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, 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

Location of trailhead: 1376 Stratton Arlington Rd, Stratton, VT

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 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 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!