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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

#51 Camels Hump (4083') VT August 2007

#51 Camels Hump via Burrows Trail, August, 2007

Mileage: 4.8 miles RT

Elevation gain:  2300'

Trailhead: The trailhead is located off of Camels Hump Road in the state park.

Lesson learned:  The peak is closer than it appears.

After hiking Mt. Mansfield on our Mountain Mommas third annual hiking weekend, I figured we would choose sightseeing or riding down an alpine slide the next day.

It was not to be.

The group decided to hike Camel's Hump instead. Rich and I had never hiked two peaks in two days and Rich was not excited about dragging tired legs up another mountain.  Marie and David had already hiked Camels Hump the year before so they went off for a ride in a glider.  We headed to the trail.

After a few minutes of heavy legs, muscles warmed up and we were on our way up, another moderate trail with easy grade, another beautiful day. When Marie and David climbed Camel's Hump the weather was very foggy and they could not see anything at the top.  We felt fortunate that we would be able to enjoy the views Camels Hump is famous for.

When we got to a clearing, Rich was spent - tired, hungry - and he said wouldn't go on. He rested on a rock and after chugging a Gatorade (at the insistence of his friends) he started feeling better.

Gatorade to Rich's rescue; the group taking a break before tackling the summit.
The summit. It appeared a lot farther away than it actually was. 

That is, until he looked up and saw the summit. It seemed miles away to him and his motivation sank. We dragged him off the rock and pushed him up the trail anyway.

Heading up the narrow path through the scrub to the summit.

 At first the narrow trail ascended but it quickly leveled off and the going got easy.  We were at the summit in no time!  The views were spectacular, more than we could have hoped for. Rich was glad for the push!

The group minus Marie and David. We will try to photoshop them in later.

 After a lengthy stay at the top, we headed down and that evening swapped adventure stories with Marie and David.  The weekend was one of my most memorable and I cannot wait to bag more peaks in Vermont. 
Wow. It truly is a camels hump!

#50 Mt. Mansfield, VT (State Highpoint #6) August 2008

#50 Mt. Mansfield, VT (4,393') via Long Trail. (State High Point #6) August 2008  

Mileage: 4.6 miles RT

Elevation gain: 2800'

Trailhead: The entrance to the Long trail up to Mt. Mansfield is off Route 108 in Stowe.

Lesson learned: When Charlotte says she isn't sure she brought her hiking boots, stop the car and check!

I hiked this peak with the Mountain Mommas and the Mommas' Crew, our third annual MM hiking weekend.

Several weeks prior to this event we all piled into cars for a "State Highpointing Hat Trick," which took us to the high points of Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts within 43 hours.  Summitting Mt. Mansfield would complete our New England state highpoints. 

We hiked on a portion of Vermont’s famous Long Trail.  Norm's friend Barb hiked with us (she also hiked Mt. Graylock, Massachusett's highpoint, during our Hat Trick weekend).

The group stayed at a B&B in Stowe, Vermont, a nice place with a hot tub but unfortunately not hot showers.  Marie and David had upgraded to a suite with lots of room, a kitchen and storage cubbies.  We gathered there for socializing.

On the day of the hike the weather was perfect: blue skies and warm temps.    The trailhead was about 35 minutes from the B&B and halfway there, Charlotte announced that she
 was not sure she had her hiking boots with her.  Rich was driving and I suggested he stop so we could look. He did not think it was necessary to stop and of course, we got the the trailhead and her boots were not in the car (had he stopped when we were just heading out it things would have been much easier!).
So back we went to try to find Charlotte's boots. Half of the group stayed and started their hike (we had been running late before we realized we had to go back and look for the boots).  

We got back to the B&B and after 10 minutes of frantic looking, found Charlotte's boots in a cubbie in Marie and David's suite. Marie and David were already up on the trail.  So glad we brought their room key with us!

When we were finally back at the trailhead, we quickly made up for lost time and caught up with our group.  The trail was moderate with good footing to start but it soon became challenging. There was a chimney to climb and a good amount of rock slab to negotiate. 
David climbing the chimney.
Once at the summit, the views were spectacular, but the bugs were ferocious.  We stayed there for a photo and until we could stand it no longer and headed down the trail to the car.

The Mountain Mommas and the MM Crew for a photo on top of Mt. Mansfield.
The trip down was uneventful and the group looked forward to floating in the outdoor hot tub and a good dinner.

Monday, January 23, 2012

# 49 Mt. Katahdin (5267'), Maine, August 2006

#49 Mt. Katahdin, ME via Hunt Trail (AT). (State High Point #1)   August, 2006. 

Mileage: 10.4 miles RT

Elevation gain:  4,198'

Trailhead:  Baxter State Park, Millinocket,Maine. Katahdin Stream Campground.

Lesson learned:  From this day forward hiking would be my inspiration, my recreation, and my passion.

I hiked the Hunt Trail with the "Mountain Mommas" – Eileen, Charlotte, Marie, Pam and me; and their "crew" - Art, Norm, David and Rich.  Norm, our hiking "Crew Guru," named us the Mountain Mommas (I would have spelled it "Mamas" or called us the "Back Country Babes" or something less maternal but so be it).  It turns out it was a good name for us and we still wear the distinction proudly. 

The process of planning, doing and celebrating this hike provided hours of enjoyment, and brought nine friends to a common place and unique experience. 

We started planning the August hike in February. Charlotte had always wanted to climb Mt. Katahdin and finding other friends to accompany her was easy.  In March we reserved a house near Baxter Park for four days and then waited for the better weather to start our training.

At first, Rich was not interested in going. Hiking was just not his thing and there had been previous hikes where it was quite clear he was not having fun.  When it was decided that the men (crew) would accompany the Mommas, I begged Rich to go. 

The summer's training hikes prepared us for the rock scrambling on Hunt spur and the long arduous day we would both endure and enjoy.  The last hike before our Maine trip was the Baldfaces, a fine choice given its steep rocky "bald" face! Rich and Charlotte were unavailable for the Baldface hike, missing the final piece of our training.

The day of the Katahdin hike we got to the park around 6 a.m.  Parking is extremely limited at Baxter Park. This is a huge consideration when making plans.  Since our hike, the park has implemented an online reservation system which guarantees a parking space but be aware that Maine residents have preference and June through August weekends most likely will be booked.

The hike began at on the Hunt trail (northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail).  It was a perfect day with a few cloud wisps here and there.  Since this was late August, many AT through-hikers came up from behind (you could smell them coming). We applauded all of them; it was a fantastic sight!

Things were going so well up to tree line. We were all pumped; this was going to be a great day!

Then we reached the area known as the Boulder Wall. 

We were face to face with huge boulders directly above us, with rods and posts embedded in the rock as hand and foot holds. And white blazes - right there ahead and above us.  We gasped.

Rich decided to turn back. He saw the steep rock scramble and metal bars and realized he would not be fun to be around if he continued.  I offered to accompany him down the trail.  As much as that sounds like a thoughtful thing for me to do, the thought of scrambling up this huge wall - exposed and edgy (literally!) scared the hell out of me.  Rich insisted that I go on without him, stating that we could stay in touch by radio.  I did continue on.

As Rich headed back to the trailhead, the rest of us spent the next hours hand over hand climbing, ducking around, and squeezing through as we got over the spur.  There were a few times that I simply could not get up and over or around without being talked through it.  I have Art to thank for helping me through those harrowing moments.

Eventually we came to the tablelands, a flat, expansive area where we could see Baxter Peak, the summit. We could see people on the summit milling around.  I reached it at about .  Soon the others came, with Pam and Charlotte reaching the summit around 2:30.  

This was the hardest hike I have done to date.

The mood up by the sign and the 13' cairn was celebratory (Katahdin is exactly 13' short of one mile in elevation).  Through-hikers, finally done with the the 2,184 mile trek, fell to their knees, wept and yelped.  The ranger, in keeping with the wilderness spirit of Baxter Park, would not allow radios or cell phones used, and scolded visitors for not using their "inside voices."

Thunder storms were predicted and that had been a concern but they were apparently bothering another region so we enjoyed perfect views. Since the day was waning, we wasted no time heading down.


Mountain Mommas

I wound up hiking most of the way down with Marie and David.  David and I picked up our pace as the daylight diminished, hoping to be at the parking lot before sunset. We didn't make it and wound up hiking in the dark. We got down past sunset, and Rich met us on the trail with a headlamp. He had been in contact with us by radio the entire trip.

About 25 minutes after we had arrived, Pam and Charlotte completed their hike, happy but more than a little tired.
Pam and Charlotte - victorious!

This hike was clearly the most challenging thing I have ever done and once completed, all the Mommas celebrated for about six months (a good way to wile away the winter!).  Rich was disappointed that he was unable to finish but something in him changed on that day as he was hiking back down alone.  He found he loved the woods and the camaraderie of other hikers.  He would go on to finish his NH 4ks in the coming years, and is looking forward to summitting Baxter Peak in the summer of 2012.



Sunday, January 22, 2012

Crawford Cliff Attempt 1/21/12

Crawford Cliff (attempt) via Crawford Trail to Cliff Spur. 

Mileage: 1.2 miles RT from Crawford Path trailhead

Elevation Gain: 490'

Trailhead: From the AMC Highland Center in Bretton Woods, cross Route 302 to get to the Crawford Path trailhead.  If you are not staying at the Center, park in the Clinton Road parking lot on Route 302 just north of the Center (parking lot open year round) and take the Crawford Connector to the Spur.
 
Lessons Learned:  There is a reason why the Highland Center does not include Crawford Cliff on their "short hike" list.

Sometimes snowshoes feel more like clown shoes.

This was our volunteer weekend at AMC's Highland Center in Crawford Notch.  From Friday though Sunday Rich and I work the hiking information desk, assisting visitors and guests with trail conditions and trip options.  Volunteer weekends whisk us away from our day-to-day chores and concerns to the world of hiking, skiing, and just enjoying the outdoors. The hours are long but we get a four hour break on Saturday afternoon. That's when we hike.

Since part of our training requires familiarity with area trails, I decided we would try to find Crawford Cliff.  Seemed like a neat short hike with great views of the Notch. The Center has a list of short hikes they recommend to visitors, Elephant Head, Gibbs Falls, and I was curious as to why this nearby short hike was not on the list. 

Last year, I joined a group of other volunteers to hike Crawford Cliff. The leader tried in vain to find the path to the cliff; there was snow on the ground and I don't recall seeing any trail signs. 

My online research gave me squat, though I was able to find a picture of the view from the cliff (which included Mts. Tom and Field, and the Highland Center complex). 

That morning we hiked with several guests. We came back for lunch and went right out to find Crawford Cliff.  Finding the trail was easy.  We hiked 2/10 mile up Crawford Path, crossed the bridge over Gibbs Brook at the junction of Crawford Path and the Crawford Connector, and turned right at the "Mt. Clinton Road Parking" sign.

The spur trail is easy to see, to the right of the sign.
The spur trail parallels the brook, with a nice place to view the water called "The Pool."


The pool was a bit frozen on this day!
At The Pool, the trail goes left and up.

A sign and two arrows point the way up to the cliff.
It was evident that someone had hiked the trail a few days before and we followed those tracks up a somewhat steep and meandering path.  At one point we found a tree with a number on it, like a telephone pole - smack in the middle of the wilderness.

Interesting!  Is it a tree or a pole?
The path had been easy to follow to this point and the footprints continued up.   It wasn't long before the path leveled out, narrowing to about three feet with the steep downward pitch of the slope on our left, vertical rise on our right.  The footprints had disappeared and the snowy path continued to narrow to the point where we could not tell where the edge was.  Negotiating boulders was difficult and our snowshoes proved too wide to comfortably continue.  We were on the edge of a mountain in clown shoes!

The path slanted outward and became slippery with our snowshoes not easily catching, our poles not planting.  Rich stopped and waited. He could not comfortably go on. 

I continued on the little path barely cut into this steep slope until I could go no further.  I looked up, hoping to see that we were almost there - nothing but more goat path on a steep slope.  Should I stop and put on my microspikes? Could barely keep myself upright on this tiny patch of earth and few trees were below to catch me if I did lose my balance and slide off.  No. I needed to turn back.

I headed back toward Rich, which was not an easy task.  Getting down some of the boulders proved more difficult than getting up them but I managed to get down the more dangerous section safely, digging into the snow to find roots to hold on to while I lowered my "clown shoe" onto an outward sloping, slippery landing.

When we returned to Highland Center, I talked with the staff about this hike.  None of them suggest Crawford Cliff to their guests because of the rugged (White Mountain Guide calls it "rough") spur path to what they consider a "ho hum" view of the Notch.  In fact,  AMC trail maps flag the cliff with a "!" which indicates dangerous.

When we got home, we downloaded the trip information from our GPS to learn that we were (according to the data) only 350 feet from the cliff.  I plan to hike to Crawford Cliff this summer (or at least attempt it again) when I can see exactly where the path is  - but would not consider it again in winter conditions, nor will I recommend it to others. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mt. Hedgehog (2532'), January 15, 2012

Mt. Hedgehog via the UNH Trail, January 15, 2012.

Total mileage: 4.9 miles RT (we backtracked a few times)

Elevation gain: 1368'

Trailhead: Trailhead is located off the Kangamagus Highway about 13.5 miles west of the Conway intersection (across from the Passaconaway Campground).

Lesson learned:  1. A three hour hike takes much longer when breaking trail. 2. Blaze or no blaze, untouched snowscapes can be disorienting!

Because I hike peaks on my lists in the summer (NE 4Ks, NE HH and NE 115), I consider winter my off season, perfect for smaller hikes. Truth be told I do not like winter hiking enough to drag myself up the bigger peaks with full winter gear and clothing. 

I'll also admit that I tend to choose popular winter hikes; the trail tends to be broken out and I like meeting others hiking up to and above a snowy tree line.

This winter Mt. Hedgehog was on my list, along with a few others.  The original plan was to hike Mt. Crawford this weekend (another on my list) but a deep freeze was predicted so I sought a destination in a lower latitude and with less elevation. Hedgehog it is!

The US Forest Service describes this hike as appropriate for "beginners or those short on time," estimating the hike to take approximately three hours.   Hedgehog is a very popular hike (on the "52 with a View" list) so I expected to see others on the trail.  And, the recent snowfall would allow us to use our snowshoes (finally, first snow of the season). 

Our schedules dictated we hike on Sunday so I fully expected the trail to be broken out. It wasn't.  Fortunately the four of us had fresh legs so we didn't mind breaking trail for the next group of hikers.

We took turns breaking trail.
I hiked with Rich, Sandy and Joe.  The forecast gave today a high of 7° and the wind chill warning had expired, all was calm.  The UNH trail heads up toward the summit passing a few ledges along the way, then swings back toward the parking lot, forming a complete circle.   Sandy had hiked Hedgehog a few winters ago which proved quite helpful, particularly on the ledges.  We decided to hike the loop clockwise to better view the Presidentials and other peaks.

Breaking trail is work but the grade was moderate and we were looking for a workout after weeks of blah bare ground. The footing was good and trail wide enough making for easy navigation. Frequent blazes helped. 
Keep an eye out for the blazes, particulary on the East Ledges.
A few minutes up the trail we noticed a large clearing cut with fallen trees and debris.  UNH is conducting logging operations and the result looked like a wasteland of litter. 

As the trail became steeper and conditions more varied, we started having difficulty with our footing in snowshoes. Small things really: catching a stump, a bush, roots - the snow was still fluffy here due to the cold, and no serious packed accumulation had occurred. What we were walking on was essentially a first snow which proved unstable, not packed enough to cushion our feet from the hazards of the trail that we could not see (but they still managed to jump out and bite us). We stumbled a few times, readjusted our snowshoes and it was then I decided I hated hiking in snowshoes.

When we reached the East Ledges we were rewarded with spectacular views.   We had trouble finding the last few blazes to the ledges and I had scouted ahead.  I waited for the others here.

Beyond the scrub is the edge of the cliff.
The place was both beautiful and hauntingly isolated.  The ground was shiny as the snow had formed a slippery top layer - hard crust.  It was difficult to tell where to go from here and even more difficult to see where the edge of the cliff was. I read where the trail ducks back into the woods after the ledges and it took about fifteen minutes for us to find the next blaze.  Checking our map, it was clear the East Ledges were not as near the summit as we had hoped (in fact we were still about a mile away). 

We were careful to stay away from the cliff edge as the drifts were deceiving.  We could see the summit of Hedgehog in the distance.  Looking away from the ledges toward the summit,we poked around for that next blaze only to find it back over on the ledges, very close to the edge. Skittish of getting too close, we cut through some scrub to get back on the trail. 

Then the trail went down.  And continued to go down which started discussion - did we miss a turn?  If so, where?  We were definitely on trail, but descending at a good clip. 

We might think about turning back, Rich said.  It was 1:00 and we had been on the trail for over two hours.  Joe had planned to watch the Giants game and wanted to be back in North Conway by 4:00 p.m.  Rich's GPS was useless; it showed the East Ledges as the summit of Mt. Hedgehog (that area is known as Little Hedgehog). 

Just at that moment we spotted a small arrow on a tree: turn right.  The map indicated a right turn before the final ascent to the summit.  This was it!

And up we went.  Icy rocks and roots were under the snow as we climbed.  The snow instantly fell away, providing nothing to dig into. The claws on our snowshoes were no help and the ice was not thick on the rocks so crampons would not have helped either.  The snowshoe's traction rails were helpful however  - and we placed our snowshoe and weight horizontally against the icy slabs to brake our sliding back as we grabbed tree trunks and exposed roots.  It was then I decided snowshoeing was fun!

At one point the trail turns left up a big boulder. I bushwhacked on the side to get up the rock only to find myself with nowhere to go.  Did I take a wrong turn?  We checked the blaze, this was the right way.  Joe scouted around to find the path and as he stepped on another boulder, the snow gave way to a huge blaze sprayed on the surface of the bare rock. Thanks, Joe!  We headed a few hundred yards up and got to the summit. Finally.

A beautiful summit shot. I think their faces froze that way!
Since it was now 2:00 and our "three hour hike" had already taken over three hours just to get to the summit, we had a quick snack and set our sights on continuing on the loop toward Allen's Ledges and the parking lot.  To the delight of our tired legs, we found the rest of the trail already broken out.   

The setting sun made for a hazy photo of Mt. Passaconaway. Dropping the camera in the snow may have helped!
With our toes and fingers numb, we briskly headed down the remainder of path, nowhere near as steep as the ascent.  We passed a trail junction for Allen's Ledge and "1.1 Kancamagus Hwy."  We tabled the ledges for another day and continued to sail down the trail.

Notice this photo is partially black and white. Camera was cold!
The distance to the parking lot from the summit is much shorter; we made great time getting back to the parking lot.  It was 3:37 when we got back to our cars, plenty of time for Joe to get home for the Giants game (they won over Green Bay 37-20, which made Joe's day!),
Close to the parking lot you will cross a logging road. Go straight across.
Today, this hike took longer than we expected. It was more challenging than anticipated, particularly with the snow over ice conditions. It was a beautiful hike on a well blazed, well defined trail and we will definitely revisit this peak again!



Monday, January 2, 2012

Mt. Major (Belknap Range) via Boulder Loop and Brook Trails

Mt. Major (Belknap Range) via Boulder Loop, Brook and Mt. Major Trails, January 1, 2012.

Total mileage: 3.6ish miles RT

Elevation gain: 900-1100'

Trailhead: Route 16 to Route 11 to Alton, 4.2 miles north of Alton Bay (large parking lot).

Lesson learned: I should have done a better job securing my favorite bandanna to my pack!

The Belknap Range consists of twelve fun peaks located in the Alton Bay region of New Hampshire. There are so many benefits to hiking these mountains: they are close by, the views are spectacular, and each mountain has well marked trails.  Thanks to the Boy Scout camp, hikers can earn a patch by hiking all the peaks.  For more information on earning the patch, visit: www.belknapsportsmensclub.com/hiking.php.

Once again we had a lazy morning and fully intended to hang around recovering from New Years Eve.  But the day was exquisite with temperatures in the 50s, blue sky, no wind. We HAD to get out.  We got our act together and headed to the Mt. Major trailhead in Alton Bay, NH.  I had my full pack (overkill for such a small hike but easy to grab when in a hurry).  I checked that I had microspikes, fastened my bandanna to my pack, grabbed my map and headed to the car.

We got to the trailhead parking lot at 1:10, late by any standard particularly since the sun was scheduled to set at 4:39 that day. The lot was full.  Boulder loop trail is on the left side at the end of the parking lot, Mt Major and Brook trails on the right. We went left, crossed a recently replaced plank bridge and headed up the trail, which was well marked with orange blazes. We barely broke a sweat as we headed up a gradual slope.


Not exactly what you would call winter hiking!
It wasn't long before we were meeting others coming down from the top.  It's fun asking people how it was at the summit and hearing them rave of the views, and rightfully so.  Mt. Major is the biggest bang for the effort in the lakes region, with less than an hour of hiking offering a most breathtaking view of the lakes and the mountains. 

Ice was making an appearance, but most of the trail had some spots with good footing. Bushwacking was evident, particularly in the icy and muddy areas.  Follow the frequent blazes and you will stay on the trail.


As we got to the boulders, we noticed the ice had all but disappeared and quickly scrambled up to the ridge. 
The boulder area. Notice the orange blaze.
A ridge sign indicates .1 miles to the summit and we "slab hopped" past views of Lake Winnipesaukee to the summit's rock foundation. The hike up took us about 50 minutes.
On a cold, windy day, you'll find hikers crouched in this foundation to eat their lunch.
This view was taken from the ridge.
The view was fairly clear, though the White Mountains were hidden in clouds.  We met several hikers still in the New Years celebratory mood. 

New friends Jack & company celebrating 2012 in style. 
Daylight was waning and we started back, hiking the ridge on the Mt. Major/Brook trail - a hybrid of sorts, defined by a blue and yellow blaze. 

Trail begins behind the foundation and leads to the Brook Trail.
The trail follows the ridge, away from the parking lot and just when you think you may have missed the Brook trail junction, a sign points you right and down the mountain (so long as your blazes are blue and yellow, you're heading in the right direction).

The descent was icy but not quite icy enough for us to stop and put on our microspikes.  We met a hiker on the way down who slipped several times but without injury. We took it slow.  The Brook trail is a predictable gradual descent toward the parking lot.  There are no views though there is a nice brook following the lower portion of the trail. Yellow blazes are frequent and the trek is simply a nice walk in the woods. We were at our car well before sundown but not without a casualty: I lost my favorite hiking bandanna.  Apparently it pulled free when scrambling up the boulders. I was heartbroken!

I dedicate this entry to my "hiker chick" hiking bandanna, given to me by my good friend, Eileen after hiking Katahdin in 2006.  She sent it to me in the mail, along with a note indicating that I was now an official hiker chick. I was so excited!

I will miss you, old friend.
FOOTNOTE: Years ago we hiked Mt. Major on Columbus Day - a cold one that year.  On the summit we met a Revolutionary War soldier who told us of his frequent treks up Mt. Major.  We descended via the Mt. Major trail and got disoriented on the trail's slabs.  In the distance, we saw the soldier pointing us in the right direction. We were soon back on the trail and when we looked up to thank the soldier, he was gone. We never saw him again.  We did however, get a photo of him at the summit.

Real or just a spirit of the past helping hikers to safety?