All posts tagged dayhikes

A little over a week ago (January 5), I tramped up Stratton Mountain on a crystal-clear, chilly winter day, all excited to see my favorite southern Vermont peak in true winter conditions. I wasn’t going to write about it here, but I just realized it’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog (again– this is turning into the norm at this point). And with warmer temperatures bringing on the mid-January thaw this week, I need to look back at those snowy pictures to remind myself that it’s still a mighty fine winter this year.

I would guess two or three feet of snow, considering how easily I was brushing my head against the canopy.

I’ve been spending most of my time over the past few months diligently working away on my computer, getting ready to turn out next season’s version of my iPhone apps. Last year at this time, I was doing the same thing, but this year it’s more exciting than stressful. I feel more confident about what I’m doing, and the features I’m planning on adding should make the apps infinitely more useful and more fun to use. But there is still some stress involved. Quite a bit, in fact.

The other day I had a conversation with a well-known hiker about making a living as an outdoor adventurer, and it somewhat reaffirmed what I’d found out over the past few years– seasonal employment in outdoorsy jobs is not generally a sustainable career path. Something else is usually necessary to live that dream. That’s where my programming comes in, but even that seems like a gamble. More on this in a bit.

The walk up Stratton Mountain was much like the previous week’s hike on Okemo– chilly, with lovely, fluffy powder. The area near Kelley Stand Road, where the Long Trail crosses, is plowed with space for several cars to park, but it seemed more popular for snowmobiles than as a hiking destination. I guess that’s a good thing, considering how poor the winter sports were last year in general. I was happy to see so many snowmobilers, even if they’re kind of noisy.

Fluff balls!

As we trudged up the mountain, the trees became more heavily laden with snow, and the wind took on an icy bite. There really is nothing more beautiful to me than a New England mountain forest covered in thick snow– although wait until springtime and I’m sure I’ll say the same thing about early springtime forests, and then summer mountains, and… you get the idea. We arrived at the summit clearing to find several feet of snow and a peaceful winter wonderland. Oh, what beauty!

You might be able to see from the picture that the fire tower was a bit encrusted in rime ice. Climbing the tower was a little dicey, so my companions and I only went high enough to see over the trees before carefully making our way down to the ground. I doubt we could have made it all the way to the top– I had to kick holes into the crust on the stairs in order to have something to stand on– but it was a lovely view even from halfway up.

When I started the app programming thing, I had a modest goal of making enough money by selling apps that I could combine their income with a few NOLS courses, and otherwise just hike a lot through the summer and fall. That’s not exactly how it worked out. Let’s just say the programming is a labor of love at this point. If I were to calculate out the hourly wage I’ve made, it might be more than a dollar or two. But I still envision the programming turning into a real source of income– it’s just going to take a little more time than I initially thought.

Sometimes I think all the hiking I’ve done since college has ruined me for normal employment. After the taste of adventure that the Appalachian Trail provided (and then the Pacific Crest, the New England Trail, the few NOLS courses, and on and on), no career path has quite lived up to what I’d convinced myself I’m capable of. The best jobs have been enjoyable and provided another taste of greatness. The worst have felt like total dead ends. The Guthook’s Guides business may be the one that meets almost all the criteria of a dream job for me. Produces something that helps others? Check. Makes people happy? Check. Keeps me connected directly with the hiking community? Check. Makes me feel important? Check. Makes me rich? Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

What AT or PCT hiker doesn’t dream of finding a way to turn hiking and the outdoors into a steady living? I learned through several years of leading trips, working on trails, and caretaking at backcountry lodges that those jobs’s rewards are almost entirely spiritual and mental. Once the job is done, the money doesn’t go far, but the experiences and the mind set have stayed with me in a big way. So here I am with the crazy idea that I can make a sustainable business. It’s not certain at all, but it’s kind of exciting.

The view about halfway up the tower.

Sometimes, like in the case of climbing an ice-crusted fire tower, hitting your original goal isn’t even necessary to have a great time and make the whole endeavor worthwhile. Heck, if I hadn’t even set foot on the fire tower the other day, it still would have been a great walk in the woods. I’ll still keep my hopes up for the business to do well, though.

No more doom and gloom here– Winter finally arrived in New England over the last week, and I’m determined to make up for how little snowshoeing I did last winter. Yvonne and I returned to Keene on the evening of January first, and gathered our equipment for the year’s first winter hike the next morning. Neither of us had ever been to Ludlow Mountain, home of the Okemo Ski Resort in Vermont, but it seemed like a good choice for our hike. Lots of snow (as Vermont mountains tend to have), new territory, not too far away. Good enough for me!

This isn’t a road for cars, fool!

Since neither of us had been to the trail before, there was some question as to whether the trail head would be accessible in winter. We turned onto the last road to access the trail, and just past the “Healdville Trail Parking 100 yards” sign, I got my car stuck in the snow. After half an hour or so of digging out underneath the car and showing off my car-extracting skills to Yvonne, I got the car unstuck, and backed up to near that sign. Apparently, the area just past the railroad tracks was plowed out as a parking area, but the actual parking lot and the road to it were a snowmobile trail. Sorry, snowmobilers. I tried not to damage the track too much.

Down low, there’s more snow than we had all last winter.

As soon as I parked, I looked back down the snowmobile trail in the opposite direction to see another car stuck in the snow. I think there was another access point to the trail head parking area in summer, but the road wasn’t plowed and became a snowmobile trail in winter. Whatever the case, the timing was just right. We spent the next hour helping a fellow hiker dig her car out of the rut she was in. Unfortunately, she was stuck much worse than we had been. She eventually decided to phone for help, just before a plow truck stopped to offer some assistance, so we bade her good luck and hit the trail a few hours later than intended. No foul, though. It was a fun adventure.

Up high, more reasons to love cold weather.

Once on the trail, I was excited just to have my snowshoes on again. There was a good trail broken out, but it wasn’t packed down to a solid highway. The sky was full of low clouds, and a biting wind chapped our faces. It’s been a while since I’ve been in sustained cold temperatures like that, and it was great!

Getting lost in the winter forest.

As we climbed higher up the 3300 foot mountain, the effects of the elevation were easy to see and hear. Trees, barely more than tall blobs of snow, creaked painfully in the wind. The trail became obscured in places where wind blew over previous snowshoe tracks, or where smaller trees had become weighed down by the snow. As we climbed into the clouds, the only way to tell when we were near the top was by the density of the snow clinging to the trees. There were no long views, even from the fire tower atop the mountain, but any good winter wonderland makes those views unnecessary.

The fire tower on Ludlow Mountain had a bit more rime ice than usual.

I later found that the high temperature for the day was a brisk 19 degrees, although I think that may have been at the base of the ski resort, which means it was probably closer to 10 on the mountain, minus wind chill. With that in mind, Yvonne and I didn’t stick around the summit for very long. We had our lunch, then rushed back down the mountain, gliding along on soft, powdery snow. It was a fine start to the real winter, although it also reminded me just how much more of this I need to do. By the time we arrived back home in Keene, my body was a bundle of soreness and aches– a hefty workout on the lower body, plus the unexpected one for the upper body, laid me out pretty well.

A fine view just as far as the Okemo chair lift.

Here’s hoping for a lot more playing in the snow over the next few months, and exploring many new places. See you on the trail.

Yvonne and I went to Mount Moosilauke on Wednesday, a spur of the moment trip up north on what promised to be a beautiful day. Moosilauke is one of the most well-recognized and popular 4000 footers of the White Mountains, with a completely open summit and wide-ranging views, but I’ve never seen a view from the peak. The only time I climbed it was on the Appalachian Trail in 2007, and, as so often happens in New England, the only view was of the inside of a cloud. Since then, the mountain has rarely entered my mind, and usually only as an easily recognized landmark I could see from many mountains in Vermont.

A relatively warm and clear day in Glencliff for the middle of December.

Of course, driving into the trail head in Glencliff brought back memories of those days hiking through New Hampshire, the beginning of the real difficult stuff on the AT, but mostly my mind was in the present this day. It was December 12, not quite officially winter, but well after the date when the north country should look like a winter wonderland. There wasn’t a touch of snow at the trail head. There wasn’t even ice. Even at 9 AM, there was barely noticeable frost in the field where the AT starts up the Glencliff Trail.

Where’s the winter?

Despite being the tenth highest 4000 footer in New Hampshire, the hike up Moosilauke is surprisingly easy (I remember the Beaver Brook trail being incredibly steep, but the west side of the mountain was a walk in the park). With the ground becoming partly frozen as we ascended, there were few obstacles to impede our progress. A consistent dusting of snow finally showed up around 3500 feet, but never got deeper than the soles of my sneakers. There was enough ice to warrant microspikes near the top, and then in several spots on the way back down the carriage trail, but until we reached tree line, the conditions were less wintery than I usually see in October.

Finally some real snow, but above 4500 feet in December, the rocks aren’t usually so bare.

The summit was nice and cold, coated in rime ice, but I have to wonder about my recent purchases of a few pieces of winter backpacking gear over the past year. After last winter’s weak showing, I’m staying hopeful for this coming year, planning one weekend backpacking trip and several snowshoe outings, but I also feel a bit of nostalgia for years past, remembering white Christmases, or even white winters. Two years ago was good, but the year before wasn’t too impressive, either. I did live further north in a few of those good winters, which certainly helped, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’ve had a string of unusually warm years.

Moosilauke’s summit from the top of the Glencliff Trail. Pleasantly white.

For now, I’ll just hope things turn around soon. But I’ll also leave you with this thought: when Yvonne and I visited the REI in her hometown of Framingham last summer, we noticed a very cool thing– the parking lot had been covered with a roof of solar panels (along with some more, less visible panels on the roof of the building). Over the past few years, two of my favorite Vermont nonprofits, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps and the Green Mountain Club, have also had large solar arrays installed around their property. These are all pretty great, but it’s a small drop in a sea of (mostly) fossil-fuel energy consumption. But how many parking lots are there in our country? And empty roofs of big box stores or warehouses? And how many large corporate properties with space at the edges of lawns or fields that could be home to solar arrays?

The rest of the White Mountains, looking fine on a clear day.

With all of the fighting that goes on in order to place each wind farm and transmission line in the northeast (and I’m guessing elsewhere as well), wouldn’t it be easier and less controversial to cover every parking lot with a solar roof? Think of how much open pavement surrounds a mall or a suburban shopping center, doing nothing but soaking up sunlight most of the time. It’s kind of stupid to have a resource so abundant and not use it, isn’t it?

I awoke on Saturday morning to find a dusting of snow on my car. I hadn’t been expecting this, especially with an early morning drive up to the White Mountains on the docket. The forecast hadn’t looked great for a hike, but that didn’t bother me. I had the time, and I wanted to get out and stretch my legs, feel some mountain terrain under my feet. There probably wouldn’t be any views, but that wasn’t what was on my mind.

Only slightly snowy down low at the beginning of the hike.

The drive was slower than usual, with dry snow billowing around on the road and fog sitting heavily above, but I arrived at the Garfield Ridge trail head only a few minutes late. Nancy was already there, the only car in the snow-coated parking lot. Gary was half an hour behind, but we left anyway, figuring he would catch up with us in no time, since both Nancy and I have been somewhat lethargic for most of the past month. We weren’t looking to hurry.

And much more so near the top.

As seems to happen every year, the warmer weather and lack of snow further south had fooled me into thinking that it wouldn’t be quite so wintery up north. Apparently, the snow had only arrived recently (I had even done my homework and checked recent trail conditions), so as Nancy and I set out through about four inches of super-powdery snow, I found myself giddy with excitement. It’s winter! We’re off to a good start! I’m going to go snowshoeing so much this season!

This is the same view I’ve had four of five times on Garfield.

Last year was dreadful for anyone who likes playing in the snow. After what seemed like a promising start, a 1-3 foot dumping of snow on Halloween, there was nothing for months. Even in the high elevations of the White Mountains, it was pretty dismal. Yvonne and I only made it up to the Whites for two weekend trips, which were very nice, but still didn’t seem like enough. That will hopefully change this year.

Getting to the top with wind blasting in the face!

Shuffling through the powder this time around, I felt very optimistic. In part, it was just the good feeling of hiking with friends whom I hadn’t seen enough of recently (it had been over a year since I’d seen Gary, my backpacking companion from the AT, NET, and much of my time in Vermont). But there was also the beauty of a freshly whitened forest, with thick clumps of snow still sticking to trees, and ice just beginning to form in the streams. Hiking in winter is a different beast from any other season, and I’d challenge even those who hate cold weather the most to say they don’t find the wintery woods magically gorgeous and peaceful.

It’s hard to pose for a picture when you’re getting snow crystals whipped into your eyes.

As expected, Gary caught up with us in about an hour, and we continued on to the summit of Mount Garfield– socked in with clouds, blasting wind, and generally inhospitable as expected. We stuck around only long enough to get some summit pictures, then headed back down, moseying casually down the trail, which was a much easier walk than I’d anticipated. We arrived back at the cars just as head lamps became necessary, and just in time to avoid the heavier snow that started falling later.

A good way to have a birthday party.

Usually, the first snowy hike of the season for me is fraught with miscalculations and poor judgment on which gear to bring, which sets me straight for the rest of the winter hiking season. Strangely, I didn’t have that so much this time. I could have worn heavier base layers, but otherwise I was toasty as could be in some mighty chilly weather. My GooseFeet down parka performed even better than I’d remembered as a warm layer for breaks, and my light layers for hiking kept me plenty warm while not letting me sweat quite as much as usual. My mittens, while accidentally mismatched, kept my often chilly fingers nice and toasty.

Not much reason to stay up top for very long.

The one part of my snow hiking clothing set up that constantly amazed me was my footwear. There was too little snow on the ground for me to break out my 40 Below neoprene overboots, so instead I went with just sneakers with sock liners, a vapor barrier bag, and heavier socks over that. The thought of trudging through snow all day in just sneakers augmented by a plastic bag may seem insane, but my feet were toasty warm through the whole day. I even dunked one foot in a half-frozen stream toward the end of the day, and though I could feel the cold water hit my toes, they were back to perfectly warm within a few minutes. I’d be curious to see how others fare with this setup, because before I tried it, I had frozen toes on practically every winter hike, so it seems almost miraculous to me.

The view is just fine, as far as I’m concerned.

If Saturday was any kind of omen, I’m looking forward to some epic snowshoeing this winter. I hope to see the rest of you out there, too!

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.