Monday, September 26, 2011

Vermont 50k in 10 Photos

Yesterday Chris and I "ran" the Vermont 50k entirely together.  We stopped in Bradford for lunch and coffee - and some impromptu cider pressing - on the drive down Saturday afternoon.  Chris is obviously amazed by cider technology.
For the first time ever in a "race," I toted the camera and filled a memory card.  Just enjoying the day, the miles, and the beautiful scenery was a joy.
We had lots of time to chat with the locals...

And hang out at aid stations.  This was Margaritaville, a blatant misnomer since there were no margaritas and no 'villes.  Boo!

They did have rum-rats though.
The race was huge this year, with something like 700 mtn. bikers and 550 runners!  The course is a mix of dirt road and trail.  Early on there were some nice quiet moments where we enjoyed virtual solitude on the trail.
Then there were other sections where the cluster**** factor was pretty high.  This race has grown so much in popularity since its humble beginnings in 1993.  The event has always been both a running and mountain biking race and is the major fundraiser for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports.  Everyone was very cordial and friendly, but the constant back-and-forth was annoying at times to both runner and biker.  Of course, this was more of a factor for the 50k runner vs. the 50m.  (And if I do this race again, it will probably be the mtn. bike race vs. the run.)
More chatting with the locals...
Chris's favorite moment of the day was coming across a woman in the middle of the woods with a cooler full of beer... and she was sharing!  Trail magic!  Trail magic!  It was a very warm day for late September (low 80s!) so the beer was awesome.
Mt. Ascutney.  The end in sight!  Sort of.  There were still a few miles of mud, ups 'n downs, helping a biker who'd badly crashed, and slogging through the last three miles.
I have run the VT 50 miler 11 times, biked it twice, and now done the 50k and have never felt better at the finish.  Running with my honey rocks.  :)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Great North Woods Trifecta

Back in lovely Vermont visiting my folks, I had the opportunity to string together some seriously rewarding trail mileage in the North Country of New Hampshire and Maine over the past three days.  Uninspired by the thought of doing some of the same old peaks, loops and traverses in the White Mountains, this time I decided do something a little different and stay north of US Route 2, where the trails tend to be even more rugged and where solitude is guaranteed.

Day 1:
The first, "warmup" leg was on Sunday, the 18th - New Hampshire's Kilkenny Ridge, a lightly traveled 25-mile traverse of the entire range from the town of Jefferson to South Lake Recreation Area.  En route, the trail passes over or very near a total of 11 summits, including two 4000 footers, Mts. Waumbek and Cabot.  My last full Kilkenny traverse was in the late 1990s, although a small group of us had made a solid attempt at a north-to-south traverse last January.  We were thwarted - as anticipated actually - by deep, unbroken snow a little shy of 2/3 the way through, at which point we bailed out to the York Pond Fish Hatchery.  Save for Mt. Cabot, very few people venture into the Kilkenny in winter, so it made for a challenging but gorgeous snowshoe through a stunningly beautiful winter wonderland.

The terrain on Sunday was, as expected, rather unimproved, rough and muddy (reminiscent of the Long Trail last summer), with many blowdowns and frequent signs of moose... though, alas, no sightings.  After depositing me at the Starr King trailhead in Jefferson, Chris drove around to the Fish Hatchery and joined me for the inner loop over Cabot, The Bulge and The Horn.  (Chris's 4000 footer count is now up to 10; of course, he couldn't care less if he ever finishes...)  The Horn is reached via a 3/10 mile spur trail, and I believe I last stood atop it 13-14 years ago.  A cool summit indeed. At Unknown Pond we split up, Chris descending back to the car, me continuing on to South Lake.  The leaves are just starting to change color here in northern New England, and the yellows were particularly beautiful on this day.  I'd encountered only eight hikers to this point and  met only two more on the way out, backpackers carrying HUGE packs...  like ~70 lbs. huge. Confused and awed, I inquired as to their itinerary.  "We have until Friday to do the entire trail."  Wow.  Upon reaching South Lake, it was evident that the road was already gated for the year (??!!), as the parking lot - on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in September (??!!) - was completely empty and the place was deserted.  Oh well, what's another mile to the gate.  Chris's timing was perfect - he had arrived only minutes before and had started walking up the road to meet me.  We retired to, in order - Dunky Donuts, Mr. Pizza, and finally, Altopia.
Atop Mt. Cabot with the funnest and funniest person I know.
Halfway through the Kilkenny traverse, I came up with the bright idea (?) of a "Great North Woods Trifecta."  The Grafton Loop in western Maine has been on my New England bucket list for a couple of years, and the Mahoosuc Traverse, part of the Appalachian Trail, lies in between, so... the "logical" thing seemed to do all three.  "Great North Woods" is what the New Hampshire Dept. of Tourism has dubbed the northern part of the state. Voila! A silly name for a crazy adventure.

Day 2:
We began the 30-mile Mahoosuc traverse the next day, Monday, just before daybreak at the Centennial/AT trailhead, "we" being myself and my good pal Al.  As with the Kilkenny, I had done the one-day Mahoosuc traverse a couple of times before but never in the south-to-north direction save for my AT thru-hike, when I schlepped a very heavy and full backpack and required 2+ days for the traverse. For those who have never been there, the Mahoosucs are extremely rugged and slow and include the notorious "most difficult mile of the Appalachian Trail," Mahoosuc Notch. Going in the southbound direction, the final ~10 miles tend to drag at the end of a long, gnarly day so I was curious as to how the Gorham-to-Grafton Notch direction would play out, with Mahoosuc Notch, Mahoosuc Arm, and Old Speck to negotiate at the end of the day. The early miles with Al seemed to pass quickly with nonstop conversation and laughter.  We parted ways at Dream Lake as Al descended the Peabody Brook Trail.  I was on my own from there.

No apologies, the Mahoosucs are a range deserving of hyperbole:   Gorgeous! Spectacular! Awesome!  I love this place, so diverse and unlike any other area of the Whites, with its extensive views, boggy "tundra" and nary a road crossing.  The icing on the cake this day was perfect late summer weather, and the only other hikers out on a Monday this time of year were AT thru- and section hikers. Yippee!  Up and over Mt. Success I went, up 'n down, up 'n down, arriving at the NH/ME border and its "Welcome to Maine - The Way Life Should Be" sign, stumbling through Carlo Col, climbing the crazy little "via ferrata" on Goose Eye, slippin 'n slidin up 'n down North Peak, and finally taking a short break at Full Goose Shelter.  I flipped open the register and cracked up at some of the entries.  A sampling:

     "Welcome to Maine - the way trails SHOULDN'T be."
     "One mile in TWO HOURS?  What the...?!"
     "Oh...  I'm bleeding."
     "I wanna go back to New Hampshire."
     "New Hampshire is for pussies."

But I couldn't hang around for long because it was time to descend into the abyss and negotiate Mahoosuc Notch, a car- and house-sized boulder-filled defile, full of deep holes, a hidden water course, and ice sometimes lasting through the summer (though none seen this day).  Requiring the use of upper body muscles as well as balance and flexibility, the Notch is a virtual jungle gym for big kids.  It is *wicked fun*!!!  Thirty-eight minutes of acrobatics later, I was through.  Mahoosuc Arm wasn't nearly as bad as I'd remembered; carrying approximately 35 lbs. less compared to my thru-hike made a big difference!  At Speck Pond I stopped to chat with five thru-hikers (dang but they looked happy) before heading up Old Speck and then down to Hwy. 26 where Chris waited, pleased to finish before having to pull out the headlamp.

(BTW, I ultimately enjoyed doing the Mahoosuc Traverse in the northbound direction because it seemed the last few miles didn't drag on and on.)  We hit the Sunday River Brewery for a very yummy and satisfying dinner.  I'd contemplated taking some ibuprofen but decided on a pint of Black Bear Porter instead.
A smooth section of trail
Day 3:
Tuesday's forecast wasn't exactly appealing:  90% chance of showers with temps in the 50s.  But I was already there and wasn't about to throw in the towel so easily.  Mainly a woods walk, at times also reminiscent of the Long Trail, the Grafton Loop was constructed just a few years ago.  It is 38.6 miles in length.  I went clockwise and started on the southern end so as to be generally climbing for the first segment and generally descending for the second part.  After two very light and brief showers around 8 a.m., I crossed what was the highlight of the day for me - a mountain called Sunday River Whitecap.  Views encompassed 360 degrees, and the surrounding undercast gave the impression of water, the hill and mountaintops virtual islands in a sea.  Truly spectacular, it ranks as one of my favorite mountaintops in New England.  From there, the trail continued north and back up to Old Speck, from whence I descended the same gnarly 3 1/2 miles back to Grafton Notch as the previous day.  This was my one and only aid station - and potential bailout point - of the day.  While confirming whether I was willing to commit myself to the remaining 21 miles with no bailout options (this trail is remote!), Chris served soup, potato chips, cookies, and DD's coffee.  I still felt great and since it hadn't been raining, decided to go for it. 
Pausing for a photo op at Grafton Notch before heading out for the final segment.

With its steep and wet rock, the Baldpates seemed more daunting than I'd remembered; then again, it had been some years since I'd last climbed these peaks.  After carefully negotiating the tricky terrain and summiting both 'pates, I located the Grafton Loop turnoff on top of East Baldpate and started down the comparatively gushy, needly trail.  Wow, all of a sudden it felt like I was walking on Spenco insoles.  About 2 1/2 miles from the summit, I encountered the Blowdown Patch from Hell and lost about 25 minutes trying to find the correct route.  A bit rattled but finally back on course and jacked up on adrenaline, I made quick work of Lightning Ledge and, a few miles later, Long Mountain.  With about a dozen miles to go, three backpackers raised eyebrows when I confirmed that yes, I was going all the way to the highway that night.  They were the only other hikers I encountered on the non-AT portion of the Grafton Loop.

The segment between Long and Puzzle Mountains is kind of a woodsy blur because, having never been on this trail, I was pushing to make it to the top of ledgy Puzzle before being benighted.  Even with good lights, it can be difficult to locate the trail on an open, ledgy peak in the dark, especially if there is a misty fog, especially if one has never before set foot on said mountain!  Additionally, the fact that the mountain is named "Puzzle" didn't give me warm fuzzies either.  Ultimately there was only one confusing area, where I resorted to going from LED headlamp to Big Girl Flashlight and shortly found the correct route.  About five minutes later, I heard Fun Guy calling my name.  Yay, Chris had hiked up to meet me!  The final three miles went quickly, each of us sharing stories of our day's adventures; his involved Errol NH, the Moose Cave, and Screw Auger Falls and were especially titillating.  And then... it was over.  Three days, three awesome trails, 93 total miles.

(Think I'll be sweeping the VT 50k.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A New Addition: EARL !!

We experienced some cat drama this summer when a feral cat delivered four kittens in the crawl space under the house.  Mama cat became very protective and aggressive, terrorizing our three outside kitties (ferals that I have caught and gotten altered) to the extent that, sadly, I had to trap her and call animal control.  There are way too many feral cats in our town -- grrr!  We heard not a peep out of the kittens, and various friends, neighbors and even an exterminator (!) assured me that the kittens were most likely dead, but...  a part of me  wasn't totally convinced.  Three whole days later, I finally heard a faint "mew," and my neighbor Joe (he is small in size) crawled under the house and pulled out one... two... three... FOUR dirty, flea infested, starving, pathetic little 3-4 week old kittens!  (Note to self:  Always listen to one's own intuition!)
(Post feeding, pre bath)
I rushed to PetSmart and bought kitten formula and a couple of bottles -- Chris and I bottle fed the little furballs, he much better at it than I.  They had gone three whole days without eating/drinking.  We were amazed that they had managed to survive.  Next, it was bathtime.  Our animal lover neighbor Bonnie brought over some Dawn dish detergent which apparently is the stuff to use (?).   I washed them one by one and was shocked at the amount of fleas, dirt and dried blood (from the fleas) coming off the poor things.
Thankfully, Bonnie agreed to keep the kittens while we were out of town (as in, most of the time!).  What a great neighbor!  The kittens were thriving and eating/drinking on their own within a few short days.
Bonnie fell in love with the gray 'n white one ("Peanut") and -- yay! -- found a home for the white ("Queen Wilhelmina") and one of the black 'n white ones ("Speeder").  Fillmore, our only indoor kitty, was NOT pleased by the invasion.
We asked everyone we know... and asked 'n begged 'n pleaded... to no avail.  No one wanted "Earl," but we were not about to bring him to the shelter, where he would probably be euthanized.  Anyway, he was starting to grow on us.
A few more days of being together...
...with Earl trying his hardest to win us over.
The paper recycling box, a favorite play area...
Files are pretty fun too...
Cats are amazing:  they immediately took to the SuperScratcher...  thankfully, the litter box as well.
And Earl succeeded in winning our hearts... unquestionably.
He's staying!  

Monday, September 5, 2011

Five Days in the Range of Light

Chris and I spent 5 blissful days last week backpacking in the southwestern Sierras.  While we live in California, it seems we don't spend nearly enough time in our "local" high peaks so we have vowed to make it into these beautiful mountains more frequently.  We have both done the John Muir Trail, the High Sierra Trail, the Evolution Valley Loop, and a bit in Yosemite, but that is just a sampling of what is available in the Sierras!  With no clear destination or goals this trip, we simply loaded the packs up with 5 days of food plus all the usual stuff, procured the requisite permit (with what ultimately turned out to be a rather bogus itinerary), and set off from the Wolverton Trailhead in Sequoia National Park.
Our first night's campsite was at Hamilton Lakes.  Since it is on the High Sierra Trail, we had both been there before, but I'd forgotten exactly HOW impressive was the trail to/from there, blasted into miles of rock and even tunneled at one point!  A bold deer and her twin fawns passed through the campsite a few times.  On her final pass, undoubtedly attracted to the salt deposits, she grabbed Chris's shorts which were drying on a branch.  She dropped 'em after I chased her down.  :)
Below, Hamilton Lake campsite.  That's a food storage box on the right.  Most heavier used campsites in the Sierras have them although backpackers are still supposed to have bear-resistant food cans as well.  (We brought our Bearikade cannister.)
The next morning we made our way up to Kaweah Gap and were suprised to find this amount of ice and snow still on the higher lakes and trails.
Queen of a very small snowfield...
At Kaweah Gap we gazed down into the spectacular Nine Lakes Basin vowing to someday do some cross-country exploring here.
At Big Arroyo we decided to diverge from the HST and head into new territory.  We'd intended to hike farther, but upon seeing the first of the Little Five Lakes, we were captivated by the beauty and solitude of the lake and the perfect campsite to be had.  We ended up spending a good chunk of the afternoon reading our books and sunning ourselves on rocks.  :)
The view near our campsite...
On Day 3 we decided to do a little cross-country route from Big Five Lakes back to Little Five Lakes Basin.  The area was loaded with awesome bristlecone pines, and the lakes were incredibly beautiful and clear, with trout visible just below the surface.
One of the Big Five Lakes...
...and the descent back to Little Five Lakes Basin.  This was an easy off-trail route of a little over a mile.
Approaching Black Rock Pass, we met our second hiker in two whole days.  (Apparently the week before Labor Day is the time to be out here.)  The view from Black Rock Pass rivals anything we have seen anywhere else in the Sierras so far.  Of course, a photo cannot do it justice!  From top to bottom, that's Columbine, Cyclamen, and Spring Lakes.  Just beautiful.
From Black Rock Pass, we had a long descent to our night's destination near Pinto Lake.  Unfortunately, the camera took a little dip during a slippery stream ford, so our photos end here!
Day 4's route brought us back down to the elevation of the giant sequoias, and we went through a lovely grove just filled with the monsters!  The trail through this section was smooth and serpentine; we kept thinking how much fun it would be to run.  A short climb brought us full circle to Bearpaw Meadow which we'd passed on Day 1.  We set up camp about a mile below Bearpaw and settled in.  As a 3 foot rattler passed near the campsite -- and then didn't seem to be in a hurry to leave -- I insisted we move the tent to a different campsite a few yards away.  (I like snakes, but I don't LIKE snakes.)
On the final day, which was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, we had just 10 miles to hike out.  Whereas we'd seen just a handful of hikers the previous 4 days, this day we must have passed over 100 hiking in for the weekend.  Time to go home!  We'd had a blast, really enjoying this mellow hike, staying flexible and covering only about 100 km. total.  And, being the Sierras, the weather was perfect.  We can't wait to go back...!!