Backpacking 101 or 2

Some time ago I noticed several posts in a online women’s hiking group about wanting to go out backpacking but having no or limited experience. I thought it would fun and rewarding to take a group out and help them feel more comfortable to stay out overnight. I planned a beginners group and got a request for an intermediate as well.

The beginners group consisted of five women ranging in age from fourteen to late forties. I chose a mellow route of about four miles to the Eliza Brook shelter. Getting to the trail head was a little rough and we parked in the lot just before the actual trailhead because I knew there were big rocks at the turn off. Rachel was running late and I was afraid she wasn’t going to make it but she pulled in just as we were ready to get started. I don’t doubt she would have caught up to us being a pretty speedy hiker but having her with us from the start was much better. This being in the White Mountains there were of course a few steeper inclines but everyone did great. It seemed that all the ladies had looked at the pack list I had put together before hand and nobody was carrying a monster pack which is always helpful. I only had to give out one virtual penalty to Emma, the teenager, who was wearing a cotton t-shirt. Thankfully she did have other layers with her which were non cotton so we didn’t have to fire her from the group. We had one decent view on the ridge and just as we were about to take a group shot a gentleman walked by. We jokingly asked him to join in our picture and he totally seized the opportunity to photo bomb our shot. So funny.

When we arrived at the shelter we set up our tents on the group tent platforms, it was cozy but we fit them all in. Initially I had planned for those interested to go up to South Kinsman to tag a 4000 footer but the weather wasn’t great and it turned to drizzle and rain soon after we got to the shelter. Here’s where Laura and Dolores came in, our two social members of the group. They kept conversation going and Laura asked questions like which musical artist we would choose to listen to if we were stranded on a deserted island and had to pick just one. Other entertainment was provided by Appalachian Trail hikers stopping in for a break and others stopping here for the day as well. Most were fun to talk to but one of them was terse and later wrote in the shelter register that he stopped in to hear the sewing circle cackle. We thought this to be rather rude.

After dinner we continued chatting for while and figured out that the older man in the shelter wasn’t ignoring us on purpose, he just couldn’t understand us. Thanks to Veronica we found out he’s from Spain and hiking the AT. She had a nice conversation with him in Spanish while I added my lame basic phrases I remembered from college. Two other guys came in and decided to stay in the shelter for the night. They were very nice and changed our name from cackling sewing circle to Team Ovarian Steel. That sounded much more hard core, we liked it!

In the morning we were all happy to see that our gear held up in the rain and after breakfast we headed back down the trail. The down hill and creek crossings were no problem for anyone and we were back at the trail head in no time. The first overnight was a success! : ) (and no, we didn’t know we were all going to wear aqua shirts lol!)

 

The intermediate overnight was this past weekend and ended up just being my friend Anna who I had invited for fun and my facebook friend Rachel who I hadn’t hiked with yet but I knew she was a strong hiker. Rachel was the only one who hadn’t backpacked before so both Anna and I were telling her what stuff she could take out of her pack and leave in my car. I knew the two of them were strong hikers who could probably walk circles around me so I picked a redline for me and a challenging AT section for them. We were going to climb Goose Eye mountain and then hike the so called ‘hardest mile on the Appalachian Trail’, the Mahoosuc Notch. We were impressed with the view from the Outlook on the way up the Success Trail and had a nice break there.

DSCN0695

We continued on but took it easy and chatted up a storm. Before we knew it we were on the ridge and our ascent mellowed out a bit. I was sweating buckets because it was so hot and grabbed some emergency water along the way, it’s a fairly dry ridge but we found some water next to a bog bridge. I was happy when we found a better source a bit further on and I could dump the giant piece of moss that was floating in my bottle.

We climbed up to Goose Eye Mountain using ladders and metal rungs and again had amazing views! We’re so lucky! We only saw one hiker on the trail the entire day, and its pretty quiet at the shelter site.

At the Full Goose shelter we set up on the group site platform. Well, the girls did, I was too lazy and slept out. It didn’t seem too buggy but it only takes one buzzing insect to drive me crazy. Luckily the buzzing stopped and I slept well. In the morning Rachel tested out the different sleeping pad options and we discussed the pros and cons of hammocks and the different types of tents. After the luxurious morning coffee we set off to scramble through the Notch. We saw a several AT hikers and a few section hikers that day and had fun negotiating the boulders and caves. There was still some ice left which made it nice and cool for such a hot day.

We had a leisurely lunch at a stream, made sure to hydrate and started up the Mahoosuc Arm. We took our time and chatted away and before we knew it we were on top! After that we took the May cutoff and headed down the Speck pond trail back to Anna’s car.

It was so much fun hiking with all these ladies, I may have to make this a yearly tradition. And I’ll definitely hope some of this years’ participants will join me again, or organize their own trips. : )

Gordon Pond and Dilly Trails

In my quest to redline the White Mountain trails I set out to hike the Gordon Pond trail on Friday. By biking down hill from the Beaver Brook trail parking lot to the Gordon Pond trailhead I planned to make a loop connecting up with the Kinsman Ridge trail and descending the Dilly trail which I also still needed for the redlining. This was a great plan except that I couldn’t quite figure out where the trailhead was from looking at the map. I naively plugged in Gordon Pond trail in the google app on my phone and started biking towards it. If my morning brain had been a little bit more functional I would have realized that going uphill towards the trailhead really didn’t match the map at all but I continued walking my bike up (because who bikes up hill anyways?) until Google said I was at the trail.

I was a little confused not to find a parking lot and headed left. I crossed underneath some powerlines, saw a few confusing signs and proceeded to park my bike behind some trees. It was then that I checked my Gaia app and realized I was supposed to head uphill and that I had missed the bottom part.  Oops!

Still slightly confused I follow the Gaia track, and ignoring the trail signs at the powerlines again I continue straight across the road, park the bike and come to another trail junction. I turn left but that doesn’t jive with my map or the Gaia track (downloaded forest service map, which isn’t always correct btw) so I turn back and continue straight. I’m following some blue blazes and think I’m on the right track now (I’m discarding the Gaia track at this point because it’s nonsense). I turn left onto a road bed and soon follow along the creek. It’s pleasant walk to where I have to cross the creek. It’s a fairly easy boulder hop across just below where the trail crosses and I continue on. It’s starting to climb a bit now but it’s all pretty gentle. I’m enjoying how green everything is.

I don’t enjoy the little garter snake when I see it at first because snakes always startle me at first. It’s not moving at all so I can take a nice picture of it and hike on. Poor guy is probably cold.

I can hear Gordon Falls as I get closer and enjoy a nice view from the top of them. Crossing right above you have to watch your step since the rock is pretty mossy but it’s a pretty sweet area. Not too much later I cross it again and a little further it gets  muddy with some eroded trail and a mud pit. My poor shoes are getting sucked in a few times. Eventually I make it to the spur trail to Gordon pond. There is a big boulder with a small cairn on it marking the turn to the left to stay on the main trail but if you continue straight you’ll get to a nice spot to view the pond and if you’re lucky you can see Mt Wolf. There are some mediocre campsites in the area as well. I enjoy a little break eating some cookies, testing out my rain jacket in the drizzle. Just past the pond I startle a porcupine waddling up the trail, he climbs a tree to get away from me. They’re such cool animals!

IMG_4560

I soon make it up to the Kinsman ridge trail and have a fairly easy jaunt over to the Dilly trail. I meet four thru hikers along the way and wish I had brought more extra snacks to hand out. One of them had taken a picture of my car in the parking lot with the excessive hiking and triple crown stickers. Haha.

The Dilly trail is listed as a very difficult trail so I was wondering how hard it would really be. I would have preferred to do it uphill but with the way I made this into a loop I didn’t have that option. In the end it wasn’t all that bad. Yes, the trail was steep, rocky and rooty. But it was dry and I just stashed my poles and took my time. I had an okay view from the ledge and made it down to the closed sign at the trailhead safely. I even walked the nature trail at the bottom but it wasn’t all that exciting. I thought about visiting the lost river gorge but wasn’t willing to pay the $19 to get in so I walked up the road back to my car.

Of course there was still the mystery of the missing mile on the Gordon Pond trail so I finally did what I should have done in the first place and pulled out my White Mountain Guide. It perfectly described where the trail starts and where you can park. It isn’t odd that I missed it since it’s unmarked parking next to a restaurant (don’t park there after 4pm) and you have to walk up a private driveway past a garage to turn onto a rail road grade. You’ll eventually see a gate, walk around it and get to the powerlines I saw in the morning. Instead of continuing straight like I did, the trail actually turns where the signs are which I didn’t pay attention to in the morning. It then continues uphill and turns again to join the trail I followed in the morning. Now the confusing junctions all make sense. Haha. I guess that White Mountain guide book is pretty useful if you actually read it! Duh.

Grafton Loop Trail

May 28-29, 2016

To avoid the Memorial Day crowds we decided to head up to Maine and hike the Grafton Loop Trail. It’s a 38.6 mile loop going over Bald Mountain, Stowe Mountain, Sunday River Whitecap and Old Speck on the western side of the loop and going over West Baldpate, East Baldpate, Long and Puzzle mountains on the east side. It’s a lightly travelled loop and we saw about 30 hikers the entire weekend of which most were on Sunday River Whitecap and Old Speck mountains.

We had an early start on Day 1 and soon were huffing and puffing up Bald Mountain. The scenery was lush and pretty and the trail wasn’t too rough but the unexpected heat combined with the exertion of climbing rather steeply near the summit made me feel pretty miserable and slightly nauseaous. After making a conscious effort to hydrate and eat a small snack I started feeling better and we eventually made it up the Sunday River Whitecap. We only saw two other hikers on their way down and two adults and two kids and dogs on the summit. We were wondering how many people would be on Franconia Ridge right now.

The views from the summit were amazing. We enjoyed a nice little break and looked around at what we just hiked and what was up ahead. We could see our entire loop from here.

IMG_4259

On our way down the black flies came out in full force and I hadn’t planned for them. I made do with my fleece lined buff tucked underneath my visor so at least they wouldn’t buzz my ears. In one of the worst sections they were dive bombing my face and I wished we had brought a head net or Deet. Near Slide mountain campsite we met another hiker who offered us Deet and even though I hate the stuff I happily put some on my arms.

We tanked up on water and continued hiking up Old Speck. We were both feeling poorly and low on energy. Greenleaf stopped to snack and drink some more and as a last resort put some music on. I passed him but sat down on the trail not much later. I suddenly felt really miserable. Downing some more water and trying to eat another snack I just sat there for a while hoping not to get nauseous again. When I finally got up I didn’t feel all that much better and even a little shaky but I didn’t have that much climbing left to do and figured I’d stay on the summit until I felt better.

At the summit I found Greenleaf taking a break. It was clouding over a bit but he was still sitting in a semi sunny spot and it was hot. I laid down knowing I should be in the shade but I was too out of it to move. We added Nuun rehydration tablets to our water and ate several electrolyte bites. I  felt some energy coming back but my body still needed to cool down so I finally did what I should have done earlier and moved over to a shady spot. This instantly helped. I didn’t care that I was laying in wet dirt with some possible moose poop. I felt a hundred times better than I did 30 minutes ago. I even felt ready to climb the fire tower but I didn’t feel the views were worth the effort at this time. It had gotten pretty hazy and the view from the last summit had been so amazing it wasn’t really going to add much to our hike. Plus we’d already been up there several times before.

With renewed energy we hiked to the junction with the AT and met a thru hiker on his way down. He started mid February to stay ahead of the crowds and had had a rough time through the Whites. I noticed that he had a PCT patch which prompted me to start up a conversation about the different long distance trails. I love talking trail! Greenleaf and I pulled off for a second to grab some more snacks and I discovered an extra brownie. Now the chase was on! I wanted to give it to the thru hiker. I needed to catch him soon since we were planning on hiking the Eye brow trail instead of the AT. Luckily I caught him just in time. The brownie was successfully handed over and we continued on our separate ways.

The Eye Brow trail was an interesting little trail. It had a few slab sections with rebar and cables and  a steep down hill lined with cables too. It had some nice views along the way but we were glad when we made it to the parking lot and sat down for dinner. It was a buggy spot but we covered up and ate.

We continued going up to the Baldpates with the idea to get over East Baldpate tonight to enjoy the cooler temperatures. Instead of staying on the AT we took the Table Rock side trail which had a short bouldering section. I thought it was fun but Greenleaf was a bit grumpy because it was slow. The view from Table Rock was cool, we could see all the peaks we climbed earlier today.

Making our way back to the AT we concluded that going any further than the Baldpate Lean-to wasn’t in the cards for us tonight. The heat took a lot out of us today and pushing any further would have just been miserable. At the shelter we found the AT hiker fast asleep so we set up our tent and called it a night. It had been a tough hot 20 mile day with over 7000 ft of climbing.

Day 2 was a very different story, we woke up in the clouds and it was so much cooler. We loved it! Sure we didn’t have amazing views but these temperatures were such a relief from yesterday. We climbed easily up to West and East Baldpates to the junction where the AT and the Grafton Loop trail split up.

IMG_4322

This section of the trail was much softer and felt not as well traveled as the other side. There were multiple stream crossings but they were all rock hoppable. At times it felt as if we were hiking in Vermont, it was so green and lush. There was even a nice section where we could totally cruise. I loved it! It was only when we got closer to Puzzle mountain that the temperatures rose and the bugs came out again. They made me very grumpy for a bit but luckily disappeared again and my mood improved. The trail only hits the west peak of Puzzle mountain but it has some decent views. We couldn’t see the tops of the mountains we climbed yesterday but we had that view yesterday from Table Rock. I’m glad we did that little side trip after all.

Descending Puzzle mountain was indeed like a puzzle, following small cairns and occasional blazes we found ourselves descending steep slabs and rocky sections. We were relieved when it mellowed out and we could hit a stride again. After about 18 miles and some 5000 ft of climbing we found ourselves back at the car, eating snacks and planning our next adventure. This was a great loop and besides the near heat exhaustion and annoying bugs we really enjoyed it.

Some redlining in the White Mountains

I started actively red lining the trails of the White Mountains last year, meaning I’m trying to cover all the trails described in the AMC White Mountain Guide. I’ve hiked many miles in years past but never really kept track all that much. Once I downloaded the ‘worksheets’ with all the trails and started checking them off I realized I hadn’t hiked as many as I thought. I wasn’t even half way done! Since then it’s been a fun game to string some trails together, preferably in a loop minimizing retracing trails I’ve already done.

This Saturday I had a craft fair which ended at 2 pm so that meant I couldn’t get to the mountains until late afternoon. But looking at my maps I found the Copper Mine trail which was only 2.5 miles long and had a shelter at the end. Perfect! It was an easy hike on the west side of Kinsman ridge and I made it to the shelter just before dark. The next morning I took the time to explore the falls nearby. A little scramble got me to the bottom of the upper falls to a nice swimming hole. This would make a great destination in the summer.

The hike down was quick and I soon found myself getting ready for my next hike. I wanted to hike the Reel Brook and Mt Kinsman trails but instead of doing two out and backs I figured I could make a loop out of it by connecting them with the Kinsman ridge trail. Only problem was that I would end up at different trail heads. Since I didn’t have a car spot I thought I could bike from one trailhead to the next. That sounded a lot easier than it was! I haven’t biked in several months and there were a few small up hill sections. I soon found myself panting and sweating, this is harder than the hiking, haha. The dirt road to the Reel Brook trail turned out a bit too much for me and at some point walking my bike made more sense. I was relieved when I got to the trailhead about a half an hour later and parked my bike behind a tree.

There were three other hikers starting at the same time but they were planning on going towards Kinsman Notch and I soon passed them anyway. The Reel Brook Trail was nice and gradual, a bit muddy at times but otherwise pretty sweet and I reached the Kinsman ridge trail pretty quickly.

I wanted to scout out the Eliza Brook shelter for a future trip and I was pleasantly surprised, it was in great shape with several campsites and a bear box. After perusing the shelter log book and eating an early lunch I continued on to South Kinsman. That was a tough climb but I had some company of a dad with his daughter and her friend. The views from the Kinsmans were pretty impressive. We could see rain coming in from the distance and an impressive cloudy sky. A little further along there was even some hail just as another hiker asked me to take a picture of him at a view point. I asked him to return the favor and ended up with a picture of me in my summer dress trying to catch hail! It got even better when mother nature decided to throw in some thunder and lightning! I was happy to reach the Mt Kinsman trail to head down from the ridge to safety.

 

This trail had a few patches of ice left but it was mostly avoidable. It seems like the ice is finally disappearing from the Whites, this makes me very happy. And seeing all the trees leafing out is wonderful too. It’s finally starting to look like spring! I reached the Bald peak spur trail and .2 miles later had another sweet view. Not much later I took the short spur trail to a flume gorge. It was pretty impressive. Back on the main trail I made good time once the tread mellowed out some more and I enjoyed the green tunnel.

It was only 5pm when I got back to the truck and I figured I could do another short hike. After picking up my bike at the Reel Brook trailhead I headed over to the Jericho Road trail, except that I couldn’t find it and continued on to find the Cobble Hill trail instead. This turned out to be rather boring walk on an old muddy dirt road with a seemingly random turn around at the national forest boundary. Oh well, it’s another red line I can check off my list and in the end I saw a tiny little eft which was cool.

P1010158

Hamlin and Baxter Peaks

February 7 – 11, Baxter State Park

After the 20 hour day we slept for a few hours and skied 11 miles back to the car. We were supposed to ski another 5 miles to the bunkhouse at Togue Pond but we’re tired and it’s already 5pm when we get to the car. We decide to sleep in my small car with our legs in the trunk. It got really cold and when we wake up the windows are all covered in frost on the inside. Packing up in the small car the next morning is a challenge especially being so cold. We’re finally ready to go again at 7 am. The skiing is much easier now since there has been some fresh snow on the roads. We ski 13 miles to the Roaring Brook ranger station where we leave the sled and skis. It’s now a steep hike up to the Chimney Pond cabin. The trail is packed by snow mobiles so luckily we can micro spike it up. The cabin has 10 bunks and 5 guys already there have warmed up it up nicely by building a fire in the stove.

The next day my face is swollen from the weird allergic reaction I get from differences in temperatures and humidity. A nice guy gives me some meds and I’m out most of the day. GL climbs Hamlin peak with the guys. It snows the whole day and all the direct trails to Baxter Peak are dangerously loaded with snow. Not wanting to risk an avalanche we decide to go up over the Hamlin ridge again the next day. GL will summit Hamlin three times in two days, haha. We have a beautiful morning with sweet views until just below Hamlin Peak where we enter cloud cover. It instantly gets much colder and I get to put my goggles on for the first time. Brr. Visibility is poor and gets worse towards the summit. We knew this could happen and come prepared with GPS and Inreach. It’s really cool to be on the top in the white out with nobody else around. On the way down it’s a challenge to stay on course. I veer a bit off to the left since I’m afraid to fall of the cliff on the right. GL checks his GPS and sees a trail to our left so we pick that up. It feels a bit different than what we have come up (less wind) and when we see a white blaze we realize we veered off to the Appalachian trail. Oops! We soon navigate towards a connecter trail and make our way to the saddle trail. We probably lost 45 minutes here but oh well we’re back on track. We’re now able to see cairns again and easily make it back to Hamlin. I do have to ask GL to dig my bomber mitts out because my hands are getting cold. I would never be able to do this cold weather stuff by myself. Mitts make it so difficult to grip things. He feeds me a warmed up snickers bar and we’re on our way again. I’m relieved we’ll be going down with day light left since there are some rocky sections. We have fun butt sliding down some of the steeper sections near tree line. Although I do break my trekking pole somehow. What an adventure!

The next day we walk and ski back to the car. The skiing with the new snow is really fun, I guess I don’t hate skiing after all. In total I skied 56 miles and hiked 21 1/2 miles this week. More skiing than I’ve probably done in my entire life.

North Brother, Coe and South Brother

February 4 – February 6, Baxter State Park, Maine.

On February 4th we drive to the Abol Bridge winter parking lot. It’s not really marked but we eventually figure out which one it is.

We ski in on icy roads, stay in a lean-to at Abol campground and ski on to Kidney pond where we stay in a sweet cabin with a wood stove.

Day 3 was the day for our summit attempt to North Brother, Fort, Coe, and South Brother. We skied for 4 miles to the trailhead and initially had packed down trail to North Brother. From there it’s a bushwhack or herd path to Fort. We didn’t have a good GPS track and after getting caught in a spruce trap I decided to leave this one to Greenleaf. I wandered around a bit near the summit of North Brother and did find the beginnings of the herd path but the snow conditions were horrible.

It was too cold to wait around so I slowly made my way down and started breaking trail towards South Brother and Coe. The snow was the worst possible kind you can have. Crusty and hard on top but soft powder underneath. I would sink in to my knees and make very little progress. When the trail started gaining elevation I ran out of energy and luckily GL caught up to me soon. I had been breaking trail for an hour and only made a half mile of progress. I followed him, now in the dark, to the summits of Coe and South Brother. The summits were windy and cold and Coe had a scary drop off but we made it safely up and back down. Back at the road we skied the 4 miles back and got back to the cabin at 2.30am! Craziness.

Snow Mountain (chain of ponds)

January 18, 2016

After spending the night in the Stratton motel we head out to hwy 27 and look for the turn to our logging road. The sign says North road but I think it’s called something else on our map. Anyway, we sure are glad we rented a 4 wheel drive vehicle for this one. My little car would have never made it on this road. It’s totally snow covered with some tire tracks from recent logging traffic. We make it safely to a little parking area, put our snowshoes on and cross country towards the road we see on the map. We sink in really deep but are hoping to pick up some tracks from other hikers who have been here a few days before.

They got in some trouble with a water crossing so we’re very careful to avoid that. A little too careful, because when we see their tracks and we see some water we decide to continue on a bit further to hopefully avoid the water. We follow the road we’re on but soon realize it’s leading us away from the road we want to join. Turning left should get us back on track. Except we turn so much to the left that we end up walking in a circle! Poor Greenleaf was leading and had been doing so well with the navigation up until now. I thought he was still checking his GPS and I was too busy trying to keep up to pay any attention to direction. I must admit that hiking in the snow can be quite disorienting. Back at our own tracks, he stomps off to follow the other snow shoe tracks and it turns out that that water crossing was no big deal at all and we join the intended road in no time. Sweet!!!

Having the other tracks to follow makes a huge difference. We’re still sinking in because new snow has fallen but not nearly as much as before. We’re very thankful.

We’re on logging roads for a bit until we hit the narrower fire warden trail and it gets a bit steeper. It’s really pretty with the snow covered trees right next to us. There is one steeper rocky section where I’m grateful to have Greenleaf pull me up but otherwise it’s pretty easy going.

Near the top there is a nice view point, we really only see the trees near us and a white sky but it sure is pretty. It’s getting a little windier up here so we add some layers back on and don’t linger at the top. And we certainly don’t climb the fire tower. That thing looks dangerous! ; )

IMG_2057

The down hill is a breeze again. I do fall on my face once or twice because my snow shoe catches on something but no big deal, the landing is soft in the snow. ; )

On our way up we had found something precious sticking out of the snow on the side of the trail. It was a giant fresh moose antler! We stashed it behind a tree to pick up on the way down. The area we found it at was moose central, so many moose prints! We were joking how the moose should be required to wear snow shoes since they were ‘ruining’ the snow shoe tracks. ; )

We attached the antler to Greenleaf’s backpack, boy that thing was heavy! It wasn’t long before we were back at the point where we split off from the other’s tracks, I asked Greenleaf if he wanted to the circle again but he decided against it. Haha. In the end I was getting pretty tired and was happy to see the car again. The drive out was a little slippery but we stayed in the now snow covered tracks and made it safely back to the highway.