Saturday, January 14, 2017

Mount Willard

All I wanted to do this week was climb to the top of a mountain. Any mountain at this point as I have been dealing with something that keeps me down. I had been thinking of Mount Willard... 2,865Ft and a 1.6mile trail. Small compared to what I usually hike. But small enough I might be able to summit.

It's a Saturday and I left my house a little after 8am. So much later than I usually leave to hike. But this is not a long hike at all so, after a cup of coffee and making myself one for the road, I loaded the car and headed for The Whites. I knew it would be crowded today since it is Saturday and as I thought, I'm parking on 302... Both the Depot, and the Highland Center are packed. It's .1 to the junction after the cross of the tracks and then we head up the Mt. Willard trail. So far, the trail itself is uncrowded but I assumed that everyone was already up there. Isis on the other hand was busy smelling markers for every dog that has hiked before her. 

The trail is super packed. No snowshoes needed. A nice solid monorail to walk on. I wore my hillsound microspikes. Once the trail begins to climb the bulk of the elevation gain, I begin to run into people. Lots of people. Large groups and a few dogs too. Everyone was pretty happy. I pulled to the side for the larger groups and distracted Isis from a few dogs and everyones hiking poles. For the most part it worked. I will say one thing, I timed it pretty well. Once I made it to the summit, I was pretty much alone. There was one couple up there with their dog and I briefly lost it as I looked at the view. I explained to them my situation and they celebrated with me. It has been a long time since I saw a view from a summit. They wished me well and luck and left me to "take it all in". 

Isis and myself were able to walk a good portion of the ledge that served as the summit. The view out to 302 was great as always. It's a cold day today and that froze my phone but, I had my camera as a back up for pictures. Isis also enjoyed the view and very calmly sat and looked out at one point. When she began to get cold, we headed back down. More large groups were on their way up and I was thankful my little trail partner knew when to get moving off the summit. The walk down is quick on the solid trail. This is a busy trail to a popular view behind the Highland Center so, this trail is always well maintained and packed down. Unless I decide to hike this one right after a storm, chances of needing anything more than microspikes is nil. Only one "water crossing" with a decent ice bridge over it. Easy trail for dogs too. 1.6 miles up takes no time at all. Except that it took me a little longer than I usually hike. A day well worth the 3 hour drive. Even for the 2.5 hour hike and 3 hour drive back. I was happy to feel the cold air on my face and enjoy the trails that I love so much. 

This thing that I have right now, it needs a name. It needs a name so that I know what I am fighting and so I know how I'm going to fight it. The original plan was to not see a doctor until April and that would be unacceptable as I am still planning to hike the Long Trail in the beginning of June. So, after pitching a fit, I got an appointment to see a rheumatologist on the 24th of this month. Heck of a way to start the new year but once I get a name, I can get to fighting. I can accept an over use injury, although this has been going on for a long time so, I'm inclined to think that it's something else. My other choices are pretty mild to I really don't want that, kind of things. So, I'd settle for something in the middle if I can't have a mild condition. Anything to keep doing what I love and my doctor swears that I can keep doing what I love. You see, right now, on a good day I have 80% use of one hand and close to 10% of the other, until I get moving and that is difficult some mornings. My hands trade off after a few days so, I've pretty much been compensating for one or the other when I can use one over the other. I'm seriously tired which makes it hard to hit the trail at day break and stay up past 9pm (Not like me at all), 23 miles a day is out for me right now, as is above tree line in the extreme cold. Without use of my hands fully, and how susceptible I am to cold at this point, I am a liability to myself and anyone I would hike with on more difficult hikes. I'm more effected by the cold than I ever have been and my fingers have been a rainbow of white, blue, and red... Depends on the temps and my gloves. This of course makes me frustrated since I love winter hiking so much but I cannot shake the cold right now if I get chilled too much and blue fingers are not that attractive. Not to mention the lack of movement kind of pisses me off and freaks me out at the same time. What ever it is, it's in my hands, knees, and feet... But the knees and feet seem to straighten out after I get moving. The hands take a lot longer. I've developed potty mouth from the pain too... There's a laundry list of symptoms again that I am keeping track of for this new doctor. Ahhh, the wonders of research as I try and figure out how I can keep going by paying attention to myself before during and after a hike, day of work, or walking the dog around the neighborhood... I say all this not to trigger arm chair diagnosis (I've googled enough to scare myself and believe me I stopped when Cancer was brought up. It's not Lyme.. I am tested for that religiously.), or to elicit advise, but I do say all this to illustrate what I have been dealing with daily as it has been going on since... June (Sorry, I ignore things until I can't. It started with innocent tingling fingers). Bottom line, what ever this is, I will find a way to get a head of it and continue hiking. I hope that you will continue to follow along on both he fight and the journey.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Starr King for First Day 2017

Happy New Year! Can you feel it? It's winter out there. But not like the winter we had last year. I had a rematch with Waumbek today. Parked my car by the gas station in town since the winter lot is sometimes a trap for cars who can't make it out. Seeing as it snowed a few inches last night, I made a good choice. Can't park on Starr King Rd either out of respect for the home owners there... Emergency vehicles need to be able to get through. There's also a huge snowbank left from the plow at the end of the residential road and start of the access road to the trail. No one is getting by that. It's warmer than my last trip back in December so, no insulated pants today. Just my long johns and regular hiking pants. Isis also has no jacket today (She only wears it when we hike below zero). Snowshoes are packed and I happily trade the weight to my feet at the actual trailhead. 

A note about my Tubbs Flex VRT's. This is my third winter with them. Last winter they only made it up the trail once due to conditions. This year, it looks like they may see more use. I love them. The BOA bindings that have everyone puzzled are my favorite. A lot easier than those old style straps. Currently, I have limited use of my right hand so tightening things, and tying things is a bit of a painful process and a challenge for me. The BOA's allow me to tighten them super tight and I never adjusted them once this hike. They also never got loose or came off. I highly recommend the switch to the BOA bindings. 

So, heading up the trail, I am determined to take my time and make it further than last time. I set my sights on Waumbek but as always, I can adjust my plan depending on how I feel. I'm feeling good though so, I keep on going. Trail is well packed but as always, keep wearing the snowshoes to keep it that way all season. I notice that the trail, filled in, is much easier for me to hike today. Ankles feel really strong today and good in the snowshoes. I'm a little more hopeful for a great day. Isis is just happy to be out there too and as always happy to be with me. 

Isis and I do great on lead. I switched her back to her non-retractable shorter (6ft) lead, since the retractable one freezes in cold temps. I have more control this way without having to worry about the retraction failing. She's not a fan of being rushed at by strange dogs so, I tend to protect her a little more on the crowded trails of the Whites. As was the case today... I'm through with the 'He's friendly call' from down the trail. Think of my wish to protect my dog as a plea to also help you with your dog... No one gets hurt... Win Win. It's as much about my dog's needs too and I'll advocate for her like I do myself. Plus, no one human or canine truly likes being rushed by a strange dog. Isis was rushed by two off leash dogs. One with poor recall. I make no apologies for how I protect my dog and that includes my loud voice. All dogs have a right to be on trail... Leashed or not. After a break to give plenty of space, we were under way again. 

Making our way up the gradual elevation gain, I can feel the work out in my legs, hips, and lungs. Not willing to give up today, the pace slows on the ascent. My gloves are on and off and my fingers are doing OK in the cold (still can't make a fist with my right hand but I can at least bend them a little today). Not very many people are coming up behind us so, we just keep our slow pace. The blue sky is starting to peak through but I can hear the wind churning up above too. The snow pack is a little less consolidated in sections so, the snowshoes keep paying off for me today. The temps are dropping. Some of the longer steeper ascent really tax my legs but I push through. We reached the turn for the ridge and a flatter trail awaited us... Until it started going up... And down... And up... And down... And up again. But in-between, there are decent flat stretches to enjoy. Up's are definitely a weak point for me right now. Energy sapping. 

I started running into other hikers on this section. Everyone is great moods and my apologies to the two guys I came up on (One was in the middle of his business). You know what they say, if you want to run into anyone on the trail, take a pee. The winds are getting stronger and starting to blow the trail in a little more. Temps continue to drop and we continue up the trail. I'll be ecstatic to get to Starr King... My hands are starting to hurt even in the gloves. But I can still work my fingers so, onward we hike. I use my left hand to bend the fingers of my right into a "fist", to keep the joints moving. The sun peaks through the tree tops but is quickly obscured by clouds. 

There are a lot of breaks on this section of trail to catch my breath. I noticed my coat is soaked, and I feel chilled by this so, I think of switching back to last years coat which stayed dryer. I can use this coat off trail. Once we make the final push and then the flat walk to the Starr King Fireplace, I smile. I've made it farther than the last time. Small victories when you're feeling less than stellar. The wind is blowing and there's poor visibility. I know that the ridge to Waumbek is probably blown in but before I can even push towards the trail, Isis makes a complete and quick 180 and we start heading back down. I don't stop her and try and force the issue. I just follow her lead. Starr King was great for us today. The walk down is quicker paced and a lot less taxing on my hips and lungs. All those that we ran into still climbing, were in great spirits. Amazing how happy people can be putting themselves through some strenuous physical paces. Always nice to chat with people though... While I may be a solo hiker, I do enjoy others on the trail. 

So, Happy New Year to everyone! May you continue to enjoy exploring the trails and peaks that you want. Set goals for your self and enjoy the journey. I'm hiking as much as I can while waiting to see Rheumatology later this month... Originally they were not going to accommodate me until April! I can't have that. I need answers and treatment now since well, I'm leaving for the Long Trail in 5 months. Yes, the beginning of June this go around to Canada. As always, this is my long term goal. Hoping for the best with my current situation but the good thing is that exercise does the body good... I'll keep hiking for better health. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

2016 Hiking Adventures in Review

Top photo from the LT in 2016 (From Buttler Lodge)

2016 has been an amazing and confusing year for me on the trails. I did cover just over 400 miles of trails throughout New Hampshire and Vermont (about 100 miles off my usual total). I also departed the New Hampshire 4K's in favor of the Appalachian Trail as well as continuing to pursue the Long Trail. The last half of Winter 2016 in the Whites was just too icy for my taste but I did make sure that I completed one long term goal before heading to the AT for the majority of the Spring and Summer... I first completed my Winter 48 peak bagging list on Mt. Adams, completing a goal that was 4 years in the making.

Mt. Adams to complete the Winter 48

At the start of the 2015/16 Winter season, I had just two (rather large) peaks left... West Bond and Mount Adams. No problem, after the Christmas season, I jumped on some good days to hike. Did the 3 Bonds in a day in January (23 miles round trip)... It was a beautiful Bluebird day that I started hiking at 3am and ended at 4pm. My pace did not allow for sunrise on Bond Cliff but I was OK with that. After this, of course it meant I only had one left... Mt. Adams. No joke, this mountain can kill people. I kept that thought in mind as I waited for another perfect day. At the end of January, I was presented with just that and as I headed up above tree line of Valley Way, I was greeted with a black and white world of overcast skies. Winds were light at the time so, Isis and I had pressed on. We took Gulfside all the way to Thunderstorm junction, by passing the 1000foot summit ascent in favor of the 500foot ascent. The view of Mt. Washington stop me in my tracks. 

As I ascended the peak, the wind picked up and I crouched for shelter a few times. At the top, the wind produced a biting cold but I still proudly crouched for my summit photo with Isis. 

A beautiful day for such a long awaited accomplishment. I ducked back down to Thunderstorm Junction and then back to Gulfside. I decided to duck down Airline too and ran into stronger winds and an unbroken trail... It was a slow go down to the car but that was OK. It meant more time reliving the summit and enjoying the day. That blue patch was finally mine and well deserved. I worked hard for it and patiently picked off the summits over 4 winter seasons.... But what next? I honestly tried to continue on with Isis completing her Winter list but the poor winter conditions, my lack of wanting my dog to get something that she doesn't really care about, and generally needing to get out of The White Mountain Peak Race (as I call it), over took us and I eventually left the trails on New Hampshire in favor of lesser peaks and the AT/LT in Vermont. This year defined what I really wanted to focus on... Seeing new things and exploring trails, rather than cycling through the same 48 peaks month after month. 

As winter gave way to Spring, I began exploring the lesser ranges and had the opportunity to traverse the Belknap Range. Accompanied by a friend of mine and her dog Connie for Mt. Major and Straightback Mountain, we watched the sun rise and I tried to hold it in the palm of my hand. Then isis and I continued all the way back to Gunstock where I had parked my car. A surprising challenge for myself and Isis and a welcome change from the crowds of The White Mountains. It was not until Gunstock that I ran back into snow but had plenty of mud, leaves, and early spring thaw conditions once the weather had warmed up. There is a patch for this... The Belknapp 12. If I ever decide to complete this one, I have 4 left. On this day, it seemed more important for me to go all the way across the range rather than hit every peak for the patch. This was an enjoyable traverse once I got away from the crowds of Mt. Major and Gunstock.  

After this traverse, I would hike Mt Morgan and Percival as a warm up to some of the tricky terrain I was facing coming up on the Long Trail this summer (ladders and scrambles). We ended up by-passing the ladders and the scrambles because it can be awkward to maneuver with a dog. This was my first sense of concern for the Long Trail this year as I knew that we had some tricky spots coming up. I figured I'd do the same on the LT when the time came, or look for a way around or an alternative trail. With lost of time left to plan, I moved on and had another opportunity, I had a smaller Thru to complete. Four days at the end of April on the Monadnock Sunapee Greenway trail. 

Four days and  48 miles from Mount Monadnock to Mount Sunapee, Isis and I began walking on a Thursday morning and ended on Sunday late morning. The terrain was a mix of road walks, and hills to climb. There was a few minor mountains to contend with as well and nights in shelters if it rained (I used my tent as a way to test it out). I quickly got my feet under me and realized that we could do 15 miles per day without too much issue. I was tired at the end of the day most days and more than a little frustrated at the bugs, road walking (as in tar roads), and lack of blazing (getting turned around in Washington NH). But in the end, I really loved this small Thru and the ridge to Mt. Sunapee, even though I was in the fog, was a favorite and a highlight. I walked down to the parking area in the cold rain of May and didn't seem to mind anything and felt I was ready for my return to the Long Trail. Just a few short months to wait!

After completing the MSGT, I began filling in the blanks on the AT throughout the White Mountains. I covered plenty of miles filling in missing trail between the 4K peaks I had spent so much time climbing and even hit a few summits when I wanted to. I enjoyed so many different sections of various lengths that took me right up to the time I would leave for the Long Trail. I had one last long weekend planned over the Fourth of July. Sort of a final shake down as I was still feeling unsure about myself and about Isis. I was going from route 2 to just past the Maine border to Mt. Carlo shelter. This hike nearly kicked my ass and I felt like I had set myself back. My arms felt heavy and sometimes as if they were frozen in place. Isis seemed to loose her training and lacked the enthusiasm for which she use to hike (Maybe I did as well). I made it to Gentian Shelter the first night, with a bunch of Thru Hikers going in various directions, and after a brilliant Thunder Storm, I tried to continue... The terrain was wet and sloppy. I was falling all over the place and becoming upset. I felt awful and without hesitation, I turned myself around. Isis and I exited the trail back by the shelter after turing back just shy of the Mt. Success summit, and road walked back to the car. I had a very minimal amount of time left before my main goal of the LT and I didn't want to jeopardize my trip. But as the damage already done?

I shrugged off the aches and pains and made some adjustments to my gear in order to make the pack more comfortable. For some reason though, I felt like I had more gear for this years Long Trail trip than ever before. I was starting at Lincoln Gap on a rainy morning and I was hesitant. Something felt really off but again, I pushed it off with the hope that my legs would get under me and I'd make my goal of Canada in two weeks. The trail was slow and sluggish for me but I made it to Glenn Ellen Lodge for the first night and was joined by another hiker who had been on the trail a lot longer. She set the tone for the trip or rather I let her set my tone for the trip... The second day was full of difficult terrain and I became really concerned for not only myself and the dog but for the trip in general. Isis was doing great sleeping shelters and being around other hikers but, coming off of Mt Ellen, we got hung up on the ladders and rebar assists. Heading into Appalachian Gap, we got hung up on the difficult terrain and ended up calling it a day early at Birch Glen where the same hiker declared that she would be leaving trail and skipping ahead to Mt. Mansfield. I felt myself getting sucked into her negativity and eventually resigned myself to the fact that if I needed to, I too would leave trail. This go around felt so much more different than the first leg of the trail. I was not happy to be hiking. I hiked the third day to Mont Clair Glenn Shelter at the base of Camel's Hump. It was another hard fought day over many minor peaks and included one rappel (where I was assisted by a hiker called Sandstone) and several tricky sections with ladders. I was tired. My arms were stiff and swollen and this made it hard for me to concentrate on anything as well as sleep in comfort. It was going to rain on this night too but I was thankful for the 4 walls of the shelter and the company of Sandstone who allowed Isis and myself to sleep under the roof. Frantic, I looked ahead at the weather.... Lots of rain moving in and cutting into my trail time. The next storm would have set me back at Mount Mansfield and I decided to take an early out... It was set in stone and I felt like a complete failure. I stayed an extra night at Mont Clair Glen in order to meet my ride by taking the side trail out of the park. In that time, I must have changed my mind a thousand times with no way of contacting my ride. I sat in the parking area and waited cursing myself. This plunged me into a very dark time and even though I was at home, I longed for the trail again.

In the second week of my two week vacation, I managed to heal enough physically to head back to the trail (at least I thought I did). Emotionally, I was still raw and hoping to at least make it Smugglers Notch and in that time, I might have some kind of revelation as to my emotions. It was not exactly Canada this year but I would tell myself that I was successful because even though I backed off, I got back on trail and tried to get as far as I could. People were not as welcoming to Isis and myself during this leg, as we tried to stay at the shelters but I held my ground that we too had a place here (in the end, I will go back to tenting as it's more comfortable for Isis and myself). We hiked alone most days which gave me enough time to think. I let all the negative people move ahead and tried to grasp that feeling I once had during the first leg of this 274 mile trail.

Isis and I had 5 days to go from the Winooski Bridge to Smuggler's Notch. I planned a shelter to shelter route for the most part as the terrain is difficult in this area. I was determined to put one foot in front of the other and walk off this miserable feeling I had. I stopped being so concerned about the end and enjoyed the walk. When I made it to Buttler Lodge, I finally felt as though I belonged back on the trail and I only had two more days left. The caretaker there was really helpful and gave me and alternative around the Mansfield ladder section (I had no interest in subjecting my dog to them. Nor did I want to put myself in harms way either by misstepping with her). There were two other guys that bunked there that night due to thunderstorms rolling through. Once the rain stopped, we were all treated to probably the most spectacular sunset of my hiking career. This also became my picture of the year.

Buttler Lodge



The next morning after a really good nights sleep, I climbed up Mt. Mansfield via the Wampahoofus trail to the Forehead and then over to the Chin and down the Profanity Trail to Taft Lodge. Another quick day of walking but still challenging due to the caves and other ledges of the Wamphoofus followed by the walk of the summits of Mt. Mansfield. The Profanity trail lives up to it's name as you drop a lot of elevation in a half mile. I was never more proud of myself for over coming and finally feeling stronger. The lodge was crowded that night and I think it was then that I really decided that I'd tent the remaining 64 miles to Canada in 2017. It'd be better for all of us. Back to reality until I could figure out where I was going next. As it turned out, I first went to Mount Moosilauke to complete the AT up to that summit and then I went back to Vermont. Determined to complete the AT in that state. But first I needed a long weekend over Labor Day to hike the remaining section of Camel's Hump that I had left. Hiking from the Winooski Bridge SOUTH to the summit of Camel's Hump.

Traversing through farm land and up to the summit, I had a night at Bamforth Shelter where I stayed true to my plan and used my tent. There were two hikers in the shelter that were happy about that. Me, I had a good night sleep even with the dog on top of me. For September, the night was cool and the day was still warm. traversing the south bound trail had just as many challenges and while I hated to retrace my steps, I made it back to the car and felt satisfied that I have now covered all the Long trail to Smuggler's Notch. Onward to the Winter season but first, I would spend the fall on the AT hiking back to the border of New Hampshire. This would take me over more farm land and some pretty decent ups and downs on the trails. I gained a new appreciation for both the little things I would see as well as the views... Not to mention the cows that I made friends with on the way!

Along the way from Vermont to New Hampshire, I still had nagging pain in my joints. It made it hard to get out of bed some early mornings and the stiff hands, fingers, and wrists were becoming very hard to deal with. But all this was not impossible for me to deal with. I'm the type of person that can pretty much push through anything until I can't any more. The body does win sometimes but not without a fight from me. November came around and as I crossed into New Hampshire, I had no voice and what I thought was a sore throat from trying to talk. Well, it turns out that I indeed had Strep Throat (I have not had this since the 90's) and a decent case of it too. High doses of antibiotics and steroids, I regained some use of my hands without pain and managed to summit both Tecumseh and Pierce in New Hampshire to get ready for winter. But the pain came back and thankfully my voice did too... Then came a visit to my regular doctor, who believes that I have developed Rheumatoid Arthritis in my shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers. Auto immune disease number two for me as these things travel in packs, it will be something else to fight with. I am awaiting both a call from the Rheumatologist and my first Winter peak of a goal free Winter season. 

Here's hoping for a Happy and Healthy Hiking Year in 2017! HAPPY TRAILS and thanks for reading along!