day hikes

All posts tagged day hikes

Last weekend had much better conditions than the previous one, so I tried to make up for the few days I’d taken off in the poorer conditions by doing two great day hikes. The first was a late start to the iconic (and difficult to pronounce) Mt Chocorua. Chocorua is one of the southernmost peaks in the White Mountains, and not particularly tall at only 3500 feet, but it has one of the most distinctive shapes in the area, with a snaggle-tooth rocky peak jutting up from the ridge. That rocky peak, battered by high winds and totally exposed, is similar to many much higher summits, which makes it a great place for epic views and some exciting scrambles.

The first open ledge with a clear view to the summit.

The first open ledge with a clear view to the summit.

Hiker Box, Badass, Siren and I set out late in the morning on the Piper Trail, which is one of the more popular trails up the mountain. For winter, the trailhead isn’t plowed, but an old couple who share a driveway with the trailhead allow hikers to park in their yard for $3 per car. I’m happy to pay the small price, since they’re friendly folks and seem perpetually amused by the crazy people walking up the mountain behind their home.

Arriving at tree line, with North Conway in the background (Cranmore ski area is an easily visible landmark)

Arriving at tree line, with North Conway in the background (Cranmore ski area is an easily visible landmark)

Despite the clearly broken-out trail, the low temperatures and frequent powdery snow from this winter kept the ground soft, making snowshoes a must for the entire ascent. In most winters, microspikes would have been more than sufficient, but they work best after a few freeze/thaw cycles turn the packed trail into something between ice and snow. There hasn’t been any thawing this winter, which is just the way I like it.

Epic climbs! (photo by Hiker Box)

Epic climbs! (photo by Hiker Box)

Walking through the woods for most of the approach, we could see the jagged summit through the trees most of the way. The sky was mostly overcast, but once we broke above tree line the clouds proved to be just high enough to allow some grey views of several mountain ranges, from the Sandwich Range to the Presidentials.

Beginning the walk along the cliffs and ledges near the summit.

Beginning the walk along the cliffs and ledges near the summit.

The last half mile to the summit is entirely exposed ridgeline, walking on rock and ice. We probably should have switched to microspikes or crampons for this section, but rugged snowshoes worked well enough if we slowed down and took care in our footing. There were plenty of other hikers out this day, though no one spent more than a few minutes getting buffeted by wind on the summit.

From the summit, looking north to the Presidential Range and Carter-Moriah Range.

From the summit, looking north to the Presidential Range and Carter-Moriah Range.

We snapped a few pictures, then booked it down the trail for dinner at the Yankee Smokehouse in West Ossipee. It was a late night once we included the drive back from the trail, but even with a 11 AM start on the trail, we managed not to hike in the dark at all. A great start to a great weekend!

Last week, I joined a group of Gossamer Gear’s Trail Ambassadors for a retreat to the canyons of southeast Utah. Many of these Trail Ambassadors are currently schmoozing it up at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Show in Salt Lake City, but I only stuck around for the less overwhelming group activities with an amazing bunch of hikers.

Twinkle, showing off a new Kumo in Canyonlands National Park.

Twinkle, showing off a new Kumo in Canyonlands National Park.

After an evening visiting one of my co-instructors from NOLS, I met Glen Van Peski, the founder of Gossamer Gear, in Salt Lake City, then drove four hours to Moab, passing mountains, mesas, and canyons along the way. We arrived at a house that Grant, the president of the company, had rented for the occasion. I was originally pretty hesitant to join the event because I can’t stand being put in close quarters with people I’ve never met before (and sometimes even with people I have met), but the opportunity to meet many of the people on the guest list was too enticing. Luckily, after the first night, when everyone was so excited to meet each other, the night owls and the morning people separated the sleeping quarters well enough to make everybody happy.

Hikers acting like normal people in a house.

Hikers acting like normal people in a house.

And what a crew it was! We had AT and PCT record-setting hikers Snorkel and Anish, writer and podcaster Disco, BackpackingLight guru Will Rietveld, Arizona Trail gateway communities ambassador Sirena, The Real Hiking Viking, and many more. Most of the ambassadors, in fact, are not superhuman hikers– they’re just people who really love to hike, and love to do it with light packs. They’re all super enthusiastic, and all love to hear about each other’s stories and lives. This is the kind of group that makes me very happy to be a part of a hiking community.

Grant watches sunset from Grand View Lookout.

Grant watches sunset from Grand View Lookout.

Several of us (mostly those I mentioned in the previous paragraph) are what I like to call “Trail Famous”, which generated some entertaining discussion. Trail Fame is very different from Actual Fame, because it’s a vague kind of notoriety among a small group of people. For instance, a good bunch of Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail hikers know my name, and know that I make apps for them, but they don’t have any clue who I am. Even at the Trail Ambassador retreat, I heard from a few people, “I thought you’d be a lot older”. (On the AT last summer, I also heard, “I envisioned you as a middle-aged, overweight guy with Doritos stains on your shirt”. Sorry to disappoint!) But along the same line, it was great to be able to put a face with each name I’d heard so often before, and, not surprisingly, find that all of these hikers are just normal people who do what they do really well because they love to do it.

Jan photo bombs Barefoot Jake and Will Rietveld.

Jan photo bombs Barefoot Jake and Will Rietveld.

Will planned and led each of the four day-hikes, which allowed most of us to relax our brains and follow his route-finding through the canyons. There’s quite a bit to say about the alien landscape of the Utah canyons, but I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking. In the meantime, hanging out with all these passionate hikers has made me itch to get on a long trail again.

The La Sal Mountains, and a 1000 foot cliff over Arches National Park.

The La Sal Mountains, and a 1000 foot cliff over Arches National Park.

Allison looking off into the canyons.

Allison ponders the canyons.

Another clifftop view over Moab.

Another clifftop view over Moab.

Going down into the Canyonlands.

Going down into the Canyonlands.

At the rim of the canyons in Canyonlands.

At the rim of the canyons in Canyonlands.

Sunset colors in Arches National Park

Sunset colors in Arches National Park

Across Pinkham Notch to the Presidential Range.

Across Pinkham Notch to the Presidential Range.

By the time I wrote about the Steepest Climbs on the PCT and AT last week, I already had plans to hike across the Wildcat Ridge in the White Mountains. It just so happened that part of that trek is the steepest climb on the Appalachian Trail. Though I figured we would take the normal winter route of climbing the ski trails at Wildcat Resort, my partner for the day and I egged each other on to try the Lost Pond Trail, ascending over 2000 feet in less than a mile and a half of trail.

Shimmying along the ledge sections of the Lost Pond Trail.

Shimmying along the ledge sections of the Lost Pond Trail.

Though we got a late start (entirely my fault due to a few senior moments), Mike and I were soon trudging up the seemingly vertical climbs on the Lost Pond Trail, with ice axes at the ready and televators up on our MSR snowshoes. From several ledges on the way up, we could see the car down below at Pinkham Notch.

This looks an awful lot like the steepest climb on the AT.

This looks an awful lot like the steepest climb on the AT.

There was one set of footprints on the Lost Pond Trail, but it was clear that this was not the common route for hikers heading up Wildcat. While the ski trails are certainly not easy, they are a much safer alternative to the usually summer-only route. This being a snowy Monday, we saw no one on the trail until we popped out of the trees to the top of the ski resort’s chair lifts. Skiers and snowboarders skidded by, giving us baffled sidelong glances, as if wondering how we planned on getting down the slopes with such strange footwear and fairly large packs.

Over an hour ago, we left the car right down where Mike is pointing.

Over an hour ago, we left the car right down where Mike is pointing.

After Wildcat D, just beyond the ski patrol shack, the trail became a fairly straightforward ridge walk, with some short, steep descents and ascents. It was funny to notice that the first two miles of hiking took over two hours to finish, while the remaining six miles took just over three hours. Of course, the Ridge Trail wasn’t easy by normal standards, but after sweating up the climb from Pinkham Notch, almost any trail would seem easy in comparison.

Televators and ice axes got more use on this trip than any other trail I hike.

Televators and ice axes got more use on this trip than any other trail I hike.

With the mountaintops shrouded in clouds all day, and a light dusting of snow sprinkling around, there were few views to be had. I’ve always thought that the solid greys and whites of the cloudy, snowed-in peaks of New England in winter are about as beautiful as you could desire. Even though the snow was pretty sparse compared to usual for this time of year, the scenery was exactly what I had hoped for, and the physical exertion of a long hike burned off all the tension and stress from the previous weeks of work.

At the top of the Wildcat Ski Resort's chair lifts, just beginning the easy part of the hike.

At the top of the Wildcat Ski Resort’s chair lifts, just beginning the easy part of the hike.

I haven’t been in the mountains nearly as much as I’d like this winter. The snow conditions haven’t been great, and there’s been plenty of work to keep me occupied in the meantime, but there’s no substitute for a good self-inflicted beating on a rugged mountain. Here’s hoping the conditions improve as does my scheduling.

My childhood friend, Jeremy, was back in Maine for a long weekend, so we decided to bring back an old tradition– “Let’s do something stupid.” Jeremy and I have a long history of coming up with hiking plans that are way too ambitious, and failing spectacularly. The plan I came up with this time was to walk from the village green of Bar Harbor to the marina in Northeast Harbor, summiting each of the six 1000-foot peaks in between (about 18 miles of rugged, rocky, steep trail).

Starting out at the village green in Bar Harbor, though it's not so green right now.

Starting out at the village green in Bar Harbor, though it’s not so green right now.

We probably could have succeeded handily if not for the snow that fell on Friday, but November is a rough time for hiking in New England; you never know exactly what you’ll get for conditions. On Saturday morning, as I got in my car in Belfast (only 40 miles from Bar Harbor) there was a dusting of snow left on the ground. But those few miles made a big difference in snow levels, with up to six inches in some places by the time I arrived on the island. Neither Jeremy nor I was prepared for serious snow, but we figured we’d give it a shot anyway.

The Park Loop Road is definitely shut for the season.

The Park Loop Road is definitely shut for the season.

After about three miles on roads from downtown Bar Harbor to the Orange & Black Path, we started wading through the snow in earnest. By stepping carefully, we were able to climb at a decent pace onto Champlain Mountain, with only a few detours off trail since blazes and cairns were buried. We also had to make a few slight adjustments to the trail since Kacey, my parents’ dog, was along (this was a last minute decision, since she had insisted on joining us. She’s a mighty resilient animal, but slick ice on steep rock can be tricky for her). By the time we arrived at the summit of Champlain, it was already 11 AM, which didn’t bode so well for our 18-mile challenge.

Kacey seemed a little confused about why we weren't just staying indoors by the fire today.

Kacey seemed a little confused about why we weren’t just staying indoors by the fire today.

As we walked across the summit in the snow, I heard Jeremy say “I think we lost a dog”. I turned around and saw that there was a hole in the snow where Kacey had been. Uh oh! The snow had been deep enough to cover a six-foot deep crevice like an old-school booby trap, and Kacey had vanished without a sound. When I looked down in to see her staring bug-eyed up at me, she seemed more confused than hurt (“what the hell happened?”), which was a good sign. I threw off my pack and squeezed down into the hole to wrestle her out while Jeremy lifted from the top. The whole process took about five minutes, after which Kacey did a little sprint around the summit, almost falling into the pit again, but ultimately calming down after a big handful of treats.

The crevice on Champlain Mountain.

The crevice on Champlain Mountain.

We continued down Champlain Mountain by the Beachcroft Trail, which took longer to descend than our ascent from the east side of the mountain, owing to slick, wet snow. By the time we arrived at The Tarn between Champlain and Dorr, it was clear we probably wouldn’t hit all six summits, but we still might walk to Northeast Harbor and at least get to two more summits. The temperature was on the rise, though there was still plenty of snow. The ascent along the Schiff Path turned out to be much easier than either the ascent or descent of Champlain Mountain, so our optimism came back once again.

Champlain Mountain in the morning. A classic, clear winter day in Maine.

Champlain Mountain in the morning. A classic, clear winter day in Maine.

The gorge between Dorr Mountain and Cadillac Mountain is pretty shallow, so it was a quick descent from Dorr, though still pretty tricky. With many steep, rocky sections still covered in deep snow, we had to lead Kacey around in several places where in summer she could have easily leaped from rock to rock. It was still fairly early in the day when we reached the bottom, then made our way to the ascent. Not more than a hundred feet into the climb, however, we were thwarted by a heavily snow-covered boulder field. There was no good way around for Kacey to get up, and we decided that this would be our last good opportunity to bail out and walk back to Bar Harbor.

It might as well be winter on Dorr Mountain.

It might as well be winter on Dorr Mountain.

So out we walked via the Gorge Trail, not the least bit disappointed in only completing two of the intended six summits. We still ended up with ten miles of hiking through deeper snow than anticipated, and fully succeeded in our goal of trying to do something stupid. And we could be happy in the knowledge that we would have made the goal easily if not for the snow conditions. No loss of pride, no damage to reputation, no serious injury. I’d say that’s a good outcome all around.

Calling it a day early, Kacey decided a nap was in order.

Calling it a day early, Kacey decided a nap was in order.

I summited my final New England 4000-footer earlier this week during a last-minute trip to Baxter State Park. It wasn’t a long trip like the one last month, but even a 24-hour period spent in the park is enough to settle my soul and recharge all the energy I’d spent frantically working on my apps since the last trip.

Awakening to a frosty morning at Nesowadnehunk Field campground, a view of Doubletop directly from the lean-to.

Awakening to a frosty morning at Nesowadnehunk Field campground, a view of Doubletop directly from the lean-to.

The New England 4000-Footer peakbagging list (48 peaks in New Hampshire, 5 in Vermont, and 14 in Maine) has never been a major goal of mine, but I enjoy checking items off a list. After hitting Hamlin Peak last month, I only had one to go, but I was in no hurry. I didn’t even plan on going to The Brothers Range this year. My friends, Angela and Ryan, had a few free days and wanted to get out to Baxter State Park, and the conditions proved to be just right, so we went for it.

Starting the hike directly below the cliffs of Doubletop Mountain.

Starting the hike directly below the cliffs of Doubletop Mountain.

We camped at my favorite Baxter State Park campground, Nesowadnehunk Field, and woke up to a thick layer of frost coating the car and field. Autumn has definitely arrived, with leaves just starting to change color, and high temperatures during the day varying between low 70s and mid 60s. This day was as perfect as you could wish for, with cool temperatures, crystal clear skies, and just enough wind to dry my sweat.

Reaching the tarn at the base of the Marston Trail's climb to The Brothers.

Reaching the tarn at the base of the Marston Trail’s climb to The Brothers.

The loop over the Brothers Range is, in typical Baxter State Park fashion, incredibly beautiful and unforgiving in its difficulty. We started from the Slide Dam picnic area on Nesowadnehunk Stream, looking straight up to the cliffs of Doubletop, and then a slow, gradual climb through dense forest to a tarn at the base of North Brother. This was the easy part of the day. From there came the stairmaster-climb to a saddle between North and South Brother, complete with dense moss beds and stunted fir trees.

After a long, steep climb to North Brother, the first views at tree line of Katahdin, the Klondike, and the rest of the Brothers range.

After a long, steep climb to North Brother, the first views at tree line of Katahdin, the Klondike, and the rest of the Brothers range.

Throughout the day, we saw not a single human, nor heard any human sounds. A few small camps on lake sides in the far distance were the only discernible evidence of humanity. From the tops of the three mountains on the loop, the only sounds between our conversations were the whispering of a light breeze, and the occasional chickadee singing in the trees. I can think of no better way to spend a day. No mountain top has been more peaceful for me in recent memory, even The Traveler, or Katahdin’s north peaks. When we returned to the cars at the end of the day, the trailhead register showed nobody had set foot on the trail aside from us.

There’s not much more I can say about this hike, other than it was absolute paradise. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

West from North Brother toward the Nesowadnehunk valley, and the lakes west of Baxter.

West from North Brother toward the Nesowadnehunk valley, and the lakes west of Baxter.

Victory photo atop North Brother.

Victory photo atop North Brother.

Now on South Brother, with an impressive view of Katahdin and its Northwest Basin.

Now on South Brother, with an impressive view of Katahdin and its Northwest Basin.

From Mt Coe, looking back to North and South Brother, with fir waves like tiger stripes.

From Mt Coe, looking back to North and South Brother, with fir waves like tiger stripes.

Starting to descend the Mt Coe slide at the end of the day.

Starting to descend the Mt Coe slide at the end of the day.

Almost done, dropping into the forest and looking at the newly changing foliage above.

Almost done, dropping into the forest and looking at the newly changing foliage above.

A pleasant walk alongside a mountain brook to end the day.

A pleasant walk alongside a mountain brook to end the day.