ascutney

All posts tagged ascutney

The mega-blizzard that coated New York up to Portland hit us in southern New Hampshire, too, but once everything was said and done, we weren’t so far from some great places to enjoy that snow. After a long day of shoveling and snow-blowing (and getting hooked on Downton Abbey) on Saturday, Yvonne and I took a pleasant, sunny drive to Ascutney, Vermont’s beautifully recognizable monadnock looming over Interstate 91 and the Connecticut River.

The beginning of the Windsor Trail, across a hay field with some chilly wind.

The beginning of the Windsor Trail, across a hay field with some chilly wind.

We weren’t sure the parking lot for the Windsor Trail would be plowed, but I had a hunch, this being Vermont and all. We were in luck– not only was the lot plowed, but someone had already been up the trail, probably yesterday afternoon, to break it out and save us a little bit of effort with the snowshoeing. The wind-blown snow had solidified into a styrofoam-like crust, obscuring the previous hiker’s tracks from time to time, but the trail was easy enough to follow. For the lower half, it follows what looks like an old logging road, and higher up it cuts through dense forest, making the route very obvious.

Freshly broken trail

Freshly broken trail

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, much like the first time we’d been to Ascutney, on a calm, clear day after another destructive storm. This time, it was much colder, though the air temperature did just about break freezing. With so much sunlight, it even seemed much warmer whenever we stopped in a clearing. Of course, hiking uphill with snowshoes meant we had no trouble staying warm, even in the shade.

From Blood Rock, fine views to the Connecticut River Valley and Mount Cardigan.

From Blood Rock, fine views to the Connecticut River Valley and Mount Cardigan.

A short side trip to Blood Rock gave us even more of a workout, since that trail hadn’t been broken out. Even without the fine view from the cliff there, it would have been worth the side trip– trudging through fresh powder on snowshoes is a sublime experience. The silence of the winter forest, the scraping and whump of the snowshoes settling into the snow, the softness of the ground under your feet. I don’t often get to make fresh tracks in New Hampshire, so I relish the opportunity when it arises.

Okemo and Killington from the summit of Ascutney. Two very happy places today, I think.

Okemo and Killington from the summit of Ascutney. Two very happy places today, I think.

Up top, on the observation tower at the summit, we had some of the finest views we’ve had from Ascutney, even as far as Mount Washington, which stood glowing on the horizon. Monadnock was clearly silhouetted on the horizon, and much of the White Mountains up north. We also counted eight ski resorts, mostly in Vermont, all of which must be rejoicing for the bounty dumped on them in the past few days.

Yvonne posing with her mountain, Monadnock, in the background.

Yvonne posing with her mountain, Monadnock, in the background.

I’ll certainly hope this snow sticks around for a while– Yvonne and I spent some time the other day trying to remember what winters really looked like when we were younger. Looking back on snow storms from your youth, it always seems like two or three foot blizzards weren’t uncommon, but when you’re only six years old everything looks bigger. Also, living in central and western Maine, I probably did see a lot more snow than I do now, but when that area shuts down for a few days with a snow storm, it doesn’t make the news as much as when NYC gets hit.

The rest of this month would certainly be nice if the snow stays on the ground, so even with a forecast here of above freezing temperatures and clear skies, I’m looking forward to more cross country skiing and snowshoeing in the weeks ahead.

A zoomed-in photo toward the White Mountains. Didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped, but you can still make out some of the peaks.

A zoomed-in photo toward the White Mountains. Didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, but you can still make out some of the peaks.

The time between posts is getting longer and longer, just as the time between my hikes is getting longer and longer. It’s been an interesting autumn– I’m obsessing about something very different than usual, and it’s taking over much of the time that I would normally spend escaping into the mountains. It’s taken up a lot of my limited brain power, too, hence the lack of blogging.

Even from a distance, the people on Monadnock look like a milling mass.

A few days ago I awoke with my legs aching from lack of use, which struck me as a sign that I really need to get out a little before the busy time during the holiday season. I’ve also been thinking that I need to spend some more time on the “lesser” mountains closer to home. On Sunday, I hoofed it up Monadnock for only the third time since I’ve lived beneath it in Keene. This is a travesty– living twenty minutes from the most popular hiking destination in the US, and avoiding it for mountains three or six times as far away!

A small crowd, by Monadnock standards.

It was a fine hiking day for late autumn– brisk, sunny, and somewhere between warm and cold. Thermal regulation is way too difficult in these conditions. I was pretty chilled when I got out of the car, but sweating like mad within ten minutes, despite icy patches all the way up the mountain.

Yvonne and one of the regulars.

The crowds that are usually my excuse for avoiding the mountain were only slightly present. I passed a handful of hikers on the way up, and there were about twenty people spread out over the expansive summit. It was cold up top, but sunny enough to make hanging out a pleasant activity. Views were short, with a dense haze obscuring almost everything. I don’t know what it was from– there’s no humidity, and it’s cold enough to keep the air crisp. Could it be pollution? Someone out there must have a better explanation than I could come up with.

Yvonne was the summit steward for the weekend, getting some of the last days of the season for the job. I watched as she dispensed knowledge about the geology and trails of the mountain to curious hikers. She’s been on the summit dozens of times over the past year, mostly for work, but plenty often just for fun. Monadnock is definitely her mountain, more a home than I think I can ever make it. I don’t know if I can count any particular mountain as “home” right now, although there are plenty that I have very nostalgic connections to. I wonder if I’ll feel that way about Monadnock once we’ve moved away from here.

A bit quieter on Ascutney, looking west to Killington and Ludlow.

That got me thinking, as I walked down from the summit and missed a turn, sending me on a much longer hike than planned (although a very nice hike, so I had nothing to complain about). Monadnock, being such a popular mountain, is almost never empty of people. But all of the wilderness or hiking locations that I count as home, or to which I feel that connection, are places where I’ve had experiences alone or with small groups of friends. Hunger Mountain, near where I lived in Vermont, was my solitary refuge on so many occasions I lost count of how often I’d climbed it. At Stratton Pond, almost every one of my memories is of some very peaceful and nearly solitary moment. The Camden Hills were my refuge between most of the adventures of my early years after college, and always seemed to be empty of people when I wandered into them.

Monadnock, barely visible through the haze from Ascutney.

But that’s just memory. The times when my favorite mountains were crowded with people don’t stand out as much as the times I had them alone. I remember Camel’s Hump on the night when I hustled over just after sunset, saw an elusive rabbit chewing on the sedge, and hurried to Montclair Glen without seeing a single person within two miles of the summit. I don’t choose to remember Stratton Pond as when I hiked by on my Long Trail end-to-end this summer, when the shelter was packed full. I guess I don’t remember Monadnock the same way, because I’ve never had a quiet moment of my own there.

The hang-glider launch on Ascutney. Forgot my glider, so we had to walk down.

The next day, Yvonne and I took a trip to Ascutney, another monadnock, but a little further away from Keene. We had been there only once before, the day after Hurricane Irene hit Vermont. This day was much the same as Monadnock the day before– cold, sunny, and very hazy. We could just see Monadnock in the distance from the handful of ledges on the southeast side of Ascutney, but the views were still gorgeous without the distance. Even the dull brown of stick season didn’t hurt the views. There’s something so nice about the acres of farmland in the Connecticut River Valley.

A nice little ravine on the way up Ascutney’s south side.

We didn’t have the mountain to ourselves, but I started to crave more from this mountain in particular, like I felt some kind of attachment. We have to come back here a bunch this winter, I told Yvonne, and I made plans to come back in the spring, when I figured there would be some quiet days. Ascutney has something very appealing to me, even if there are lots of people there– the sheer variety of things to see on such a small mountain induced a sort of ecstasy. Bare ledges with views of the valleys below, ravines with cascading waterfalls, dark coniferous forests, rocky peaks– in only three short miles of trail, it seemed we saw what takes several more miles in other areas. It’s not my home mountain yet, but I can see it becoming that once I put in some more effort.