Redlining Day

The weather is finally starting to really turn toward spring/early summer.  It’s been so cold and wet for so long that everything is starting late.  The leaves are mostly out in the lowlands, but there is still very little cover in the mountains.  There are still plenty of trail reports with 2-4 feet of snow above 3,500 feet, so I decided to continue redlining the lower elevations this week.

Earlier this week, I updated my redlining list from the 29th edition to the 30th edition of the AMC White Mountain Guide.  Due to the various reroutes made over the past few years as well as almost 14 miles of additional trails added to the guide, my percentage of completion dropped from 29.6% to 29.2% prior to this weekend’s hike.  I also have some research to continue doing on some trails I’ve already done which had changes and I need to determine whether reroutes and other changes would require me to re-hike the trails or sections of trails I’ve previously done.  For now, I’m keeping them completed as-is, but have noted the ones I need to do additional work on.

Since the Moosilauke Region was so nice last weekend, and it’s also one of my lowest completion regions, I decided to go redline some more trail in that area and boost it up the list a bit.  My original plan was to hike Hubbard Brook Trail on an out-and-back, followed by some portion of an out-and-back on Three Ponds Trail, which both are served by the same parking area.

I started out following the old forest road up an easy grade to the official trailheads of both Hubbard Brook Trail and Three Ponds Trail.  They split at this point and I continued following the forest road which is Hubbard Brook Trail at this point.  As it reaches the top of this incline, the trail turns right, into the woods on a fairly nice foot bed.  It’s basically level at this point and follows a small stream which runs parallel to the trail on my left.  I stopped to take a picture of the brook and as I packed my phone away I realized that the blazes indicated the trail turned here and crossed the stream.  It’s obvious that many people have missed that turn, or perhaps the trail straight ahead at this point is an old trail section that was rerouted.

I soon found the reason for the possible reroute.  Beavers have dammed up the stream and created a pond.  The current trail skirts around the pond and meanders through the woods.  A second dam and pond appear up ahead and this one must be newer than the trail reroute because the trail goes right through the pond, although along one edge.  A short, minor bushwhack was needed to get around this section.

The trail continues through the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest for a while, eventually passing through an area which was probably an old logging camp.  I found evidence of this in the form of an old metal bucket on a moss covered rock.  It’s obviously been there for a very long time, but it’s pretty common in the Whites to see remnants of the logging history on hikes through more remote stretches of forest. You just have to look carefully.  Sometimes it is old rail sections, or railroad ties.  Other times it is abandoned camp items or rail car remnants.

After hitting the height of land on this trail, it descended a bit and I ran across another area where beavers had been very active and built another dam.  This section is going to need a major reroute due to the flooding and I had to more actively bushwhack around the flooded sections.  Eventually, I got back on the trail and didn’t have any significant issues after that point.  I even found a nice little cascade to take a picture of.

After dealing with the beaver activity and bushwhacking, I decided I would change my plans and make this a loop instead of two out-and-backs. Once I reached the eastern trailhead, I followed the forest road for 1.4 miles, where I reached a side road leading another 0.5 miles to the Mount Kineo Trail.

The Mount Kineo Trail ascends moderately from the parking area in a reasonably straight path toward the height-of-land between Mt Kineo and an unnamed mountain. It was fairly wet and several old bog bridges are in disrepair, needing replacement. Waterproof boots are definitely a good option in the Whites, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts.

There was lots of recent moose activity evident as I approached the high point, as well as for a half mile or so after. The south side alternates between steep descents and side-hill level sections. Eventually, Mount Kineo Trail meets up with a network of snowmobile trails. The two types of trails share the path from that point until you reach Donkey Hill Cutoff, which splits off to the right immediately after a bridge while Mount Kineo Trail splits left at the same point, off the snowmobile trail.

I took Donkey Hill Cutoff to reach Three Ponds Trail. It skirts a pond and weaves along the side of a hill, so there is some small up and down activity, but no significant elevation change overall. There is one blow down which will need a sizeable saw or chain saw to remove near the middle, but a bit closer to the Mount Kineo Trail side. Otherwise, the trail is in very good condition other than overall wetness.

Upon reaching Three Ponds Trail, you cross the remnants of an old beaver dam and start an easy climb through the forest toward Foxglove Pond. At one point, about a quarter mile from Donkey Hill Cutoff, there is a herd path that goes straight while the trail takes a hard left. The path leads to a view of a pond with a mountain ridge backdrop. It also appears that this area has been used for camping often in the past, with a fire ring and a blind built to shield the view of the fire from the water.

Continuing on the trail, when I reached Foxglove Pond, the path went right into the water, appearing to cut across a corner of the pond. Either beaver activity has raised the overall water level, or water levels are still high from the spring melt. If it is beaver activity, a reroute should be cut and blazed. After another short bushwhack, I reconnected with the trail on the other side of the pond and continued toward the climb along Whitcher Hill.

At one point, the trail crosses another branch of the snowmobile trail network, but continues immediately on the other side. The trail climbs steadily upward at moderate levels until reaching the high point before leveling off along the top of the ridge line for a while, before the decent to the trail head.

Overall, the trails, outside of the overlap of snowmobile trails and forest roads, has the feel of a wilderness area. The northern halves of these trails appear to be low traffic and as such the vegetation is growing in and obscuring the trails. Also, the yellow blazing on the Mount Kineo Trail, north of its height-of-land, is fairly faded and makes it difficult to find the trail in a few places where it is marshy or eroded from spring runoff.

Donkey Hill Cutoff is well maintained, other than the single blow down, and easy to follow. However, Three Ponds Trail, north of Donkey Hill Cutoff, is overgrown in many places and blazes are very hard to see. The growth makes trail finding difficult at times and when combined with the lack of easily seen blazes caused me to backtrack a couple of times to try to find a faded blaze to verify I was still on the real trail.

On the positive side, someone had been through Three Ponds Trail fairly recently with a saw and cleared a ton of blow downs and large and medium obstacles in the trail, which provided some evidence at times that I was still on the trail.

Overall, this was an excellent day out with some big miles for me, particularly this early in the season. Some added elevation gain due to the change in the route was an added benefit for my long term progression.

Buttkicking for Goodness (Sake)

It’s been a long couple of weeks since my last hike.  Spring fever hasn’t been completely eliminated yet and the itch to get out on the trails continues to hound my days at work. Last week wasn’t conducive to hiking being Mother’s Day weekend.  Saturday was a family day for my wife’s Mother’s Day recognition while Sunday was spent traveling to visit both of our mothers.

A couple of hiking related things did come out of the trip to visit my mother.  First, I was able to get my father’s copy of the AMC White Mountain Guide from 1972.  It will be interesting to compare the maps and trail routes and how they’ve changed, opened, and closed over the 45+ years since that edition was published.  Abandoned trails are a big thing among a small group of bushwhacking hikers in the Whites and some of the old guides are in popular demand.  While I may never attempt to hike those abandoned trails, I find it interesting to see how the current trail network has evolved over time.

The second item was that my mother mentioned that she thought my brother-in-law would be interested in joining me on the AT if I began it.  I’ll be checking in with him soon to verify and start to connect some plans with him if he is interested.  The great part is that my brother-in-law retired last year, so we wouldn’t both have to coordinate work schedules which would complicate the logistics of section hiking or else stretch out the time required to complete the trail. We just have to schedule around my work schedule.  I’ll keep everyone updated on how that proceeds.

My plan was to make this weekend a lower elevation redlining weekend and avoid snow on the trails.  The goal was to cross off some non-AT trails in the Moosilauke region.  My first trail was the Stinson Mountain Trail up Stinson Mountain, which is part of the 52WAV (With-A-View).  It’s located in Rumney, NH and the White Mountain Guide has it as a 1.8 mile trail out and back (3.6 miles RT) and approximately 1,405 feet of gain.

The 52WAV is a list maintained by the “Over the Hill Hikers” Group (overthehillhikers.blogspot.com) and is made up of 52 summits which are all under 4,000 feet but have excellent views.  The list was first created in 1990 and over the years two mountains have been removed and replaced.  The list can be found at www.franklinsites.com/hikephotos/nh52withaview.php and each mountain name can be clicked to see a picture of the mountain, a description, and links to trail reports.  While I’m not actively tackling this list, I have added my current status to my About page.  I’ll be knocking most of them off over time as I redline the whites.  There are a few that are outside of the White Mountains, but I can check those off here and there.

Despite trying to pick trails without snow, there was one last patch near the summit of Stinson Mountain.

Stinson Mountain Trail was a well-defined trail with a fairly rocky foot bed.  It was easy to follow and a couple of times it crossed or followed a snowmobile trail which also led to the summit.  I found the trail to be in pretty good shape.  The overwhelming wetness of the spring has diminished on this trail, but there is still a significant amount of mud and water to deal with.  There are some very well maintained water bars, but there are also several that are significantly deteriorated and a couple near the summit that have failed and erosion around the log forming the water bar has taken place.

My second trail of the day was Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, which is also located in Rumney.  It’s a lollipop trail that is a 2.3 mile hike with 964 feet of gain.  For redlining purposes, it is 1.7 miles of unique trail.  It has some nice views of the region as well as views of Mt Moosilauke and the Waterville Valley area summits.

The trail was in excellent condition and had a wide, mostly smooth foot bed.  The climb was steady and ranged from moderate to steep at times, but not difficult.  The trail became wet in places near the split for the loop at the plateau of the trail.  The views were excellent with high clouds mixing in with sunshine.  A pair of birds of prey (hawks I think, but maybe falcons) were on the hunt while I ate my lunch on the summit ledges. On the decent, there are still some patches of fall leaves which make it slippery in places, particularly when it’s steep.

I don’t know why, but these trails kicked my butt today.  The first half of Stinson Mountain Trail was fine, but my legs just struggled to climb this trail and it slowed me down.  I still managed to summit in less than book time (1 hr 35 mins).  Rattlesnake Mountain Trail was about the same.  I had the time off my feet from the drive between trails (about 15 mins), so the first half mile wasn’t bad, but again, the steeper section really took the strength out of my legs today.

I know that it probably wasn’t good to do a significant hike up most of North Kinsman, followed by a two week break before another hike, but I didn’t expect the result from today.  On the plus side, I did complete both hikes and got to check the trails off the redline list (+0.3% complete) as well as marking Stinson off the 52WAV list.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to get away from work during the week or hike next weekend and see if the time between hikes was a factor.  Either way, I need to push myself into much better climbing shape for the AT.

Aside from planning my hike for this weekend, I’ve been working on the blog site as well.  I’ve gotten a bio written as well as a Progress Tracker page for the AT.  While I won’t be updating it for a while, it’s there for reference.  I’ve gotten the listing of all the shelters and summits along the AT (courtesy of www.sophiaknows.com).  I’ll be updating the mileage to reflect 2019 distances and each year thereafter for incomplete sections as the annual Data Book is published.  I’ve also put up a Reference Links page where I’ll put URL’s of various places I find or use on the internet and you may find useful or interesting.

Fate or Coincidence?

I’m not a terribly spiritual person.  I’m definitely not a religious person, although I was raised as a Protestant Christian.  I’m very logical and have a fairly scientific view of things.  This leads to questioning lots of the aspects of religion and spirituality.  I guess at this point in my life I have evolved my views of God away from the traditional human-form all-powerful being that created everything and has control over everything to a more amorphous ‘forces of nature’ conglomerate.

At times, I might wonder “why me” when things seem to be going badly for no reason but I also don’t expect any answer or explanation beyond a string of unfortunate coincidences.  For me, hiking is an opportunity to commune with nature for a brief time, which is about as close to a church service as I get these days, unless it’s for a wedding or a funeral.  I just don’t believe in a force controlling our lives at an individual level.  Lately, however, things have happened to question that, at least a little.

I’ve been contemplating the Appalachian Trail for quite a few years now.  I originally wanted to thru-hike it at some point, and maybe I’ll still be able to do that, but I’ve come to the acceptance that my chosen career path, family, and lifestyle won’t likely accommodate a four-to-six month vacation on the trail.  At least not until I retire.

A couple of years ago I made the decision that I could section hike the AT and manage to work that into my life, which opened up the possibility of completing what I wanted to, but within the constraints I had to work with.  As I mentioned in a previous post, my goal is to section hike the AT sequentially from South to North to replicate the order of experiences a thru-hike would produce.

This year, I had almost no chance to get out and hike over the winter.  I definitely had a serious case of spring fever and my wife suffered with moodier days and waspish responses on “down” days, through no fault of her own.  At some point this winter, my resolve to hike the AT seemed to strengthen and I had decided that I would start training this year to prepare for some serious section hiking.  Eventually, I even got to the point to set a plan and start my actual hike in 2020.

My wife doesn’t like the idea, entirely.  She knows that I’ll be gone for a week or two at a time, leaving her alone to take care of our daughter who will turn 6 near the end of next summer.  She’s been very supportive though and I appreciate that.  She actually suggested the blog to me and the idea stuck, so all of you reading this can thank her (or blame her) for it.

My work schedule finally opened up in April and the weather cooperated and I finally got out for a hike, which I already wrote about in my “Building the Plan” post.  That helped significantly with the spring fever issue.  My mood lightened and the clouds parted, leaving me with a much sunnier disposition.  I was eager for the snows to melt and the hiking trails to dry up and get past the “shoulder” season between winter and spring in the Whites.  Whether directly attributable or not, the improvement in my mood from this short hike also seemed to confirm the decision that I would start section hiking the AT in 2020.

Next came the AMC 4000 Footer Club’s annual meeting where I was one of many being recognized for completing one of the various lists in the prior year.  Between the atmosphere at the meeting, the memories of all the summits reached, and the various stories told about what those achievements meant to people, I realized that the urge to hike the AT had become even stronger.

This past weekend, I hiked toward North Kinsman.  It being May 4th and also being a Star Wars fan, I somehow wanted to share “May the 4th Be With You” day in some small way with the hikers on the AT, but as I chronicled at the time, I didn’t reach the summit and instead was satisfied with a far better result than expected, even if it didn’t achieve the arbitrary goal of reaching the summit.  Instead, the route I took home passed through Kinsman Notch and I stopped at the parking area for Beaver Brook Trail.  I got out and walked a few feet up the trail, officially putting me on the AT for a couple of minutes that day.  I know it seems absolutely silly to do such a meaningless act, but for some reason it meant something to me in that moment.  A reinforcement of my decision to do what I was doing.

Last week I also started jumping in head first to research backpacking in general and specifically the AT.  I haven’t been on a backpacking trip in more than 30 years, back when I was in the Boy Scouts.  I needed to relearn what to do and realized that lots of things have changed over those three decades.  While doing that, I ran across a free backpacking seminar that was being put on by the Outing Committee of the Maine Chapter of the AMC.

That seminar was last night and was well done.  It certainly wasn’t an in-depth tutorial to backpacking, but covered all the basics over the two hours.  It wasn’t meant for long thru-hikes, but geared toward an introduction to one-to-five night backpacking trips.  Regardless, the basics are the same.  Thru-hiking primarily requires planning for resupply as the major difference.  There were close to 20 attendees and it was split about 2-to-1 women-to-men.  Everyone had different reasons for attending the class and a few, like me, had goals to hike the AT, although I seemed to have much more concrete plans than the others did at this time.

Leaving the class and heading home, I realized that I was much closer to getting started than I realized.  Right now, to start getting out, I need a pack larger than my day pack and a shelter of some sort, most likely a tent.  I have everything else I need for a short backpacking trip.  That piece of knowledge seemed to further solidify my desire.

Now, looking back at the past month or so, I have started to wonder:  Why does everything seem to be reinforcing my decision to hike the AT?  Was the timing of the backpacking seminar just random coincidence?  Why do I feel so comfortable blogging about myself when I am usually a pretty closed-off person to strangers?  Everything seems to be leading me in the singular direction toward the AT.

At this point I’m still a skeptic on fate and destiny but, the logical, scientific approach leads in both directions.  You can question where the evidence is to substantiate the existence of God, Fate, and other metaphysical beliefs.  However, when a sequence of things happen which seem to be too coincidental to be random, you can also question whether you’re being given the evidence you’ve asked for.  The key is not to close yourself off from any potential answer.

For now, if Fate is real, and I’m meant to thru-hike the AT, maybe a solution will present itself.  In the meantime, I’ll continue my plans to section hike it with the firm belief that it is the right decision for myself and my family at this time.

Spring Hiking in the Whites

I finally had another weekend with time to get out to hike.  It’s been mostly miserable for weather since I was last out two weeks ago.  Rivers have been roaring with the rain and melt water and they’re finally starting to subside.  Trail reports still indicate multiple feet of snow above 4,000 feet, but with the rain and temps eating away at the snow cover quickly, I headed out in the morning to cover the nearly 2.5 hour drive to Franconia, NH for my planned hike, as well as my alternate hike.

As part of my new outlook on hiking, I didn’t want to race the clock per se.  My daughter is not quite five yet, so if I leave before she gets up in the morning AND don’t get home until after bedtime, life gets less pleasant.  Therefore, I was less focused on the clock today, but still mindful of the overall timeline.  I was ready to leave the house a bit before 6:00 but I waited until she was up to say goodbye.  A 10 minute delay wasn’t going to create problems with the hike and would make for a much happier girl throughout the day.

My route there took me through Crawford Notch, and with all the water flowing from the rain and melting, I stopped on the way to the top of the notch to get pictures of the two waterfalls which are about 100 yards apart:  Silver Cascade and Flume Cascade

Silver Cascade; Crawford Notch, NH
Flume Cascade; Crawford Notch, NH

My plan was to hike Mount Kinsman Trail up to Bald Knob.  Depending on how I felt and also the weather and snow conditions, I had the option to hike up to North Kinsman and along the ridge to South Kinsman.  The goal two weeks ago was distance, with a bit of climbing.  Today’s goal was all about the climb.  Climbing to Bald Knob would give me 1,391 feet of elevation gain, while going all the way to North Kinsman would yield 3,182 feet of gain.

The trailhead is just south of Franconia, on Route 116 and there’s plenty of parking for a dozen or so vehicles.  There were two others there when I arrived.  There was no sign of snow and trail reports had been indicating that snowshoes weren’t very useful anymore, so I left my snowshoes in the back of the car today.  I attached my “spring” microspikes to my pack, as well as my hiking poles, and started out in fog and light drizzle.  For my microspikes, there really isn’t any difference between my “spring” spikes and my “winter” spikes.  Spring spikes take a beating on rocks and gravel and don’t stay sharp.  Once the snow starts to melt down to the ground, I swap over to the older “spring” pair.

Overall, my gear consisted of:  baseball cap, sunglasses, wicking T-shirt, Techwick medium weight shirt, medium weight long underwear (bottom), light weight smartwool socks and my Salomon waterproof backpacking boots.  In, or on, my pack were my fleece jacket, a winter hat, mid-weight winter gloves, glove liners, my spikes, my poles, and 3 liters of water, along with food and a pack saw for any blowdowns needing to be cleared.

The early trail is fairly easy and was dry and solid, despite the rain overnight and the current drizzle.  The trail began to get wetter and softer about a half mile in.  Around one mile I climbed into the cloud bank, as the fog appeared and got thicker.  After a bit of a climb, I started reaching the stream crossings.  One has a waterfall next to the trail.  The last major crossing has a spur path to a flume, but I’ve been down the spur before and it’s wet and slippery in summer, so I wasn’t about to try it in today’s weather.

Trail-side Waterfall, Mount Kinsman Trail; Easton, NH

Shortly after the spur path to the flume is where the Mount Kinsman Trail takes a hard left and the Bald Knob Spur goes to the right.  Judging how I felt, I decided to try North Kinsman and I would head over to Bald Knob on my return.  Up to this point, there hadn’t been any snow on the trail.  About 200 yards after the junction were the first small chunks of unmelted ice remaining from the winter’s monorail.  Within another quarter-mile, the monorail had become fairly consistent and too difficult to avoid, so I pulled my spikes off my pack and put them on my boots.

Rotting Monorail on Mount Kinsman Trail

The packed, solid portion of the monorail ranged from a foot wide in places, down to just a few inches in others.  It was very challenging to stay on the monorail throughout the climb up North Kinsman.  My poles often broke through the snow to the sides and I had to be careful not to rely on the poles too much for balance, or else I’d end up falling off the monorail when the poles broke through.

Up wasn’t a terrible problem.  It was a bit slow and tedious, making sure to stay on the packed monorail.  I ended up getting to an elevation of about 3,600 feet when my legs decided they were done.  It was a hard decision to turn around at that point.  I was only about a half mile from the summit, but I also had about 600 feet of gain to climb in that half mile.  I had already been slowing down during the climb and if I had pushed myself to reach the summit, I probably would have been very late getting home tonight.

Reading a bunch of AT blogs and Instagram posts, there are a bunch of “words of wisdom” that can be found, but there are two that have stuck with me so far.  First, “Hike Your Own Hike”.  Do it your way, not someone else’s way, because you’ll be happier and more fulfilled doing it the way you want it done.  Second, “Listen to Your Body”.  When your body says it’s done for the day, let it rest.  If it needs a zero day, give it a zero day.  I’ve been notoriously bad at the second one as a day hiker.  I have pushed myself to hit my targets and reach my goals, whether it be time targets, distance, or reaching the planned objective of my hike.  I hate failure and I have paid the price after a hike in the past, where my feet are sore, joints ache, and I have low energy for days afterward.  This is another of the adjustments I’m making to my hiking style this year, as I prepare for the AT.

In the past, I’d have pushed on to complete the summit and paid the price.  Today, I listened and turned around.  Now, for me, down is always faster.  I have good knees and I have very little problem moving quickly down a mountain.  However, down on a rotten monorail that is three feet above the ground is far more dangerous than that same monorail when going up.

When you are climbing, you move slowly and are picking your footing carefully.  Down, you are fighting gravity and your footfalls land much heavier, leading to more postholes.  Go down too quickly and you run the risk of postholing and breaking ankles, twisting knees, or other injuries.  On the way down today, I passed two groups on their way up.  The first group, I moved off to the side of the trail so they could go by me and I promptly broke through and sunk to my waist.  Fortunately, much of the snow had melted, leaving empty space under the suspended monorail and it was easy to climb back onto the monorail after they passed.  However, that was done carefully and with the expectation that I would fall through.  The results can be completely different if I was moving ahead at a rapid speed and broke through.

For the second group, I happened to find a spot to the side of the monorail where a rock and stump stuck up through the snow and it gave me a solid purchase to stand on as they went by.  Much easier and safer this way and was easy to step back to the monorail and continue on my way.

Eventually, I reached the junction with the Bald Knob Spur and followed it for the 0.2 miles to the open ledges.  Unfortunately, they were still mostly in the clouds, but it was a good opportunity to sit and rest and enjoy the peace and quiet.  While I was there, I ate a snack, drank some more water, and realized how muddy my legs were.  There’s a reason I keep choosing waterproof boots.  Today would have been miserable with wet cold feet.  It’s also the reason for the long underwear today.  While the temperatures were starting out in the low 40’s and were in the low 60’s by the time I returned to my car, my legs stayed warm and mostly dry despite my outer hiking pants being soaked and mud covered.

Spring Hiking Fashion

As a bonus, the sun broke through the clouds when I was about a mile from the trailhead and I managed to find a few flowers starting to blossom.  The first is a red trillium that is ready to blossom, but not quite there yet.  I’m not much of a botanist, so I don’t know what the second flower is, but it was in bloom and I took its picture.

Red Trillium, Not Quite Blossoming
Unidentified Small Yellow Flowers

Overall, today was a great day!  I exceeded my expectations on my climb, making it far closer to the North Kinsman summit than I expected.  I got to drive around and see a bunch of waterfalls and it was a wonderfully relaxing day on the trail.