vermont

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In case you missed the announcement a few weeks ago, or just want to see what the new generation of my iPhone apps looks like, here’s a little demo I recorded for the New England Hiker app for iPhone. The initial download is free, as are the guides for Monadnock State Park, the Willey Range, and Pillsbury State Park, so check it out and get out hiking!

The next generation of Guthook’s Hiking Guide apps is in the App Store. This is one I’m especially excited about, since it has brought me to some places in Maine and New Hampshire where I might not have spent much time otherwise. Behold, Guthook’s New England Hiker app!

Choose a guide from the overview map on the left, then explore trails and waypoints in the detailed guide.

Choose a guide from the overview map on the left, then explore trails and waypoints in the detailed guide.

Most of my previous apps are focused on a single long-distance backpacking trail, which is actually much simpler to turn into an app– no need to worry about naming the trail on the map, or deciding which waypoints to show in which order. So for much of the last two years, I’ve let my two New England hiking apps languish on the back burner. I’ve decided to change that by creating an app to show off some of the best hiking New England has to offer.

Tumbledown and Little Jackson Mountains in Maine. The waypoints list view in the middle sorts waypoints by distance from you when the GPS is turned on.

Tumbledown and Little Jackson Mountains in Maine. The waypoints list view in the middle sorts waypoints by distance from you when the GPS is turned on.

The app is a free download, with several trail networks available for purchase within, ranging from free to a few dollars. As of this writing, there are three free sections (Monadnock State Park, Pillsbury State Park, and the Willey Range, all in New Hampshire), and thirteen paid sections ranging from Camel’s Hump to the Camden Hills. Over the next few years, I’ll work on adding many more of the paid and free sections. The Monadnock and Camden Hills apps that I created a few years ago will eventually be discontinued and combined into the New England Hiker app.

The Camden Hills show off some of the best Maine has to offer-- Mountains right on the ocean, with gorgeous trails all around.

The Camden Hills show off some of the best Maine has to offer– Mountains right on the ocean, with gorgeous trails all around.

The functions of the app at this point are similar to the AT Hiker and Pacific Crest Trail apps. You can see information about waypoints on the trails, write in the trail registers to share info with other hikers, and browse trails on the map. New to this app is the ability to tap on any trail and see the name of the trail with the mileage of the point you clicked.

The Monadnock Sunapee Greenway guide shows all of the legal campsites and reliable water sources on the trail, making for some classic southern-New-England backpacking.

The Monadnock Sunapee Greenway guide shows all of the legal campsites and reliable water sources on the trail, making for some classic southern-New-England backpacking.

There is no elevation profile for trails in the New England Hiker app yet, but later this year I’ll be working on the ability to create your own custom hiking trips by combining trails and create elevation profiles for them. That will bring thousands of combinations of trails on mountains like Monadnock or Mansfield or Bigelow to your repertoire.

For a little more rugged backpacking trip, check out the Grafton Loop Trail in Maine. There are also four or five nice day hikes in this guide.

For a little more rugged backpacking trip, check out the Grafton Loop Trail in Maine. There are also four or five nice day hikes in this guide.

As of the initial release, the guides available include:
-Camel’s Hump, Mansfield, Killington, Stratton, and the Worcester Range in Vermont.
-Grafton Loop Trail, Bigelow Preserve, Tumbledown & Jackson Mountain, and the Camden Hills in Maine.
-Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway, Moat Mountain, Willey Range, and Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire.

The first snowfall in the mountains every autumn always takes me by surprise. Even when I lived in Vermont, with the mountains right outside my window, the coating of white that appeared at the end of October didn’t convince me of the early winter up high. Last weekend, I ventured back to Vermont to visit some old friends and mountains, and was once again surprised by the early winter.

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Flying Squirrel and Early Bird, both field staff for the Green Mountain Club, are two of the most rugged hikers I know, but I rarely get to hike with them. On Saturday, we decided to try something a little crazy– hiking every trail in the Worcester Range. The Worcester Range is a massive line of mountains that separates Stowe and Waterbury from Montpelier and Worcester, and includes two of the most popular peaks in the area for day hikers (Hunger Mountain and Stowe Pinnacle). Beyond those two straightforward hikes, though, there are several more miles of trails connecting the length of the range to five trailheads.

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The day started with coffee and donuts in Waterbury, then a pre-dawn start from the trailhead in Worcester, climbing steeply to the northern peak of the trail system, Worcester Mountain. The trees had lost all their leaves by now, but stick season was far from dull. Within a short distance from the trailhead, the snow was already ankle deep. The ground cover never let up, and we spent the entire day in a cloud, so it was easy to forget it was only October.

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We walked through the powder along the ridgeline, feeling very wintery with the fluff-covered trees around us. The snow was just deep enough to hide the ankle-twisting rocks and roots below, but not deep enough to make them go away. Flakes continued to fall out of the sky, becoming just warm enough to stick to our rain shells and overwhelm the waterproofing. In wet fall weather, sometimes the only way to stay warm is either go home or keep walking. We chose the latter approach.

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We reached Hunger Mountain, and then continued to the shorter, nearby White Rocks. These two peaks were my home territory when I lived in Vermont, both towering just above my house. I climbed both so often that I could easily walk the trails at night, or maybe even in my sleep. The muddy spots between the two were still the same as I remembered, and the slippery rocks, and the tricky climbs. There were still no views through the clouds, but I felt right at home in my old stomping grounds.

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From White Rocks, the real foolishness began. To hike all of the trails in the range, we had to make some strange detours, first dropping 700 feet steeply down from White Rocks on the Bob Kemp Trail, then turning right back around on the Middlesex Trail to climb 1200 feet back to Mount Hunger. Once on Hunger Mountain for the second time, we did have some views down into the valley, where the green pastures were a strange contrast to the winter conditions up top.

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Back at my car by late afternoon at the base of Hunger Mountain, we had already hiked thirteen miles along the length of the range, but we still had two more trails to go. The next order of business was driving into Stowe to practically run up and down the Stowe Pinnacle Trail. That was the easy part, but from Stowe Pinnacle to the Skyline Trail (where we’d been earlier in the day) is a steep and arduous climb. By the time we got back to the car, it was just getting dark. We still had one trail to go.

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We drove to the Middlesex trailhead in the dark, but luckily the portion of the trail we hadn’t hiked already was relatively flat. We donned headlamps and cruised the last mile and a half in to the start of the Bob Kemp Trail, finishing the day’s 22 miles in the pitch black, much as we had started thirteen hours earlier. Even counting the hour and a half of driving between the start and finish, it’s clear that the summer days of steady, fast hiking on dry trails is over for the year. It’s time to break out the winter gear. Here’s hoping for some deep snow and cold weather in the coming months!

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.

On a brisk MLK Day morning, Yvonne, another friend, and I headed to the Stratton Pond area for some more time playing outdoors in the snow. This time, though, was something very different for Yvonne and me– Cross country skiing instead of snowshoeing. Yvonne had found a used pair earlier in the season, and I snagged my brother’s pair from my parents last week, so it seemed like a good time to test them out.

A clearing along the Grout Pond Road.

A clearing along the Grout Pond Road.

After several years of my only winter activity being on snowshoes, strapping a pair of long boards to my feet doesn’t feel the least bit natural, but I can see why people like them. Gliding over packed snow is effortless, once you learn how to balance without falling over. Of course, that takes plenty of time and practice in itself.

Yvonne practicing her moves on cross country skis.

Yvonne practicing her moves on cross country skis.

I’d never been to Grout Pond, mostly because Stratton Pond and Mountain are so close by and offer fine hiking opportunities. But this day it seemed like a good plan to head south from the Kelley Stand Road instead of north, going along a snowmobile/ski trail to the edge of the pond, then along the edge of the pond’s perimeter.

Skiing along the edge of Grout Pond was a lot harder than I'd anticipated. No grip on the ice with these things.

Skiing along the edge of Grout Pond was a lot harder than I’d anticipated. No grip on the ice with these things.

Cruising around the pond, we had some nice views up to Mount Snow and Stratton Mountain, despite the overcast. It’s funny to think about, but the area near Grout Pond is pretty similar to near Little Lyford Ponds, where I worked in northern Maine for a winter. There are a bunch of nice, tall mountains, remote ponds, and generally few visitors. Grout Pond certainly had more traffic on skis than northern Maine, and the sight of ski resort trails would have been out of place at Little Lyford, but there aren’t many places in Vermont with so many undeveloped bodies of water– Grout Pond, Stratton Pond, Bourn Pond, Branch Pond. You could have a hell of a time wandering around this remarkably flat area on skis for a few days.

Back into the woods for some more snow.

Back into the woods for some more snow.

The only gripe I had about the day was my new Panasonic Lumix TS4, a Christmas present that I just can’t get the hang of. The camera gets rave reviews all over the Internet, but most of my landscape shots have been turning out way too dark (see all pictures from this trip). Yvonne has the same problem with her Lumix DMC-ZS8 that she got last year. We both switched from using Canons for the past several years, so I wonder if it’s something that we got used to while using the Canon cameras and is fundamentally different in Panasonics. I know I always aim a little high with Canons to make sure the sky isn’t totally washed out. Any Panasonic users out there want to help me figure out what’s wrong with me?

Stratton Mountain about to get some more snow toward the end of the day.

Stratton Mountain about to get some more snow toward the end of the day. Looks a lot darker than last time I was there.

The day was relatively short– neither Yvonne nor I have totally developed the muscle sets for cross country skiing, so we started falling more and more as the day drew on. Looking at the map, though, I was super excited to come back for some more skiing. With the Catamount Trail running right by Grout Pond, and connecting it to Somerset Reservoir and Stratton Pond, along with plenty of snowmobile trails to make for easy skiing, I can imagine myself killing a whole lot of this winter getting used to the new mode of transportation.