We needed an escape, a place to meld back with nature – to relax and get away, a place for both puppies and their human counterparts to roam free and stretch their legs – fourteen days is too long to be cooped up.
Our sights were set on other destinations, but when we realized just how swollen all of the brooks and streams had become from the recent onslaughts of rain storms combined with inevitably warm springtime temperatures, turning the final crusty bits of rotten snow to white capped torrents heading downstream. We began searching for another something local.. a destination both new and exciting for all of us!
I had noticed on the short drive north that we were close to the eastern trail head for Blueberry Mountain. Just along the western flanks of the more popular Mount Moosilauke, the Glencliff trail head became my u-turn spot just prior to pulling off High Street to gain access to the gated Long Pond Road.
Like I said, our objectives were originally regarding other peaks in the area from this trail head – the fact that Blueberry was right there and totally accessible was a complete bonus and worked out fantastically for us!
Quickly locating the trail head parking lot (which was still gated from the winter about a tenth of a mile in from where we parked) about a mile into our day, all signage directed us to leave our road walk and diverge left (northwesterly) onto the Blueberry Mountain Trail, initially following old logging trails.
Both of us remarked about how the narrow, well tracked-out trail reminded us of the well-kept scenic trails of the west coast.
Dry leaves turned into patches of mud with some rock-hopping and before long we were climbing, which did not let up until we were standing on the bare summit rocks a little while later.
The eleven-percent grade continued through varying forests along our narrow walkway, through low-hanging evergreen boughs brought closer to eye-level by the weight of recent snow, all around looked like meandering side spur-paths, together we wondered if any of them whisked adventure seekers off to secret destinations.
Before long our soft trail turned into bare rock slab; weaving around patches of still-frozen ice we were thrilled to be greeted by sunshine as we closed in on the height of land.
During the entire trek up Blueberry mountain we could glance back over our shoulders and be greeted by a waving Mount Moosilauke nearby; the trail-less Mount Clough and Jeffers also visible as we panned our gaze counter-clockwise from the Mighty Moose.
Unfortunately, this morning we were not treated to the plethora of blueberries that our once tree-less peak offered its visitors, we found no wildlife scurrying around, only patches of stubby conifers adored the forest floor which was still dotted with open granite.
The bare rock made navigating quick and efficient, even when trail markers and rock cairns were sparse – we merely continued climbing “up”.
When we encountered the oncoming footprints in the snow (hikers traveling to Blueberry from the west), our topographical instincts told us to swing off on a spur trail to the right (northerly), which eventually brought us to the thick steel rebar remnants of possibly the old geological survey tripod, and onward to the actual high point of the mountain.
After taking in the scenery, putting names to surrounding peaks.. and of course, petting puppies for as long as we could, we retraced our steps in the snow back to open rock slab. Finding a nice open ledgy area with a fantastic backdrop of Moosilauke with fresh snow lining its rock slides that zippered up its ravines.
We both remarked how different the descent appeared now that the sun had melted the minuscule layer of ice that had adorned the slabs during our climb only a short time earlier.
Passing one fellow hiker, we exchanged casual greetings all while keeping our prescribed social distance and wished each other a wonderful trek.
Within minutes, we found ourselves back on the lower logging roads, traipsing through the muddy leaves from last autumn and thinking of how lovely our apples and oranges were going to taste once we arrived back at the Subaru.
And with that we tossed another fantastic hiking adventure into our grab bag of local trails; Blueberry Mountain, maybe next time we find ourselves here we will continue on to the trailless summit of Jeffers or venture over to the top rocks of Owls Head cliffs to the south.
We both agreed that next time we will pack a bit of food and some tea to enjoy on a sunny day with a bit of warming breeze – who knows, maybe we will even be welcomed to a mountain with rolling slopes of blueberries as far as our eyes can see!
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!).
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!
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.
What is a person actually to do when all of their sources say “don’t go out there.. stay in here – but be sure to wear this mask, some eye protection and of course a sterile gown if you must spend any bit of time out of doors.. and don’t even think of coming within six feet of your neighbors, they harbor the sickness!!“
This is what it has come to.. everything is off limits now-a-days.
What began with simply keeping a safe distance and remembering to wash your hands has spread to zero-travel of any sort. Not what I am all about, that’s for sure!
I mean, I totally get the quarantine and distancing bit – but it’s a little difficult for me to stomach the idea of not answering my hearts desire to breathe in nature. Pure and raw nature, with no noise or air pollution for miles; honestly I think my mind would be a very grim place to inhabit without a bit of ‘disconnect’ every once in a while!
This is working from home: Day 3
While able to sneak in a ‘pre-work’ run each morning, I decided to enjoy the sunrise during what may be one of the last mornings of fresh snowfall here in western New Hampshire. I had been eye balling a few bumps off in the distance as Ciara and I would take the pups for walks in the early springtime afternoons; finding it hard to believe that the humps that I had been tracing on the topo maps were really that close, I could almost reach out and smack their peaks!
Thinking that I really did not need to add on the 2.5 miles from cabin door step to the Smarts Mt trailhead at the Appalachian Trail crossing, I graciously got dropped off. Standing all alone with trekking poles in my grip, snowshoes at my feet, GPS watch trying to make a solid satellite connection and our long good-bye kiss still lingering on my lips.. I stared up into the dark forest wondering what I will get myself into.
Being a resident of this naturally beautiful area in the far southwestern White Mountains, I have done a fair share of bushwhacking, but honestly much more in the high peak area than in my own backyard – well that was all about to change today!
With the image of the topographical contour lines still fresh in my mind, I was able to lay out my ascensionists plan several steps ahead.
“Might as well start here, climb this hill.. perhaps that climb will afford a better view!” I thought to myself.
The eight inches of the fluffiest snow had fallen the previous evening which had been compacted into a grippable six inches sitting directly on top of the thick, impenetrable older crust – just another reason I was content being in the treeline and not a place where this fresh snow could shear off the old layer below!
Stopping every couple hundred feet, I took each opportunity to gauge my progress by the changing perspective of nearby Lambert Ridge across the gully (Smarts Mt with its fire tower sticking off the summit was also clearly visible during the entire hike). Knowing that I was to follow the shoulder directly up for a bit of time, I checked my maps once every so often just to confirm I was still on target.
Being unable to find much beta about this bushwhack, I saw a few folks online had reported climbing the trail-less peak, but that really was it, I was delightfully shocked when my thick, switchbacking bushwhack opened up to a clearing and an incredible view of the sun rising up from the east.
I actually don’t think there are many folks hiking this because while I saw no posted signs that came right out and stated “no trespassing” at all during my day – I know from living here that all of the local hunters basically live during the autumn months in their tree stands which are peppered all throughout these woods.
During the entire ‘whack through this fairy tale forest up to Winslow Ledge henceforth Sugar Hill and back down toward my residence, I think I may have trekked directly under 5 or 6 tree stands for hunting, who knows how many others that just simply did not stand out! Needless to say, I would recommend bright colors no matter the time of year around here!
Anyway, picking a route back into the forest that I thought could have resembled a path or old logging road, or maybe just my inner monologue becoming hopeful for an indication of previous adventurists.. I just continued in the general direction where I knew I could find the ledges if I walked far enough.
My wishes were heard after all!
I intersected an old logging or snowmobile path (with no fresh tracks), with the toss of a coin I decided to swing right onto this logging road which proved to be the correct direction as indicated by the “Dead End, Do Not Enter” sign faced for on-coming traffic.
Continuing to meander through the forest, the morning sun now began to shine through the trees, casting a warm glow onto both myself the snow. My path continued to climb and each time I checked the map to verify the correct direction, I only saw myself grow closer and closer to the summit crown.
Upon topping out there were no signs to welcome, no jars with summit registers to document the journey, only a hint of prior foot traffic in the area. Through the trees to the west I could see the residual haze of cloud (inversion) hanging over the river, usually I could count on being the morning commuter socked in that Connecticut River haze; quite a feeling to now be standing above it all, glancing down at the vistas!
My original plan was to follow the ridgeline southeasterly and drop down in the col before ascending once again to Sugar Hill, on the far east-side of several rolling bumps. For some reason I made a last minute executive decision to trace my line closer to the ledges, hitting the last nub which sat tall like the prow of a ship – sure glad I had because finally, for the first time of the day I had clear views through the trees; incredible sights out to North and South Moose Mts and the cloud lingering over the Connecticut River off in the distance,I was thrilled and in my element!
What looked next like a simple “trek down a bit, then hike back up a bit” on the map had me navigating around a few brief drop-offs, I really had to glance ahead to not get myself walled-off, necessitating a swift turn around.
Naturally, like nearly any time in the woods, occasionally I was able to peek through the trees before me and spot the first – or westerly peak of the two Sugar Hill bumps, “all the way over there huh? I’ll believe it when I’m standing over there..“, was basically how my recurring thought process was going, knowing that soon I needed to be back to the cabin to begin my day of working from home.
Hitting the low-point between Winslow Ledges and Sugar Hill, I slammed directly into increasingly thick new-growth saplings and super dense forest, I was immediately happy with my decision to break out one of my 12L running packs for this nimble dipping-and-dodging adventure!
As I stopped to ensure I was still on the correct (trailless) path and still trekking toward the correct bump in front of me, I stood in silence taking in all of the torn up trees, patch after patch after patch; dozens of rings of saplings had been scratched by bear claws – marking their territory or just stretching in the springtime air? I was hopeful that the markings were as old as they appeared, and perhaps left over from just before they all hunkered down for the winter?
I couldn’t be too certain when I could see dark spots from the tree resin staining the day old snow, either way I noted my findings and happily proceeded toward my next destination!
My uncertainty grew again as the scratch markings on the trees grew more frequent and now I had blue spray paint on the trees every so often, marked with numbers as if signifying bear dens? Now my imagination threw ideas all over the place!
Being somewhat relieved that there was no recent evidence of bear activity so far this spring, no snow trampled down like they do around their dens, nothing other than the scratched trees, I bounced along through the forest on my way to the real Sugar Hill.
Quite certain I had stood on the high-point atop the more easterly Sugar Hill nob, I turned to retrace several of my steps before scooting down a drainage to the north that I spotted on the hike up the hill. Knowing this direction would essentially lead me downhill, eventually intersecting with other snowmobile trails we had been on recently, I continued to follow what I could not decide was an old trail or just a brook running under the snow.
I knew I was reaching familiar territory when the hillside leveled out and I snowshoed directly into a planted grove of spruce and pine. Through one more way-over grown logging road which dead ended at a barbed-wire fence, I knew the only way home was up and over – as long as the wire was not electrified!
With a gentle tap of my trekking pole, I was relieved when I did not witness a blue flash or sparks shoot all over (as an after-thought as I type this.. aluminum trekking poles.. perhaps not the best way to check for a hot wire?). With great care I kindly stepped up and over this wire fence to the fresh set of logging truck tires just beyond.
Left or Right?
Could have gone left and come across houses in 50-feet, or were the well traveled trails off to the right where I would be home ten-times sooner than taking trails to the left? It was all a gamble at this point. Right, I chose to trek off to the right to see where that took me – about a mile into this old road walk and I now recognized some summertime trails where Ciara and I ran with the boys!
Hopping a few more locked gates and fences, (all of which are owned by my landlord and whom has given us discrete permission to use his land for hiking, running and all around roaming when hunting is not in season) I came out to more used trails and a very familiar Dorchester Road which runs along the shore of Reservoir Pond.. which will take me home!
Home Sweet Home
Of all the hundreds of times that I had driven, ran or walked this dead end road to our cabin in the woods, I don’t think I witnessed it in such a way as I had this morning. The blue sky was the blue-est I had ever stared up at, the snow melted and softened the road under my heavy mountaineering boots, the birds sang their springtime’s finest tunes – it was in this moment that I was not plagued with the threats of COVID-19; I was alert to my surroundings, letting the raw power of nature fill my lungs – for that brief instant.. I was one with nature.
Truly thrilled to call this place my home, to be able to walk out my front door and trek down the road to any number of trailless summits where there are no mass gatherings at trail heads, no picnicking at the high-points. Just many square miles to get out, unwind, tap into the beauty of a snowy springtime landscape, and just be for a while.
I hope you can also find a place that fills your heart too, it’s really what we all need in wild times such as this.
Eat plants, stay healthy – and as always – Happy Climbing!
Oh.. and on a side note as I get ready to whip this post into the wild bloggosphere – I had to do some digging online; what I thought were “bear claws” digging at the trees are typically signs of moose or deer who had gnawed on the tree bark, actually eating it to get nutrients and things out of it! Fascinating!
Gauging at how high up the trees that I have seen these markings – and by the huge number of moose we have here in this part of New Hampshire (I have had many in my backyard just nibbling on buds!), my instinct is to suspect it was created by moose.. not entirely settling as I don’t know at first thought who I’d rather run into.. black bear just awakening or a confused, dazed and hungry moose!!
I can tell you.. it is a very sobering experience to have a moose trot along behind as you run the trails just to glance back and see that you made no headway on the moose lingering just behind!
Anyhoo – if you have any info on animals eating/stripping tree bark, I’d love to hear about it! Lovely creatures we have around here!
Did I say something inaccurate.. please let me know! Thanks as always for following along my wild journeys!
Ever since New Years Day when I took a trek with the intention of visiting New Hampshire’s high point and some surrounding rock massifs, I thought about making a return trip. The thought of this ruminating in my mind so frequently day after day until giving in, I decided against any freshly dusted local mountains and opted to get outside once again in the peaks named for Presidents.
I wanted to get high. I needed my focus to become so myopic that the seconds passing before me twisting with the given conditions were the only bits of information surging through my thought patterns.
In other words, an escape into an alpine world is just what I craved.
The weather leading up to my climb was looking good: being a day or so after nearly a foot of fresh powder had fallen, the skies were looking clear enough for the morning, wind speeds were down and my spirits were high!
Upon mentioning my intention to climb back up alongside the Cog Railway I was greeted with many crooked heads, confused looks and “why on earth would you want to do that? that’s a terrifically boring trail..“, I listened on and on. I knew it was a very straight forward trail..and probably one that would be frowned upon as “not technical”, or not challenging enough to be considered a “real trail”.
Oh well.. my day, my trail. I thought to myself. In the weeks leading up to my winter ascent of Mount Washington, I had picked up some new snowshoes as my old trusty running snowshoes were just not up to the task anymore, the traction had become terrible, I kept snapping rivets, day by day I considered it to be a miracle that they even survived the hills and made it back to my car at all.
Today, I wanted a playground to really test out the Tubbs Flex Alp.. so that is where I went! Some variables got traded for a straight forward “this is your ascent, this is your trail.. now climb and let us know how the Tubbs perform”, is basically how I looked at my line scarred into the shoulder of New Hampshire’s mightiest.
I came prepared with, I suppose, a little bit of everything for the day, not really knowing what conditions I would encounter following the previous day’s snowstorm: Hillsound spikes, full crampons, Asolo boots, ice axe (which really could have been used, but my trekking poles did the job a-okay), I even brought along a balaclava despite the weather experts calling for low winds atop the mountains.
Anybody awake for sunrise (I was driving..) was greeted by a most majestic color display: reds mingling with yellows and oranges off in the distant sky, illuminating the surrounding frosted hilltops. My anticipation was growing palpable and I longed to be up on a ridge watching the sunrise glowing warm through across winter wonderland.
Soon enough I’d be among the clouds.
Two hours passed rather quickly and before I knew it: I had placed my National Park Pass into the window of the Subaru, geared up and headed out of the Ammonoosuc Trail Head parking lot (which I had to myself this fine morning!).
Rounding the first corner – my objective finally came into view. Such a clear morning, so unlike my previous excursion on New Years Day with 50mph winds, 85mph gusts, zero visibility with white-out conditions – I could not ask for a better day to be with nature so far today!
I was greeted at the Cog Railway parking lot by an employee who I assumed was on a smoke break, turns out she was standing in below zero temps just to say hello! She warned me that if I wanted to pass through their parking lot ever again then I would be forced to pay the $10 parking fee, I respectfully declined – asking her if any of the $10 I had just paid the previous weekend could be rolled over to today’s fee, by the look on her face.. I think I was the first person to inquire of this.
Finally, I thanked her graciously for awareness on the subject, wished her a fantastic day and proceeded to put feet into snowshoes – she was overall pleasant and probably just doing a job that her boss asked of her.. pesky hiker trash such as we!
Zero wind had me opting for a simple fleece jacket, which helped to shed my perspiration as I placed foot in front of foot, slowly slogging my way up the second steepest railway grade in the world. Passing the water tower at 3,800′, I said “good morning!” to a fellow hiker who had stopped to take in some sustainable – turns out I was not the only crazy one playing around on the Cog railway trail this morning!
In what seemed like minutes (actually about an hour..), I passed the location at treeline where I made the call to descend last time – I was now in new territory for the remainder of the hike! The snow was completely packed solid for the first 2 miles or so, thanks to the snowcat who tore a trail up the slope earlier in the morning; the climbing was surely steep, but easy going thanks to the beefy crampons and side rails of the Tubbs Flex Alp.
I was now following a solo hiker who was bare booting their way up the side of Mount Washington, leaving four inch deep ruts with every boot step, I tried to soften over the prints over with my snowshoe tracks. Finally, I saw the owner of the aforementioned boot tracks – standing up at the top of the slope, I was able to grab a few iconic photographs before they too continued over the crux and north, onto the spur trail heading to Jefferson.
This too, was my original plan: to trek over to Jefferson and back – but when I took a few steps onto the solid ice flume trail, I decided today was not the day and that I simply did not want to deal with a frozen river of rock and ice; in hindsight, I can honestly say this was the best decision that I made all day. Had I actually gone over to the third highest in the state, I would have put myself several hours behind and been trapped by the incoming snowstorm delaying my drive home – very content with my decisions to keep climbing!
Continuing up along the Cog tracks, I tried to follow the windswept crusty snow that the snowshoes bit into with ease. I peered to the left (NE) now and immediately recognized a little mount that I had read about. Crossing the frozen auto road to access this added bonus, the boulder field leading to this pile of rock was completely swept with inches of rime, some of which grew to a foot long, sideways facing stalactites jetting off the summit rocks – needless to say, I was treading very carefully and lightly among these incredible formations!
I saw this mound on maps in the past, it took one more check to remember that I now stood atop the ‘Ball Crag’ and planned my next moves toward the summit cone of Washington. Up along these lawns of Washington, the wind finally made an appearance, as did my outer shell to retain any bit of warmth in the fleece layer. Although, the hazy sun did a fine job of warming any darker layers – such as the gloves.
All was eerily quiet atop the states highest: not a soul was in sight despite the idling snowmobile engine off behind one of the sheds. The wind continued shaping and re-shaping, tossing snow crystals constantly into an evolving sculpture tight to every window and door of the visitor center until the vertical walls no longer showed, just sloped snow up to roof top.
Still. All was quiet, masked by the rush of the wind swirling, dipping and dodging around each structure, curling feverishly around the sign posts. Still, I was alone up on this peak – not a person around as I made my way to the infamous brown Mount Washington summit sign, this was my chance to snap a photograph without a line of tourists wrapping off the summit.
My intuition told me that about two minutes was all my quickly turning beet-red fingers were willing to be bludgeoned with before I had to plunge them back into the warmth of super thick OR gloves.
There was really no need for map and compass as I departed the shelter of the final outbuilding, heading down Southwesterly. The Lakes far below were hidden well under a layer of blue/green ice, the hut clearly visible and my next major destination thrusting steeply into the sky just beyond.
In a sense, I was also doing a recon mission – constantly checking snow conditions for a potential winter presidential traverse coming up soon – when the conditions are favorable!
Descending the peak of Washington, somewhat still in disbelief that an objective such as this could be accomplished and now over so quickly, I was truly all laughs and smiles as I bounded down the windswept slopes. In sections, all of the typical ankle-snapping rocks had been tucked away behind a layer of crust – what I imagine glacier travel to be like, and sure as hell I want more of it!!
It was easy to see the half-buried rock cairns, which I continued to kind of follow, keeping them in the back of my mind but really quite lax in trying to actually follow the true trail – as long as I stayed off grass and mushy things that were not rock, snow or ice, I was content!
With each step I was able to look back at the towers adorning the reaches of Washington’s summit, thinking out loud “yikes.. came that far, already!”
Just prior to reaching the beautiful lakes down below I encountered the first instance where I thought a hand on my axe would have put my mind at a bit higher ease – the side of the ridge just sloped right away, and one misstep would have a hiker careening many hundreds of feet down to the trees waiting below. While probably not a fall to one’s death, there absolutely would be the possibility of catching a crampon spike and twisting an ankle, or worse – with care I traipsed through, leaning up-slope and into my trekking poles, it was really “no problem!“.
The hut was bounding with life now from groups of trekkers taking a snack break after the 2,300 foot climb out of the ravine below. I tried to ask one of the crampon enthusiasts if that was actually sufficient or if they would have preferred to ascend with snowshoes.. all I got in response was snickers and snarls, laughing at the sight of me trekking through these parts wearing only Hillsound spikes, which were admittedly not great – but the 3/4″ spike was better than nothing, that’s for sure!
I was back in my element after leaving the party vibe surrounding the Lakes of the Clouds hut and made way over to the Monroe loop trail. Short and steep. That certainly did not change in the past year and a half since I stood on these slopes with Ciara and the pups, traversing this ridge during the summer months.
The 5+ inches of snow on top of flowing ice had me wishing I had made the switch into full crampons prior to ascending, I will certainly remember that one for next time and probably leave the Hillsounds at home, we’re in crampon country up in these hills!
Again, the wind remained mild upon reaching the final push to 5,372′; photos were snapped, but most importantly.. I stood. Not prepping gear, not eating nuts or drinking rusty water, I just stood absorbing the wind, letting it sway me around space momentarily. I stood staring back at Mount Washington in the far off distance, I had to take this time to sink into myself and just be, just taking up space; thinking about home, thinking about what it was like to be here in this very minute. Thinking of the decisions that I’d made which put me on this summit at 11:15am on January 18th.
The descent off of Monroe, again, reminded me that crampons would have performed ten-thousand times better than the mediocre spike depth that I had entrusted on my feet up to this point: the 6+ inches of snow atop ice flume on the slopes proved to be just a bit deeper than Hillsounds wanted to crunch into.. essentially, I had no traction.
I may have slipped around a bit, but eventually returned in one piece back to the hut below. Happy to see folks now making their way up in snowshoes, I hoped for a nice trek down – at least one devoid of postholes from the previous onslaught of crampons chewing up powder.
I also returned back to my state of snowshoe use, tipped my hat one last time at my friends the mountains, already eager to visit once again as I turned to take the Ammonoosuc Ravine trail down. The trees slumped over, still weighty with the recent snow clutching their boughs. This was postcard country. Possibly one of the most lovely winter scenes that I had hiked in yet, just what was needed to make this already epic day simply over the top, complete with a little bit of everything, now with all of the beauty!
Some ice, a bridge or two, some waterfall hopping, a lot of powder was what the ravine trail had in store for me on the descent. I assumed as a result of this amazing weather, that I would find a slow-moving highway of winter backpackers slogging their way up the hills; what I found to my surprise though were merely two men way down by the trail head, just beginning their adventure – packed to the gills, possibly in for an incredible winter camping experience! As usual, I wished them a fantastic time and scooted by with under a mile remaining.
All the while as I climbed down along the Ammonoosuc River, I couldn’t help but just stand in awe, once again staring – watching the clear water flow through partially frozen blue and green layers hidden in the depths of river water.
As I came out of the forest, I was immediately urged to return, to turn back and walk into the woods – I did not want to believe that my trek had come to a close already, such a perfect day could not be over so soon!
Another page of climbing had come to a close, this chapter of Mount Washington along with Mount Monroe in winter had
come to a close. I had learned so much all along this solo hike, from getting used to gear in winter conditions, becoming more comfortable with tools that I had at my disposal, to listening to my body, fueling it, pushing it, and resting as needed.
I hope this recount helped learn you a few things about winter conditions in the mountains, and with a bit of preparation, showed just how enjoyable life in the backcountry truly can be. While some would argue ascending in sub-zero temperatures could be too dangerous – I too agree, but we must take the knowledge and experience learned time after time, trek after trek into the wild and apply it to each new step in the forest. Learn to recognize what sounds daring in the mountains and dial it back just a notch or two; pushing one’s self in the hills while knowing what we are capable of, not comparing yourself to the dude in $700 mountaineering boots who, likely has not had the same experiences you have.
Be yourself in the mountains, climb strong, but always work at becoming stronger than the mountains will ever demand of you.
Strive to learn more than you will need to climb smart. Be stronger than you think you will need to be. Eat foods that your body can easily fuel itself on, decide to use real food, whole plant-based foods are without a doubt, better and richer for your body. Don’t think that because hiker dude over there slopping down a pouch of stale beef jerky that you too can excel with the same junk – be surprised with how far GORP (good ol’ raisins and peanuts) can take you, and bring a water filter.. always.
Did you enjoy my trip into the hills? Let me know!
Shoot a comment here or find me on good ol’ instagram for all the latest adventures!
Have an epic trek, learn to be safe, have fun always and Happy Climbing!
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!
Overall stats for the day:
Recorded with COROS Pace
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!
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!
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 spruce 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!
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!
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!
There are quite a many acronyms that roll seamlessly easily off the tongue, then there are those that contain such strident consonants that demand all the hooting and hollering. F! K! T! As if in celebration we describe this acronym.. but what the heck does it mean? The three letters that have been gracing headlines of hundreds of recent blog posts and instagram stories: Fastest Known Time.
At a time when folks need to take a deep breath, slow down for a minute and take a good long walk in nature – why the heck would we want to speed up our endevours? For bragging rights? Perhaps self-gratification? A sense of new adventure or fulfillment? Is it an ability to quantify the results of your training regime? Heck, I don’t know why people want to ‘own’ these things.. or do I?
Many folks take on the attempt of a Fastest Known Time on their own, solo; but that isn’t written in stone – the FKT certainly can be undertaken as a team effort, but that’s the catch 22 – the team attempted FKT is only as strong, as capable and swift as their weakest or slowest member, which is likely why most enthusiasts choose to take on these self-created events completely on their lonesome.
Since your FKT attempt is completely up to you – which route you take: a loop.. clockwise or counterclockwise? a traverse.. north to south or south to north? The beauty of this game called FKT… You make the rules! Do you want to try something on your home trails or pick something far away and allow yourself to get psyched up for months in advance while prepping yourself, drooling over maps and gear lists. You could even go so far as to base an entire destination vacation around your attempt!
Will you go un-supported, supported, or self-supported?
Do you prefer to work in a group where each member shares the daily tasks or do you have trust issues and like to take on everything yourself? If you prefer a solo journey.. you don’t necesarily have to be alone, you still have options in this wicked game! Do you want the support of friends or family near by to ready supplies and smother your toes in vaseline or would you rather drop all of your supplies yourself, in advance of your trek?
All of these factors will help determine how much gear and re-supply you have to carry, which in the end will decide how far and fast you can travel – generally the longer you plan to be on the trail, the more you may want to consider dropping some extra food, water or clothing along your route! In a completely un-supported journey out into the forest, you may need to think about how exposed you want to be when sleeping under the starts; a hammock, minimalist tent or quick/light emergency bivy can always work for a few days, but never forget that this all adds weight to your pack – and always consumes valuable real estate, decreasing the extra food or water in your pack.
How will you document your trip?
By far the easiest way to write your amazing trip in the books of history is to record yourself via GPS (satellite) watch, which can then be uploaded in a matter of seconds to any number of popular activity platforms (ie: Strava).
Do you prefer to journal? Make it a point to document your experiences, highs and lows at the end of each day (assuming you are doing a multi-day trek!). For those youngsters who have taken to solar power, it may be easier to break out your phone or GoPro and do a Vlog of sorts recording your endevour in a video format to bring home.
Do you have to document your trip?
Well.. technically no! This is one hundred percent your journey, you make the rules! Don’t want to tell others about it? Don’t! You may not get credit for owning the fastest known time on the route you just destroyed, but you will always have your own memories to recount your incredible effort put forth!
Not a runner? Many folks don’t like to run, don’t hike.. totally okay! Again.. this is your FKT attempt: run, bike, hike, kayak, fly, ski, rollerblade.. whatever sport you may fancy, do your sport to the best of your ability and no one can ever say you are wrong!
Not a summer person? No problem! Since this is your trek, I state yet again: You Make The Rules.
You pick the season. You pick the weather. Did you wake up with a bum ankle the size of Rhode Island? Put off your FKT kick off for a day, week or month! While you may lose your aid if you chose to be supported.. this is completely up to you, just do what feels right – you probably won’t have your absolute best day out there if you have to force the effort anyway!
The best part (in my modest opinion..) of picking your own FKT attempt? The cost!
How much you spend will depend entirely on you, do you need more gear to undertake this attempt? What about those pesky entry-fees into a State or National Park? These fees (hopefully) are minimal, but what is really awesome about your FKT..? The fee to undertake your Fastest Known Time is.. free. There is no charge to put your name on this acheivement!
Lastly, how do you actually track your accomplishment? Keep a favorite finishing photo and keep completely humble about your knock-out FKT. But should you want to compare and share it with the rest of the world there is a blog-chat forum-turned website out there now known as: fastestknowntime.com
Do you live and breathe FKTs and strive to beat every one of them out in the record world? Then you may want to check out the podcast (by the same name) that the website hosts have forged!
So what about me? I need to write this quickly and share my epic adventure before someone goes out and beats my time.. which is just one side of accomplishing (and documenting!) something like a Fastest Known Time; when someone finds out what you did, naturally.. they congratulate you, then they want to go out and destroy your time and make it their own. It’s a never-ending disease of back and forth, becoming faster than the next guy, really.
FKT: Mad River Notch Loop
I picked this for many reasons, lets see if I can name them all..!
As most know, I have hiked and ran quite a bit around the White Mountain National Forest in all seasons, in fact.. I cannot decide which I truly prefer! I love the winter for the quiet, the solitude, lack of crowded trail heads, and the snow is just an insane amount of fun to slosh around in, cruising down a snow-covered rock shute is one of the closest to actually flying under my own power that I could possibly imagine! Spring is great to see all the green leaves unfold and new colorful life that the winter thaw births. I know summer for warm sun and a time when the black flies are beginning to taper away from my beloved hillsides. Autumn is rad because of the artists pallette of bursting yellows, oranges and reds; but unfortunately results in ankle snapping rocks on the trails being covered with these lovely bursts of color!
Of all the routes, loops, circuits, point-to-point traverses that are well known among climbers and mountain adventurists on the east coast.. why choose something no one had heard of? Actually.. that was my reason precicely. I wanted to do something I had never done! Upon reading and researching routes that hikers had taken on, I never once discovered that anyone had actually ran this loop! All reports were involving backpacking; every trip report I found boiled down to one person who had done this loop as a multi-day backpacking trip!
As for the weather, it is just toward the beginning of Autumn so the extreme heat of summer afternoons is simply not a factor in this FKT attempt. I began this route several times and proved unsuccessful, for my final attempt I decided to start just at the break of day (an hour earlier than previous weeks), but without the need of a headlamp. Honestly, I really didn’t care what the weather was like – I didn’t want to attempt this over moss-covered slick rocks in the rain, but had that been what the day dealt.. that would just be one of the conditions that I would have to contend with – not every day is a bluebird day here in the mountains!
How much gear would I decide to bring?
Just enough, that’s all! Armed with my less-than-ideal Altra Superior 4.0’s (the grip is an absolute nightmare on any wet rock, I just didn’t have my Altra King MTs at the time!) on my toes, Altra gaiters to keep pesky sand, rock and pine needle bits out of my shoes and Injiniji toe socks to keep my toes from mashing together into one large yucky fleshy mass over the mountain miles!
I decided to not go out on a limb too much, I kept with clothing I knew – an FKT attempt is (in my humble opinion..) not the time to experiment with new fabrics and techy things. While I may have reeked of week old, sweaty running clothes – I was comfortable and that’s all that mattered! I knew straining over the three mountains and many miles would put enough hurt on my body and muscles, definitely did not need to add to the torment with chaffing fabric!
A few other ‘must-haves’ that stay in whatever running vest or pack I decide to adventure with is my Sawyer water filter, which has saved my ass on several occassions now – so take my advise and don’t ever assume your 40oz of water or spiked electrolyte junk is going to be enough, pack a small (reliable!) water filter for any outdoor trip! My compass and a bear bell also stay in my vest: know how to use your compass if you are going to carry it, hope that you won’t need it, but especially when alone in the woods, be ready to use your compass! Lastly, the bear bell: while some claim that it does not detract wildlife from checking you out.. it does not require batteries and it’s a little piece of mind for me as it is always jingling in my pocket!
What do people eat on their Fastest Known Time attempt?
Whatever the heck I want! Realistically.. whatever I know works! I am clearly no expert in the nutrition field, but I know enough to know what works: and for me, that is real nutrition that comes in the easy to carry, 99.9% mess free Muir Energy (think: real fruit, real nut butters, real molasses and trace amounts of salt..that your fatigued body really needs!) and dates. I carry about 1/2 pound of just plain dates because they settle excellently in a stomach that (by the laws of running) does not want to digest anything!
Just from my experience – I know my body can only consume nutrition on the ascents. While climbing or running uphill, naturally (I’m realistically not that fast..) I have to slow down to keep the risk of cramping or ‘going out too hard’ down. If I need to walk a hill to keep my heart rate from spiking, this is when I eat, this is when I drink water – or my favorite: coconut water!
Since reading a topographic map, or an elevation profile of a person’s route does not realistically do their adventure any justice.. what was it like during my day? Like any run in the mountains, highs and lows around every corner, it felt like a long day but once it was over.. it feels as if the run truly flew by.
Beginning on the seasonal Tripoli Road, I decided to park this time at the Osceola Trail head lot and start my day with the dirt road run prior to hitting the shoulder of Tecumseh. I wanted to stop and take so many more photos on this foggy morning in the forest – the greens were never so green and the pine needle laden trails never appeared so warm and lush as they did this morning.
I could actually see the trail now, as the past several attempts were in the rain with a very wet (+6″ deep puddles) trail. The rocks were easier to bounce off of, muscles felt good on the inclines and before long I had topped out at the mild summit clearing. Today, I was in ‘go-mode’, so a stop at the summit was not in order. Down the Sosman Trail I bounded and began to encounter my first hikers of the day, wishing them well, most head my bear bell from far away and gave me plenty of room as I cruised by.
Fancy-footwork was the name of the game for the several mile descent off Tecumseh, most of this trail has been reinforced with man-made stairs that, luckily were not super slick this morning – I just tried to be extra light and quick on my feet.
Into the parking lot, I knew where to go and slowing down was not on my agenda! Back into the woods along the crosscountry ski trails would take me over to the Livermore parking lot and trail head where I would catch the old logging road for a short stint.
I had missed the trail for Greeley Ponds in the past, cutting off too early.. well not today! I knew where to go after all of my previous screw-ups. I may have found images of the Greeley Ponds trail after hurricane Irene, and it was certainly not a pretty sight – but what a trail I was on now! The newly graded trail allowed for maximum cruising and easy foot work as I still tried to glimpse around the forest for anything big and shadowy moving out amongst the trees.
I had been to one edge of the Greeley Ponds on past hikes, but this was spectacular – cliffs on my left, drop off into the pond on my right and a hard packed trail below my feet with just enough roots to need to keep my fast-twitch muscle fibers alert and ready for any last second corrections.
I refueled my belly some before hitting the final intersection and beginning the short but quad-busting ascent up East Osceola. I had only been on this trail during the winter, so today it really brought me joy to see the trail in warmer wearther, to see what really was under that snow! And what was under that snow? A steep and rocky trail that’s for sure! Both hands were hired now to hoist myself up the slick iron hued jagged rocks – I couldn’t help but notice how amazing the Altra Superiors do on jagged rock such as this – as long as they have anything to grip, they crush it!
Just prior to topping out at the East Osceola cairn marking the high point, I had my first scare of the day when a woman came running out from the trees – my mind heard her first and believed she was any kind of animal out to eat my soul.. we laughed it out and wished each other a great day once I saw she was not a moose on the trail!
I always forget how far down into a col the trail over to Mount Osceola seems to be, but after some muddy steps and more epic views looking at my final destination and beyond, I was back on the ascent. I remember upon moving to New Hampshire I had read some trail reviews about “The Chimney” between East and regular ol’ Osceola being super tough and needing a re-route and such; it wasn’t bad the day that I climbed it in winter (some ice, but do-able!) and it certainly wasn’t bad today! Once again hands were employed, some fancy steps were placed and with about 2 minutes of hideous grunts and groans (sorry to the ladies out there on the trail!) I found myself topping out and back on flat land heading to Osceola’s open summit.
The summit is nice and open, plenty of room for hikers to spread out and eat their PB&J sammies – today we were all in the clouds. I’m sure some were upset by the lack of views, this never phases me – I actually quite like the eerie feeling of being in a cloud: it’s a different feeling internally than summiting on a clear day with vast views in every direction, it’s the ‘not knowing’ what is out there that intrigues me! Plus, I didn’t stay long enough to care – one aid stewart asked me how far I had come, I told him my plan for the loop and received “Helluva hike – great choice!”.. as if he was the one soul who had undertaken this route in the past.
Beginning my trek/run down, back to my car at last and very content with my decision to skip the summit antics as I passed puppies, one after another – and none of them on leash. Some families even asked if their dogs were seen up ahead – wanting to let into them about keeping their dogs on leash and yadda ya.. I bit my tongue and continued on my way.
I must have passed 50 people beginning their trek up the mountain as I was finishing my descent, and the parking lot certainly reflected this as the cars lined Tripoli Road in both directions. When I see this, I will never complain about waking up early to start a hike or run in the White Mountains at or before sunrise!
I could have teared up when I saw my path level out and now become the classicly groomed entryway from parking lot to forest and travelling henceforth to my car: I stopped my COROS watch, 4 hours 23 minutes 55 seconds. Done and done.
That night, after submitting my .gpx file out of my watch, a brief write up of my adventure and some stats, I received an email from my new friends at fastestknowntime.com – I had done it. I dreamt of running this route, step by step for weeks leading up to this moment and while I know holding this record is only for the moment – as it will be beat, I will enjoy my accomplishments for now!
If I left you with any questions – let me know!
I can be found all over (when I’m not roaming the hillsides) – email, instagram, facebook, or just comment right on here!
If reading this makes you want to take on (not my route!) your own FKT, let me know! I’d love to hear about it – working towards it, planning, I love it all and would enjoy hearing about it!
“So you’re one of those ‘Trail Runners’ that we’ve been hearing about!”
…boomed the voice behind me as the trails merged, going up the back-side of Lafayette. Yes, today I am one of those trail runners.. but I am also a thru-hiker who has dabbled in the art of trail maintenance a bit and always seem to find myself picking up those brightly colored candy bar wrappers that other folks before me dropped and left sticking out of the mud. On occasion, I’ve also helped a fair share of many folks find their way through the mountains!
So despite this fellow not knowing a single thing about me other than the fact that was wearing a running hydration vest, a t-shirt and shorts with Altra’s on my feet – I will take this as a compliment as today I am a trail runner.
The journey to actually wanting to take on the somewhat famed Pemi Loop goes back to my first few days living in New Hampshire when I only knew the route as something that adventurists backpacked as a multi-day trek. Heck, that seemed pretty sweet to me – one day in the wilderness could be heaven.. but give me a one or even a two night stay in the woods? Now that’s a vacation to me!
Fast forward several months, to a time prior to my first 50K running event; I felt fit, but was no where ready to take on 30+ miles of rugged terrain in the White Mountains over some of the most extreme (and beautiful!) peaks in the forest preserve!
Trail running the Pemi Loop was something that grew interesting to me – interesting in the way a hot sauce can burn your lips and sear your nostrils as you make every attempt to exhale the heat. At the time it seems like the worst idea ever, once the pain subsides and you can recount the highs of the day to your friends, it makes a person say “yeah, I’d do that again in a second!”
Knowing that this would be a long day for someone like me, I laid out my gear to get a visual on what I had, how much space it took up, and what other gear might make my day a wee bit more comfortable. After all – that’s what running 30+ miles is all about, being in the least amount of discomfort, especially when you tack on more than 10,000′ of elevation gain!
Food was simple this time – I was packing what I knew worked well in the past: Muir energy packets, 1 pound of dates (they give me crazy amounts of energy and relieve leg muscle fatigue in the finest way!). No coconut water packed this time, but I made sure to drink some on the drive up to the trail head, along with several carrots (don’t judge..I love my carrots!) and three bananas.
My little Sawyer water filter always comes along for the ride, I didn’t use it for the Pemi Loop this time but it has saved my butt on so many other adventures, it’s a must have for sure!
I brought a waterproof Gore Wear outer shell which I also did not need, probably could have gone for something a bit lighter.. but if it had rained at all – I would have been super pumped to have the extra warmth with me.
I’m still fairly new to owning Injini toe socks, admittedly I was a little indifferent to them initially – but my toes always felt smashed all to hell in regular wool socks, and at the end of the long day I can say they worked great! My toes felt incredible during the entire trip, but upon my return to the Subaru I was extremely ready to get the muddy toe huggers off.
I am not too sure that I have ever hiked this old railroad bed with no snow.. what an enveloping canopy of green leaves and warm dirt tones, man.. it made my visual senses feel uber-alive, seeing colors like it was my first day stepping out of a black and white world!
Most folks would have made the cut off at mile 1.3, turning left onto the Osseo Trail and henceforth up to Flume first for a clockwise loop. I decided that I wanted to go counter-clockwise simply to trek up the waterfall coming off the backside of Garfield. Ciara and I came down this falls several months ago when it had a decent flow to it, I figured all of that would make for a super slick decent – to my surprise, it was a mere trickle for my trek up!
Passing and saying ‘good morning’ to several folks, I jogged at a conservative pace to the cut off for the Bonds – then it was constant alternation between power-hike, to a jog, back to fast hiking once the going got steadily steep and I had the Black Brook in my rear-view mirror.
Having recent up-close encounters with both moose and black bear while running trails in New Hampshire, I half-expected to trot into some big wildlife while out in this remote forest – and I nearly did get spooked half-to-death.. but that came in the form of a ruffed grouse!
Ten miles in and I now found myself standing on the open summit of Mount Bond where a tower once stood. Ten miles and just under 2 1/2 hours for the day.. somehow that didn’t seem possible – I felt like I was cruising out there!
I met a nice couple who were all bundled up, scoping out the morning views of the Hancocks and beyond while they threw down some breakfast. Accompanied with a big wave, I yelled good morning to them. The sweethearts asked where I was headed to and where I came from – once they learned of my intentions they exclaimed “Whoa.. You’re crushing it!!”
Perhaps that was just the boost I needed every once in a while along this wicked trail!
My first omission of this excursion was West Bond, some throw this peak in to tack on that extra mile – not me.. I reminisced standing solo on the windless summit of West Bond during the prior winter – and not much could top that experience, so down I continued on this rolling trail – with Guyot on my radar!
Mount Guyot is one of those elusive mountains that you can find on the 4000-foot Peaks of New Hampshire, but is technically not included on the 48 AMC 4000-footers that so many strive to accomplish, however the hiker looks at it, it’s an absolutely stellar peak, good for some alone time – so I wanted to experience it! Now, there are two bumps which could be considered the summit; the first lies directly on the trail, here you can find a large rock cairn. But depending on what map you were to look at – you would have to go on ahead and hang a right onto the AT, ascend for 1/4 mile or so and then find the actual summit of Guyot off to the right – but watch the moss, walk on the rocks like a good hiker should!
A few sections of boardwalk and some rock hopping later and I found myself beginning to ascend.. up and up, as the Northbound thru-hikers passed by (..I know a thru-hiker when I smell one!). I realized the trail was steep, and I had a map.. but honestly I didn’t think I was as far along as to be going up South Twin already, until the trees shortened and I had the signage to continue over to North Twin in my face. Time enough to hop along to another mound of bare rock and peek around for a USGS survey marker disc, but I didn’t find one here.
The trek down the side of South Twin had me thinking that this quite possibly could be one of the steepest hiking sections that I have ever been on in the White Mountains. The descent of South Twin had me completely entranced in my footsteps, which became at this point a bit of a light-footed ballet dance, doing all I could to gain and keep what little traction I could on these wet, moss covered bowling ball-like rocks.
A quick jaunt into the Galehead Hut found me chatting it up with Lucy (made that up.. but she seemed like a Lucy in my mind!), who was firing up some cinnamon rolls for the incoming hikers while I topped off all of my water flasks. She was bummed that the lousy weather was taking a toll on her typically good mood, day after day during the month of June was spent in a foggy, rainy climate.
I had read somewhere that the Galehead Hut basically marks mid-point of a Pemi Loop, I was logging just under 4hr and my Coros watch telling me that I was about 14 1/2 miles in – somehow in this amount of time I had only gone through about half of the 80 ounces of water carried on my back. I was topped off, fueled with a Sunflower Butter packet of Muir and good to go!
The trail was typical wet rock and ankle deep mud through the next section of Garfield Ridge Trail, nothing too memorable that is.. until I ran into Jarvis (again.. a made up name!). Like usual, I tried to be polite as I usually do and gave a “hey man, how’s it going!” as our paths crossed. His response “Uh man, you know.. would have been better if I brought more cigarettes”. I apologetically let him know I could not help him with his desire for more nicotine and wished him all the best.. I really suppose we truly can run into all walks of folks seeking enlightenment out here on the Appalachian Trail!
What I remembered to be a flowing waterfall was a mere trickle as I made quick work up the backside of Mount Garfield. This is where I began running.. literally running into bus loads of White Mountain tourists, and yet.. I am but one of these tourists.. I try to remind myself.
The summit of Garfield lasted seconds as I continued down, meeting my next group of friendly travelers.
This time the leader inquired about water availability at the Galehead Hut, I told him there was in fact water and that I had even used it to fill up. However, once I told him it was nearly an hour away (I had been running on and off for 1hr 20minutes since the hut according to my watch), the rage swelled in his eyes and that was when I knew.. I would be punched in the nose during my first Pemi Loop. His buddy quickly reminded him the hut was over three miles away.. he grunted and pushed down the trail to live his own ‘Loop experience.. and this is why I bring a water filter, always.
The crowds did not end there, they only grew in numbers as I neared the open slab rock of Lafayette, the fifth highest in the Whites and a major destination for many day hikers. Luckily, I ran into some incredible friends of ours coming down from the summit (what a small world up here!), just prior to my encounter that made up the opening sentence of this post: just another self-entitled hiker who thought I was only there to cover his mountains with pee, poop and all of my candy bar wrappers! Again, I wished him a great day and I was back on my way.
Topping out at 5,240′ I stood on the summit, soaking up the gusting winds and tried to shut out the ruckus of 60 other people roaming the summit, I swear I thought I could hear music coming from one of the groups.
I had to leave, so leave is what I did.
Looking back occasionally, how could I not really? The views are so spectacular!
Concentrating on my fancy dancing footwork to get down these alpine rocks swiftly and safely – I hustled in a few steps, then tried to be courteous and let other folks by, most said “hey, have a great hike..err..run or whatever!”, while others snickered as if to say “oh, just another trail runner… he’s not even enjoying these mountains!”
I met, and talked with a super-nice volunteer as I let folks pass by on the narrow trail – she was up for the weekend to teach us visitors about how fragile the alpine mosses and plant-life is at such high altitude, and to show the way of “the rock-walk”. She assured me that once I re-entered the forest after Little Haystack Mountain, I would get some reprieve from the swells of crowds along the more popular peaks prior to my final ascents of Mounts Liberty and Flume.
Still, on the Appalachian Trail for now, I passed another young guy also trail running who yelled back to me “whoa.. you’re doing the whole loop?!” That temporarily took me out of the green tunnel that had become my day.
The Liberty junction came and went, the switch for auto-pilot mode got flipped once again – one step after the next. Concentrating on the rocks underfoot was all I could do as I greeted the on-coming hikers (mostly French-speaking on Liberty and Flume..time and time again I notice that!).
No time was wasted on this summit either – I planned on stopping for a photo-op, looking back to where I had come.. but the never-ending crowds all over made me want to just keep pushing on.
I had read somewhere that the trail between Liberty and Flume was super run-able, maybe the person who stated this could have been referencing the trail during winter? Maybe if I were fresh on my feet for the day.. but being somewhere around 9,000 feet in for the day, I certainly could not run this mud laden, rocky ankle-breaker of a trail!
I passed Flume. I remember seeing another summit dotted with brightly colored jackets having lunch, keeping my head down and not breaking pace. I wanted to take another photo.. this time from where the trail gets super-narrow and drops off, just prior to the Flume Slide Trail Junction. Well I missed that too.. with my head down I ran right past it! Still, a day later writing this, I don’t remember passing that spot I know so well – I saw the sign for the Osseo Trail and thought “4.4 miles?oh well.. let’s get it done!“
This was my first time ever stepping foot on the Osseo Trail! Knowing that I crushed the last ascent and it literally was all downhill going forward, I moved with fresh feets in the Altra’s!
Something interesting happens in my mind during (what most would consider) an ultra-marathon/hike such as this – I had totally forgotten everything that I previously read about this trail! Such as the fancy ladder-work gracing the shoulder of Flume, I turned this into a game to keep myself alert – playing with my footwork (trying to not trip over my tired footsteps primarily!) and cadence, sinking into my mind and thinking intently about how each step felt from toe to heel, often times taking steps entirely on my toes and absorbing the impact as gently as my tired leg muscles would allow.
One final push through the miles as they gently sloped downward. Following the sound of rushing water that I hoped would turn out to be the Pemigewasset River to sweep me on back to my car. The forest was absolutely stunning in this section: finally some super runnable trail along one of the tributaries leading to the main river, I had thoughts of getting off trail to dunk my salt soaked head and arms just to cool off – but my sights were set on “out” though.
The run out seemed like a death-march slog compared to the airy steps I was able to easily muster up on the way in – actually having to slow myself down during the morning trek in, hoping that would stash some energy aside for this last push out.
Passing group after group, the women reeked of old department store perfume dressed in their sunny afternoons finest, men in button up shirts all passed by. All I could really focus on was the entrance to the suspension bridge I would soon encounter, taking me back over the Pemi River.. and that half of a watermelon that I hoarded in the freezer bag back in my car.. my mouth watered for some juicy fruit!
Stopped my watch just as I hit the bridge: I had done it.
I knew I could do it all along – but what I didn’t know was if I would snap an ankle in the process or worse. It has been determined that certainly I did not! Sore soles from all the rock hopping was all I brought home this day.
What an incredible day up there in the Pemigewasset wilderness of the White Mountains, a place my heart truly feels at rest.. even when its beating up hill at 176bpm!
By now, I think it’s safe to say that you have noticed that I enjoy running. I’ll take any surface and make a good time out of it! But, by far my favorite place to run has to be on a trail, anywhere on a trail in fact. A trail with a high chance of running nose to nose with a big ol’ moose rates quite highly in my book, if I had a book that is! That’s why I wanted to get back to Cannon Mountain for such a long time – and today, I could not have deampt up more stellar conditions!
I know what you’re saying after reading the first paragraph.. he wants remote trails.. so why go to Cannon Mountain – it is a ski resort and huge tourist trap after all! This is true, and Cannon was still open for business – that’s why I decided to start my day super early and beat all of the folks sleeping in on this “should-be-crummy-weather” Saturday! For those who don’t want the detailed report that I am going to provide – I set out around 5am from where I reside in New Hampshire with the intent of hiking/running (traveling as light as possible) and summiting Cannon Mountain, traversing the Cannon Balls via the Kinsman Ridge Trail and ending up on South Kinsman after passing over North Kinsman (which really is a lookout..and before you know it you passed the minor hump that is the summit!) and then retrace my steps. That was the plan anyway. Of course, I had heard of this being done, and aside from the area containing the Balls, had traversed these trails only 1 year prior.
Heading out just as the sun was making its daily appearance, I wanted to arrive at the Aerial Tramway parking lot as early as possible without the need to begin in a headlamp. The sky looked promising with some peach and purple hues along the horizon, growing brighter as the minutes ticked by. The day called for moderate temps in the upper 30’s with a brief window of clear skies in the morning, progressing to decent cloud cover in the afternoon, “I can make it!” I thought to myself.
Ciara and I had hiked this several times – or I should say attempted once but retreated when we put in almost 2 hours to trek one third of a mile from our car in chest deep snow, the second time ended much better, summiting in the clouds with winds that could have taken the beard off my face, ever since I had wanted to return to these hills!
I arrived at the lot around 7am only to find that I had the trails to myself – a highly rare occurance on any pathways around Franconia Notch! A quick trek to scope out the conditions of the trail and I was packed a ready to go, hoping that the upper trails were as rock solidly frozen and packed as they were down below. Knowing that the weatherfolks called for a decent day, and also anything can change in 1/4 mile time up above 4000ft, I dressed expecting a rain storm, but hoped for the best!
This was the second hike that I felt comfortable enough breaking out the 12liter Salomon trail running pack, this is really a gem in my gear closet when I don’t need the volume of a 75liter pack! It was Gore-Tex layers up above, and those Salomon running pants that you’ve probably read too much about in my posts; perfect set up, breathable yet water-proof! The Gore-Tex Marmot jacket went along for the ride today, finding that some light gloves and a Gore-Tex running jacket kept me (mostly) dry and totally warm all day.
The trails I had hoped for soon became a reality as I began, steep straight out of the parking lot. I had brought my Dion racing snowshoes, but once I stepped out onto the trails, hoped that the spiked Salomon running shoes would cut it for the day! The spikes easily gripped into the stable, rock-hard surface – it must had refroze (temps rose to 26 degrees at my start) over night after the onslaught of snowshoers the previous day!
Treking poles and spikes made quick work of the initial quarter mile, shocking my lungs into a lively steam-engine-like rhythm, motoring up the incline further with each inhale and exhale – I thought of it as “training”, as I power hiked. As expected, after the initial warm up over 10 minutes or so my body sunk into a familiar cadence of knowing the work would not end anytime soon, reminding myself all the while that “slow and steady will go further in the end”.
I tried to remember the trail from the past trips up here, each twist and turn reminding me of times spent with Ciara and the pups, but this late winter appeared like a new world from the Christmas-time hike of two years prior. I remembered the ski slope actually crossing the hiking trail from when I stopped to talk with a snowboarder last trip, perhaps the slope was more hidden on our last outting – I certainly did not remember walking up the ski slope for as long as I did today, it sure did help make quick work of the ascending though! While I was cruising up the slope, I still took the time to grab some lovely morningtime photos toward Artists Bluff with the GoPro, so I was in no means out for a Fastest Known Time record of this jaunt!
In just under 30 minutes, I found myself on what some know as Cannon’s East Peak, where the epic views begin to take shape like an artists canvas. The clouds were sparce and I was growing extremely hopeful for a bit of sunrise as I stood just before 8am staring in awe, east at the whole Franconia Range with a speck of sunlight illuminating from behind, I wanted to be bathed in all of those sunrays!
Knowing better views and more elevation lay ahead in my path, I relucantly continued on with my trek, a brief descent back into treeline before being jammed onto the wild open shoulder of Cannon, with views of the radio towers that seemed within arms reach. Admittedly, there were several icy spots on these switchbacks that I determined Hillsound spikes would have been the best traction, but I did not have them today – I dug in harder with my steps and leaned into the trekking poles – “No Problem!“, I thought to myself at each step!
This is where Ciara and I had lost the trail on our prior hike, simply heading in the direction of “up”, with several other hikers following our prints – oh heck, we made it at least! Amazing how following the actual trail would seem faster and a more direct route to the next junction – I assumed I had at least another 1/4 to go when I broke through the trees and found the tourist scenery viewing thinger sticking out of the snow pack, reaching the signage describing the Kinsman Ridge Trail – almost there!
With a quick nod as if to say “I’ll see you soon”, I said good morning to the tower atop Cannon, contemplated a quick ascent but decided to leave the fun climb for my return trip, and slipped by back into the forest along the KRT (Kinsman Ridge Trail). Passing another fellow trail runner with a hand wave to say hi, he went up while I went down. I had read about the trail having a ladder or it being extremely steep in a section, I think I had hit it here. Some folks hiking in the days prior had graciously kicked steps into the side of the mountain snow which I craftfully utilized with my heel, as to not destroy them for my return trip in several hours.
As quickly and steeply as I descended Cannon, I was not huffing and puffing my way one step at a time up the first Ball, the view of Cannon quickly taking shape in the near distance, “I came down that?!” was the thought every time that I glaced back to see where I had come and what kind of progress I was making.
The packed snow really was making quick time traversing these trails, the only aspect that continued to bring out the moans, groans and the occasional curse word under my breath were the low-hanging evergreen branches that I would gracefully smack into with every push forward. I read that folks hiking yesterday had rain showers in the afternoon, while today was calling for a good chance of no rainshowers, I found all of the droplets isolated to the branches in front of me. Before long my pack, my head and beard were all dripping from all of the water contained on the evergreen needles. I stayed warm in the Gore-Tex jacket of course and focused on not taking a branch to the eye, all the while reminding myself of the fact that I was still hiking on over 6 feet of packed snow, most folks in the summertime would never know the struggle these branches provided here today.
One Ball down. Remembering the course of the trail from the topo map that I had studied in the hours prior to leaving, the trail skirted right around the summit of the second Ball. Following one set of snowshoe prints now, I had my first thoughts of retreating. I did not sink more than 4 of so inches past the depth of the snowshoe track, but in the back of my mind I just did not want to be “that guy”, write up my report and then have someone email me later saying that I was “that a-hole for leaving the trail destroyed and not wearing snowshoes”. But naturally in my stubborn ways, I pressed on, reminding myself that we are officially in Spring and soon enough the snow will melt down and there would be no record of my minor post-holes.
It was as if I turned a corner and entered full-on moose country as I rounded the second Ball. Places like this always cause a nervousness in my heart, I can almost feel the electricity course my veins in new forest such as this. The ‘not-knowing’ of who may reside in these hills, even though I just came off a major ski resort – I always assume the bears and moose and big cats call unpopulated forests their home until I know otherwise! It was absolutely beautiful through this area, going between 3000 and 3700 feet – a place I will need to return during kinder weather and despite the ‘in your face’, eye jabbing branches at every turn, I thought I was making decent time.
I just kept following the snowshoe prints, which on occasion split into three tracks – only one proving to be the correct direction of travel. Before long I found myself at the next junction, straight ahead would lead to Kinsman Pond, the shelter and likely cause of the ruckus of mens voices that I could hear over the prior 1/2 mile as I swiftly jogged down what is labeled on some maps as the Kinsman Northeast Peak.
Stopped, looked around at the trail and the ultra-old signs that I loved here in the forest, back to the trail and thought “heck yeah, it’s a highway!”. The snow along the Appalachian Trail now was packed by so many boot prints that it was completely smoothed over, with no signs of ice, just 100% traction all the way.
I took off! Now was my time to run, opening up the hips and stretching my quads and hamstrings in ways that I was just unable over previous segments of trail, this felt real nice! All of the thoughts of bailing now left my mind – I was truly in heaven, flying up and over minor topographical anomalies in the hillside. Passing the official Kinsman trail that Ciara and I had taken in the past – I was now on familiar terf! I remembered this was where the AT got steep, instead of wishing the gains away, I enjoyed what lay ahead as I was warming up and getting the blood pumping hard.
As I continued to climb, passing several more friendly hikers, the sopping wet branches turned into wind swept hoarfrost covered evergreens, once again it seemed like I instantaneously entered a world not of this season. I literally leaned into the turn as I crested the summit of North Kinsman, glanced at the overlook and proceeded on without slowing my pace. All the while running through here, I was reminded of when Ciara and I were back here last year, when the focus was on butt-sliding and I would film her flying down these hills with the two pups out front, as if trying to not be steamrolled.
Today provided no views for as soon as I began the climb from Kinsman Pond, I had entered the cloud cover – which always provides a sense of eerie, closed in forest in its own way. The trees now drooping with frost as they thinned giving way to the summit rocks and far off in the distance the lone rock cairn could be seen, my last destination on my trek away from my car.
Thirty seconds to relax. The wind was minor, warm enough to tolerate for my time among the peak. Glancing to the slight northeast, thinking “over there is the Franconia Ridge..”, the views let me see maybe 50 feet ahead in this pea-soup thick cloud cover. Off I went to retrace my steps, “half done”, I thought to myself.
Back in the treeline I ran into an elder who I will call ‘Norman’. We talked for a bit about hiking in the area, how he had spent years doing the NH48 several times over, got bored with all the ‘average trails’ and took to climbing slides and researching the abandoned trails of yesteryear.
I wanted to stay and chat with Norman but the cold of previously snowrunning and now standing was beginning to creep in, I wished him a most excellent rest of his hike and took off. It was just about noontime and the crowds were making their ascent while I zipped and zapped down the AT.
Within what seemed like minutes, back at the junction for the pond “I need to do this more often!” I exclaimed to myself! This was definitely the time to be out on the trails – no bugs, minimal other hikers, no rocks to hop over, soft trails with packed snow totally able to run a good majority of it (aside from those pesky evergreen branches up at higher elevation!), I had found my happy place for the day!
I assumed that I would be retracing my steps cautiously as to not post-hole worse, since the day would only be getting warmer – but after I passed three men in full backpacking packs and another couple on the trail, completely new trail conditions appeared before me – post-holes up to someones waist. Well, I could officially not worry about the ankle-deep destruction that I had caused to the trail because now I was following a four foot spruce-trap causeway all the way to the peak of the first Cannon Ball. But it was still beautiful of course! I could glance back at the Kinsmans, still shrouded in cloud cover and slowly see it whisping away in the early afternoon breeze.
Glancing down the trail from much earlier in the day, my thought resounded that of many other climbs: “I came up this?!“. The only way to manage this slick descent now was one step at a time, which had a neat slide of several feet per footstep, I was having a ball making super quick time of these miles!
Down in the col, I passed the junction for Lonesome Lake (another spot on my list of places to visit in the White Mountains) glanced back to see the mound of Cannon Ball that I had just cruised down thinking “I just came down that?!”
The time was here for my final ascent of the day, and possibly the biggest, and baddest of the day! The slope was basically down to ice and crusty snow on my descent, treacherous descent which involved a combination of sturdy trees and treking poles. One spiked shoe at a time, not much of a spike to kick in, but nonetheless, I kicked in as hard as I could and motored back up the slope. Remembering a set of kicked in prints to the right of the bare ice slope, I used those ladder-like boot prints to ascend as another group made their descent down the face, one of the members losing traction and flying out of control on his bum into the treeline below – he was totally fine despite being a bit shaken!
Within minutes I had this climb behind me, taking photos of the rustic WMNF sign atop Cannon’s shoulder. One final stop to make before my day would taper to a close: the tower!
The GoPro was running as to bring a taste of the open mountain breeze back to Ciara, the entire tower now encased in hoarfrost, resembling my beard on the coldest of climbs. Once again Lafayette, Lincoln, Liberty and Flume were all visible across the street and looking lovely as ever!
From the summit tower to my car, it was a (mostly) non-stop, slow breathing jog down the side of the mountain. Breaking and getting off trail for several skiers, carrying their gear up and huffing their way up the hill. I even managed to gain one eye roll from someone who asked me if I actually made it to the top – I humbly gave my run down for the day – reporting my run over to North and South Kinsman, and what a run it was!
I could smell the highway, see my car and sense my finish as I was coming down the final descent to the Tramway Parking Lot, where my ankle plunged shin-deep beyond the top layer of snow, catching my foot and taking me right down. A quick reminder of what could happen in the backcountry despite all of the careful measures we try to take – one just never knows what could happen in the blink of an eye, one step could snap a knee in a second!
Close call indeed – shook it off and carefully finished out my day!
Be sure to follow along, you never know – it might actually be t-shirt weather next time!