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′)

 

North & South Doublehead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be well, stay healthy and have happy climbs!!

– Erik


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

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

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!

Thin air atop Mt Adams + Madison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, the places our little legs can take us!

Onward to Mount Adams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Happy climbing!

– Erik


 

Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

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

 


 

Favorite Gear of the Day!

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

 

Moosilauke and the South Peak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s summit forecast: Perfection. 

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

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

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

8:41am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9:59am

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

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

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

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

Happy Climbing!

– Erik


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

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

 


Favorite Gear of the Day!

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

 

NE115: Mount Carrigain

3:16AM

Time to rise and shine. 

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

Check, check, and more check. 

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

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

1991

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, only one remained. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a small world it really is sometimes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Happy Climbing!

– Erik, NE115 #1013


 

Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

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

 

Finding yourself on new trails.

Today is a holiday for us folks who work on the clinical side of hospital operations and with Ciara 2600 or so miles away having a ball, roaming somewhere in the Sawtooth mountains – all this can mean only one thing: I am on puppy-watch until she returns to the east coast!

I’ve been hitting our favorite trails every day after work; lace up, collars on the boys, then start right from home. Boone and Crockett damn near pull me like a kite down the murky trails as we meander our way to their favorite spot on the lake – they know this spot well and need no guidance – the best place to jump in for a quick dip in the water, I suppose!

Today I craved something more, something that I had not done before.. which is really not at all difficult having nearly 80K of old abandoned roads and trails, with the addition of about 1,790 miles of Appalachian Trail to the south, with about 400 miles more heading north.

As of writing this, I actually have not found myself seeking out the AT.. sure, I know it is there and I know there are some absolutely stunningly beautiful sections of it nearby – but I always felt that I would like to leave its mystique and draw for the actual thru-hikers.. heck, I may actually be one of those rad long-distance trekkers soon!

There has been a loop poking at the “hey, I haven’t done this yet.. so let’s get to doing this..now” side of my brain.. but with so much to explore, I just had not settled on it – until today!

The map packed (yes.. a paper map which I reviewed the night prior just to amp myself up!), topped off all of the 60 or so ounces that my running vest will hold, stretched just about every muscle in my body, had a mini-breakfast of tofu (I had an open block in the fridge that needed eating!) and a few bananas, laced up the Altra’s, slapped on my gaiters that I tore at Chocorua thinking “these are going to fall right off!“, set the Coros to record in trail run mode – and my adventure was unfolding right under my feet!

The initial miles slipped by, feet became wet from the mud seepage and before I knew it.. shoved myself right into the thick knit of pine branches that I knew would lead right to Smarts Mountain summit.

Breaking through to the official AT, I was drawn to the left, trekking south for those 10 feet or so – just to see the sign in a new light, focusing on the lettering and classic A over T logo harder than ever this time before scooting down the side of the mountain. I had read this sign many times leading up to today’s encounter, it read: AT North.

Sure, technically the Appalachian Trail does run back down the south side of Smarts Mountain – sure, I had been on that trail a few times now.. but something just felt different about heading down this side of Smarts, I was heading away from that cabin that I call home.

I noticed something different.. immediately as I passed that sign and concentrated on my feet as to not catch every root (heck, I do that enough.. always trying to not catch a toe!).

One white blaze after another, passing those marked trees, each 3×6 white paint strip took my thoughts deeper into remembering the time Ciara and I spent recently on the Northville Placid Trail. It took me back into the depths of my mind to each and everytime I had been anywhere else, be it north or south, riding in the car or hiking down (I see a lot of those white blazes hiking the Whites and living in New Hampshire..) the trail. My path was quiet as I was certain hikers were finishing in celebration at either end of the trail, but at least for a minute or five – no one was here with me.

The AT itself seemed to contain a shimmer of magic, perhaps all of the past trail magic dispersed its way through these hills had settled into the soil, trees and water itself. Looking down, trying to keep myself up-right and moving forward, I was taken back by so many simple things – the most tangible, of course, being the AT itself – the amount of time plugged into these sections – to install waterbars, placing rocks to ford bottomless mud pits, all the wood beams carried in to build iconic White Mountain bridges.

The trail was clean, like.. really clean.

Sure, it sees its share of hikers annually, perhaps it will see another 700 or so finish their trek this year – flying over roots and rocks at 10am, these are the thoughts barraging my mind. I felt truly content to be sharing this section of the AT with so many other determined individuals – is it possible to soak up the energy, the laughter, the will to simply push on from these roots, rocks and flowing water? Some may argue: Yes.

I did see some thru-hikers, and it was a simply amazing experience to see their faces light up as I wished them an excellent rest of their journey – and of course, a super happy Fourth of July! I could tell quite a few out there on the trail had in fact forgotten what day it was, or perhaps just chose not to remember, only the present moment to be alive in – the way of life that I grew dearly to while traveling cross-country several years ago!

I should to add also that my perception of the AT between Smarts over to Cube may have been slightly biased because I finally finished reading last week a very excellent book by an incredible ultra-runner/athlete known by some as Scott Jurek, the read is simply titled: North.

It was an amazing read, and much like this trail today – it took me back to all of the places we have traveled, recounting the USGS marker on Cubetowns and nameplaces Ciara and I had encountered. Toward the final pages of this book there are several photographs.. the back of Jurek out on Lambert Ridge as he heads away, up to the summit of Smarts. In short: it reminded me of all persevering that friends and hikers exuded which then fell in the form of sweat into this soil and onto the rocks all around, a rather humbling thought for me to be on these trails at that very moment, sharing muddy footprints with so many others!

There were, of course, several thru-hikers who decorated their packs with the iconic American flag. Remembering this is a holiday and nice days such as today have a way of bringing everyone out, I took a few photos and moved on.

Some longhaul trekkers turned their weighty packs into pillows, catching some good ol’ vitamin D atop the summit of Cubebut even with hats over their eyes, everyone still gave a pleasant ‘hello!’ as I passed by, and I even tried to travel lightly as to not wake them!

For the route down.. sadly, I was now off the AT. The trail seemed to lose its charm as I passed families with their dogs all off leash – the encounters so frequent in fact, I had a mind-game going on, trying to figure out whose pup belonged to which family!

Let’s remember the day as what I already mentioned.. and not the overgrown, old logging roads that made up the remainder of my day. It only took two decent bushwhacks pointed in the general direction of “home” – and here we are! Writing about it, eating watermelon and listening to the gentle rhythm of the inhale-exhale cycle of both Boone and Crockett.

They ran, they ate, they are happy now.

I ran, I ate (a lot of watermelon!), and I am also quite happy now.

So keep an eye out on your morning commute, or afternoon bike ride – the looked over trailhead you’ve noticed a thousand times just may be the ticket you were looking for, the trails you’ve been dreaming of! Don’t be afraid of what you might find, make the time and decide to go check it out – after all, has anyone really been in a worse mood after spending time outdoors? Just get out and explore anywhere! See what nature has to offer, and while you are at it – pick up that wrapper that someone dropped, move that stick out of the trail before it trips someone! Say ‘hello’ and wish someone a nice hike, these things are small and so simple yet go so far! Let’s get more hikers and trail runners on the wagon! What can you do? Just be a thoughtful, decent human being.. and that alone should put you as well as everyone else around you in a better mood! 🙂

 

And if you made it this far: don’t forget to check for ticks after you and your pups spend any time outside!

It’s quick and easy to do – my boys love the attention of fingers running through their fur.. seeking out those dreaded little bloodsuckers, find ’em and crush ’em!


Today’s fun run stats:

Recorded with Coros Pace

  • 27.2 miles
  • 5hr 50minutes
  • 5,387′ elevation gain
  • Smarts Mt, 3,238′ – mile 5.7
  • Mt Cube, 2909′ – mile 13.6