Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Length of Rhode Island on The North South Trail

Chris and I spent April 23-27 backpacking the North South Trail through western Rhode Island. We started Thursday evening and finished Monday morning. Our daily mileages were approximately 5, 25, 22 ½, 20, and 5.

The North South Trail runs the length of the state, 77 miles from the Atlantic Ocean at Blue Shutters Beach to the Massachusetts state line at the start of the Mid-State Trail. The route connects 8 state-owned wildlife management areas and Burlingame State Park. It is about 1/3 true trail, 1/3 dirt road, and 1/3 paved road (ouch!), but fortunately the road walks pass through mostly rural landscapes and residential areas, so traffic is light. There are tiny ups and downs, but for the most part it is pretty flat walking. Along the way, the NST passes old foundations and cellar holes and literally MILES of old stone walls. Those early settlers sure were industrious!

There is an excellent guidebook by Cliff Vanover -- I purchased mine from The Mountain Wanderer in Lincoln. The guidebook is loaded with detailed and accurate maps and sufficient route descriptions and mileages. Alternate routes are described -- sometimes these routes are more scenic and more trail-like than the actual NST. The route is very, very well marked with blue blazes and plastic NST markers -- we were impressed -- and there were no moments of confusion. The guidebook could have done a little better job as far as pointing out good water sources; there was plenty of water, but much of it did not look exactly drinkable (swamps, ponds, or otherwise yucky).

The camping situation is a little murky, but suffice it to say we never had any problem finding a place to low-impact camp for the night. The one “shelter” at Arcadia Backpackers Campsite, the one that supposedly required a permit, was a hoot: two sides of the rather large cabin had completely caved in leaving only the opposing two walls standing. We set up the tent! The NST passes about a dozen campgrounds, most of which were not yet open, on or near the trail (one was even a nude campground!), and also a one-star motel at mile 53 northbound which we might have considered had the weather been rainy. At the same road crossing, Route 6, the NST passes right through the parking lot of Shady Acres Restaurant. Heaven! (I polished off the 4-piece fried chicken dinner with mashed potatoes, corn, roll, turkey-rice soup, a salad, blueberry pie a la mode, and 3 cups of coffee. Oink!) We saw many, many Dunkin Donuts cups strewn along the roadsides but, alas, the NST does not come within reasonable walking distance of any DDs.

Speaking of litter, there was a lot of it on the road walks. By the looks of of it, a rather scary number of Rhode Island folks apparently like to drink and drive. We saw many empty bottles of every imaginable hard liquor, oodles of “miniatures”, soda cans, rubber gloves (!), fast food wrappers, cigarette packs, etc. The middle section had A LOT of road walking, and we entertained ourselves -- and took our minds off our aching feet -- by counting beer cans. Final count for the day: 339 Bud Light/Bud cans, 242 ALL others. (One street we renamed Busch Road.)

Speaking of coffee, a big shout out to the kind folks at Meadowbook Golf Club, mile 19’ish. We inquired at their restaurant about buying some coffee, and they said it was on the house!

Wildlife is scarce or very shy/smart, but we did hear coyotes the last night, barred owls twice, and we saw 6 turtles, 3 ticks (ick), and 2 deer, both of which were unfortunately dead. With all the road walking, dogs were the animals we saw the most of, and it seems every other resident of rural Rhode Island has a flock of chickens and a rooster these days!

We saw a few other people using the NST: a couple of mountain bikers, a couple of day hikers, one other thru-hiker (she southbound), and a group of 4 section hikers who videotaped and dubbed us “The Indigenous Hikers.” Hah!

Our friend Jim, who lives in northeastern Connecticut, was a godsend. He not only let us leave our car at his home but also drove us to the start… AND picked us up Monday morning at the finish. If you’re reading this, THANK YOU Jim! We owe ya big time!

This was a nice trail to thru-hike this time of year. The trees had not yet budded out, so views were farther reaching.  Unlike the mountain trails in our parts, there was NO SNOW. Temps were cool, and we endured no rain. Big thanks to the trail maintainers and to those who turned the concept of the NST into reality. In my attempt to traverse a minimum of 50 trail miles in each state, this was my third-to-last state left to do. North Dakota and Hawaii remain. Guess which one I’ll finish with?!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Madshus Wuss Skis the Catamount Trail

My Winter 2015 project was one I had been dreaming about for many years: to ski the length of Vermont on the Catamount Trail. That dream became reality on Monday, March 16, when after 25 days scattered within the past 2 months, I skied the final section from Camels Hump Road to Route 17.

The Catamount Trail is the country’s longest marked ski trail. It extends the length of Vermont from Massachusetts to Canada and while advertised as 300 miles, my GPS recorded a solid 325. This backcountry ski trail follows old logging and skid roads, hiking trails, a few groomed Nordic center trails, snowmobile (VAST) trails, and many miles of trail that were scouted and cleared specifically for the CT.  According to Catamount Trail Association literature, approximately 85 miles are on Green Mountain National Forest lands, 60 miles on State lands, 10 on municipal lands, and 86 on protected/conserved lands or via trail easements. Approximately 60 miles are unprotected and exist due only to the generosity and permission of individual landowners. The trail breaks down into 31 sections, and each section has a “trail chief” or two responsible for overseeing maintenance of their particular section. Blue plastic diamonds with black catamount paw prints mark the trail. If my experience is representative, the CT finds very light use, which I find crazy because this trail is so beautiful, so awesomely cool, such a treasure! I found myself repeatedly wondering why I didn’t see throngs of skiers and snowshoers out there… yet happy they weren’t. Between the Canadian border and Stowe, a distance of about 75 miles, I saw only one person on the trail, she skiing at Craftsbury Outdoor Center! Other than 2 large groups encountered, a handful of skiers at the Nordic centers of Stowe, and a Bill Koch youth event at Mountain Top, I saw maybe a dozen skiers on the remainder of the trail. I also encountered maybe 35-40 snowmobilers total, all of whom were courteous and friendly. No crowds on this trail!

History and the CTAThe CT is the brainchild of University of Vermont students Steve Bushey, Paul Jarris, and Ben Rose, who in 1984 conceived of and skied the first end-to-end tour. That same year the Catamount Trail Association was established. This small nonprofit does a stellar job of overseeing management of the CT. As of this writing, less than 80 people have skied the entire CT. Most section-ski the trail over several years, but a few hardy souls thru-ski the trail in one winter. Three individuals -- Zachary Edwards, Sam Brakeley, and Bob Ordemann -- made Winter 2015 a banner thru-ski year.

Background and prepIn December I turned 49 and decided that this -- my 50th -- year I would attempt to traverse the length of Vermont in 5 different ways. The Catamount Trail would be the first, the most logistically complicated, the longest in terms of duration, and the most physically challenging due to the fact that I am not a very good skier! Previous backcountry ski experience amounted to things like skiing into Baxter State Park, the Pemi ski-thru, and some of the longer winter approaches to New England peaks. I also skied Mt. Garfield once… badly. 99% of my skiing experience had been at Nordic centers on beautifully groomed trails and on very skinny skis. On the positive side, I have a long history of backpacking, winter hiking, long-distance running, and am confident and comfortable going solo. I’d intended to do more actual ski training early this winter but in the end managed to get out exactly once on my skis, a 3-hour jaunt on a local rail trail. On the other hand, I’d just pushed thru December in a 30-day yoga “immersion” of 90 minute classes. I believe that that, along with regular hour-long sessions on a Concept 2 rower, proved very good training for long-distance skiing. My back, arms, shoulders, and core were strong, and my hip flexors suffered none of the usual soreness so common after my first couple ski outings in earlier years.

Gear talk:  After discussion with the helpful CTA staff, cursory internet searches, and talking with the fine folks at Burlington’s Outdoor Gear Exchange and The Ski Rack, I settled on the Madshus Eon with the Salomon xAdv6 boot and binding, happy with that choice. Enter Stage Left: Madshus Wuss! Being, well, let‘s say a conservative skier -- a snowplower -- and opting for less weight over control, I avoided a more full-on backcountry setup. As for boots, my main concern centered on warmth and comfort, and the xAdv6’s served that purpose. I did have to be watchful of the bindings icing up; for that reason I carried a pocket knife for the first time in my backcountry career and actually used it on a couple occasions. On two separate days my boot froze onto the binding, though fortunately discovered not until day’s end! I also bought Black Diamond kicker skins, again opting for weight savings over the much heavier, full length variety. (I later exchanged the first set after ripping the lashing strap on their second use and have not been particularly pleased with the second set because I cannot get the plate to lie flat, so snow bunches up dangerously under the plate.) In any event, I used kicker skins on five days only for short stretches of sustained, otherwise ungrippy climbs. My final purchase, a boot dryer, meant multi-day excursions each began with warm dry feet.

Guidebook and Maps:  The CTA-published guidebook and the more updated online version proved indispensable. All section maps, profiles and descriptions are available on the excellent CTA website,
www.catamounttrail.org. My one small critique is that 75% of the time my GPS recorded section mileages anywhere from 0.3 to 4.2 miles longer than advertised, but I believe the CTA plans to address those differences (and anyway, it meant more miles to enjoy). Three National Geographic/Trails Illustrated Maps (Mt. Mansfield-Stowe, GMNF North, and GMNF South) proved equally helpful, especially for my husband Chris who crewed me. Unfortunately, there is no NG/TI map for the northern ~65 miles. Additionally, my iHike GPS app performed marvelously. (Best $6.99 I ever spent!) In the end, I was “confused” only a couple of times but quickly figured out correct directions by using the tools at hand.

In my pack:  Except for crampons/Microspikes, my backpack contained most of the things I would normally carry for a winter hike, including a huge down jacket, insulated pants, extra hat, neck gaiter, big mitts, chemical hand warmers, a Blizzard Survival Bag, small stove and pot, food and fluids, duct tape, headlamps, etc. With most days cold enough, I usually wore wind pants and a hooded shell over a base layer or two. I did not carry a PLB device but did carry an iPhone and was surprised at the places I had phone service as well as the places I didn’t. Chris and I knew better than to rely on cell service, but when possible we enjoyed texting each other in order to gauge progress.

Chris:  Without my husband’s help this adventure would not have been possible. HUGE thanks and gratitude for his unwavering support. Chris would drop me off at the day‘s starting point, then snowshoe in from either an access point within the section or from the end point and get some miles of his own. There are other ways of thru-skiing the Trail, of course, including joining one of the CTA-sponsored outings, skiing inn to inn ($$$… ka-ching!), skiing with others in opposite directions and exchanging car keys, or winter camping along the way, the latter of which was not going to happen. (I once spent 2 weeks on Denali so have been fully cured of any future desire to camp on snow.) Being able to ski the whole CT with a dependable and supportive partner: priceless! I am a lucky woman…

Plan v. execution:  I worried there might not be enough snow this winter, but that turned out for naught. What an amazing snow year! In the warmth and comfort of my home, I’d made a rough plan to complete the trail in 15-20 days with the expectation that on most days I would complete 2 (of the 31) sections per day and relatively easily ski 20 miles a day even though I would be out there solo most of the time. Hahaha… In reality I managed 2 sections per day only 5 times, and one 7-mile section took 2 whole days to complete! My start at the Canadian border on January 18 proved rather inauspicious. Within the first 2 miles I had already missed a turn onto a new relo and skied an extra 2 miles on the older route before figuring out my mistake. Grrr…! Then for some stupid reason I decided that it might be fun to ski the next section south of Jay Pass the day after a dumpage of almost a foot of heavy, wet snow. After 3 miles of absolutely exhausting trail breaking, I wisely retreated and luckily got enough cell reception to text Chris. “Skiing” 6 miles that day took 4 ½ hours. Gulp. Oddly, over the past couple years the Jay Peak area has been a kind of kryptonite for me, but I am stubborn and focused and don’t throw in the towel that easily.

The next few outings played out much better, but for the Madshus Wuss no day came easy! The route up and over Lowell Mountain on the Revolutionary-era Bayley-Hazen Road was especially enjoyable, and reaching Craftsbury Outdoor Center on the 5th day of skiing (January 24) was a big milestone. On the 8th day of skiing (January 29) I navigated through the somewhat confusing maze of interconnected Nordic ski centers of Stowe, a total of 21 miles and 3000+ feet of climb. Boy, was I happy to reach Trapp Family Lodge at the end of that day! By February 1, I had made it to I-89, the psychological third-of-the-way milestone.

Prior obligations prevailed and we couldn’t get back out there again until February 18. Up to this point each of the outings were day trips from home in the Northeast Kingdom. Toward the end of the day my fatigued, addled brain would often have difficulty trying to decipher the guidebook backwards -- its narrative reads south to north -- so I shifted plans to do the majority of what remained in the south-to-north direction. We headed down to the Mass border on February 18 and over the next 6 days clicked off Sections 1-9, about 87 miles. Fortuitously, I started just a couple days behind a group of 20-30 skiers, the CTA’s Southern Week-Long Tour. In contrast to the northern Sections 21-31, these southern miles rolled much gentler, making the skiing generally even more enjoyable for me. On the other hand, a couple days had crazy cold wind chills and impressive newly formed 3 foot snowdrifts to plow through: I’ll not soon forget the Somerset Reservoir Drifts from Hell! Crossing the AT/LT and skiing on Stratton Pond was another significant milestone. (The CT crosses the Long Trail a total of 8 times.) We spent 2 nights in the funky Old Red Mill Inn in Wilmington, 2 at the Snowden Inn in Londonderry, and a final night in Ludlow. By Section 7 I had caught up to some of the SWLT and the next day was breaking trail for THEM… and sheesh, did I break trail out of Landgrove that day! Let’s just say that upon reaching the VAST section of trail on February 22 I fully realized my appreciation for snowmobilers. By the time we made it to Healdville on the 6th day of our southern tour, we were both ready for a few days off.

Our next outing, I skied another section southbound to Camels Hump Road, then Chris and I climbed Camels Hump via the Burrows Trail and I sledded down while Chris jogged in snowshoes behind me. (THAT was fun! My one and only 4000 footer this winter.) The entire CT passes through beautiful, mostly open hardwoods with tons of critter tracks, and the central third may have been my favorite of all. Despite some trail breaking, Section 11 near Salt Ash and Burnt mountains, and Section 12 which traversed the flanks of Shrewsbury Peak, Little Killington, and Mendon Peaks were just absolute “winter wonderland” areas. I also really enjoyed Sections 13 and 14, Route 4/Sherburne Pass to Rt. 73 just below Brandon Gap, loaded with a bundle of easy but remote VAST trail skiing! After spending the night at the Brandon Motor Lodge (2 thumbs up), climbing out of Brandon Gap the next day on an apparently lightly used 3.4 mile section proved to be a rude awakening to my day, as approximately 8 inches of fresh snow blanketed the yet unconsolidated base. However, the rest of the day unfolded as easy and fun trail through the Blueberry Hill network and beyond.

On March 12 I skied Rt. 125 to Lincoln Gap, then back down the west side, fortunate enough in that section to run across the Kroka group. Kroka Expeditions
www.kroka.org, out of Southern NH, takes some pretty amazing teens on a semester-long adventure, one leg of which is skiing parts of the CT. They really warmed up to Chris when he gave them all the remaining food we had in the car, including chips, Snickers and Lara bars (but not the beer)!

The next day we were at it again, this time climbing Lincoln Gap from the east side. By this point in the journey, a couple thaw-freeze events created an unbreakable crust situation for the descent from Lincoln Gap to West Hill Road which made controlled skiing quite difficult for the Madshus Wuss. Consequently I ended up side stepping down a lot of what could have been really fun downhills with just a few inches of snow. This was the one and only day when I almost resorted to tears of frustration, but I would not allow that and forced myself to laugh instead! When compared to my GPS numbers, the guidebook mileage was most off in this section: the book read 3.7 miles, I got 7.0. But, my gosh, the section was gorgeous! SO many animal tracks, quiet stillness, and beautiful open hardwoods as far as the eye could see. Juxtaposed against this fairly remote backcountry stretch, the next 2 miles traversed the “wilds” of the Sugarbush Golf Course. Enough warming had occurred that I actually had to ski around a few bare patches this day!

On March 16 I skied my last section southbound from Camels Hump Road to the covered bridge of Battleground Condos on Rt. 17 in the Mad River Valley, crossing the LT (at Huntington Gap) one last time. Advertised as “very remote, requiring advanced skiing abilities” with some long sustained climbs, I approached this final section with a bit of trepidation. But with 2-3” of fresh snow over that same unbreakable crust and temps getting in the 20s and 30s, conditions were near perfect, even for a Wuss. Chris met me in Phen Basin, and we completed the last couple miles together. What a great finish to an incredible trip! While there is a satisfying sense of accomplishment, the joy is in the journey and the finish is always bittersweet for me. A big thank you to the Catamount Trail Association, the Trail Chiefs and all the volunteers for the wonderful job they’re doing. I love this Trail!

A few stats

Total miles done: 352
Total CT miles done: 326
Days skiing: 25
Average mileage: 14.0
Median mileage: 14.5
Most miles in a day: 22 (Rt. 4 to Rt. 73)
Least miles in a day: 5 (part of Section 20)
Coldest temp: -16 in Elmore (I swore I’d never go out in temps this cold again… but there I was...)
Warmest temp: high 30s - used scraper and MaxiGlide only 3x
Windchill warning days: 3
Dams crossed: 3 - Harriman, Chittenden, Sugar Hill
Breakfast at Maplefields: Too numerous to count
Pre 4 am wakeups: Too numerous to count
Nights away from home: 7
Miles driven: I don’t wanna know
Best post-ski meal: Prime rib at Old Red Mill Inn
Best souvenir: ½ moose shed, Section 27


Jan 18 - Canadian border to Jay Pass (14.5 m.)
Jan 19 - Jay Pass to “Birch Knoll” and back (6 m.)
Jan 21 - Hazen’s Notch Road to “Birch Knoll” and back, then to Brookside Road (12 m.)
Jan 22 - Brookside Road to Wyllie Hill Road (17 m.)
Jan 24 - Wyllie Hill Road to Stevens/Garfield Road (20 m.)
Jan 25 - Stevens/Garfield Road to Elmore (10 m.)
Jan 26 - Elmore to Mud City Loop Road (15 m.)
Jan 29 - Mud City Loop Road to Trapp Family Lodge (21 m.)
Jan 30 - Nebraska Valley to Route 2/I-89 (14.5 m.)
Feb 1 - Nebraska Valley to Trapps and back (6 m.)
Feb 4 - Duxbury Road to Camels Hump Skiers Association high point and back (10 m.)
Feb 18 - MA border to Rt. 9 (18.1 m.)
Feb 19 - Rt. 9 to Kelley Stand Road (16.75 m.)
Feb 20 - Kelly Stand Road to Kendall Farm Road (10.4 m.)
Feb 21 - Kendall Farm Road to Danby-Mt. Tabor Road (19 m.)
Feb 22 - Danby-Mt. Tabor Road to Rt. 155 (16 m.)
Feb 23 - Rt. 155 - Healdville (7.4 m.)
Feb 25 - CHSA to Camels Hump Road (5 m.)
Mar 5 - Buttermilk Falls pkg. to Tin Shanty (18 m.)
Mar 6 - Tin Shanty to Rt. 4 (14.2 m.)
Mar 8 - Rt. 4 to Rt. 73 (22 m.)
Mar 9 - Rt. 73 to Rt. 125 (13 m.)
Mar 12 - Rt. 125 to Lincoln Gap and back down west side (19.5 m.)
Mar 13 - Lincoln Gap Road east side to Rt. 17 (17 m.)
Mar 16 - Camels Hump Road to Rt. 17 (10.4 m.)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Redlining Complete!

photo taken in Zion National Park, Nov '14, NOT White Mtns!

On November 29 I completed "redlining" the White Mountain Guide, 29th edition, which means I have now traversed all 608 trails and 1440.4 miles covered in the guide book.  Punctuated by numerous fits and starts and a 6-year hiatus while living in California, for the past 25 years or so I have been half-heartedly pursuing this list... or "keeping track" at least.  This past May I finally printed off the list and decided to tackle the last ~300 miles and ~200 trails once and for all. My intention was never to finish by year's end (as evidenced by some of the goofy trails that were left for last) but somehow it got down to the last 75 miles, then 50, then 25... such that the miles got too low not to finish!  For me, the joy is always in the journey, so I am kind of sad that it's over now.

Most of the trails were interesting and fun, and I really truly enjoyed every single one of them, even giggling at the absurdity of the hobblebush whack that was Three Ponds Trail and the "blazed bushwhack" that was Middle Mountain Trail in Shelburne. I enjoyed exploring the WMNF beyond the heavily trodden 4000 footers. The only thing I did not enjoy was all the driving which is why I tried to be as efficient as possible when tackling a particular area - for example,  covering 25 miles on Chocorua in one day, 31 miles around Ferncroft on another, and a few overnights in the Evans Notch-Speckled Mountain area.

Once deciding to pursue finishing the list, my first hikes were Peaked Hill Pond, Stinson Mountain, and Rattlesnake Mountain (Rumney) on May 13. Between then and November 29, I covered 309 redlining miles and 196 redlining trails. Total mileage required between May 13 and Nov 29 solely for redlining purposes - not including other, nonredlining hikes- was 566 miles (and countless other trails).

Some highlights of the last 196 trails:

Favorite hike: Bicknell Ridge-Emerald Pool-Baldface Circle-Baldface Knob-Chandler Gorge-Slippery Brook loop on Sept. 30. Spectacular display of foliage in Wild River Valley. One of my all-time favorite hikes anywhere!
Least favorite trail: Cold Brook Trail because it's mostly an unmarked road walk - boo.
Pleasant surprises: (Much more enjoyable than expected) southern Pemi Trail, Red Rock Trail, Mill Brook Trail, Black Cap, lower East Branch Trail.
Most hobblebush: Three Ponds "Trail" (bring navigational aids!)
Most miles hiked for least redline miles: Grafton Loop (west) Trail, 17-18 miles for 0.3 campsite spur redline miles. Also opted for a Mahoosuc Traverse in order to claim Trident Col Campsite Spur, 31 miles for 0.2 redline miles.
Amazing ledges: Iron Mountain and East Knob of Red Rock Mountain!!
Best via ferrata: The Eyebrow
Wildlife sightings: Large bear on Scudder Trail, June 11. Large snapping turtle, a first!, on Bickford Brook Trail, June 19. Very territorial, tail-slapping beaver at Fourth Connecticut Lake, June 29. Mama and baby moose at Mountain Pond, October 30. Many, many crazy grouse that seem to get their kicks by charging me.
Best blueberry pickin': Speckled Mountain on July 17 and Albany Mountain on July 22.
Trails I can't believe I'd never done: Champney Falls, Doublehead Mountain, Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledge trails.

I'd planned to finish on Diamond Peaks Trail in honor of Jadwiga Rosenthal, the first female redliner, since that was the trail she finished on, but due to weather and logistical factors it ended up being third from last. A very good friend of mine has a 35-year-old annual tradition of hiking Mt. Washington the Saturday after Thanksgiving. With imminent winter weather, we wanted to snag The Eyebrow during the last good window (talk about getting lucky last Wed pre-storm!). Since Diamond Peaks and Magalloway River Trails were sort of in the neighborhood, we combined them w/Eyebrow and opted to do Southside Trail with the annual Mt. Washington trip.

The Mt. Washington Observatory's weather forecast for Saturday called for cold temps and some wind in the 20s but also for clear, sunny skies and that made all the difference! As our group of nine reached the Lion Head-Alpine Garden Junction, Chris and I headed for Tuckerman Junction while the others climbed to the summit. Coming off the Lion Head highway, footing on western Alpine Garden, upper Tuckerman and Southside was rather treacherous - an unpredictable combo of styrofoam, soft, and hardpacked snow with frequent postholing onto hidden rocks. Poles were a godsend but we could have also used snowshoes here! As we neared Tuckerman Junction, the wind picked up over the lip, and we headed straight into it, still traversing the ankle-twisting mine field of a trail such that it was. Finally I tagged the sign, laughingly raised my arms for a photo, turned around, and got the heck outa there!

Huge thanks to Chris for indulging me in this endeavor, for selflessly acting as taxi driver so that my out-and-backs were few, and for being such a good sport and trail companion. 

Onto the next thing...!!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Michigan and Ohio - DONE !!

I am a bit tardy in getting this posted but wanted to briefly mention that I was able to successfully run/hike 50 trail miles in both Michigan and Ohio a few weeks back.  This brings my 50 Project total to 47, with only North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Hawaii to go. 

Since we live so far north, it made more sense for us to motor on up to Montreal and from there across Ontario (unfortunately a rather boring ride), crossing back into the US at Port Huron, Michigan.  Toronto broke heat records for the day, September 5, and the day ended with an intense thunderstorm and deluge.  We intended on camping out most nights but opted for a motel room in Flint this night!  Chris is driven a bit batty by my tending towards serendipity (read lack of planning), but the next morning we discovered quite lovely trails at Holly Recreation Area.  We did the Lakeshore and Wilderness trails, then I ran the West Loop mountain bike trail.  Mountain bike trails usually make for very nice running trails, and this was the case with Holly's West Loop.  All told I got in about 15 miles at Holly.

We knew that the Run Woodstock event was going on in Hell, Michigan, and that was our next destination.  We were able to set up our tent amongst the crowd - as far as ultraruns go, this event was a huge party with Woodstock-esque bands ("Jimi Hendrix" playing the Star Spangled Banner, yeah!)  and a very loud, festive vibe - and the next day ran some of the well marked equestrian trails which were also part of the race course.  As the campground cleared out Sunday afternoon, quiet descended upon us and we opted to spend a second night while enjoying another few miles on the trails for a grand total of 17 according to my Suunto.

Our final day in the Wolverine State was spent running the Potawatomi Trail which is mostly a singleterack mountain bike loop.  It was pretty darn tootin'.  Being a Monday, I saw only a handful of bikers.  I also saw one of the funniest bumper stickers stuck to a sign:  "STRAVA:  Outing Cycling Douchebags Since 2008."  Heh, heh!

I have to admit not being too excited about Ohio and unfortunately was of the mindset of "I have only 43 miles to do" having already run a 7-mile leg stretcher in Mohican State Forest while driving home from Hardrock back in '05 or '06.  Serendipitously - that word again - my Smartphone told of a potential gem just outside of Toledo (TOLEDO!!??).  The trails at Oak Openings were awesome, albeit flat, but that made for some fast'ish miles.  Chris and I did the 16-mile Scout Trail on Tuesday followed by the Blue, Red, Grey and Yellow Trails on Wednesday, for a total of 26 miles and no repeated sections!  Toledo.  Who knew?

Next up was a visit - and a rest day - with Chris's cousin who lives just north of Columbus.  I got to see the house where Chris's grandparents lived and where his mother was born and grew up and meet some of his extended family.  Pretty neat... and they are all amazingly, surprisingly normal.  ;p  Along with Chris's cousin and her husband, we did a nice 3.5 mile walk in Highbanks Metropark.  The final Ohio miles were completed in nearby Alum Creek State Park's mountain bike network, about 13.5 miles of pretty sweet singletrack.  The Buckeye State was done!

We made our way back to Vermont via mostly interesting secondary highways, passing through Ohio's Amish Country, staying in a couple of state parks, and crossing the northern Adirondacks which entailed a beautiful ferry boat ride across Lake Champlain before the final couple of hours drive across Vermont.  Road trips with Chris are always a lot of fun but it was good to settle in at home once again.

We have been having some unseasonably warm weather the past 10 days or so, and the foliage is near peak and is just gorgeous.  With all the nice weather, we've been trying to get over to the White Mtns. more and have gotten a lot of trail miles in lately, including Mts. Cabot and Waumbek, Wildcats-Carters-Moriah, Franconia Ridge - Skookumchuck to Osseo, and the Baldfaces this past Wednesday which turned out to be one of the most beautiful hikes I've ever done, anywhere.  Chris has also indulged my trailbagging/redlining obsession and helped immensely with car spotting and his company on sometimes not-so-maintained "trails."  (Three Ponds Trail anyone?)  Ah well, it's all great fun!  After starting with over 300 miles this spring, I am now down to less than 100 but probably won't finish anymore this year.  We'll see.  I'm thinking of throwing in the 162-mile Cohos Trail before I consider myself done.  (It's a TRAIL and it's in Northern New Hampshire, right?)  Of course, part of the beauty is that one is never truly "done."  Until next time...

Sunday, August 31, 2014

White Mountain Hut Traverse

Early yesterday morning I headed up 19 Mile Brook Trail with the intent of completing my 5th Hut Traverse in as many attempts. It had been 9 years since my last Traverse, when I went West to East in 20:10 and 19 years (!) since my first. The previous 3 were in the East-to-West direction (1995 in ~25 hours, 1999 in 18:15, and 2000 in ~21 hours). I have not been doing much ultra-length hiking or running for the past couple of years, but after completing the Mahoosuc Traverse and 30 Wonalancet miles within the past 3 weeks - and feeling like I had something left in the tank at the end of each - decided to give the Hut Traverse another shot.

Interestingly, August 30-31 was also the 81st anniversary of another Hut Traverse. On August 30-31, 1933, Ralph Batchelder and Evarts Loomis, AMC hutmen both, walked from Carter Notch to Lonesome Lake in just under 24 hours. While they skipped Wildcat Ridge, they did include Pinkham Notch Camp in their route. (See Forest and Crag, pp. 518-19.) Impressive considering depression era footwear and other outdoor gear!

My preferred Hut Traverse route is as follows: [Carter Notch Hut] 19 Mile Brook, Route 16, Great Gulf, Madison Gulf, Parapet, Star Lake, [Madison] Gulfside, Westside, Crawford, [Lakes of the Clouds] Webster Cliff, [Mizpah] Mizpah Cutoff, Crawford, Avalon, A-Z, Zealand, [Zealand] Twinway, [Galehead] Garfield Ridge, Greenleaf, [Greenleaf] Old Bridle Path, Lonesome Lake [Lonesome Lake]. I skip all summits except those which the trails happen to directly cross over: Pierce, South Twin, and Lafayette. Using this configuration of trails, it is about 24.2 miles and 5,600 feet of vertical (add another 3.8 miles and 1900 for the initial climb to Carter Notch Hut) to Crawford Notch, 24.8 miles and 9,200 vertical to Lonesome Lake, for a grand total of 49 miles and 14,800 (54.4 miles and 16,700 feet of vertical including 19 Mile Brook approach and Lonesome Lake descent).

Friday afternoon we spotted Car #2 at Lafayette Place (the finish) before proceeding up to Gorham and dinner at the Chinese buffet. I do not recommend this. At the very least order off the menu! However, my fortune cookie - more advice than fortune - seemed rather prophetic: “It is not the end yet. Let’s stay with it!” I decided that THAT would be my mantra for the day, no matter how sucky things got. Being 4 for 4 as far as attempts/completions, the pressure was on!

We snagged one of 4 remaining campsites at Dolly Copp for a few hours of shut eye. Its being Labor Day Weekend, the Whites were a busy place.

At 3:40 am I tagged Carter Notch Hut and was off. The early miles in the dark always seem to pass quickly, and soon I was back at the Route 16 trailhead drinking fresh hot coffee prepared by my husband Chris, who would crew me here and at Crawford Notch and also get in his own hike of Webster and Jackson in the interim. I ran the short stretch down to Great Gulf Trailhead, polished off the rest of the coffee, and headed up Great Gulf Trail. The lower part of this trail is easy and I should have been running but settled on a purposeful walk instead. Hey, it was gonna be a long day. Madison Gulf Trail had the usual tricky route finding at stream crossings - much thanks to the cairn builders - and the expected steepness, but by 7:42 I was filling my water bladder at Mad Hut as the guests dispersed after breakfast. The morning was a beauty, with both settled valley fog and the higher peaks obscured on and off by cloud. I made my way easily via Gulfside around Adams, Jefferson and Clay, then Westside around Washington and Crawford Path to Lakes of the Clouds by 10:23. Up to this point I had seen maybe a dozen hikers on the trail all morning. That was about to change! By Pierce I’d stopped counting at 100, and they just kept coming, quite a departure from the lightly traveled redlining trails I’ve been mostly doing this summer.

I reached Mizpah at 12:07 and Crawford Notch at exactly 1 pm. What a zoo! Cars and people and noise everywhere, barking dogs, screaming kids, the train blowing its whistle… Chris had snagged a parking spot at the depot and made a pot of ramen and more fresh coffee, so we had a front seat for all the entertainment. I tried to make quick work of this “aid station” but ended up staying almost half an hour. If one were going to stop, this is the logical Quitter Point, and I briefly fantasized about returning home and spending the evening sipping wine on the porch instead of slogging across the Twinway and the evil that is Garfield Ridge Trail in the dark, but there was that nagging mantra, “It is not the end yet. Let‘s stay with it!” Well, okay... LET’s!

The steady stream of humanity continued as far as Mt. Tom Spur, but I encountered just one hiker between Mt. Tom and Zealand Trail. Of note, the western end of A-Z Trail is in great shape and has some really nice new bog bridges. After Zealand Falls Hut at 3:31, the climb up Zeacliff has never been one of my favorites but is just a prelude to what lies ahead. The view from Guyot was lovely and the Twinway rather easy, but it took 3 hours to reach Galehead. Unfortunately I needed to refill my water bladder so had to walk through the front door past a very full dining room midsupper. The croo was very pleasant and accommodating when I asked for some hot water for coffee.

For me, this is where the Hut Traverse gets hard. In 1995 I hit the wall around Garfield Pond and remember curling up under a boulder in an attempt to get some sleep. A few hours later I suffered a meltdown while descending Old Bridle Path, sobbing to my friend Al Sochard "WHY is this trail TAKING so lonnnngggg…???!!!” (One of those things you know you will be laughing about the next day.) I was determined to not hit the wall or have a meltdown! Galehead to Greenleaf took over 4 hours (6:30 to 10:47 pm). The headlamp came out around Franconia Brook Trail (Oh yay, I get to climb the waterfall section in the dark!). Along the Twinway and Garfield Ridge Trail I saw many presumably thru-hikers bootleg camping along the trail. One couple even had a campfire going. Not sure if that was legal but it sure looked inviting. Being solo and in the dark, I was extremely careful on all the scrambly sections. There were a lot of scrambly sections.

At treeline on Lafayette‘s north side things got more interesting. There was a steady breeze blowing but it wasn’t knocking me around and wasn’t too cold, 50 maybe? I wore a hat and gloves but no shell, just long sleeves, and was fine. However, a bit disconcerting was the fact that visibility was barely cairn to cairn. In my depleted state, I knew I had to be very careful about staying on the trail, so this entire 2-mile above treeline section was pretty slow. Old Bridle Path was just freaking endless, but a meltdown was assuaged by the knowledge that it was just 1.6 miles and 1000 feet of climb once I hit the parking lot. I made myself walk right past my car because I knew I'd be tempted to get inside and drive away!

At long last, at 1 am, I reached Lonesome Lake Hut. I was TOAST. There was very little left in the tank. I decided to lie on the floor and put my feet up for a few minutes. Unbeknownst to me there was a thru-hiker sleeping in the communal area. Having been awakened by my light, she flicked on hers asking if I was okay, then wanted to know what I had done. I apologized for waking her and told her I just completed a hut traverse. She replied “Wow, you’re funny!”

The final hut-to-hut time was 21 hours 20 minutes. It wasn’t my fastest but at age 48 with a 19-year Hut Traverse spread and now 5 for 5, I’ll take it.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

30 miles Wandering around Wonalancet

 (...although 'Floundering around Ferncroft' may be more accurate.)

Goal: Do a long day and connect the redlining “dots” to complete (almost) Section 8 of White Mountain Guide

Route: Bickford, Bolles, up/down Beeline, Beeline Cutoff, Bolles, Old Paugus, Whitin Brook, Cabin, Lawrence, Oliverian Brook, Square Ledge Branch, Square Ledge, Old Mast Road, Blueberry Ledge, McCrillis Path, Flat Mtn. Pond, McCrillis Trail, Blueberry Ledge, Tom Wiggins, Dicey’s Mill, East Loop, Walden, Wonalancet Range, Wonalancet Shortcut

Start: 0545
End: 1830
Mileage: 31.3 (19.0 redlining miles)
Vertical: 10,000 feet
Total # trails: 22
Weather: Perfect
Bugs: None
Hikers encountered: 0 in first 16 miles, 2 on McCrillis Path, 1 on Flat Mtn. Pond Trail, 7 on Blueberry Ledge, 2 on Tom Wiggins, 1 on Dicey’s Mill

Was looking to do another long day in the Whites but feeling rather uninspired by some of the more commonly done loops and traverses. Needing almost 30 redlining miles in the Chocorua-Eastern Sandwich Range--and disliking the long drive from Vermont--I decided to string together a long day from Ferncroft to mop up most of my remaining miles and trails.

Tuesday afternoon was a warmup of almost 10 miles with some of the shorter Wonalancet Trails -  Gordon, Red, Pasture, and Tilton Spring Paths - and also the White Ledge Loop before dinner. Spent the night at White Ledge Campground.

At 0545 Wednesday I started up Bickford Trail and proceeded to Bolles, then up and down the Paugus Branch of Beeline. Beeline was steep but not nearly as nasty as I’d expected from some trail conditions reports. I took Beeline Cutoff back down to Bolles, then crossed the river and headed up Old Paugus Trail, doing the little 0.3 m. out-and-back before proceeding across Whitin Brook Trail. At Cabin Trail, I took a right, then a left on Lawrence, a right on Oliverian Brook, left on Square Ledge Branch, left on Square Ledge Trail, and finally down Old Mast Road to Ferncroft.   With all these turns (!) and unfamiliarity with this area, I was frequently referring to my map! Upon reaching Ferncroft I was at mile 15‘ish, about halfway. I took a short break and stocked up on water before continuing West on the Blueberry Ledge Trail.

Repeating a bit of trail from the day before, I then continued straight on McCrillis Path, where I met my first two hikers of the day, two pleasant gentlemen who advised me on the relo’d trail conditions ahead. The new section of trail is well blazed in blue, has frequent tiny ups and downs and passes by an impressive flume and some grassy sections near the bottom. Then it was up Flat Mountain Pond Trail, where I encountered a woman walking her two beautiful Newfoundlands who both came over to say hi. Perhaps it was because I was 20 miles into the day at this point, but McCrillis Trail proved not to be one of my favorites. The 3100 foot climb from Whiteface Intervale Road wasn’t that bad, but it went on and on and on, and my altimeter kept disappointing with exasperatingly slow progress! One bit of excitement was a huge pile of fresh looking bear scat which looked to be predominantly raspberries!

Finally I topped out on the south ledges of Whiteface and, with a quick scan of the beautiful view but without pause, continued down Blueberry Ledge Trail. In the next 0.7 mile stretch I would meet 7 hikers, with 2 more on Tom Wiggins. I’d been curious about the Wiggins Trail. Seems a trail signed with etched warnings “NOT RECOMMENDED, STEEP AND LOOSE” might be pretty bad, but I did not find this to be the case. Sure, it was steep but guess I expected a sort of talus slope, and it was really no worse than any other steep White Mtn. trail. Too impatient to look for a dry rock hop across the Wonalancet River, I just splashed through so had wet feet for the final miles. Today’s "quitter trail" was that of a right turn down Dicey’s Mill, but I headed left and back up. I “needed” just 2 short stretches of trail from this point to the end: the 0.2 mile East Loop below Passaconaway and the 0.4 mile shortcut below Wonalancet. But it would take another 6+ miles of hiking to get that 0.6. I don't need to be told just how stupid all of this is! 

Compared to McCrillis Trail, Dicey’s was a lark, and soon I was looping back on the Walden Trail and down the crazy steeps of Mt. Nanamacomuck wondering how in the heck I ascended this trail last winter?? Other than the top parts being steep and rough, Wonalancet Shortcut and remainder of Wonalancet Trail were unremarkable, and I was cleaning off in the stream by 1830 before the long drive home.

I didn’t figure out the total vertical until this morning and was surprised that it came out to 10,000 feet. No wonder it took me as long as the Mahoosuc Traverse! This was an interesting convoluted “loop” and a fun way to connect redlining segments. These trails are beautiful and well taken care of, and I wish I didn’t live so far away so I could hike them more often.

Monday, August 11, 2014

One-Day Mahoosuc Traverse #4

Date:  Sunday, 8/10/14

This was a solo venture across the length of the Mahoosucs from Grafton Notch to Hogan Road in Shelburne. I was going to title this report “Trident Col Campsite Spur via Mahoosuc Trail from Grafton Notch” because in looking over my redlining list I noted with some annoyance that I’d never done this 0.2 mile spur off the Mahoosuc Trail. It had been 3 years since my last Mahoosuc Traverse, and other than a goofy 24-mile redlining day on Chocorua (up-down-up-down-up-down, without ever touching the summit) a few weeks back, it had been some time since I’d done a really long excursion in the White Mtns. Not a lot of planning went into this; the idea popped into my head on Friday afternoon. I love, love, LOVE the Mahoosucs! They are my favorite area of the Whites and it had been too long. Chris agreed to schlep me up to Grafton Notch and was happy to climb his first Maine 4000 footer, followed by a visit to lovely Speck Pond, where he handed out extra candy to some starving thru-hikers.

A more detailed description of the one-day Mahoosuc Traverse can be found with a quick Google search. Suffice it to say the route is very rugged and slow. Although the numbers look comparable to the Pemi Loop -- 30ish miles, 9-10,000 feet elevation gain -- IMO you can plan on adding another 50% to your best Pemi time. This would be my 4th Mahoosuc Traverse in as many attempts. I have also backpacked it twice, once during an AT thru-hike (yes, when going through the Notch especially, 4-5 vs. 30-40 lbs. on the back makes for a much more enjoyable experience), so I knew what I was getting myself into.

The weather forecast for the day looked almost perfect, calling for just a 10 percent chance of showers. My pack contained more food than was needed, a one liter collapsible water container, a light jacket, a long-sleeve lightweight wool shirt, space blanket, phone, one ibuprofen (not taken), a headlamp and a small backup flashlight w/extra batteries (not used), and a SteriPen. I carried a 24 oz. water bottle. At 6:54 am I was off!

The climb up Old Speck went pretty well although I felt sort of groggy, slow, and not yet awake. I took it pretty easy going down to Speck Pond, up Mahoosuc Arm, DOWN Mahoosuc Arm, and through the Notch. I don’t “do” Strava, SPOT, or any of that stuff but did glance at my Timex every now and then and was pleased to make it through the Notch in just over 30 minutes. This included time spent jumping into a hole to retrieve some litter -- a water bottle, a plastic shopping bag, and a pair of disposable contact lenses -- and time spent biting my tongue as a couple of morons attempted to drag their whining, resistant dog through the Notch. (I realize that many dogs have made it through, but this one was clearly distressed.) Grr…!!

Perhaps due to the adrenaline surge resulting from the moron encounter, my body finally seemed to wake up on the climb of Fulling Mill Mtn, and I felt great! Upon reaching Stuffed Goose Shelter, I headed down to the water supply only to discover that my stupid SteriPen seemed to be broken. Time will tell if a bandana suffices as a good enough water filter in an area teeming with oodles of backpackers this time of year…

Over the next stretch to Goose Eye, I met many thru-hikers, probably around 30 for the day (30 times holding my breath as they passed), as well as a few other backpackers but only one other day hiker. Everything was going smoothly and I progressed at a steady pace past the Goose Eyes, Mt. Carlo, Carlo Col, and across the ME/NH state line although I was saddened to see the blue “Welcome to Maine, the Way Life Should Be” sign gone. The climb of Mt. Success was punctuated by the first of two thunderstorms. This first one lasted only 15 minutes and proved to be rather refreshing and cooling. The section of trail down and up and down and up to Gentian Pond took about a hundred years, but I breezed on by the first of the two “quitter trails” that one can use to bail out to North Road, Austin Brook Trail. The fact that the last 10 miles seem to drag on and on is one reason why I actually prefer the south-to-north direction. Sure, the footing gets rougher as you proceed north, but it makes for a more interesting, challenging finish with no easy bailout trails. But I digress.

Somewhere between Gentian Pond and Dream Lake, the rumbling in the sky began again in earnest (10 percent my ass). By Dream Lake -- and Quitter Trail #2, aka Peabody Brook Trail -- it was raining pretty steadily. Bailing was beginning to look pretty good, BUT I still had that pesky Trident Col Campsite Spur to do, soooo... With rain, thunder and a bit of lightning continuing for the next 2 hours, I skittishly motored over Wocket Ledge - I HATE lightning! Of course, it doesn’t take much imagination to realize what the continuous rain was doing to all those slimy and sloping ledges and rocks. Somehow, surprisingly, I didn’t fall once all day! I was experimenting with my Hoka trail runners today and have to say they performed marvelously. They seemed pretty grippy on the rocks, and my feet felt fantastic by the end of the day. No blisters, pain, or any lacing adjustments, etc., required. (DirtyGirl gaiters also helped immensely in keeping crap out of my shoes.)

Finally I reached the much anticipated Trident Col Campsite Spur (yippee). Although there is no shelter here, there IS a nice composting privy where I spent ~5 minutes luxuriating out of the rain while changing into my long-sleeve. The remaining 6+ miles up Cascade Mtn and Mt Hayes were a bit of a slog, and I went into git-r-done mode. For the route off Mt. Hayes, I prefer the Centennial Trail (AT) to the Mahoosuc, mostly just to avoid negotiating the confusing roads and trails at the southern end of the MT.

I didn’t break any records today but was happy: (a) to finish before needing to pull out the headlamp, (b) that I accomplished 100 percent what I’d set out to do, and (c) that I felt pretty good all day, at the finish, and as of this writing the next day. The only question that remains to be answered is: Does a bandana suffice as a water filter?