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!
A leisurely start to another day of adventuring found us back in Conway, New Hampshire; turns out the rechargeable and lithium batteries that the United States Post Office refuses to handle gave us a splendid reason to pack ourselves and a bit of gear into the Subaru and point our compass east.
Seeking out mountains, plant-based pizza, quietly tucked away bookstores and the new-ish REI Coop to intercept a few new USB rechargeable headlamps for our Long Trail thru-hike!
With both hearts and bellies full, the four of us (Ciara, Boone, Crockett and myself!) bounced over the frost-heaved back roads, passing what looked miniature A-frame alpine ski villages with street names such as Vail and Chamonix, we certainly felt transported right out of our familiar White Mountains!
Knowing that we would be keeping our pups on leash (as we normally do), we humans secretly longed for trails all our own to roam free on. No luck today, with decent wintery temps outside and predictions of clear skies – the makings of sunset were legit, we were hardly surprised to find a handful of others at the start of the trail – even several Sprinter vans gave evidence of a spectacular van-life unfolding!
Feeling like I was acquainted with minor details regarding these neighboring mountains, each weekend I repetitively saw the names of North and South Doublehead among the trail reports for our other adventures. Today though, we went into this afternoon jaunt with ideas of what the trail map looked like, how the trails themselves were laid out (which direction to travel in case we got off trail.. the usual details I’d research before a hike), but not as much history and back-story for the area as I typically prefer – and honestly, sometimes the mystery of not knowing who came before us keeps the conversation sharp, fun and lively!
Our two German Wirehaired Pointers were more than satisfied with our slow start as they both got some unscheduled, early treats for sitting calmly and behaving while we happily waited for a few other pups with their owners to pass by.
It did not take long for our breath to resemble puffing locomotives, expelling rhythmic steamy clouds step by step ascending the Doublehead Ski Trail. Footing was excellent, we climbed in Hillsound spikes as our boys ran trail-side to trail-side, darting from tree to tree sniffing possibly the most interesting smells of all time!
One couple descended, ripping past on their skis with their own pupper-dog yipping at their heels. They stopped briefly to chat and ask all about our brothers. Once they had their fill of dog-petting, we wished them a very nice sunset ski and proceeded up. Step by step we kicked our toe spikes into the freshly re-frozen terrain.
Being a moderately wide ski trail, the views rose from the horizon radiating warm hues of sun-setting behind us; before long we had an incredible view of neighboring Mount Washington greeting us, illuminated like a pastel-colored ball of gelato in the distance over Ciara’s shoulder.
Topping out on North Doublehead we stood for a brief moment in time taking in a hint of breeze through the trees. The cabin, however, was absolutely bursting at the seams with commotion – the laughter emanating from the likely owners of the remaining cars back at the base lot.
It was interesting to me that the guide books all list the North peak on the “52-With a View” list, unless we missed some crazy-epic views out back beyond the cabin, the north summit left a bit of something to be desired.
Hoping to find our mountaintop “with a view” we continued back onto the main trail once again, beginning to descend almost immediately.
From the summit of North Doublehead, we left the bustle of the cabin behind us and picked up the Old Path south which loses about 300′ in three-tenths of a mile; perhaps it was the fading daylight or it could have been the glissading descent through several inches of unconsolidated snow, but the path down to the col seemed to be a moderately steep one in these conditions!
Blasting through the next intersection, knowing that the setting sun would be greatly reduced of its color minute by minute, quick work was made on the trek over to South Doublehead. Some slight meandering and mild switchbacking gave way to incredible look-out ledges on the hikers right.
The skyline now shone with deep pinks and residual glowing nectarine hues, it was here that I think I found my happy place!
Completely unsure if I had actually reached the “high point” of South Doublehead, I consulted one of my GPS/mapping apps which indicated indeed, I had not. Actually, depending on which map you consult – you may get differing direction of where the high-point of the mountain is located; some indicate the ledges that I visited initially to be the summit point, while others continued down the New Path and onto the short spur past where the New Path swings right and down grade.
Either way, both locations had great views! I suspect that some day Ciara and I will return with our pups, a plant-based power lunch basket and in good weather sit atop these rocks and watch the hawks ride the thermals!
It was so serene and lovely up on South Doublehead.. which directs my thoughts to the namers of Iceland and Greenland; perhaps they threw the title for “52 with a view” at North knowing that it would keep the scores of hikers away from the peace and amazing vistas found at South? Not likely, but also not sure!
Capturing the final moments of color in the sky before all shone a dull grey, I began retracing steps rather hastily now. I had occasionally jogged in my Asolo mountaineering boots, while not something I like to make a habit of, they are nicely supportive for the ankles and honestly.. if a person would want to hike with 5-pound weights on their feet, these boots are a darn good option for getting that extra leg work out!
In what felt like a fraction of the duration to ascend, I saw the intersecting signage at the bottom of the final hill and without breaking stride, slammed left – back onto the Old Path which began cutting down the mountainside then continued with a swing off to the left, lessening the grade.
Up and over mounds of snow, launching myself gleefully off ledges of fresh powder with the occasional one-legged glissade for style-points, I was reminded of childhood again as I leaned into each turn, hugging the new growth saplings as I meandered each switchback. It felt amazing to gain speed and just cruise down the trail as the light grew dim, letting the cares of the impending work day slip from my thoughts.
Eyes darted from the snowy path before me to the next foot placement henceforth to the surrounding forest, side-to-side I scanned for the slightest bit of movement or glowing eyes watching this wacky hiker galloping down the mountainside in a fit of laughter! I am happy to report that not a moose nor a bear was spotted (or startled!) on my speedy descent.
A very quick half-mile was tackled before reaching the lower Y-shaped intersection where we had passed not long ago, continuing back down familiar terrain along the super solid Ski Trail. It’s always amazing to me how easy it seemed to jog down this path, possibly warmed up from the slow slog up-slope earlier or perhaps enticed by the thought of seat heat once back at the Subaru helped to hustle our trek out.
Any further to go and I think we would have been breaking out the headlamps, but as the last bit of light dwindled we slowed to a walk to complete the remaining quarter-mile or so, enjoying every last bit of trail time that we had.
Just like that.. sadly another adventure was coming to a close but (..happily for our taste buds!), not before we made a side trip to The Met in town for iced lattes and a black coffee containing several glorious shots of espresso – just the late night fuel we craved to keep eyes pried open for the two-hour drive back to our cabin.
It was a very lighthearted day, late- but perfectly timed start for an incredible sunset in the mountains, no where else we could want to be (..except maybe wrapped in an electric blanket, cozied up with each other and a good book!), great company, awesome eats, good trekkin’ – long-days are always welcome, but I am totally already looking forward to the next short-day out for us!
Interested in more of these 52-With a View sort-of jaunts? Be sure to check out my other post, a quick read all about this list of hikes.. right over.. here!
How many straps do you need to hold the light onto your head? Do you want to see up close or far into the distance? What’s actually the deal with the red, green, blue.. why not just a simple white light? Is the strobe-light function really just for ‘dance-party-mode’? How can a person choose between disposable Lithium batteries, rechargeable nickel-metal hydride batteries, or sticking with solar power to re-fuel your headlamp?
Convenience, reliability and some degree of comfort are key not only when traveling in absolute darkness through chilly alpine terrain or the dense night forest, but also when you are stranded on the side of the road at 3am and need to change a flat tire. While I always recommend carrying a spare headlamp, the first step should be starting with a reliable, powerful headlamp in the first place!
So while I will try to answer all of your questions and make the arduous task of choosing a headlamp an easier one for you, let it be known – I’m not going to sell you to any one particular brand, my goal here is not to review a certain headlamp that I’ve used, but to review features that I have found helpful or even perhaps detract from the overall user experience; so if you have an allegiance to one particular brand, great! That’s a fantastic place to start and see what they are doing with the available technology, but I have found that when you really want to keep your options open to finding what works best for your needs, throw that brand-favoritism right out the window!
Where is a good place to even start? Fish around online – most companies have online sales going in rotation, so it’s actually hard to not find a deal these days! Try an outfitter such as REI.com, or visit a local store to check out your options in person!
The first thing to keep in mind is that as the price of a headlamp increases, this does not necessarily translate to ‘more-power’, ‘more-features’, or even that the headlamp will out-perform a cheaper headlamp – it really depends on what you need your headlamp for; some folks need a headlamp that is sealed to the highest standard for the roughest conditions, some need to see further or in a more broad are, while others want to know their headlamp will last for several nights of a multi-day outing or event.
Maybe you have heard the term ‘lumens‘ tossed around, this is a great start to figuring out if a certain headlamp is just right for your needs. Typically, a headlamp that is listed as higher in lumen power will illuminate a bigger area and give you a brighter light output.
This is good to keep in mind because if you are not running mountain tops in the darkness, you may do just fine (and save yourself quite a bit of that hard-earned cash!) with a headlamp lower on the lumen scale. If you dig around enough you can find headlamps ranging from 25 – which may be great for lighting up camp or reading in the tent, all the way up to a bewildering 1000 lumens – which may be great if you need to be spotted from the space station!
While you may think “bigger is always better”, one thing to keep in mind is that if you use a headlamp with higher lumens, your battery will be drained much faster than a lower light. One way to avoid this is to stay mindful while using your headlamp, if you don’t need the extra illumination.. think about dimming your headlamp by switching through output modes to conserve battery life, saving the full blast of power for when you really do need it.
Turning your light output down certainly helps preserve your night vision too; once switching from a bright light to complete darkness, for most people it takes the rods and cones of their eyes anywhere from ten up to thirty full minutes to completely regenerate and become sensitive to darkness once again.
One ingenious feature of the modern headlamp is the varying color modes; fortunately these red, blue and green filters are not just for your backwoods dance parties any longer!
red light – excellent for reading at night or for seeing short distance like getting up to use the privy at night because the red does not dilate the pupils, thus preserving your hard earned night vision
blue light – mostly used for map reading at night, but also great for seeing in foggy conditions
green light – also excellent for night vision around camp and for those hunters out there, it has been said that the green light does not scare away fish and wildlife as easily, however, I have found that the green option is not as common the red or blue, so you may need to narrow your searches if green is a must!
Another feature that is finally common on most headlamps that you’ll want to keep an eye out for is a lock. Too many times I have been told that my pack is lit up while I had been walking down the trail at night, completely unaware! This is a great way to render your headlamp completely useless, if it turns on unintentionally draining your batteries – so I always make sure my headlamps can lock, and that I do actually set them to lock-mode when stashing them away in my packs!
Size & weight
The size and weight of a headlamp is an important element to keep in mind also – no one wants their neck to strain from having a weighty piece of metal and plastic on their heads, plus the heavier your headlamp is chances are you’ll have to keep your strap tighter just to keep it in place!
Do some digging if you are questioning why similar size headlamps vary several ounces in weight and it is not obvious why: perhaps the shell is thicker or made of different materials to absorb the impact of being dropped or smacked into overhead rocks while caving, maybe it has a regular (old school) light bulb instead of a newer LED bulb, perhaps the headlamp is designed to tolerate harsher conditions, or fully sealed to go diving with it!
Don’t be afraid to ask the “why” questions!
Headlamp straps & comfort
Whether you are in the market for your first headlamp or just an upgrade, you have probably seen the different strap set-ups available. This is very important because if you are going to wear a piece of equipment around your head for many hours overnight, you’ll want to ensure it is as comfortable as possible! Manufacturers offer headlamp straps made with different materials, greatly varying their elasticity.
I find that for wearing a headlamp on a climbing helmet, generally the one horizontal strap will suffice – especially if your helmet has the handy tabs to clip the headlight strap into! Lately, I have grown incredibly fond of a certain headlamp that has a strip of ‘anti-slip’ gel laced into its’ strap, helping to keep it in place while not needing to crank the strap super tight.
One downside to many one-strap headlamps is that during the use, and exacerbated by sweating, the headlamp will begin to slip down your forehead.. this can be infuriating, especially if you are trying to concentrate on critical foot or hand placement; one remedy for this is the addition of another strap that runs vertically over the head – all of these straps should always be easily adjustable.
But if you cannot find a headlamp that will fit your needs or budget with three straps, it never hurts to wear a beanie or Buff under your headlamp; while not perfect, this prevents the strap from sliding down your forehead – and adds a bit of padding to the whole set-up!
That brings me to the actual light source itself! The weight of headlamps has been greatly reduced since the proliferation of LED bulbs – which have a much longer lifespan and longer burn time due to consuming far less battery power than conventional light bulbs.
How many bulbs do you need? Each bulb is included in the headlamp for a reason, and most of the time numerous bulbs won’t fire up all at one time either; some are aimed for distance while some bulbs act more as a flood light for improved near-vision, you may even notice the red bulb off in its own dome of housing – it all depends on the R&D team at each manufacturer!
It has also become standard for headlamps to have some adjustability in aiming the actual beam housing, allowing the user to point the beam up or down without straining your neck constantly.
Here is where headlamps differ the most: how do you want to power your torch?
There is nothing wrong with a headlamp that strictly runs off a swath of AAA or AA batteries – in more recent years I have converted all of my standard headlamps to run on rechargeable AAA batteries, the only downside is that rechargeable batteries just do not last as long for one use as something like a lithium battery.
I have had lithium batteries last for a full year in the harshest of conditions (sub-zero winter frosts, roasting summer heat, drenching springtime rainstorms, etc.), these batteries certainly outperform most others in cold wintery conditions – so if reliability is what I crave.. lithium is more expensive but really an excellent choice.
Rechargeable batteries are great for my running headlamps where I know the duration should not be more than two or six hours of use, then I can put them back on the charger to top off – but honestly, taking them out and putting them back in every time I want to use them gets tiresome real fast!
Several companies now make headlamps that can be recharged via USB cable; I feel as if I had been secretly asking for this ever since doing my last 9-day thru-hike. Having the ability to top off batteries with an external battery pack is priceless (I charge the battery pack via solar panel while I hike or camp).
Or better titled: sequential button-pushing.
For me, simple is better. I have owned too many headlamps that require the user to commit a Morse code-like sequence of “hold that button and tap this button”, or “press three times quickly” – when my fingers grow stiff from cold temps, a series of button clicks seems like the most difficult task, and I’ve certainly been there in a panic because I had difficulty even pressing a button once!
While easy is nice – pressing a button once to turn a light on or off may be the preferred method for most, it goes without saying that having options of beam strength or light brightness is absolutely key to unnecessarily draining your batteries prematurely.
Not all headlamps give the option of picking your own brightness settings, some have a preset several options while others allow the user to press and hold to choose just the perfect setting.
I suppose what it really comes down to is taking your headlamp out before you set out on your adventure and get to learn its settings, play around with what the buttons do – and for those truly tech-savy nighttime adventure seekers – there are headlamps now on the market that allow you to set all of your headlamp settings via an app on your smartphone, which is great.. as long as you have the juice left in your phone to power all of these apps!
So is there really one best headlamp? No, not really – like I said, it depends on your intended use, your needs and what environment that you will be using your headlamp in.
I only hope this helps you make an educated decision on your next purchase – it is surely an important one – and a piece of equipment that will hopefully be in your pack for years to come!
Got a question about any of the headlamps that I’ve used or need any specifics?
Let me know! Email, IG, FB, or leave a comment on here and I’ll be happy to help ya!
Are you perhaps new to hiking in the glorious state of New Hampshire?.. Or maybe you are looking for a different type of adventure – something with a slight twist from the typical “New Hampshire 48”, the 4000-foot summits?
While lists and “peak bagging” is not for everyone, I found it can be a charming way – or even a guide as to what to hike next, or where to adventure next!
There have certainly been many weekends where I’ll sit by the fire with coffee nearby and ponder my options – and really, the options for good trekking in New Hampshire really are endless, so how could a person simply ‘run out’ of options for fun mountains and places to adventure in this massive state?
There are days when I have absolutely tossed twenty or more peak-names around in my head, plotting my would-be adventures on topographic maps only to sit back and think aloud, out of near frustration: “but nothing really.. calls to me.”
There are many out there who would scoff at the idea of having a list of mountains to “check off”; pick a mountain, climb it, picnic on its summit, which-ever-way you want to enjoy new trails – and that’s it, check it off the list, done.
While I can honestly say, yes I use lists as more of a ‘guideline’ of what is available to me locally or wherever I may be traveling to on any given weekend – I am definitely not one of those folks who will conquer a trail just to remark: “never again!” – there are always different seasons, varying times of the day – such as a sunrise or sunset hike; trails can absolutely be hiked any time of the year.. but with proper gear for winter travel, of course!
The options for a good, satisfying trek are truly endless with a good imagination and desire to get outdoors!
So, where might I be going with all of this?
To a list that most have probably heard of – if you have stepped foot on any trails in NH already, or found yourself striking up a hiking-related conversation with other hikers’ – most have certainly heard of it!
52 With A View.. or better seen in print as: 52 WAV
This was a sort of challenge created by a few hiking folks that absolutely took off – these are not your typical ‘high peaks’ as they all fall under the four-thousand foot mark, so you won’t find the Mount Washington massifs on here!
Obviously, as the name implies, at least at the time that the list was mustered up – in 1979 (revamped in 1990), there were views on all of these mountain tops. Well, naturally, shrubs grow thicker, trees often times grow taller – but I have found most of the views that once made these place names a hikers’ destination still provide incredible panoramic views.
Why hike off the 52 WAV list?
For really any number of reasons! As in my case, there are weekends where I’ll ruminate over contour lines of a map and for a moment become somewhat depressed that no trail really beckons to my soul – these are typically shorter, easier hikes to trek than some others found in the White Mountain National Forest.
But what is really captivating for many folks (myself included at one time or another!) is that upon completion of all fifty-two summits, the kind organizers offer a finishers patch to spice up your pack, tack into a frame with your favorite summit photo, or just hang onto and collect ‘memories’!
In an effort to make this a ‘one stop shop’, and of course a ‘thank you‘ for reading along – I’ll kindly include a bit of info as to where you can get your own 52WAV patch.. later on in this post, below!
At the time of writing this, I cannot claim to have hiked all of the mountains on this list, but I have either solo’d or trekked with friends along many of these routes – so, of course you can comment on here or shoot me a note on any social media platform with any questions – if I don’t have the answer – I will gladly find it for you!
Where can I find these 52 With a View?
Just do a search on your favorite web-browser and you will find a plethora of trail reviews, maps you can print (always have a hard copy of your planned hike.. and of course, know how to read your map!!).
One site that I have become familiar with that even offers hikers’ a spectacular App for any smart phone to track your progress or even use to simply pinpoint where these hikes are located is Peak-Bagger (I threw a link in there for you, just click the text!). I enjoy this page/app because it is super easy to add dates, elevation gain or any special notes about each hike that you would like to have all in one convenient spot to quickly refer back to and jog your memory!
Plus, one epic feature is that you can select a tab to view the lists that your ascended peaks fall under, select which list you want to view; the map that is generated contains way points signifying each peak to signify where they are located with green dots for climbed or red dots for ‘to-still-do’, I love it!
Do I need any special gear to tackle these magical mountains?
No way! Well.. maybe some binoculars or good snacks if you think you may want to relax and observe nature during some of the time not spent trekking17 miles to a secluded 4000-footer in the middle of the National Forest!
While the trails are generally easier jaunts in the forest, they still provide steep trails – after all, this is still New Hampshire, and most of these trails are still located next to their taller cousins.
Just be aware of what season you are hiking in: if you naturally feel you can articulate your feet and ankles on our east coast trails with simple grippy trail runners or approach shoes, that should do you just fine in three of our seasons!
Of course, be mindful that these trails are no different: they get steep, they get wet, they get massively eroded down to rocks and roots, you absolutely can still twist ankles – these are still hiking trails into the forest – don’t ever assume that you will have cell phone service anywhere on any hiking trail in New Hampshire!
What are the peaks?
I’ll include a list of names and elevations as a starter for you (also below), if I wrote about my hikes to these destinations I’ll graciously link those pages to the names, so just click away, read and enjoy! However, if you don’t find a link to a hike that you are interested in.. there is a good chance that I just have not written about my adventure yet.. these things take time! 😉
Please feel free to reach out to me about any one of these hikes – if I haven’t yet climbed it, I’ve likely put in a bunch of time researching the peaks, so please do reach out if you would like any additional info here!
What..? Come on Erik! Really.. another ski resort?
Yes! I mean, well.. not really just another ski resort – this mountain – which does feature a spider-web of ski slopes, lifts, gondolas, even topped with a restaurant adorning the highest summit boulders; yes – this is the Jay Peak that you have heard of. Year after year, season by season – commercials and radio ads try to convince you that your season will not be complete until you ski their lines, or mountain bike their glorious routes.
This is ski country, but you won’t find me strapping into ski or snowboard bindings for this excursion – for, I am here to taste.. The Long Trail!
Located just a mere twenty minutes (by car.. just a bit longer by foot!) from Journey’s End, home of the Long Trails northern terminus; this 274 mile foot trail cuts directly over the highest point of Jay Peak and continues southward through the state and reaches its endpoint upon entering the lovely little town of North Adams, Massachusetts.
A part of this hike was being used as recon mission for when Ciara and I take on the nearly month-long trek with our puppy-dogs, but seeing as today’s hike featured more blowing snow than mud and cool autumn sunsets.. landmarks were noted and the good times were commenced!
With realistically two options of where to initiate my hike, I chose the more popular trail head located on Route 242. Depending on which direction you are entering from – I came from the east and dropped down onto the main road, passing the official parking areas for the ski resort and within several windy miles finding the hiker lots located on the left bank of the road.
Finding two lots, I chose the second simply because it actually had what looked like trail head signage, a kiosk with maps and a fenced off area with gigantic solar panels. Both lots were plowed well for my 8am start time, and much to my surprise – my Subaru had completely free-range of the lot when I pulled in.
I was actually shocked to notice the parking lot filled with perhaps 25 to 30 cars when I arrived at the end of my day – but after talking with a few folks prepping their skis and split boards I found that most others out this windy morning were staying at lower altitudes, east of the main road on the Catamount Trail.
There were signs indicating that I had parked in the correct lot, but it took digging out my phone and firing up the AllTrails app to locate where the Long Trail actually crossed the road and re-entered the forest. Turns out I was very close to the trail, just out of view of any official markings or signage.
The trail cuts off Route 242 and instantly begins to ascend steeply up the side slopes of Jay and its surrounding mountainous nubs. Barely 20 feet into my climb and I already wanted to stop and make some photographs of the tiny hut just out of sight of the highway, remaining private enough for a 6-10 hikers to find refuge if needed. I did not see any nearby signs indicating whether overnight camping was permitted or not (but thought this may be a perfectly sheltered, wooden platform for our Long Trail journey, if allowed of course).
I absolutely cannot wait to re-hike this section of trail in the coming warmer months; I often times find my mind glancing around in the winter, trying to get an idea or create a rendering of what the surrounding topography might look like under these feet of snow! I bring this up because this section of the Long Trail appeared to be in a gully, the trail was very well packed (I probably could have gotten away just fine with spikes on my boots) with suggestions of multiple feet of snow off to either side.
All around was evidence of prior bushwhackers and backcountry skiers taking advantage of the freshly fallen powder as they created their own lines down to the base of Jay Peak.
Cutting through a beautiful forest dotted with old, gnarly white birch the trail ventures through several small open groves – making the mind wander off to a time in early spring with birds singing, buds budding and blue skies as far as the eye could see, certainly a place I may not leave when we revisit during our thru-hike!
When I say that the path began ascending the side of the mountain, it really did not stop until climbing nearly 1,500 feet and topping out about a mile and a half later, bisecting the ski trails.
I made the mistake of not remembering that my hiking trail actually crossed the ski paths and continued along the broad rocks, in my error I ended up simply continuing along the ski trails – I’ll let it be known though that this peak was actually not open to skiing (another pleasant surprise), the ski trails were littered with rocks and open patches with grass blowing in the high winds.
It was super eerie roaming around the summit (honestly, at this point in my trek – I did not step foot on the actual peak yet!), seeing the unoccupied restaurant with chairs neatly turned up and stacked on the tables – very reminiscent of the then closed Saddleback ski resort in Sandy River, Maine.
The summit screamed for me, but I did not answer.
Wind, wind.. and occasionally even more wind! The wind this morning was absolutely nuts, blowing in circles from the instant I left the shelter of the forest canopy and stepped out onto the ski slopes. Needing an extra layer I ducked between building and what remained of the carved out summit cone, fighting through sideways blasting winds for my Gore-Tex shell, the moment the fleece layer was protected I instantly warmed up. Ready for more!
Glancing down the ridge, I spotted my next objective. But how to obtain this so-called bushwhack of northern Vermont? I had read the reports, checked the maps, now the 3,786 foot rock massif stood quietly before me – just a wall of gusting, screaming wind roaring between my snowshoed boots and the summit. Make that trek!
Unsure of how to locate the herd path over to Big Jay, I simply began trekking down the empty ski trails – I could remember reports of folks instructing to ‘look for the repaired fence‘.
I quickly put distance between myself and the high reaches of the 3,858 foot peak of Jay. The only direction that made sense to my mind was to trek down one of the ski slopes to where the grade of the ridge appeared gradual enough to hopefully contain a path.
Bushwhacking Big Jay
According to maps and tracks, I had descended southwest about three-tenths of a mile and located the famed fence. Perhaps this barrier had been broken in the past, it was in superb shape at my arrival – in fact there was even a fence.. fitting behind the fence allowing skiers and all-around adventurists to slip between and around – all the while I was looking for a literally busted up fence, with jagged planks to limbo under!
A quick glance at the French and English signage (so close to the Canadian border it makes sense!) and I was officially making footprints on a trail that I had anticipated for so very long!
Had there been an award for ‘biggest grin’, I would have taken home first place.
Herd path? More like hard-to-miss path!
I suppose had the skiers not come before me and packed down a six-foot wide path with their angled skis, it may have been slightly more tough to follow, and in Big Jay’s defense – there were plenty of areas where the fresh powder had blown and drifted clear over the ski tracks. Some idea of navigation came in handy today!
Within minutes of trekking through a most lovely forest, I could glance back and see just how far I had come – it looked like miles to get back to the pointy Jay Peak!
The terrain continued to roll but all the while, I could glance up and just slightly off-centered left there stood my peak, and naturally that too appeared to be miles away! All I could do was keep on laughing, continue my solo fun-fest and leave my snowshoes pointed at that big ol’ rock up ahead.
Reaching the col, it was back to climbing – which was gradual, some steep parts to really test out the traction on the new Tubbs snowshoes; I really enjoy the security that these snowshoes offer, they constantly felt stuck to whatever terrain I put under them – packed powder, loose fluffy powder, crusty ice, several feet of powder (as was the case when I reached Big Jay’s summit), the snowshoes aided me in crushing any place I wanted to venture!
Noticing several spur trails swinging off to the left (east), I continued straight toward the behemoth reaching skyward in front of me; but I recalled the articles I’d read earlier of several skiers who decided to actually slash their own ski trail down one of Big Jay’s faces – thinking I had found memories of these cuttings.
End of the line.
“This can’t be the end!” I pleaded with myself – I suppose one could argue that the path did continue onward southerly, but in all essence of the word, it terminated here.
Glancing around, I thought I saw where skiers had continued down the mountainside – I was certainly not here to follow their descent, however!
Assuming that I had reached the summit, I poked and prodded around.. looking for what bit of land might stand just a few inches taller than where I was, into the deep, fluffy snow I bounded.
Branches had been snapped, twigs all broken off.. to me, that meant that people had slammed their way through these trees – for one reason or another! I followed through the sharp, stabbing branches.
One glass jar hanging by a yellow cord, containing a yellowed pad of paper.
This is what I climbed for, this glass jar hanging from a green summit sign which eloquently read BIG JAY. This is why I drove hours north, this is why I strapped snowshoes and laughed my bum all the way up that hill.
In all honesty, I had no idea that this trail-less summit even contained a summit canister; I knew that there was at one time or another, a canister that had been stolen – but I was completely unaware that it had been replaced.
10:18AM on January 25th, 2020 – I signed the summit register.
I sat there, kneeling in the snow, guarded from the gusting winds over head. I did it. Glancing through the register, I noticed it had been several weeks since anyone had located the canister and signed in, and there I was.. scribbling in granite to last all eternity.
I climbed my mountain; or at least that’s how I chose to remember it!
The trek down showed the strength of the wind around – my tracks had been blown clear over, but with a decent idea of direction I bounced down the hills, up and over rolling topography, back through the col and stopped short by the first friendly faces I’d ran into of the day!
Three skiers grunting their way up the bushwhack path, the first two said hi and inquired about the state of trails ahead, the final was (my best guess) a young teen – she exclaimed that this was her first day on skies! and they were all skinning their way over to Big Jay.. impressive to say the least!
Back to my hosting ski trails, I was still alone on Jay’s slopes so I weighed my options.. go directly up to the summit via a steeper path with open rocks and blowing grass – why not, I thought aloud and fired my breath off into ‘slow and steady’ mode.
Greeted by winds as I opened back up onto 3,800 feet, I could see weekend riders shredding it up and making passes on a minor peak within the resort – I was still alone on Jay, well.. except for the one guy hunkered down under a flight of wooden stairs trying to get a cell signal on his phone, he never saw me waving to him though.
The stairs leading to the actual summit were roped off.. so more bushwhacking is just what the doctor ordered! In all actuality, it was maybe a 25-foot light scramble up some boulders, some icy, primarily snowy though and in short time I found myself standing on the pinnacle.
There were elegant stone benches and signs scribed with the names of both hikers and locals, complete with varying tidbits regarding the Long Trail; I would have read them if it had not been for bursts of high winds – I needed to use trekking poles to stand upright, creating a sort of tripod with my body and trekking poles.
Finding the USGS survey marking disc atop this pile of rocks, I let out a few salty tears.. which may have been exacerbated by the blinding winds tugging to sandblast my corneas behind sunglasses.
Seconds seemed like minutes as I finally decided enough was indeed enough.
It was time to retreat, back down the ski slope and finding my path, ducking back into the canopy of forest protection: I was back on the Long Trail once more today.
The decent took what seemed like minutes, almost galloping down what took so much effort to climb, I let gravity guide my body in a ‘controlled fall’ down the mountainside until I began running (almost literally) into dog walkers and other friendly forest goers.
Those without snowshoes left a trail of evidence behind them as heels plunged into the packed snow, I hoped my wide footprint would help disguise their destruction – perhaps it would take another bout of snow.. it is still early winter, after all!
The sound of traffic grew louder and before long I saw the wooden structure once again.
As always, thanks for following and reading along! Let me know if you have any questions about the hike or my gear.. or anything! Have a great time in the mountains – and whenever you find yourself needing fresh gear.. don’t forget to use any of the REI.com banner ad links found here.. or on the right column of the home page.. it helps put gas in the Subaru and bring you more adventures, gear reviews, trail reports, races recaps.. whatever fun stuff happens.. you know it will be fueled by plants and brought straight to you – Cheers! Happy Climbing!
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!
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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!
Gone are the days when we can simply wake up, roll out of bed, gulp down a fresh green juice, toss on yesterdays shorts while refilling packs with water and snacks before taking advantage of 16+ hours of daylight.
Now it seems like we have to decide between boots, shoes, shorts, pants, convertible pants, leggings, base layers, longsleeve or short sleeve, puffy jacket or fleece jacket, rain or wind jacket, beanie or simply just a trusty ball cap?
Seems like enough layering options these days to require a fist full of Ativan!
Where to begin, how can the adventurist possibly decide which is best, or what will keep them safe? Is there any magic combination that will ensure a safe trip into nature and back? Not really, but we can certainly aspire for darn close! So how can we make some sense of a 10,000 sq ft box store full of gear?
Be prepared for the worse, but hope for the best!
First, since this fits into each and every category as a “no, please don’t”.. cotton. Cotton soaks up moisture and takes too long to dry, some exceptions exist on a hot summer day, but I am stubborn in my ways: cotton has no place in a hikers backpack unless it is after the hiking and climbing is done for the day, perhaps for lounging around camp.
Layering for Summer
What should you look for when purchasing clothes for fair weather hiking? Lighter colors, breathable fabrics, if it was not apparent in the last paragraph.. cotton is not a great option for hiking in, so it is best to choose synthetics or light wool layers during the warmer months.
*Short sleeve vs long sleeve shirts – synthetic materials are the way to go these days, prices have come way down in synthetic materials since the 1980s, so we might as well put them to use! A snugger fit will help transfer sweat and moisture away from the body faster, while a looser fitting shirt will act like a wind tunnel and funnel wind right up and over the hikers back or chest.. while this may be refreshing after a good climb, sitting on a bare summit trying to enjoy a sandwich could have you reaching for additional layers sooner! Also, a longsleeve shirt gives a person the option of rolling the sleeves up or down as needed – and at least having the option of sleeves allows you to block UV rays from the sun.
My vote: a light longsleeve shirt with a zip or button up neck, collar to help cover the neck as needed, sleeves that can be rolled down to block the suns rays or rolled/pushed up to help vent sweat during an ascent.
*Shorts vs pants – shorts are lighter (typically) and breezier, letting that mountain air flow wherever you need it most! Pants help with UV protection from the sun, any extraneous sticks or pricker bushes a hiker may encounter while bushwhacking, but possibly most important pants offer protection from ticks and other biting insects found along the trails.
My vote: while I often hike in running shorts, if I know the trail is wide and I’ll be moving quickly, however.. my longstanding preference is for zip-off, or ‘convertible’ pants that offer the option of legs that zip off, switching into shorts on the fly, and most of the pant legs that zip off can even fit over boots without removing them!
A side note that can and should be applied to any garment while choosing clothing for layering is the color; keep in mind that lighter colors will help reflect sun rays, helping to keep the wearer cooler longer, but also lighter colors help deter ticks – while darker layers will soak up the sun rays, keeping the hiker warmer, darker layers have also been found to attract ticks!
*Buff – at least one of these stretchy fabric tubes can be found in my running pack, super versatile, these can be worn as a hat to absorb sweat and block the sun, around the neck for much of the same or even on the wrist like a fancy tennis player to wipe sweat before it gets into the eyes!
*Sunglasses – offering year round protection, and not just for sunny days – sunglasses offer eye protection from pointy sticks while bushwhacking and comfort while traversing snow or bright colored rock, I always have a pair of sunglasses on my face or in my pack – just in case!
*Hat – brimmed hats offer not only additional UV protection from sun rays, but can help block some glare.
*Boots vs trail runners – boots offer additional ankle support, especially beneficial while backpacking or carrying multi-day heavy loads into the mountains, typically boots are more water-resistant than simple trail runners while running shoes offer more flexibility in the foot, better range of motion, occasionally better grip on slab rock also! Some consideration will have to go into what the trail conditions may look like, how wet, eroded, grade/steepness all should be factored in when determining footwear in the hills.
*Gaiters – in some form or another, these are year-round for me. Whether they are ‘expedition’ style gaiters, more insulated and fitted for winter travel, or simple fabric ‘dirty-girl’ gaiters, some shoe companies like Altra are making gaiters specifically designed to fit their trail runners. Gaiters are just an additional form of protection, blocking sand, pebbles, twigs, pine needles, anything you don’t want falling into your shoe and inevitably under your foot while hiking!
My vote: gaiters year-round, heavier insulated gaiters are great for winter travel, keeping snow our of your boots while keeping warmth against your calves – but unfortunately a lot of the taller, knee-height gaiters are not terribly breathable and can trap a lot of sweat against the lower legs, quick fix? Unzip or loosen them for a minute when a snack break is taken, let your legs breathe too!
Layering for Spring or Autumn
The same applies as far as synthetic layers and zip-off pant options, but now begins the magic of layering –
+ Base Layer (wicks moisture away from the body)
+ Mid-weight Layer (traps warm pockets air next to the body)
+ Outer shell (repels wind/precipitation)
Often a debatable rule, but one that I have found to work well – I have found it is best to start hiking in a layer that will have you cool, but not chilled, definitely not actually shivering – knowing that the body will warm up gradually over the first 10-15 minutes, or during the initial 1-2 miles. If you are still cold after a mile, put light gloves or a hat on, still cold after that? Put an extra layer (shirt/fleece) on.
Like the saying goes: if your toes are cold, put on a hat.
*Long sleeve – wool is classically known for its ‘anti-stink’ properties, great for distance hikers! One longstanding downside to wool however, is its itchiness – but this has been somewhat remedied by treatments during production, but can also be achieved by washing wool gently with a bit of vinegar (google it.. to find how much vinegar to put in your laundry!), synthetic long sleeve shirts can become smelly faster – I find it easiest to just wash any of my tech layers by hand with gentle soap (Dr Bronner’s works wonders..for everything!), whatever you do – fabric softener cannot be used on synthetic layers, the chemicals will strip your clothing of all moisture-wicking properties!
My vote: a brightly colored (think..hunting season), collared long sleeve that has the option of rolling or pushing the sleeves up to block sun rays, fitting just snug enough to not waft air up my chest and become drafty, but not tight enough to be constricting or overly noticeable to the hiker!
*Mid-weight/fleece – some can be found with a laminated outer layer, or DWR (durable water repellent) coating from the factory, but I have been relying on a fleece shell for years! Why fleece? I grew up hearing my parents say “your fleece is made from recycled Coca Cola bottles!”, which I thought to be fascinating.. many fleece jackets are manufactured from recycled materials, which I love to support! Fleece jackets are moderately breathable, allowing sweat to vent out but adversely letting that pesky wind tear through right down to your base layer. Another downside to fleece is that it does not pack away as easily as other options, remaining a bulky layer from start to finish.
*Mid-weight/”Puffy”/insulated jacket – first off, I love these jackets.. but not so much for during the hike. So far in my short history of owning a down/synthetic insulated jacket I have grown to prefer them before or after climbing or hiking, but not during. Why? Many reasons.. they are not as durable as other options (like fleece), one snag on a branch and there goes all your filling! Insulated jackets are not all created the same, here again, there are also synthetic and ‘naturally occurring’ fills (goose, duck, or other waterfowl). Both variations take quite some time to dry once wet or sweat-through, but synthetic fills are raved for retaining their loft when wet. However, over the longhaul – synthetic insulation looses its ability to re-fluff after being wet, while natural down can go through a wet-dry cycle many more times, lasting much longer than synthetic in the long haul!
*Mid-weight/”Puffy”/insulated vest – same as above concerning the fill, fabric and durability, but some prefer the puffy vest to keep warm air against the core while allowing free-range of motion for the arms. Once again though, I would save an insulated vest for a snack break while on trail or for back at camp, but not while actually hiking or climbing due to its ability to simply soak up sweat easily.
*Mid-weight options: hood vs no hood – natural instinct tells me it would be better to have a hood and not need it, best to have it right there if it is needed, but what if your outer shell has a hood – would that become too cumbersome and restricting to have two hoods? Will the hood fit over a hat, beanie, or helmet for climbing? Will a second hood run the chance of getting in the way, or blocking your view when you need to see your rope while belaying? All of these questions must be asked when purchasing layers.
Layering for Winter/colder temps
Now that we have the basics of layering down, what can be done to help protect our base and mid-layers? Another layer or two, of course!
*Outer shell/wind jacket – often can be packed up to the size of an apple when not needed, but can be tossed over a long sleeve or fleece layer in seconds to add a layer of light water-resistance. The wind jacket will keep your hard earned heat trapped and close to the body, for a short period a simple wind jacket will help light rain or snow bead up and fall away – while it doesn’t take long for these layers to become saturated, they typically do dry rather quickly.
*Outer shell/rain jacket – typically just a bit heavier than a simple wind jacket, these shells are usually treated with DWR from the factory or contain a GoreTex layer (as durability and water-resistance increases, often so does price!). While these layers work great to keep rain and snow on the outside of your layers, they often times work just as well at retaining heat and moisture inside of the jacket – but now-a-days better jackets can be found with arm pit zippers and vents of all sorts to help breathability.
My vote: base layer + fleece + thin (easily packable) GoreTex (seam sealed) jacket. Highly versatile and can be combined with a plethora of other layering options, a good rain jacket can often times double as a wind shell. The only drawback to a treated rain jacket that I have found is the maintenance (hardly troublesome as far as gear goes..), a treated layer must be kept clean, free from oils (sun tan lotion, grease, etc), dust and dirt, scratches and tears as small particles easily enter the pores of the jacket that are designed to allow the hikers sweat to escape while being too small for fallen water droplets to penetrate. A bit of gentle soap and cool water can help keep your rain jacket working like new – and for DWR treated layers, another coating can be store bought and applied at home, or sometimes a quick trip to the dryer, tumbled on low heat can help revive the DWR treatment!
*Outer shell/winter jacket/parka – basically a one-use type of layer, these are not stowable, winter coats do not collapse and fit easily into a pack, they often times are heavy and do not breathe, and what’s more.. parkas are typically expensive. So when should they be used? In extreme conditions, cold and wind – or when the hiker is just not moving much, such as belaying or in between strenuous activity, they are also great for lounging around camp.
Of course, by now combinations of these layers can be found – companies trying to come out with the next best idea, zippers in new locations, features that guarantee you’ll stay cooler and dryer longer. Endless amounts of money can be spent on layers and a hiker these days will probably not feel as if they have “everything for every situation”, the key is being able to use what you have and adjust layers for varying weather conditions; build up a small arsenal of quality clothing that can be utilized.
The key to layering is just knowing that heavier is not always better, knowing that a hiker will have to add or remove layers throughout the day or week-long backpacking trip.
As one famous adventurer stated: “You sweat, you die.”
Basically what they meant was.. once you get soaked with sweat and you are forced to stop mid-hike without dry clothes to change into on a windy or chilly day, you will become hypothermic extremely quickly.
Pack smart, think ahead, hope for the best but plan for the worst conditions, and always dress in layers!
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