles!) and would not receive the sunrise as we had hoped, I was totally content with our decision to head back – after all, this decision would leave us with enough time in our day to drive the extra several miles to the new REI store in North Conway – today was their opening day!

I am always amazed at how new each trail appears when we begin in headlamps and then to see the entirety of surrounding forest, it’s like stepping foot there for the first time all over again!

This time we stopped on those open rocks just after re-summiting North Twin, we were about to witness something absolutely incredible.

As we sat on those rocks, we could still see the clouds gusting tumultuously all around us – and in a matter of seconds – they split. The clouds continued drifting east toward the mighty Presidentials as overhead we were rewarded with the bluest skies imaginable. The views now stretched out to the north and west for miles, we could probably see states away, but my focus now was on the changing leaves; the surrounding mountainsides and forest canopy of evergreens were magnificently dotted with deep reds, vivid oranges and the brightest yellows – what a truly magnificent panorama spread before us, almost better than a sunrise!

Still, we had the mountain and all of these new views to ourselves. Looking back, I often wonder if the majestic artist palette of brilliant color were perhaps enhanced by our eyes peering into white and grey constantly for the preceding several hours of daylight, a mind game of sorts, I suppose.

As soon as we had our fill and began to descend once again, the voices through the trees began and never ended until we reached the car – all of the other friendly hikers who also had Friday off were now making their way up the steep slopes of North Twin, not knowing the cloud we had reluctantly called our norm, for all they had now were the surrounding vistas and blue skies!

Just prior to tackling the Little River crossing and all of its slick round rocks for the final time, we said “good morning, good climbing!” to a seemingly very nice man with an accent that I could not place.

Much further to the summit?“, he asked.

I was lost, searching for the words to softly break the news that he had yet to begin his 2,300 foot climb to the peak. His head hang, dripping a steady stream of sweat as he continued, we simply wished him a nice day of climbing.

Back on solid, and relatively flat ground (back on the bushwhack trail) Ciara suggested that we pick up the pace and trail run through this paradise of fallen autumn color, the trail was absolutely stunning and incredibly runnable for the most part!

Back at the car we could not stop remarking on how amazing our hike into the mountains had been, and despite not seeing the sunrise we had truly hoped for – we were rewarded with some of the finest views and the most magical cloud inversions that we could have ever imagined!

We ate our snack of grapes and apples as Ciara took all of us into North Conway where we found a most delicious lunch of marinated tofu panini’s with rich cold brew coffee for desert – and then like moths to a flame – we made our way to REI.

With such an amazing day in the mountains, and epic plant-based lunch in our tummies – we drove home all smiles, ready to do it all over again.. and maybe actually catch a real sunrise one of these mornings high atop the mountains!

North Twin Mt was my 47th summit over 4,000 feet in New Hampshire.

North and South Twin Mts put Ciara at #44, with some catching up together – we are beyond excited to spend our 48th summit together, although our climbing will never end at the end of a list!

Some of the finest hidden gems are found not contained on any list, we will never stop exploring new places!

Happy climbing!

– Erik


 

Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 11.92 miles
  • 6hr 52 minutes
  • 3,983′ elevation gain
  • North Twin Mt – 4,761′
  • South Twin Mt – 4,902′