Category Archives: New England

Mt. Jefferson, New Hampshire

March 11, 2006.

11 mi | 3000’ | 9:30 hr.

Boundary > Caps Ridge > Jefferson > Gulfside > Jewell

Anthony and I met up with Frank and Lindsay at the Cog parking lot this mild morning for a winter attempt up Mt. Jefferson. Due to the high winds forecasted for the day we strayed from the original plan to hike over the castles to the summit.

We walked out to the Caps Ridge trail from the base of the Cog, taking the scenic route as we missed a turn near the start of the hike. Frank was having ankle problems and was moving slowly. Eventually, a liner sock stuffed into his boot provided a fix that lasted the duration of the hike.

Once on the Caps Ridge we encountered some serious deep snowdrifts, which we stubbornly bullied through sans snowshoes. We were too lazy to take them off our packs. We took turns breaking trail until the ridges opened up and spit us out onto the first of three Caps.

The Caps were covered in slick, patchy ice, which made the ascent tricky and very slow. Another group of people caught up to us and at this point and decided to join us for the rest of the hike.

Eventually Anthony smartened up and put his crampons on, so the rest of us followed suit. This made walking infinitely easier. We headed up towards the summit, eventually leaving the trail markers behind and just took the best-looking way to the top.

It wasn’t all that windy up there but it was gorgeous. We took one quick break before reaching the top. Everyone arrived eventually, one at a time. Instead of waiting for the whole group to reach the summit, a couple of us headed back down out of the weather to warm up.

I was feeling pretty tired and hungry, so the walk out was slow. We took several breaks on the way. It was a long day spent with good friends and beautiful weather. What a way to say goodbye to winter!

Mt. Monadnock via Pumpelly Trail

February 22, 2006.

9 mi | 2000’ ele. gain | 5:45 hr.

Today I had a pleasant, reflective, quiet day on Mt. Monadnock. It’s the Wednesday of February Vacation and a beautiful, partly sunny day at that. I’d see no one on the trails today.

Conditions were mixed but overall it was very icy. I enjoyed a plethora of views from all the bumps on the Pumpelly Ridge. There were several lookout points that I meandered to off trail as well. There’s lots of potential for exploration here.

The summit was very windy and unpleasant, even though it wasn’t too cold (maybe 20°). After retreating from the summit I enjoyed hot soup and a good solid rest. All in all this trip was well worth the effort of finding the trailhead.


Urban Blizzard Hike

Although this is my first winter hiking season ever, and it’s been a mild one, I’ve been out there in a wide range of conditions. Looking out the window this morning did deter me from driving somewhere but did not deter me from walking somewhere. I decided to suit up and go for a walk to Quincy Center (that’s Massachusetts just so ya know.)

And so, I bid my roommates adieu, walked down the driveway, and hit the sidewalks of Quincy with only a bottle of water and a camera. I decided to leave the ice axe and bivy gear at home.

Pushing through the freshly fallen, fluffy snow along the roadside helped get me energized and it felt good to be outside. It wasn’t too cold today, and the wind was gusty but not all that bad. Not many folks were adventurous enough to take to the streets in this hyped-up weather. I got a fair share of confused looks from people thinking I was a weirdo for being decked out in balaclava, wool hat, goggles, windproof outer gear, heavy gloves, insulated boots and snowshoes. I took one look at their jeans, sneakers, baseball caps and cotton sweatshirts and decided they were the weirdos. Everyone had a beet red face. I was actually quite comfortable. Most of the people outside looked pretty pissed off to be out there. I smiled and waved and went on my way.

I walked from W. Squantum St. all the way down Hancock until I was practically through Quincy Center (2.5 miles?). Finally I found a roast beef place that was open so I stopped there for lunch. After ordering I noticed I could see my breath in there. Odd, it didn’t feel cold. The place was open for business but they had no heat. I was toasty warm from all the walking that I didn’t even notice!

The walk back home with a belly full of warm sandwich was nice. The snowfall had died down a little so the visibility was a little better. The city center is very pretty and there was much that I noticed today that I’d never bothered to see before. I snapped a ton of pictures and walked back at a leisurely pace. I was surprised to see that almost all of my footprints were totally obliterated by the new snowfall and drifts. It was as if I had never been there. I kept checking the street signs to make sure I was taking the same route!

I was able to get some exercise, experience the “blizzard,” and test out my new Kamik -40 degree boots. They’re warm but not broken in and so I have some nice blisters now.

Funny how the weather that always used to keep me holed up inside the house now draws me outside. The snow is still coming down and the wind is blowing like crazy. I hope school is closed tomorrow so I can break out some trails in the Blue Hills!!

Go enjoy your neighborhood in the driving snow if you can, I highly recommend it.

Hancock via Arrow Slide

February 11, 2006.

9.8 mi | 2700’ ele. gain | 6 hr.

I met my hiking crew at 8 am this morning and we started hiking in zero degree temperatures, just slightly warmer than yesterday.

Bob set a very quick pace and before long we reached the first trail junction. We started out in Yaktrax, but at the base of the slide we switched into crampons. The sun was very bright so I also put my goggles on. I forgot to bring a hat so I was stuck wearing a stuffy balaclava.

Ice axes at the ready, we started tearing up the slide. Thankfully there was enough snow and ice for the crampons to bite into. I stayed in the back of the group so that I had footprints to follow. I was by far the least experienced winter hiker in the pack. The steep, icy climb made me a little nervous but it sure was fun!

The view from the slide was incredible. The slide itself shone brightly in the sun. The mountains we could see stood looming and tall, every feature visible in the intense light. The sky was crisp and clear. When I could stand still comfortably, without fear of falling, I took a few photos. I could have stood there all day; it was amazing.

But we swiftly reached the top of the slide in what felt like record time. I remember it being much harder in the summer. Today it was practically a cake walk. It was tough on the thighs because I was constantly moving or standing tensed so that I didn’t fall over. I can’t imagine doing that type of climbing for hours like mountaineers must do on the big ones. It was brief but intense.

Bob continued to lead us along the bushwhack to regain the trail. He followed blue flagging for a while then made a beeline directly to the trail. We sat at the lookout and ate lunch, even though it was still early.

We walked over to South Hancock where two others were eating lunch. My crampons were tugging on my already loose boots so I decided to switch back to Yaktrax.

I forgot about those steep sections coming down from South Hancock! I did a bit of unintentional butt-sliding and inadvertently discovered the partial-squat butt slide which I immediately began doing on purpose. I squatted down on one leg with the other stretched out as a brake. On the really smooth, icy sections I careened down on the grounded foot, used my hands to guide me by lightly touching the “curbs” of snow on either side of the trail, and stopped myself with the outstretched foot by driving it into the snow.

It was actually pretty fun, although I’m sure if did a number on my Yaktrax.

At least I provided some entertainment for the rest of the group, who chose to keep their crampons on.

We chatted a little more on the way down and stopped for a few social breaks. Overall we were a quiet bunch but these were nice, funny, genuine people and all strong hikers. I really dig the hiking community, especially the hardcore bunch. We had a great time, were done by 2 pm and I could enjoy yet another pretty drive home in the daylight.

Sandwich Dome

February 10, 2006.

8.7 mi | 2750’ ele. gain | 6.5 hr.

Sandwich Mtn Tr > Noon Peak > Jennings Peak > Sandwich Dome and back

After much confusion about where the trail was and how to cross the icy river, we walked up the road from the trail head parking area. After crossing the bridge we followed a set of tracks through the woods that led back to the trail. There was probably an inch of snow on the ground in some spots and totally bare in others.

It was plenty icy though, and each step had to be made carefully. My hiking partner didn’t bring Yaktrax or crampons so I didn’t put mine on. It was slow going all the way to the top.

After what felt like forever, we reached Noon Peak and admired the views. The clouds were still pretty low but we could see a bit of what was out there.

Next we pressed on to Jennings Peak. The walk up was beautiful, through varying types of terrain. We took the short spur to Jennings, dropped our packs and scoured the area with cameras-in-hand. We eyeballed the North Slide on Tripyramid, Sachem Peak and Sandwich Dome.

After we could stand no more cold, we geared up and pressed on to the final peak of the day. All footprints ended at the summit, where we stopped for more photos. It was a great view and we saw a ton of interesting slides to climb. My eyes were drawn in particular to Osceola Slide. The wind was blowing hard so we quickly retreated.

Towards the end of the hike, where crusty snow gave way to slippery ice, I put on my crampons and my partner put on his snowshoes. I charged up ahead. I’m getting so used to speed demons that it’s hard to slow down and take everything in. Sad.

As soon as I took off my crampons, I fell flat on my ass. I was so used to having that extra traction!

We completed the hike sometime in the early afternoon. It was a lovely half-day hike. There were lots of rabbit tracks on the ledges. We also flushed out some kind of large bird, and perhaps I heard a woodpecker. Or, maybe it was just a creaky tree.


Mt. Moosilauke in Winter

January 22, 2006.

10.6 mi | 2800’ ele. gain | 8 hr

Ravine Lodge Rd > Gorge Brook Tr > Moosilauke summit and south peak > Moosilauke Carriage Rd > Snapper > Gorge Brook Tr > Ravine Lodge Rd

I joined a group of three other hikers for today’s journey. We started up the Ravine Lodge Rd, battling strong winds from the very start. I started out with bare boots while a couple others put their Stabilicers on. We moved slowly and I was feeling myself getting cold. I was reluctant to put more layers on because I figured I’d eventually warm up. But eventually never seemed to come.

We took frequent breaks, which allowed me to take in the nice views throughout the day.

As we approached treeline, each clearing provided beautiful views of the Sandwich Range, the Kanc, Franconia Ridge and other less prominent bumps. My partners tried to name all the peaks they could identify. I was okay just knowing one or two on my own.

Before leaving the shelter of the trees, we suited up for battle: windpants, fleece vest, jacket with hood, balaclava, hat, goggles, mittens and hand warmers. Check.

It was amazing how well the goggles protected my face and prevented my glasses from fogging up. I still have trouble breathing through the balaclava but it is such a nice wind barrier. Looking around at the panoramic vista drew my thoughts away from the wind anyways. It felt great to be above the trees.

The recent unseasonable warmth and rain, even in the mountains, led to the creation of lousy trail conditions up top. It was a combination of bare rock and slick ice. I still hadn’t put any kind of traction devices on.

It seemed as if we were the first people to summit today. After our triumphant victory, a solo hiker came up the Beaver Brook trail. More people began arriving from the Glencliff Trail.

We decided to retreat to the Carriage Road. The ice on that side was ridiculous, so I finally put my snowshoes on. The wind was relentless. We estimated the wind speed at 50 mph and temperatures of 10-15 °. We quickly gained the protection of the trees and walked the rest of the way out cheerfully chatting the whole way.

What a rotten day to forget to bring extra batteries for my camera!

Cannon Mountain, almost

January 15, 2006.

3.8 miles | 2000’ ele. gain | 3 hr.

Yesterday there was torrential rain all across New England, turning to snow in the wee hours of the morning and into the course of our drive. The roads were bad and rivers were raging high. Temperatures dropped from the high 50’s on Friday to the single digits today (Sunday). At the tram station, a worker said winds were gusting 50-60 mph at the summit. We were ready for a chilly day.

We started up the snow-covered trail, which was already broken out by at least two hikers. After about 50 feet we put crampons on to negotiate the steep, icy trail. In addition, it was covered with about 4 inches of fresh powder.

The climb was long and arduous. We took many stops for food, water and clothing adjustments. After a seemingly long period of time, the road and trailhead were still clearly visible. We weren’t making much progress.

Eventually the steepness mellowed out a bit and became more and more exposed.I wished that I had brought my goggles to cut the wind. Only my face and my butt was cold, but I was able to keep my core warm. I put on my balaclava to warm up my face, which made my glasses fog up. I took them off and continued walking in a blurry fog.

We slogged our way up to a wooded trail junction near the tram. Since the tram was closed, the upper trail was roped off. The wind was fierce and my hiking partner’s feet were cold, so we decided to turn back. It was -15 ° not taking windchill into account so, uh, it was cold.

Coming down was so much easier once we hit the shelter of the woods. We descended in at least half the time it took us to go up.

It was a tough little hike on a brutal day, but we had a lot of fun!

Owl’s Head

January 13, 2006.

19 mi | 2850’ ele. gain | 14 hr

I took the day off of work today to clear my head after a particularly bad day, so I met up with two other hikers to hike up Owl’s Head. I’d never been there before so I had no idea what lay ahead.

Our plan was to take the Lincoln Woods Trail to Black Pond, bushwhack to the Lincoln Brook Trail, connect to the Owl’s Head Path and then return.

The walk to Black Pond was quick and straightforward, then we followed the broken-out, snowy bushwhack to Lincoln Brook Trail. The trail rose very gently. Before we knew it, we reached the slide heading up Owl’s Head.

It was sunny, clear and relatively warm for a January day. But the trail was snowy, so we put snowshoes on for the steep, one mile climb up to the summit. As we climbed it became clear that this would not be a straightforward ascent. The trail was at points snowy, icy, and bare rock. I carefully picked a way up to the false summit with the others behind me. There, we dropped our packs. Suddenly all the footprints disappeared so we put in fresh tracks to the top of Owl’s Head.

The trip down the slide was much more harrowing than the trip up. The sun had melted and softened the snow, making it nearly impossible to get any traction (even with snowshoes). I felt most comfortable going down backwards while my partners came down sideways. We all stuck close to the trees so there was something to grab onto.

The afternoon was quickly winding down and we still had to hike the 8 or so miles out of the woods. We knew we’d need to finish by headlamp but we tried to walk as fast we we could.

When we reached the start of the bushwhack back to Black Pond, the group decided to stay on trail rather than follow our old tracks. We continued along the Lincoln Brook Trail by headlamp. I could feel myself getting tired.

This is where things got confusing. We had one particularly hairy river crossing where we all got our boots somewhat wet. We took quite some time scouting a way across, which, ironically, ended up to be pretty much right where we first encountered the river. I had been following along in the back of the pack for much of the return trip, oblivious to which trail we were on and how far we had gone. Eventually we got to an area littered with blowdown. My hiking partners argued about a trail relocation that we’d likely missed. The lead hiker had been following snowshoe tracks rather than blazes up to this point, so who knows if we were on trail or not.

After much deliberation we turned around to look for the trail relocation. No such luck. We turned back again. And again. The two of them kept arguing about what to do and where to go. I had nothing to contribute so I kept quiet. They were the experts, not me.

We trudged through the downed trees and arrived at another stream crossing near a beaver bog. After crossing the stream, we couldn’t find anymore tracks. One of my partners had whacked his head on a log and was bleeding all over the place. Now my two companions were really starting to lose it.

I remember thinking how pretty the area was. There were great expanses of open space surrounded by thick evergreens. The full moon shone brightly, lighting up the snow. When D wiped his bleeding head injury, he spattered the blanket of snow with red.

A tight balaclava eventually stopped the blood flow. Meanwhile, my other hiking partner kept taking out the map and cussing about how he’s never gotten lost. He didn’t understand how we could have lost the trail. The whole scene was surreal. I tried to listen to their screaming and extract pertinent information that might get us out of this mess.

The bog was covered with snow and ice of questionable thickness. It seemed like a dangerous place to wander around on. D tried to lead us back to a trail, but he fell through the ice and got soaked up to his chest. It took him a minute to haul himself back out. It was dark. We were lost, cold, and wet. Things were not looking good. I felt helpless.

It seemed that the one thing they could both agree on is that if we headed south, we’d run across the trail.

I did not want to backtrack anymore. I liked the idea of heading south. But D insisted that we’d have to cross the bog to go south. I pulled out my compass while they were yakking about it.

Well, shoot. That’s not south, that’s north. South goes through the trees, away from the bog. I felt compelled to speak up. I’d had enough drama for one day. I spoke with confidence, that we’d have to walk along the forest to go south. And I showed them my compass to prove it.

Not 5 minutes after we started walking south we came across an old road, which led to the relocated trail. SUCCESS!

We all felt a huge weight lifted from our shoulders and got a boost of energy. We walked hurriedly along this glorious trail. Getting lost at night with two experienced hikers was not a fun experience. I was surprised at how I was able to remain calm and take control of a rapidly deteriorating situation. I didn’t know I had that in me. Comically, my two companions totally downplayed our predicament for the remainder of the hike!

But now we were making progress, making jokes and walking together. I felt like now I was more a part of the team and that I had something to contribute. I had chosen our route up the slide and helped us rationally think our way back to the route near the beaver bog. I should really be more confident in my skills.

Once we reached the Lincoln Woods Trail, we knew we were almost back. We kept chatting to keep the time passing quickly. We turned off our headlamps and walked out under the moonlight. About a mile from the trailhead I started feeling very fatigued. At 9 pm we finally reached the car, packed up our gear and hit the road.

At a gas stop on the drive back, I headed inside to grab a snack. As  soon as I stepped out of the car, I slipped on the ice and fell flat on the ground. Neither of my companions saw me, but I was laughing.

After 20 miles of walking in difficult terrain, it is here that I slip and fall. Of course.

Navigating the Blue Hills

Hi, my name is Jess and I’m navigationally impaired.

My dad has the internal compass of a passenger pigeon. That trait apparently skips a generation. I needed something to do today so I figured I would go for a leisurely hike and try to develop my navigational skills.

With my trusty map in hand I got in the car and drove a whole 10 minutes (maybe) to the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton, Mass. The Blue Hills Reservation is very close to busy highways and is pretty flat…much different than what I am used to, hiking in the Whites. It’s not easy to get lost out there when you stay on maintained trails, since the trail junctions are well marked and there aren’t that many trails to begin with. But the Blue Hills has an astounding network of trails, some blazed but most un-blazed. Every time I’ve gone, I’ve gotten somewhat lost (and yes, also hopelessly lost). The goal for today was to work on getting better at placing my location on the map.

I planned to start out by following a well marked trail and then began to wind my way through multiple side trails. Ultimately, I would create a convoluted loop of a to-be-determined distance (3-ish hours?). Not 100 yards into the hike I missed the first turn onto the orange-rectangle trail and instead followed the red dots. This would be one of only 2 blunders all day…not bad!

Once I realized my mistake I changed my route. I could see where I was and where I would go. The good thing about the Blue Hills is that almost all of the trail junctions are marked with numbered signs that correspond to the map. If you have a map, you know exactly where you are. And since there are trail junctions every few hundred yards or less, it is always possible to find your way out. I figured this was the perfect place for someone like me to practice using a map.

Essentially, I took the long way from a parking lot on Chickatawbut Rd. to Buck Hill, Tucker Hill, and Houghton Pond, then came back using different paths. All day I meandered through swamps, around ponds, up and down hills, over rocks, and through fields. The trails were sometimes narrow, sometimes wide. I also stumbled upon the old route 128, which runs parallel to the newer and substantially bigger 93/128. Along the way I stopped to take many pictures and I really wished that I’d have brought my sketchbook along too. The only people I encountered were on the popular Skyline trail, which I avoided as much as possible. When I hike, I like to get away from people.

This was a great exercise in reading and understanding maps for me. Most of the folks on hiking sites seem to have quite a bit of experience and knowledge in outdoor skills but I am really new to this. I kind of like being new because every adventure brings so much wonder and excitement to me; sometimes I feel like a little kid out there. But I also learn so much every time I hike, or walk, or climb, or stroll…that each path is interesting no matter how flat or close to the city it may be.

So for those people hiding in the woodworks, getting intimidated by the endless threads about technical gear or outdoor skills, etc… my advice is simple. Hiking is glorified walking. Go out there and do it. Pick a place near home like the Blue Hills to wander around and get lost without the possibility of getting in trouble. Bring a map so you can get found again. And just discover for yourself what you need to know about walking outside. Obviously some hikes require technical knowledge and winter weather requires technical gear. But I stand by my belief that the best piece of gear you have out there is your brain. And developing basic skills in observation, sound judgement, navigation and survival are of more value to me than a $400 jacket that required more engineering than my car.

Next time I’ll bring my compass…there’s nothing that intimidates me more. No one yet has been able to explain to me what to do with that thing. I think I’ve got to get out in the woods and figure it out myself. You know, not too far from one of those numbered markers in the Blue Hills.

Webster-Jackson Loop

December 17, 2005.

6.5 mi | 8.5 hr

Around Saco Lake > W-J Tr > Jackson > Webster Cliff > Webster > W-J Tr > Highland Center

I met the Christmas Bird Count group at the Highland Center at 7:30 this morning. Four teams would each take different routes to count birds today. I joined Craig and his wife Jane to hike up to Webster and Jackson. This was the most challenging of the options, which is why I was interested in doing it.

We started with a nice walk around Saco Lake, stopping at intervals to listen and look for birds. This was Jane’s first time on snowshoes, which was another reason to keep a gentle pace.

Right from the start, the birding did not seem too promising.

The slow starts and stops were unusual for me, so I wasn’t dressed warmly enough to stay comfortable.

By noon, we still hadn’t reached our first peak. I knew we needed to pick up the pace. Climbing up to Jackson, we took turns breaking trail. Now I was warming up! Trail breaking was hard work. The snow just seemed to get deeper and deeper. The snow was loose and unconsolidated in some places. In others, there were steep slabs with nothing for the crampon points of the snowshoes to grab onto. I had to throw my poles up ahead of me and brace myself with my belly and knee on the rock. Poor Jane with her borrowed recreational snowshoes was having a really hard time with all this.

But, we persevered and made it above treeline. A quick sprint up through gusty winds brought us to the top of Jackson. I stopped for a few photos before heading down Webster Cliff Trail. There were no views where there should have been because of all the clouds. This has become something of a theme for my winter hikes and it’s not even officially winter yet!

Tired and exhilarated, we pushed on to Webster. No birds. We had seen three chickadees in the first hour of our hike but nothing since. We stopped for a food break near the W-J trail junction. I was starving.

The descent wasn’t quite as easy as I expected. Coming down from Moosilauke last weekend was cake! Today, it was far from. We all took turns falling down the mountain. In some places, it was the best way to descend. I’m sure glad I wore ski pants.

There were some pretty tough blowdowns to get around near the river. We had to search for the trail in some spots. Morale began to sink.

We continued slowly and quietly until…a female downy woodpecker! She was our fourth and final bird for the day.

We hiked out in the dark and met up with the group for dinner afterwards. All in all it was a good day, despite it being longer than I had planned. But, I had everything I needed: food, clothing, water, light source, etc. I just might be getting good at this.