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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Parker Mountain via Spencer Smith Trail, December 26, 2011

Parker Mountain (1316') via Spencer Smith Trail, Strafford, NH, December 26, 2011.

Mileage - RT to the summit: 2; RT to Bow Lake Overlook: 3.

Elevation gain - 600' to summit Parker.  900' summit Parker and bushwhack to plane crash site. 

Trailhead: Strafford, NH - 202A to 126N, after a few miles trailhead is on the left. 

Lesson learned: Snow does NOT make a good substitute for bathroom tissue.

I had no idea Parker Mountain existed until about a month ago when I saw my friend Wally's family photo with a vista in the background.  So I asked Wally where the photo was taken and found out about Parker.

Wally lives near Parker Mountain and his family hikes there often. In fact, Parker Mountain is known to be a local favorite for families, and is an especially good mountain for young children learning the joys of hiking.

I had not hiked in over a month and was itching to get out and start my winter hiking, such as it is. Despite my friends' efforts, I simply do not enjoy winter hiking like I do summer hiking.  Yes, I will agree that the lack of bugs is a plus, and not having to negotiate over endless rocks on New England trails does make for a smoother climb but it's just not my thing. Still, I make sure I get out and do a few 3ks during the snowy season. And a few 2ks and yes, even a 1.3k like Parker.

A little online research revealed that wreckage from a 1946 plane crash lay on the side of the mountain and can be found by bushwhacking into the woods about halfway up the trail.  We hoped to find the site, expecting we probably would not have time to get to the wreckage, only view it from the cliffs.   Luckily I was able to get the GPS coordinates from a geocaching blog I found. 

Spencer Smith Trail sign indicates 1 mile to the summit.  Trailhead starts at this small parking lot.
We started late, about 12:30 when the day was at its warmest.  Being the end of December we watched our time and the daylight we had available, particularly if we wanted to find that wreckage.  The trail had red blazes but I did not see a one when heading up the summit as some of the blazes were simply red-orange spray painted on a tree, which I found hard to see with my sunglasses on.  The trail is wide and easy to follow, with an overabundance of pink and orange surveying tape on tree branches. 

One inch of snow on the ground became 2 and then 3 as we ascended. About halfway up I saw a clearing and went to explore.  Piles of rocks were placed in a circle but with the snow covering it was hard to know more about what that place and its rocks signified.
Rocks placed in a clearing, across from where we ducked into the woods to find the plane.
Rich started playing with the plane coordinates on the GPS and was quite surprised to find we were less than 500' from the site.   We turned around and crossed the trail., heading into the woods.
Checking the coordinates of the plane site.
The woods were open and Rich started counting down the footage to the site.  I was a little freaked out; I have been to old plane wrecks in the woods but none where passengers in the plane had died.  We got within 160' from the site when we reached a cliff.  We descended a bit more and strained our eyes to see any sign of the wreck among the snow and the brown leaves. Nothing. 

We decided to abandon our search for the time being, and continue on our hike to the summit. We retraced our steps and lost them just about the time Rich realized he had not put a waypoint in the GPS where we left the trail.  We found the trail again but will make a point to stop and enter waypoints so we can find our way back out.  Snow covered woods can be especially disorienting.

A few minutes later we passed what looked like a stone foundation and stopped there to enjoy the view and talk with some hikers. Soon we reached the summit of Parker Mountain - a really big cairn!

Now that's what I call a cairn!
Blazes (actually reflectors) were more evident at and beyond the summit.
I had to go to the bathroom at the summit so I ducked behind a few trees and learned what should have been obvious: snow does not make good bathroom tissue.  Feeling wide awake :) we headed past the summit to a series of viewless slabs and ledges to a large ledge facing Bow Lake.

Sun setting on Bow Lake from the overlook.
These ledges are quite popular.  A rock bench and firepit are located just above the overlook. The trail cut sharply to the right but Rich and I, looking at our time and the setting sun, turned around and headed back where we came.

We hiked past the viewless slabs, summit cairn and where we entered the woods to look for the wreckage and descended about 50 feet more before we once again tried to bushwhack to where the GPS indicated the wreckage was. This time the terrain was tougher than before and the farthest we dared go in wasn't as close to it as our first bushwhack.  We gave up, tabling that adventure for another day. 

I would recommend this small peak for a nice half day snowshoe. It is about 35 minutes from our home and makes for diversion to the day.   Portsmouth, Bow Lake, Strafford and the ocean can be seen on a clear day.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pine Mountain via Ledge Trail, November 12, 2011

Pine Mountain via Ledge Trail to Pine Mountain Trail to Pinkham B Road - November 12, 2011.

Distance:  3.6 miles

Elevation gain: 800 feet

Trailhead:  Route 16 to Dolly Copp Road to Pine Mountain trailhead (about one mile from Route 16)

Lessons learned: Lack of research on my part does not give me the right to complain that I think we may have taken a wrong turn. A graded road does not guarantee sure footing.

This weekend Rich, Sandy and I volunteered at another of AMC's front country destinations, Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.  During our break we decided to hike Pine Mountain as the road to the trailhead (known as Pinkham B Road) is not plowed in the winter and we figured this may be our only chance to hike Pine this year.  Guests at Joe Dodge Lodge raved about the views and we figured we could hike, shower and be back on duty within a few hours.

We drove to Dolly Copp Road, past the campground (closed) and parked at the Pine Link Trail parking lot.  The trailhead for Pine Mountain is across the street. Walking down a gated road, we could see Pine Mountain in the distance.

Pine Mountain's ledges allow hikers some great views!

On the right was a sign that took us up the Ledge Trail.

Trail sign. We turned right to start our ascent on the Ledge Trail.
From car to the summit we knew was less than two miles and after a short time in the woods, we found ourselves flirting and skirting the cliffs and ascending the ledges.  The woods were wet from the snowfall the night before but the cliffs and ledges were dry. Still, some areas were quite steep and required thought before choosing hand and foot holds.  One area in particular which required hand over hand climbing gave a breathtaking view as well as heart pounding exposure to a steep cliff area. 

The trailed turned left and opened up with steep slabs.

Slabs were dry thankfully. Although steep, we simply walked up!
Climbing the slabs put us on top of the cliffs. The views were amazing and a naturally formed rock "bench" is located in this area. Although the views were great, I encouraged Rich and Sandy to hustle to the summit where we could sit and really enjoy the views.  I had my binoculars with me and couldn't wait.

We never saw a blaze on our hike but up on the slabs there was a considerable amount of arrows painted on to the rock, pointing the way to the summit. Which to my disappointment was wooded.

I had not done any research on this peak and expected the top to also have amazing views. We considered backtracking on to the slabs for the views, but were running out of time and had to be back to the Visitor Center soon.  Fortunately there are several herd paths that lead you to more beautiful views as we descended down the Pine Mountain trail.


Amazing views of the Whites (and some of the town of Gorham).
Another trail junction had a sign indicating Gorham was a few miles away.  We took the right toward Gorham but only because Pulpit Rock (or Chapel Rock) was down that way.  This side trip brought us to a few bog bridges. We turned left and walked to the end of the bridges, and then right up stairs. Eventually we got onto the huge rock with lovely views.


On top of Pulpit Rock.
We backtracked back on to Pine Mountain trail and back to the sign.  We continued our descent and quickly wound up onto a road that led to a Christian camp called the Horton Center.  What happenel to the trail? I was sure we were lost.  We headed down the well maintained dirt road, all the time I was seriously doubting that we were headed toward the car, struggling to figure out if and how we could have taken a wrong turn.  Rich assured me we were going the right way but I had my doubts.  The road was long and I saw no sign that we in headed in the right direction!

This must have distracted me because I slipped on the gravel on the roadside and fell into the road, ripping my pants.  I was bleeding but more upset that I just ruined my favorite pair of biking (and now hiking) pants.  I limped another quarter mile to see that we were simply walking down that same road we started on in the beginning of our hike.  We had come full circle and were now heading to the car.

This hike has beautiful eye popping views and is a great option if you only have a few hours to hike.  If you don't care to hike on roads, however, this may not appeal to you as half of the mileage is down a wide, well maintained private road (watch out for that gravel!).

Monday, October 31, 2011

Middle and North Sugarloaf, NH October 29, 2011

Middle and North Sugarloaf, NH via Sugarloaf Trail October 29, 2011.

Mileage:  3.2 miles RT (about 2 hours)

Elevation gain: 1200'

Trailhead: Zealand Road, parking lot approximately 1 mile from Route 302. 

Lesson learned:  Move over, Mts. Willard, Avalon and Elephant Head - these peaks are also a short hike to fantastic views! 

As a hiking info volunteer for Appalachian Mountain Club, I volunteer four weekends a year at their front country destinations Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and Highland Center.  I arrive on Friday night and work through Sunday 'til about 11:30. This weekend Rich and I worked our stint at the Highland Center with Sandy. This was Sandy's first volunteer stint at the Center and she was having a great time helping the guests plan their hike.   

On Saturday we get a 3-4 hour break in the afternoon.  The break is a perfect time for a short hike and we decided to hike Middle & North Sugarloaf, two peaks off of Zealand Road (8 miles from Highland Center). VFFT, my favorite blog on trail conditions www.viewsfromthetop.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=13, indicated that the bridge was still out on the Trestle trail due to Tropical Storm Irene.  The Trestle trail leads to the Sugarloaf trail from the Zealand Road parking lot, which is the lot one mile from Route 302.  We decided instead to walk down Zealand Road from the parking lot directly to the Sugarloaf trailhead, avoiding the now bridgeless river crossing on the Trestle trail.

Parked at the parking lot and walked to the trailhead you see here past the guardrail.
An unusual noreaster was headed to New Hampshire (it was afterall only October, which has since been called "Snowtober") but the snow wasn't to arrive up north until that evening. Conditions were dead calm, even on the summit of Mt. Washington (summit wind conditions were 7 mph that morning), and the views from the notch were crystal clear.  The Sugarloaf trail began by following the river a few hundred yards. Some evidence of storm damage made footing a bit tricky in spots.  The trail then forked: left continued on the Sugarloaf trail, straight along the river became the other end of the Trestle trail.   We went left. 

The trail offers a gradual ascent with good footing.  The woods were so serene and we barely broke a sweat as we headed toward the top of the "T" where the Sugarloaf trail ended and the summit trails went left and right.  As we got closer there were occasional patches of snow and icy leaves but the trail was dry for the most part.

To the left of Sandy and Rich is the trail - wide and mellow.
We got to the junction of the summit trails and went left to summit Middle Sugarloaf first.  The trail got steep and a bit slippery but we continued with bare boots.  Just before the summit was a large staircase, very cool!
"And she's buying a stairway to the summit!"
The summit offered spectacular views all around!  The air was so calm; we could see Mt. Washington so clearly we felt we could reach out and touch it.  We took some photos and hung around just to enjoy the view. 


Fantastic view of Mt. Washington from Middle Sugarloaf
It was a cloudy day and the weather was coming in soon so we headed down toward North Sugarloaf.  Descending the staircase and icy rocks cautiously, we were down at the trail junction in no time and headed up to the summit of North Sugarloaf, which took us under 20 minutes.  The views were lovely too, though the peak fell short of its middle sister (there is in fact a South Sugarloaf, which is trailless).  As we headed back, we saw a family heading up the trail with a white collarless dog.  I reminded them that deer hunting season started that day and suggested they keep her close by on the hike. 

As we were heading down, the air changed and we could tell snow was coming.  We were back down to the junction in no time and headed down the Sugarloaf trail to the car. 

The top of the "T."  "Of course, some people do go both ways!" Scarecrow
We were in the car and on our way back to the Highland center in plenty of time to take a shower and get back to work. Sandy's husband Joe had just completed his 29th and 30th NH 4k and was waiting in the living room for our return. 

Darkness soon fell and the snow came.
The Sugarloafs will surely be recommended to Highland Center guests as a quick and rewarding two hour hike.  The width and grade of the trail make it a pleasure for all ages and abilities.  Many guests want to do a quick hike before they head home; reluctant to end their weekend without enjoying the scenery one more time.  We can't wait to hike the Sugarloafs again!


Bench at the Highland Center. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

#68 Sandwich Dome via Drakes Brook Trail, June 2006

#68 Sandwich Mountain (3980') via Sandwich Mountain and Drakes Brook Trails, June 2006.

Mileage: 8.3 miles (lollipop loop)

Elevation Gain:  2,600'

Trailhead: Route 49 toward Waterville Valley. Take a right less than a mile before Tripoli Road. The parking lot is straight ahead. The Sandwich Mountain Trail trailhead is located just before the parking lot on the right.

Lesson learned:  Remember to document your hike.  I can't recall much about this one but wanted to include it in my blog as it was the first of my Hundred Highest 68-100.

Hiked with Dave, Marie, Art, Eileen and Bill. 



The group looking fresh before the hike.
Several months ago I decided to start on my New England Hundred Highest list with Sandwich Dome (also known as Sandwich Mountain). I saw that the trailhead was not too far away and it seemed like a nice late spring hike.  I sent a note around inviting my hiking buddies to join me only to have Eileen reply with this photo; we had already hiked it!

I don't remember much from this hike except that I lost my sunglasses halfway up the trail and with Bill's help was able to find them.  Pleasant day, pleasant hike and I think it is on my list for this winter. Rich and Sandy have not hiked this peak so it will be fun to revisit..

Monday, October 17, 2011

#72 Stratton Mountain, Vermont via Appalachian and Long Trail

New England Hundred Highest #72, Stratton Mountain Vermont via Appalachian and Long Trail October 16, 2011. 

Distance: 7.4 miles RT
Elevation gain:  about 1900 feet
Time: 4 hours

Lessons learned:  1. If you have ankle gators, wear them.  2. Always check to see if its hunting season before going out on a fall hike.

Autumn in Vermont!  This weekend we decided to head to Vermont which if you live in Stratham New Hampshire, is at least a two and a half hour drive (one way).  I looked at the NE 100 Highest List and picked the Vermont peak that would require the shortest driving time. 

This was to be my last peak bagging of the season. I'll admit it was more than travel distance that led me to choose Stratton Mountain.  With the days shorter and cooler, I looked for a hike that required less time than our usual 8 hiking hours.  And, I was looking for maximum enjoyment with minimal effort; the fall weather has made me lazy!

The trail we took is both the Appalachian trail and the Long trail.  Stratton Mountain played a significant part in the creation of the Appalachian and Long trails.  The stratton.com website recalls, "James P. Taylor was lodged in a forester’s tent along the slopes of Stratton Mountain when he began to envision a trail linking the summits of Vermont’s Green Mountains. Benton MacKaye climbed a tree at the summit of Stratton, “felt as it atop the world, with a sort of planetary feeling”  and began planning a footpath that would preserve the Appalachian peaks, Keeping them forever accessible to hikers and outdoor enthusiasts." 

Still feeling lazy, we slept in and got a late start.  By 10 a.m. we had crossed into Vermont and were headed up Route 9 West.  About five miles beyond West Brattleboro we started to see the damage Hurricane Irene bestowed upon the area - and the repairs: washed out roads, new bridges, recently installed rock walls and banks on the river.  Our car's GPS tried to send us on a shortcut but that road was closed.  Many side roads were closed as well, or just recently reopened.  Routes 9 and 100 although wartorn, were clear. As we turned left onto Stratton Arlington Road however, we noticed the sign that indicated the road no longer went all the way to Arlington.   We wondered exactly where the road closure was and whether or not we could drive all the way to the trailhead.  We could as we soon found out.

We drove by a group of hunters headed down a dirt road. Hunting season?  I thought it was too early and we didn't bring any orange clothing.  I looked down at my shirt - bright red. It will have to do.

About 6.8 miles after turning off Route 100 we parked in the well marked Stratton Mountain AT/LT parking lot on the right.  It was 11:00 a.m. when we started our hike. 

The trail was magnificent, a dream trail for the mellow hiker: clear with gradual rise.  The first half mile, however, was plagued with wide mud puddles which slowed us down a bit.  Fortunately most hikers were hopping over them, rather than hiking on the vegetation. 

Path is wide and easy to follow with bog bridges like this one over the stream leading out of the beaver pond.
The trail books indicate remnants of a farm: a rock wall and orchard -  on this path.  I found the wall but could not find the orchard.  Leaves were orange and yellow, many on the ground.  After about 30 min we came upon a dirt road, probably the road the hunters were heading up when we drove by. 

The trail crosses this road, well marked.
After crossing the road, the pitch of the trail rose more consistently but was never steep. I kept thinking, "1900' elevation gain? There must be a steep coming up somewhere!"  It never did.  The muddy areas disappeared and we spent a good mile in forest with no view or distinguishing geography, just trail and trees. 

The day was clear and cool and quite windy.  My new boots got leaves and stems and other odd debri in them and I had to stop twice to clean them out.  I started thinking about my ankle gators, which I had noticed as I was walking out the door that morning.  I deliberately left them behind, too lazy to bring them and have to put them on.

There is an overlook on this hike, a narrow short path that allows for a southwesterly view of the reservoir- very beautiful.  This would have been a good place to stop and rest, if we had to stop and rest but at this point we still had not broken our usual hiking sweat! But we took a few photos before headed out toward the summit.

We did stop for lunch on the trail but not here, though this spot would have been perfect.
We passed a spring with a sign indicating the water had not been tested. Further up the trail without fanfare, we arrived at the wooded summit.

The summit was sunny and windy, so windy that I could only walk halfway up the fire tower. 

Above the trees are beautiful views of Mt. Equinox and the reservoir.  After climbing back down, we thumbed through the register and found a southbound AT thru-hiker had signed in five days before. 

The wind was whipping up there so we took a few photos and headed back down the trail.
The register.

Sunny windy day on an easy trail.


Sunny windy day on an easy trail.

Since much of the trail is flat or easy grade and well maintained, we made excellent time down to the car, reaching it at 3:15. 

We changed out of our boots and headed back to Brattleboro to find some hot mulled cider.   We bought the cider, cider donuts and maple cream and headed for home.  We were back by 6:00 p.m.

This was so much fun I think we will saving hiking the Vermont peaks for autumn.  Wearing orange of course!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

West Quarry Mountain (Belknap Range) via Clough Road and Quarry Trail October 2, 2011

West Quarry Mountain via Clough Road and Quarry Trail 10/2/11.

Total mileage: under 3 miles

Elevation gain:  don't know, not much!

Trailhead: Gilford NH via Alton Bay. Route 11 to 11A. Turn left off of Route 11A onto Glidden Road (there is an orchard at the end of this road).  Park where Glidden Road becomes dirt.

Lesson learned:  Never plan a hike in the pouring rain unless you really need to get somewhere!  It's no fun and not good for the trail. 

 Who doesn't love hiking the Belknaps?! The Belknap Range is a small mountain range of twelve peaks located in the lakes region of New Hampshire.

Several of the mountains in this range (none above 2400') offer breathtaking views of Lake Winnipesaukee and the White Mountains, and if you live on the seacoast or in the southern part of the state it is only an hour's drive to get there!

The most popular hike in this mountain range is to the summit of Mt. Major; thousands of visiters of all ages hike to Mt. Majors rocky top each year.  The summit's view of the lake and mountains is spectacular. That the range has several other equally wonderful peaks is not so well known.

The Belknap County Sportsmen's Association offers a patch if you hike to all twelve peaks in the Belknap Range.  Though the patch was created to encourage scouts to hike the range (Hidden Valley Boy Scout Camp is located nearby), anyone who summits all twelve mountains can also get the patch. See www.belknapsportsmensclub.com/hiking.php for more information.


Hiker patch for those who hike all twelve peaks in the Belknap Range
Quarry Mountain, a peak in this range, is an unimpressive 1894' above sea level. However it is part of the Belknap Range and a nice short hike, particularly if you are pressed for time or just want to get out into the woods for an hour. 

The weekend started and ended with rain. Lots of it.  I was dying to hike and try my new hiking boots (a newer, browner version of my current boot).  These boots fit my feet perfectly and are the best boots I've owned. Still, I felt I needed to try them out.

Rich and I drove to Gilford NH via Alton Bay. We turned left off of Route 11A onto Glidden Road (there is an orchard at the end of this road).  Where Glidden Road becomes dirt, we pulled off the road and parked. By this time it was pouring but we jumped out of the car to start our hike. Rich put his rain pants on. I did not. We headed up the dirt road which at some point becomes Clough Road. 

A small brook which ran under the road was swollen and ready to jump onto the road.  I did not count on the wetness of the tall grass and low branches heavy with rain.  My pants were soaked within ten minutes.

There is a cabled wire across the road at the turn south and a No Trespassing sign.  Much of the Belknap trails are on private land and owners are fine with hikers using the property provided they are respectful.  Just past the cabled wire was a large tree leaning across the road which did not affect us but would have stopped a vehicle.

About a mile up the road is a clearing with a road to the left. Always bear right or straight when following Clough Road to get to Quarry trail.  

Past the clearing we encountered a few blowdowns.  We could see the slope of Mt. Rand (another Belknap peak) through the trees to our right.  As we reached the height of land we looked to our left to see where the Quarry trail intersects Clough Road.  The trail is clearly marked.


Left of Clough Road this tree indicates the way to Quarry Mountain

Right on Clough Road the trail leads to Mt. Rand
 We took the left and almost immediately the trail was underwater. Some areas of the trail were big puddles; others had become a roaring brook!

Most of the trail was under water, some of it fast moving!
Less than a half mile from the road we came upon a pile of rocks and a heavy piece of metal with a note in plastic on top of the pile.  The note was put there by the Boy Scouts and contains a description of this and other pieces of equipment scattered about in this area.  A working quarry was here at one time (not too long ago) and some of items used remain. 



Not far from this area the trail splits. At the split is another Boy Scout note in plastic pinned to a tree. The note indicates that one of the trails is moderate; the other steep and rocky and both meet up again closer to the summit. Since it was so wet we decided to go with the moderate one but actually took the steep one!  Steep is relative and after a few wet scrambles we were back where the trails met and soon at the summit.


On the way to this wooded summit there were few opportunities for a view.
We could have continued on the Quarry trail less than a mile to get to East Quarry Mountain (easily followed path with summit sign), which is another viewless peak in an area that has seen some serious damage from logging.  Instead, we immediately turned around and headed back to the car.  By this time the water had entered our boots from the top and we longed for dry.  We got back in no time and changed into warm dry clothing.

Passed the test!
My boots passed the test though; they are fabulous. It took several days for them to dry out as the water came up over my boots.  Can't wait for the next hike!

Monday, September 12, 2011

#71 East Sleeper via Blueberry Ledge, Rollins and Kate Sleeper trails, September 11, 2011

New England Hundred Highest #71 East Sleeper via Blueberry Ledge to Mt. Whiteface to Rollins and Kate Sleeper trails - 9/11/11.  What a glorious September day to be hiking! 

Total mileage: 11.5; elevation gain: about 3,500'.  Sandy and I were quite pleased that we hiked the 3.4 miles to and from East Sleeper in less than two hours.

Lesson learned: Use caution if you plan on bringing your dog up Blueberry Ledge.  One of the crew's dog was injured trying to descend the ledges.

As I peruse dreamily through the New England Hundred Highest list, thinking about when and how I will be meeting each challenge, I take notes on the location of each peak. Several of these peaks are backed up against a NH 4000 footer; some require you hike the 4k again to get to the desired peak.  Vose Spur is located on the west side of Mt. Carrigain.  Reaching the Weeks mountains will most likely require resummiting Mt. Cabot. And the best way to get to East Sleeper is via Mt. Whiteface. 

Several months ago, Eileen decided to be part of the annual "Flags on the 48" effort, where the American flag is flown on each of the NH 4000 footers on September 11th to remember the victims of 9/11 and those who have since fought terrorism.  This would be the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.  In support of Eileen - Rich, Sandy, Joe and I also signed up to help with the installation and removal of the flag that day.  Whiteface Mountain was chosen, and I figured East Sleeper would be an easy side trip for me on that day. 

A few weeks after we signed up I met Becky - the coordinator of the Whiteface FOT48 - on the summit of Mt. Jefferson!  Mt. Whiteface was also to be Becky's 48th NH 4000 footer. 

Becky had organized a strong group of about 20 hikers to help with the installation of the flag on the southern summit of Whiteface (the outcrop). Our friend Art also planned to hike to the summit that day. Art's son is a Navy Seal and provided a flag that was flown during the Iraq war.  Thinking the others are much faster hikers than us, Rich, Sandy and I started up the Blueberry Ledge trail (listed on the Terrifying 25, a list I'm not working on but you may be!) while the others were still in the parking lot organizing the tasks.  Joe and son Matt headed up to Passaconaway as Joe needed that peak for his 48. They would hike over the Rollins trail to the flag and meet Sandy later on that day. 

The first half mile of the trail was very muddy and people were walking off trail to avoid it.  It was easy going for the two miles but soon we came upon the ledges: a series of steep slabs that required thoughtful scrambling. The views were spectacular. 


Steeps and slabs always make for an interesting hike!
The plan was for the three of us to meet the flag crew at the summit, assist with the raising of the flag, stay for the ceremony and then head to East Sleeper.  Eileen and Art were already at the top with the flag, waiting for the group. 

Coordinating such a large group was not easy and as a result, those carrying the flag pole, ropes and base got a late start.  We realized we would be waiting for them at the summit so Rich suggested that Sandy and I not wait around for the flag raising, but head right to East Sleeper without him.  Rich would stay behind and help the crew with the flag raising. Sandy and I planned to return in time to see the flag lowered and help with the removal.  It was a sound idea so after a brief visit to the true summit of Whiteface (about .3 miles north of the southern rocky summit), we had a quick lunch and headed out.

We followed the Rollins trail briefly to get to the junction of the Kate Sleeper trail.  The junction is in a small clearing; I have heard that there was a campsite there at one time.  The Kate Sleeper trail descended in moderate grade and we found a few spots very wet, requiring a brief rock hop.  At one point we came upon three very fat partridges, perched no more than eighteen inches from Sandy. They just sat there and stared, then eventually walked/flew away.

In no time we hit the Downes Brook trail junction and headed straight over mossy but dry brook rocks, continuing on the Kate Sleeper trail.  The trail was smooth and comfortable to hike. There were however, four to six blowdowns in the path but each one had fallen only partially in the trail, making for an easy walk around.  We were making good time!


The Downes Brook trail junction - a mossy pile of brook rocks. Go straight, continuing on Kate Sleeper.
The Downes Brook trail junction is located about halfway between the summit of Whiteface and East Sleeper. The trail was well marked with blue blazes. We started ascending again and eventually came to the side trail for East Sleeper.


A small blow down directly under the sign for the side trail.
You know how sometimes you head down these summit side trails and they just go on and on and on?  Not this one! We were at the summit in less than two minutes! 

Nice trail - the view from the Kate Sleeper trail looking toward the summit side trail.
To document the moment (this was Sandy's first NE 100 highest) we used my cell phone to take photos. Every time we tried to take a shot, we accidently pressed the button on the other side of the phone and kept getting a voice declaring, "Say a command!" instead of hearing the shutter! We got to laughing about it and it took a while to get a few pictures!

My buddy Sandy and me - finally we pressed the right button on the phone!
We wanted to be there when the flag was removed so we started back.  Though there were mossy, rooty and wet spots here and there, the Kate Sleeper trail proved to be a welcome break from the scrambling and rock hopping we dealt with that morning on Blueberry Ledge. 
As we headed back up to the Rollins/Kate Sleeper trail junction, Rich called on the radio and announced that they were taking the flag down! We begged them to wait 10 more minutes and picked up our pace.  We arrived in time to see the flag flying high.  Joe and Matt had arrived from Passaconaway too.


 
There were so many people helping that day that little help was needed. So we watched them lower the flag, Art carefully folding it.  The crew dismantled the pole and we all headed down to the parking lot.

Art folding the flag.
The entire group started their descent of the Blueberry Ledge trail.  Though cloudy, the views were clear and breathtaking!
The poles were carried up and down tucked in the side pockets of the backpack.
Once we descended the ledges, the steepness of the trail subsided and light from a setting sun created a glow among trees heavy with late summer leaves.  The forest became quiet, calm, reminding me that summer is giving way to weeks of moderate temperatures, less humid conditions and shorter days.  In New England, our "summer" hiking season can be prematurely short and tempermental.  I have been lucky this year to have hiked in the best of weather!

Monday, September 5, 2011

#58 Old Speck Mountain, Maine September 3, 2011

Old Speck via Old Speck trail,  September 3, 2011.   

Mileage:  7.6 miles (RT)

Elevation gain:  3,073'

Trailhead: Bethel, Maine, follow Rt 2 for 6 miles to Newry. Turn left and follow ME26 to Grafton Notch State Park (12 miles). The AT parking area is on the left side of the road and is large and well-signed. There is a $2 per person park fee. 

The plan for Labor Day weekend was to relax; I had no plans to hike.  But my friend Eileen was planning to hike Zealand Mountain and I wanted to tag along. 

It was not to be. Damage from Hurricane Irene (which arrived as a tropical storm) had closed Zealand Road.  Most of the Whites were in rough shape.

I was psyched to do Zealand and the cancelled plans left me empty.  After looking at the options, I chose Old Speck Mountain via the AT (Old Speck trail).

Old Speck is in Grafton Notch State Park in Maine. I called the park ranger earlier in the week to ask about storm damage and he said that the roads and the trails were just fine! 

I had heard nice things about Old Speck, needed it for my New England 4k list, and it wasn't too far away.  Old Speck is the lone four thousand footer in the park, which is also home to one peak on the New England Hundred Highest list - Baldpate Mountain. Rich wanted me to find something closer to our home.  With parts of Route 302 and the Kangamagus Highway closed due to flooding, we had few options.  Besides, I wanted to see AT thru-hikers!

By 8:30 a.m. Saturday, I had convinced him to hike Old Speck.  Since we had not planned on it, nothing was done to prepare for our trip. Our packs are always ready (except for water and lunch), so we threw on clothing, and threw boots, poles and packs in the car and off we went.

Turns out Grafton Notch State Park is no further from our home in Stratham than Crawford Notch in NH (give or take 15 minutes). Traffic was thick on I-95 north but we arrived at the trailhead in no time (after picking up a few sandwiches at the I-95 rest stop near Wells).  We started our hike at 11:20 a.m. with blue skies and warm, humid temps.

When we got there, two former AT hikers were in the parking lot spreading some trail magic: boiling lobsters and corn for lucky thru-hikers.  As we passed the group I could hear one hiker (lying on her pad) saying, "I am SO full!" 

We head up the trail, which was wet from a recent shower. The ascent started immediately, with several easy water crossings.  A very beautiful waterfall to the right follows us for the first mile or so. It provides a bit of cool and a bit of breeze.  We pass the start of the Eyebrow trail, a steep cliff trail that meets up with our trail further on.

The trail follows this delicate waterfall.
I am tired and the humidity and heat are slowing me down. We started this hike very late and in the heat of the day.  Surprisingly, we make very good time, and find we were hiking our usual pace. The alternating steeps and flats make for a very comfortable ascent overall.  Your blood gets pumping, breathing is heavy and then reward!  Ten to twenty yards of flat terrain.  This pattern continues to the summit.

The trail is completely wooded with rock steps, wooden stairs, and many rock slabs with good footholds.  Most of the slabs are what I call "sticky rocks," a rough surface that provided security even when wet.

At about 2500' we come to a fabulous vista of the Notch, though a bit hazy.  This is the last view we have as we soon hike into a thick cloud. 
Right side view from a vista.
We reach where the Eyebrow Trail meets back up with the Old Speck Trail and can hear voices from the cliffs of the steep Eyebrow Trail. We would soon meet those hikers at the summit.

Trail junction Eyebrow Trail
Once we got to the ridge, the steepness levels off and the trail becomes rolling terrain.  We stop and have lunch at one of the many pleasant flat spots (this one would have had partial views if not for the misty cloud we were in).  We reach a false summit and a dip down before we are back ascending.  Just before the true summit the trail turns and brings you into another open area where you must feel like you are on top of the world!  We saw only clouds. We reach the true summit, sock in with mist.

On the summit with the Eyebrow hikers!
The summit marker is on a large rock opposite the lookout tower. I climb up the tower ladder to the lookout platform but don't spend any time up there as it was damp, cold and windy with not a bit of view!


An AT thru-hiker arrives (the summit is actually a side trail from the AT). He is wearing his rainpants and looks like he has spent a few wet days on the trail.

As it was cool and viewless that day, we start down from the summit soon after we arrived.  The woods are dark from the mist. The descent is unremarkable; the wet rock slabs very sticky, making for a good pace.  On the way down Rich takes a photo of the open area close to the top. 

No view here today!
We see several AT thru-hikers on our descent and when we reach the junction of the Eyebrow Trail I hike down it a bit to see if I could see the cliff our friends from the summit hiked up (they did not recommend hiking down it as conditions were wet!). 

We get down to the parking lot at 5 p.m. to many more thru-hikers enjoying the lobsters and corn.  7.4 miles RT, about 2600' elevation gain.

Hiking on the AT this time of year is particularly fun as you meet thru-hikers of all ages; most headed to Katahdin.  The lobster feed in the parking lot had such a festive atmosphere; everyone was happy!  We gave two thru-hikers a ride on the way to our beer in Bethel (brew pub).  Scribbles is a former IBM worker in her mid fifties; SloGoing is retired (mid-sixties). Both had many stories to tell and we enjoyed hearing what it is like on the trail.

This was a beautiful hike and I would recommend it to anyone, including families. It was completely wooded with fine views along the trail (and I am assuming on the summit). Footing is fine and there is no scrambling, at least not on the Old Speck trail.  Adventure seekers can take the Eyebrow trail portion of the hike and meet up with the rest of the group at the junction. The trip had something for everyone!

Lessons learned.  1. Hiking a mountain in Maine does not have to mean a 3+ hour trip in the car to get to the trailhead. We were home in a few hours and found the ride on Route 26 quite pleasant.  2. The turkey sandwiches we got at the I-95 rest area were delicious! Who knew!

This is #58 of my New England Four Thousand footers and my most likely my last NE 4k for the 2011 season.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

#57 Sugarloaf Mountain, Maine - August 20, 2011

#57 Sugarloaf Mountain via Tote Road Ski Trail August 20, 2011

Mileage: 5 ish round trip

Elevation Gain: 2,500'

Trailhead:  Ski trail is located at Sugarloaf Ski Area, Route 26 in Stratton Maine. At the parking lot with the hotel to your left, look to your slight right and you will see the quad lift up on the hill.  Walk to the lift and facing the lift you will see the maintenance garage and the maintenance road on your right.  Follow the road up until just before it swings to the right, by the condominiums. Head straight off the road at that right curve, onto the ski runs. In front of you will be three areas separated by trees. Take the run to the left of the electric meter, to the right of the lift.  This is Tote Road ski trail

Lesson learned: 1. Hiking a road can be harder than is sounds.   2.Sugarloaf only has one place that sells beer before 4 p.m. - be prepared!

Planning the Mountain Mommas annual hiking trip for August starts in March.  There are nine of us and we like to stay together so accommodations are key.  The next task is coordinating the hike or hikes for that weekend.  Norm and I picked North and South Crocker as the Mommas big hike, and Sugarloaf Mountain as the Mommas shorter, easier hike, but this year it looked like both had similar mileage and elevation gain.

Sugarloaf has three routes to reach the summit: the AT via the Caribou Valley Road crossing (see previous post), the ski trails, and the Sugarloaf ski area maintenance road.  Maintenance road sounded fairly easy and figuring legs would be tired after the Crocker hike, we chose that as our route.  I checked with the group before solidifying my plans as 4 miles up and 4 miles back on a road does not sound like an interesting hike but the group was okay with those plans.

Just before our Mommas weekend, Charlie - a friend of Norm's, suggested we hike up the Tote Road Ski Trail to the summit instead as although it was steeper than the maintenance road (or so we thought) there were many wildflowers and guaranteed views of the Bigelows and Horns. In fact, a Maine AMC trip leader had taken his group that way to the Sugarloaf  summit (and then to Spaulding Mountain) the week before.  It sounded like the way to go so I decided to have the ski trail as our first choice of route.  I was also toying with the idea of hiking to Spaulding mountain from the Sugarloaf summit as they are usually done together and this is what Charlie and his group did.

On Friday, I was not sure if anyone was going to be hiking Sugarloaf the next day.  The idea of hiking ski trails or the maintenance road did not appeal to some in our group.   I did eventually convince the group to do the hike, however -  if for no other reason than a group picture for our 2011 hiking weekend!  I suggested we try the Tote Road ski run and if we didn't like it, we could hop on to the maintenance road.

Dave's hip was aching so he and Marie did not hike that day.  Eileen, Sue, Pam, Charlotte, Norm, Rich and I drove to the Sugarloaf parking lot (it was suggested that we park at the Chapel but I checked with the Sugarloaf office and they suggested the parking area just above the Chapel). 

The Tote Road ski trail starts as a beginner level ski trail and about 1/3 of the way up becomes an intermediate level ski trail. 




Standing just to the left of the Quad ski lift


What can I say about the ski trail? If you have ever hiked a ski trail you know what it is like - a seemingly endless Stairmaster workout.  Fortunately, there was no high grass to speak of and we walked up some bare areas.  Holes and ditches on the ski run were often hidden and at times it was like walking through a freshly plowed field. 



Many wildflowers had gone by but some were still out.



It didn't take long for the group to split into two, with Pam, Rich and I still hellbent on hiking the ski trail; the others hiking the maintenance road.  The plan was to meet at the summit for lunch.

Navigation was not as easy as we thought it would be.  Armed with the Sugarloaf ski trail map, we correctly chose our ski trail but never knew if we were right until after we hit a junction, turned around and looked at the signs.  It was worse for the road hikers. The maintenance road is not shown anywhere on the Sugarloaf ski trail map and several roads intersected the maintenance road.  The road hikers made one wrong turn and wound up at a dead end in the middle of the steeper trails. They backtracked back to the road and Charlotte convinced them to follow the road with the power lines (a good choice).  The maintenance road swings out around all ski trails before it turns left and heads up the summit.

Back to the Tote Road hikers - the only joy found on the ski trail, which had now become much steeper, was an occasional breeze and look back to the Bigelows.  The views in this region are awesome even from the parking lot and as we gained elevation, what we saw became even more spectacular.




Within 2 hours we were at the top, greeted by a very tall cairn, long abandoned hexagon building (which was a restaurant at one time), and a huge cell tower.  The top was buggy and the cell tower area had broken bits of construction debris and plastic around it - not pretty.  The incredible view up there made the trip worth it - skies were getting dark however, and the road hikers had not yet arrived.







Our road hikers did arrive about 30 minutes laters, the wrong turn caused a delay.  After lunch we all headed down the maintenance road back to our cars.  This was much harder than anticipated as the road was very steep in spots and contained fairly large stones (uber-gravel) making the descent more like hiking down a mountain slide than a road.  Even a few rumbles of thunder could not quicken our pace on this stuff.


Very large chunks of stone made the descent tricky - who knew a road would be so hard to hike down?!


We got to the bottom without getting rained on, and headed for the only place in the area that sold draft beer before 4 p.m. - the country club!  Norm and Charlotte arrived in style! 




When we checked the GPS, we were surprised to find our hike down the maintenance road was not 4 miles long as indicated in the AMC Maine book, but between 2 and 3 miles. Total miles RT 5ish, elevation gain 2500' with the GPS graph showing our trip up the slopes and down the road mirror images of each other!  That was one steep maintenance Road!
In the end, not hiking on to Spaulding mountain proved a wise choice. We wound up being just ahead of a thunderstorm on our descent from Sugarloaf, and the uber-gravel of the maintenance road or the perpetual steep of the ski trails would have not made for a pleasant end-of-long-hike descent.  Spaulding is on my list for next year!