new england trail

All posts tagged new england trail

Yesterday morning, Yvonne and I went a different direction than usual for a day hike– south, into Massachusetts and toward the Mount Holyoke range. Yvonne had never been, and I hadn’t climbed the mountains since I hiked across them in 2009, while hiking the New England Trail. I remember liking that range quite a bit, and we all know how much I like to revisit places from the past.

Life has been pretty hectic in the past few weeks, and it feels like I haven’t gotten out much, so I definitely needed a good hike to set my mind straight. Stick season is on us, with all the leaves down and no snow in the low hills, and that always knocks down my hiking time by quite a bit. Between that, working back at EMS again, and spending as much time as possible programming my apps, I’ve been neglecting my hiking life a bit more than I intended for this fall. But it seems like the inevitable cycle I go through– after leaf season each year, my outdoors time drops drastically as I try to make life work through the winter.

Looking across the Seven Sisters to Mount Holyoke, and Northampton below.

The initial climb up to Bare Mountain from “The Notch” on route 116 was as steep as I remembered, but not nearly as long. Once up top, the overcast and bare trees made for a pretty dreary morning, and the constant sounds of traffic below made me wonder why I had liked this section of trail so much. I didn’t get the wilderness feeling that’s been so necessary for me in the past few years, or the sense of solitude. Just the pleasant rush of endorphins from the climb, but not much more. I’m beginning to think I’m turning into more of a hermit as far as my relationship to the wilderness goes. I crave long and remote sections of trail, and little contact with humanity. The graffiti and litter on Bare Mountain were exactly the opposite of what I want in the mountains.

Nice, open forest.

Soon after, though, we got to the good stuff. It was a bitingly cold day, with precious little sunlight (until we finished the hike, of course, when the clouds finally cleared), and the views were dreary and grey. But there’s something comforting about the kind of forest that covers southern New England. It’s so open and clear, especially during stick season. There was a steady cover of leaves on the ground, and rolling contours between the exposed ledges of the mountains. The crunch of leaves underfoot drowned out the sound of traffic after a while, and the views of farmland closer to the Connecticut River opened up just enough.

The view of the Connecticut River oxbow and Northampton from Mount Holyoke is the best part of this hike.

Since “disconnecting” a few months ago, I’ve felt much more at peace with the world, but it’s kind of killed my urge to write. I’ve spent most of my creative energy on programming instead of writing, and most of my reading time on books (made of paper!) rather than blogs and web forums. I feel a lot more productive and relaxed. Of course, with my goal of turning the apps into a semi-reliable income, spending more of my creative energy on them is as much necessity as desire. But it feels good to put them together, especially knowing that they’ve already been well-received by PCT hikers this year. It feels good to know I’m helping other hikers, and staying a part of the trail community in a way.

The leaf cover on the ground was thick enough to make the trails difficult to follow.

After a chilly lunch at the Holyoke Mountain House, Yvonne and I took a different trail back to the Notch, passing by Lithia Springs reservoir, and enjoying the more remote southern side of the range. We didn’t see a single person on the trails all day, which is to be expected on a cold Monday with less than ideal weather. The open forest turned out to be extra useful, since we took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up bushwhacking a half mile back to the trail (and I must say, the bushwhacking was much more entertaining than a lot of the secondary trails on the mountain).

To finish off the day, we had a nice drive up Route 63, and a short detour to the Leverett Village Coop, a place I discovered while hiking the New England Trail. With a planned relocation to the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, the Coop will no longer be on the trail, but it’s a lovely place to stop for snacks to finish off a day of hiking on Mt Holyoke.

It’s always nice to revisit a place that I haven’t seen in several years, especially when I have fond memories of it. The Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway was one of the highlights of my New England Trail hike from 2009, with its quiet paths through the low hills and rural neighborhoods of southern New Hampshire. Gary and I saw not a single hiker on that trail three years ago, despite its location and ease. Last weekend I had the opportunity to get back on the trail again, for the first time since 2009. With a forecast of some rain and some sun, it would be a good test of how comfortable I was with wet weather, too.

Starting out at Eliza Adams Gorge.

Four of us gathered at the Dublin Trailhead north of Monadnock on Friday night, and we decided to skip Monadnock since it was already late. We hiked four miles by headlamp to the Spiltoir Shelter, the first campsite on the trail. I was a bit annoyed to see the shelter full with two tents set up inside. Setting up tents inside a shelter is poor form– it blocks other hikers from using the shelter by taking up more space than would be taken by the same number of hikers sleeping on the shelter floor, it makes others feel unwelcome in what is supposed to be a public space, and it’s a waste of campsite real estate. But the group of us set up our tents behind the shelter in no time, and got right to sleep. It was nice to see that I was still in practice with setting up my tarp, after not using it in quite a while.

Plenty of walking along dirt roads, but the scenery is fine by me.

That was Friday night. Saturday and Sunday were going to be the real tests of this first backpacking trip of the season. For Saturday, we had a 26 mile day planned, which is something I haven’t done in quite a while. I knew that the trail would be relatively easy as far as grades, but 26 miles is still 26 miles. We hit the trail at just before 8 AM, and set a steady pace through the morning. The grey skies that threatened rain early on lightened eventually, and turned into clear, sunny skies. “We can do this,” I thought.

Exploring the waters of Center Pond.

The miles flew by in the morning, as we walked through the small village of Nelson, and past several ponds and bogs. The new Gossamer Gear Kumo that I was testing felt light on my back, especially with only two days worth of food and one liter of water at a time. My feet felt surprisingly good– better than usual at this point in the season, in fact. The fact that we made only 11.5 miles by lunchtime didn’t bother me. The black flies that were making an early appearance this season weren’t too bad, either. The unusually high heat, in the upper 70s, was a little off, but no matter. It was nice to be on the trail.

Pitcher Mountain
Clearing skies in the afternoon on Pitcher Mountain.

The second half of Saturday was a treat. By the time we arrived on Pitcher Mountain, Hubbard Hill, and Jackson Hill, the sky was mostly clear, and the heat of the day began to dissipate with a cool breeze. The views from all three were sublime– from Pitcher we could see the entire weekend’s trail laid out to the north and to the south. Each mountain we would climb or had climbed was easily visible, plus a few others. Even without the fall foliage that I’d had in 2009, the scenery was picture perfect. We took plenty of breaks, then kept moving.

Sun starting to get low on Jackson Hill.

We arrived at our Saturday night campsite at about 8:30 PM, hiking until after dark for the second night in a row. It felt great to be in camp after such a long day of hiking, though. The feeling of being so wonderfully tired at the end of the day, and being able to just sit in camp, cook dinner, and go to sleep, is one of the simple delights of backpacking. So is falling asleep while breathing fresh, cool air straight from the outdoors. Unfortunately, the third part of my camping trifecta wasn’t in place– I realized that night that I’m quite sick of couscous. I need to change up my backpacking meals.

Lupus doesn’t care what kind of food it is, as long as it’s edible.

Sunday morning we hit the trail again at 8 AM, but this time with a somewhat wet trail. It had rained during the night (a lot, I think, but I’d slept through it all), and the temperature had dropped like a rock. Throughout the day, the temperature never got any higher than 45, nor did we see the sun. Shame, since there are plenty of fine views in the northern half of the Greenway. We moved much slower on Sunday due to the long day before, but it was nice just to enjoy the forest, even without views.

Hiking into the storm.

Around 3 PM, while we were somewhere on Pillsbury Ridge just north of Lucia’s Lookout, the rain started to fall. It wasn’t much at first, but at forty degrees it doesn’t take much rain to be a nuisance. As we continued along, the rain came a little harder, and a little harder. It never got to be torrential, but it was icy cold, and eventually soaked us all. Had we planned on camping that night, we might have stopped early in the day and hunkered down in our tents, but we had to be done that night, and the car was still six or eight miles away. Nothing left to do but hike.

Now things are getting pretty damp.

Upon reaching the summit of Mount Sunapee, we stopped for only a few moments to regroup before starting the last few miles down to the car. The rain was colder now, forcing us to keep moving to avoid hypothermia. Even with constant movement, it was pretty chilly. By the time I saw the ski lodge, it was dusk, and I realized we had hiked until dark all three days. Of course, that thought left my mind as I dug my keys out of my pack and dove into the car. We cranked the heat up and breathed a collective, and large, sigh of relief while the fans drove away the moisture. That was a heck of a weekend.

It’s been a while since I’ve hiked through really nasty conditions like Sunday afternoon– it reminded me a little too much of my last few weeks on the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington. But this time, instead of feeling exhausted and discouraged at the end, I was so happy to be out in that kind of weather. I was sore and sleepy all day on Monday, but I knew I had earned every minute that I sat on my couch. And it was just a nice feeling to know that even when I feel out of practice, I can still get right into the nitty gritty of backpacking. I think this summer is going to be a good hiking season.

The early summer gave way to more normal conditions, with nearly warm days and definitely cold nights. I hadn’t seen Moss in a while, so we decided to go for a dayhike together on a sunny, cool day last week. She’s still working at Cardigan Lodge, finishing up her stint there while also finishing her preparations for a Pacific Crest Trail through-hike this summer, and I’m finishing my work on my iPhone apps while living the city life in Keene. Happily, halfway between Cardigan and Keene is a spot I’ve been hoping to hike ever since I passed by on the New England Trail: Mount Sunapee.

Lake Sunapee from Eagle's Nest on Mount Sunapee
Bly Hill and Newbury Harbor from Eagle’s Nest on Mt Sunapee.

Getting started was a little rough. Moss’s alarm didn’t go off, and then she started driving in the opposite direction of Sunapee for about ten minutes before realizing she needed to turn around. Then, after we left her car at the ski resort’s parking lot and drove my car to Newbury to start hiking, she realized she’d left her sneakers in her car, so a quick drive back and forth again took a few more minutes. No worries– we still had an early enough start, and it was a frigid, windy morning anyway.

Lake Sunapee from Mount Sunapee
Looking out over Lake Sunapee.

It was a nice, relaxing hike, although not quiet. The two of us had a lot to talk about, with each of us heading off on adventures this summer, and both of us on barely shoestring budgets. Moss has been stressing out about going broke while on the PCT just as much as I’ve been stressing out about NOLS and the rest of my summer. In case you hadn’t noticed, Moss and I are very high-strung individuals. It’s probably a good thing we don’t spend too much time together, or else we’d both be nervous wrecks.

Lake Solitude on Mount Sunapee
From White Ledges, we watched the wind play over Lake Solitude.

Once we found our way to the Newbury Trail and got into the sun a little bit, the hiking conditions were just what I needed. All the snow had melted in the past few weeks, but the mud was frozen solid this morning, so walking was easy as pie. The sky was totally free of clouds, and the trees were still bare, so our views stretched far into the distance. Monadnock and Cardigan were clearly visible from the crags and clearings on Sunapee, and we even had a few views of snow-capped mountains in the Whites.

Lake Sunapee and Mount Kearsarge from Mount Sunapee
The only snow left was man-made at the ski trails. Mount Kearsarge on the right was prominently on display.

For lunch, we stopped at White Ledges, a high cliff on one of Sunapee’s sub-peaks. The cliff rises a hundred or so feet over Lake Solitude, an elevated lake on the backside of Mount Sunapee, and probably the most gorgeous part of the mountain. We sat at the edge of the cliff, warming in the sun while we watched the blustery wind draw patterns across the lake surface below. For a minute there, we stopped worrying about the coming summer. It was a fine day on a mountain in New England.

Monadnock from Mount Sunapee
Monadnock, off in the distance, is hard to miss.

From White Ledge to the summit of Sunapee isn’t far, but for the final few hundred feet to the summit we had to walk on alpine ski trails and up to the ski lifts. The ski resort must have had a hell of a time making snow this year, since there was so little natural snow. Moss and I had to climb onto a two or three foot base of snow once we hit the ski trails, snow that was quickly melting, but had already outlasted all the natural stuff. Up top, we wandered around on the outdoor decks of the summit hut to get views to Vermont, as well as Monadnock to the south and Cardigan to the north.

Mount Sunapee summit
Something’s not right here…

I doubt there would be a view from the summit without the ski trails– I know there are a lot of views on the Long Trail in Vermont that wouldn’t be there without the ski trails– but I still can’t get used to looking down a clearcut in order to get a view from a mountain. Even in a large hiker shelter, or in a fire tower, I still feel like a guest in nature. With the ski lifts and huge summit huts, it feels like a visit to a conquered land, sterilized and turned into an amusement park. There’s more joy from a view that comes naturally, without the help of heavy machinery and at the expense of the mountain itself. I’ll probably stick to the other parts of the mountain in the future.

A view of Mount Ascutney from Sunapee
Ascutney, just across the Connecticut River, and other mountains in Vermont.

The Summit Trail down from the peak to the ski resort parking lot was pleasant but less interesting than the Newbury Trail, so it made for a good descent. Moss realized on the way down that she’d left her car keys in my car (at the Newbury Trail parking), so our genius plan to spot cars was foiled. After her scatterbrained morning, the latest oops-moment just made me laugh a little more (after the initial exasperation). We were able to get a hitch to my car in Newbury once at the bottom, and I even made it home with plenty of time to spare before dinner.

Now I’m back to working on my preparations for the summer, and Moss is back to hoarding food for mail drops to the Pacific Crest Trail. Everything’s back to normal, but it was nice to get out on the trail for some relaxation.