Saturday, October 15, 2016

Cloudland Rd to Thistle Hill Shelter/Joe Ranger Rd. Appalachian Trail Pomfret VT.

My pack was packed for a night on the AT. I even managed to get my zero degree bag in it without tipping the scale. I was hoping to cover miles from Stoney Brook Rd to Wintturi Shelter... Closing a gap and staying the night at The Look Out. BUT, my access point on Stoney Brook Rd was not to be found. It went all the way down from a paved road to a snowmobile/ATV track... Not interested in trying to find a crossing in unfamiliar territory, I went to plan B on another access road. Not going to happen... Same story. This was not my morning. So, I headed to Pomfret VT and Cloudland Rd. I'd hike a few miles towards Hanover NH instead and maybe stay at Thistle Hill Shelter. 

After battling road construction and Leaf Peepers, I made it to Cloudland Rd crossing and after talking to the people at Cloudland Market, I found a pull off to park in. It's small. Barely room for 2 cars... As I am getting ready, another car shows up and the lot is full... We are going in opposite directions (Thankfully, they were leaf peepers). I am heading North as far as Joe Ranger Rd. The trail goes through a field here that you are asked to walk the Perimeter. We stop and talk with a SoBo Flip Flopper and as we reach the woods, I hear some thing BIG coming. I still Isis in hopes that what ever it is, comes out to the field... No such luck, what ever it was, it followed the corridor along the rock wall. Into the woods we go and it's a cool morning. The green tunnel is now a mix of yellows and reds. It's a pretty straight forward trail... Not much variation in elevation and easy to follow. Isis and I make it to Thistle Hill in no time at all. It's not even Noon. The shelter itself is down a .1 side trail. 

Thistle Hill is a great shelter. Really clean and has a fire pit. The highlight is the Privy... Talk about a view. It's completely open with mesh screens and thankfully the lower half is wood panel. You can see the critters approaching, this would probably be welcome at night. Isis and I sat for a bit and made a plan. Unfortunately, it was too early to stop and sit around... Least I catch hypothermia from being sedentary, even after a change of cloths. Plus, I wanted to keep moving. The next shelter is a little too far away to hike to and hike back tomorrow. So, I settled for another mile and a half to Joe Ranger Rd. This would give me another access point, for another time. This section as some steeper downs which give me a work out on the way back. The forest is beautiful here and I've only run into one other Thru Hiker. 

On the hike back to the car, Isis took to zooming past me and waiting for me to catch up. She was in her glory with the cooler weather and she was showing off. I dropped my pack at the car and we continued to head south back to Dupris Hill. This was a vista we turned at during a previous hike. It's only .5 miles from the crossing to the top so, I closed that gap as well. I've hiked most of the LT in Vermont so, this is making me want to hike all of the AT as well and that means going back to fill in gaps. All in all, this trip was not what I truly wanted it to be... Some time on the AT and some shelter time. BUT it was significantly better than if I had just gone home.. I salvaged what I could and still managed some miles and some smiles. 

This little girl... She's my best trail partner (Ever) and as I have said so many times before, She is my heart. She gets treated as if she was human and is completely bonded to me and me only. She is the bright spot in a very dark time in my life and I'm pretty sure I'd be in a totally different mindset without her here or I would have stopped hiking a long time ago, were it not for her. So, when someone makes threats against her and I, I tighten up the ranks. BUT, this does not mean I will stop living my life. Let me make one thing clear... I raise my dog as I see fit and no one is going to threaten me to do it differently. She has the best life any dog could ask for and has seen a lot more than many dogs her age. It doesn't matter if she's on leash or off, reactive to strangers and strange dogs... Or not. We both deserve to be on trail and that's not going to change... We still put one foot and one paw in front of the other and have a fantastic time. 

This weekend was confusing and I like to believe that everything happens for a reason... Perhaps the shelter was going to be crowded at The Look Out and I would not have had the best experience with Isis. Regardless, I've got one weekend left before I need to take some time to get ready for my annual trip to my cabin in Pittsburgh NH... Maybe we'll try again for The Look Out. The research resumes tonight. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Stage Rd to Wintturi Shelter AT SOBO in Woodstock Vermont

What was I suppose to do since my chores were done and the cold I had earlier in the week succumbed to my drowning it in fluids and electrolytes? Knocking off more miles on the AT in Vermont, of course. I headed back to Stage Rd in Woodstock Vermont to start a SoBo trek to Wintturi shelter. A modest 5.4 mile hike (one way) with a few surprises along the way. The morning starts chilly after crossing the road from a small parking area and climbing up a steep incline. I'm traveling through some decent hardwoods at first and the sun is starting to burn through the fog. Feeling good today so, I am hopeful for a successful trip. 

Isis and I then crossed through a pine forest and out into some open fields. I looked across and saw a decent undercast in the valley below. I smiled and thought about all the undercasts on the high peaks I have seen and here I am looking at something really beautiful without all the elevation gain. I am so lucky sometimes. Once we cross back into the woods, we begin heading down to route 12. It's a decent descent with a steep trail... This will be tough heading back. So far, not another soul on the trail. We cross the highway and come to a bridge with a gate. 

At the gate, I was preoccupied with something across the field. Isis alerted me to something coming from the right... It's a cow. OK, I can handle this. I gather up Isis who is not happy with the huge cows on her trail and in the process, the cow must have summoned his friends. Suddenly, they are all at the gate and I backed off just a little. The cows continued to literally press up to the gate. I put my foot up to keep it closed and I waited... I waited for them to move on. I waited for two of them to attempt at making a baby cow... That cannot be unseen, BELIEVE ME. Then they moved to the left side of the pasture and I quietly moved through. I made no eye contact and I just kept moving. There were more in the pasture up the hill and so, I moved quickly... In the wrong direction. Once I realized I was off trail, I moved back through and was followed pretty close by one. Watch your step as this really is a very active pasture. Thankfully, no shoes were ruined and one white dog remained white! 

Once we passed the cows, we climbed the hill behind he farm and had beautiful views of foliage and farm land. It was all very New England and very much made me smile. This is what leaf peepers don't get to see sometimes. Crossing back into the woods for a bit, Isis and I cross a few open areas and the view of Mt. Ascutney. The trail from here is pretty easy after the climb and begins to descent towards a wooded road. It becomes a little rocky and soon begins to go up and down a little (PUDS!). Time is on our side today as we continue to our lunch time destination... Wintturi Shelter.

I sat down at the shelter (down a .2 mile side trail blue blazed) and had lunch as I had intended. We, as a duo of hikers have completed 256.7 AT miles and now have just 24 miles left to Vermont. That's something to be proud of in my book and this was the successful trip I had been waiting for. The return trip would hopefully go fast and maybe be cow free.

On the way back we actually began running into others out walking. A group of women were close to the shelter as we began to head back. They were on their way to The Lookout which is about 3 miles past Wintturi. AS we moved over the fields, there were two section hikers enjoying some cheese for lunch and then thankfully the cows had gone home for the day. Climbing back up the steep section from Route 12 saw our final group on walkers and dogs... Not a bad day on the trail. Nice to have some company but equally nice to be alone out there. Not a drop of rain has fallen today either and the temps were a perfect fall day.

So, with 24 miles left, the push is on to complete my first state on the AT. I'd love to squeeze in an overnight to knock off some high miles and then maybe slack pack until the snow flies. Speaking of snow, new Hillsound Trail Crampons have arrived, new boots have been ordered... Time to start thinking of Winter. No real goal unless I want to help Isis get her remaining winter peaks. But, I've also grown to love NOT having a strict goal and not having to reach a summit. Going road to shelter has become a favorite hike for me and I'm looking forward to this journey continuing. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Stage Rd to Dupris Hill Northbound AT in Woodstock VT.

Today was about walking. Not about time or miles, not about being the fastest or the slowest, it's just walking. I skipped up to Stage Rd in Woodstock VT because there is a shelter in the section before hand that I want to do an overnight in (The Look Out). So, I will flip back and tie up that loose end later. Today, it's raining but not enough to really be concerning. We need the rain so, I am far from complaining. I tossed on my rain shell and Isis and I got on trail after pulling off on Stage Rd in Woodstock VT. There's only room for about 2 cars here and as my luck would have it, I'm the second car. Crossing the foot bridge, we are on our way...

Almost immediately after the foot bridge, we begin crossing huge open fields with borders of foliage. The weather seems to enhance the colors.The trail here is pretty easy but it's not flat. There is some climbing today at a low elevation. We walk back into the woods after crossing a road and continue to gain a small amount of elevation. 

I come across some crazy big blow downs and one crazy looking tree that is still standing. There's a ton of established stealth sites in this area for camping. Crossing a clearing, you then head back over more open fields with bog bridges to help and posts with blazes on them to follow. Not that the trail is not well worn in this area. It's practically carved into the ground. Such a beautiful day in the rain so far. The trail is also quiet except for a few blue jays that seem to follow us. Getting ready to cross yet another road, we again duck into the woods. This time, the green tunnel lasts for a while and follows a rock wall. The trail is wide enough for an ATV to travel on it. Even absent of views, this day has been refreshing. 

After you walk the "road", you come to a split with a sign and you again begin to climb. There is a chill in the air here as we continue. Ultimately, I'd love to get to Thistle Hill but I know that I'm pushing my time today. It's Sunday which means I need to work tomorrow so, I am slack packing and need to be mindful of my time to get back to the car. I know, I know, I have a head lamp but, something in me always wants to get back to the car in day light, especially in unfamiliar Vermont. The trail opens up and we are heading to another bald. There are some small fir trees mixed in on the sides of the trail and all I want to do is decorate them for christmas. We come to rest at the top of the bald, no view and I choose to head back from here. I can pick it up again next time. So, we turned back at Dupris Hill. I bet on a clear day, the view is really pretty. 

Back tracking is pretty easy and goes by rather quickly the one water crossing is low and easy and the trail as always is in good shape so, much like heading in, heading out is the same. It just feels good to be on trail today and my mind has been drifting between this endeavor to section hike the AT and my final section of the LT. My head is slowly getting back in the game as well, I am feeling peaceful again. I'll admit that stress and uncertainty has been contributing to my lack of enthusiasm for these weekly walks. Striking a balance with my mind, and being OK with doing these small slack packs seem to help me keep going as I creep my way to the New Hampshire border. My goal right now is to do what I can before the snow flies and then head back to The Whites for some fun on the less crowded trails in the Whites. Ultimately, I'd like to see myself complete as much of the AT in New England as I possibly can and with Vermont and New Hampshire virtually completed, I think it's a reasonable goal. 

Someone has her bi-annual vet visit next weekend so, it looks like another slack pack on Saturday, if I can get out... Maybe after that, I'll get one last over night and pick up that skipped section with an over night at the Look Out (It has a wood stove). Lots to look forward to as the leaves continue to turn in anticipation of the flakes beginning to fall. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pitcher Mountain, Stoddard NH

It's such a short hike... Just off of route 123 in Stoddard NH, is a .2mile trail to a fire tower on Pitcher Mountain. In Blueberry season, you are sure to come back with blue stained hands but today, was just a beautiful fall day. I had the privilege of having my mother along for company, which made the day even better for me. It's not often that she and I share a trail together. Our Last adventure was about three years ago on Mt. Israel. 

Pitcher Mountain Trail starts off as a typical wooded trail blue blazed. You can also choose to take the Monadnock Sunapee Greenway trail which is blaze white. Both offer good footing and the MSGT is just a tad longer and takes you by a field with maybe a few cows from time to time. In certain seasons, this is also an active bear area. Pitcher Mountain trail, which is the one we took today, is .2 through the woods and quickly opens to blueberry bushes (past season now). Slightly over grown trail but still wide enough to pass through. You can see where some animals have kind of plowed their way through the bushes. Once you reach this point, you can see the fire tower. New signs at the top really point you in the right direction if you were on the Monadnock Sunapee Greenway. When I came through back in April/May, this signage was missing. We found a good place to sit on the rocks at the summit and enjoy the views, some food, and each others company. A few other families and dogs were also out for the day. All in all, it took us about a half hour to make the climb. We returned the way we came, taking our time coming down. Again, you can take the Monadnock Sunapee Greenway down for a longer loop hike if you choose. Just a fantastic fall day for a quick hike to stretch out the legs and exercise the dog. Wind kept it just cool enough to need long sleeves but the sun warmed you up enough to not need anything more. Pitcher Mountain is great for those that love to be out in the woods but maybe don't like all the rocks and ledges of the larger peaks or even Monadnock. Lots of great areas to explore around too if you follow the Monadnock Sunapee Greenway. This was perfect for myself and my mother today and great that we could share it. 

Now that the house is ready for the colder months, I'm thinking of my last overnight for the season and looking forward to WINTER... Unless I find a warmer sleeping bag or figure out a way to compress my 20* bag smaller. Then maybe I can do one more. I will probably be back on the AT in Vermont next weekend inching closer to the border of New Hampshire. From there, we'll see what happens next. I could go to Massachusetts for more AT miles or back to the peaks of New Hampshire. Isis and I definitely have a few winter peaks we would like to visit when the snow flies and she has a few she'd love to complete after the official start of Winter for the unofficial Winter Dog 48, but for the most part it's just great to get out for some no pressure exploring. Life as always is sweet!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Gifford Woods State Park to Stoney Brook Shelter (AT Killington, VT)

Still chipping away at the miles on the AT in Vermont, I figured I'd pick up where I left off last week. So, off to Gifford Woods State Park in Killington VT it is. Took a little convincing to get out of bed this morning but thankfully, there is still a lot of day light left to play with and a late start is not noticed. Not that I don't have a head lamp... Just that I like to drive home with some semblance of light sometimes after a long day on the trails. Anyway, after talking to the rangers about picking up the trail, and not really making heads or tails of what they told me (I could not focus this morning to save my ass), Isis and I were off. The car was secure in the park so, I was not worried. What a fantastic start this section has. 

After crossing the road, you come to the cutest little AT sign I have ever seen. Then the trail winds through the forest by Kent Pond. It's a cool morning so, I actually have a warmer shell on. Over a bridge where you can tell the water is low (It's still flowing but not as strong), you make your way around Kent Pond with some nice views to look at. I ran into Red Squirrel here and we chatted about the trail quite a bit. He's a trail angel too and offered to co-ordinate rides with me if I needed one for the remaining miles I have in Vermont. So refreshing to chat like this on the trail. Continuing through this section, you come out to Mountain Medows Lodge. It's privately owned but Hikers are welcome. Today there is a Private function so, they ask us enjoy the view and to move along quietly. It's just Isis and I so, no problem. 

Following this section, after crossing two roads, you pass by Thundering Brook Falls. I will stop by here on our way back. I was so happy to see the bridge trail over the marsh. It's a great stretch and so easy on the legs and feet. The trail has been kind so far. Nice views through this section as well. 

Crossing the road again, this is where the AT makes up for that easy walk in... You're going up. Classically, when you cross a road, you are going to climb up out of something. So, up we go. It's getting warmer and the warm shell has come off. I give Isis and myself a water break. And we continue. The AT is kind enough to give us a few flat stretches before it tosses.... Switchbacks. Really tight switchbacks. There's no other way to describe the trail except to put your head down and do it. Lucky for me, it's well cared for and the rocks are minimal. Isis and I are listening to the fading crowd and car noise as we get deeper into our day. The trail itself is not crowded until you cross those more tourist type stops. I would expect to see not too many more people as we head North to New Hampshire.

At a certain point, you do level out and cross a short ridge. It give you a bit of a break before you start climbing again for a short distance. And just when you think you've got it made and you've done all the work you can to get to your lunch... A ladder appears. What is it Vermont with the metal ladders? They are on the LT as well. Isis and I manage and it's not long before we reach our destination. Stoney Brook Shelter.

Knowing the the trip back is going to be mostly down hill makes this ride worth it. Since you have to go up slightly and then down to the shelter, you're going up and then down to get back. That is, if you are doing an out and back. If you are continuing on, that makes it a little easier. So, Isis and I start back the way we came after giving my feet, legs, and body a rest. Still dealing with a little joint swelling in my wrists, I try and get some fluids of course. Knowing that there is Aleve in my future when I get back to the car makes it all good. Heading back, Isis and I run into a few NoBo's that are making their way to Mama K and one that is stopping in Franconia Notch.... Such fun people out on the trails today. It doesn't take too long it seems to get back to Thundering Brook Falls. These are running low as well. I could only imagine what they were like after a rain.

Vermont is actually not experiencing the record drought that NH and ME seem to have going for them. From the falls, it was not long until we were back at the park and getting ready to head for home. Such a refreshing day on the trails and so nice to have them virtually to myself. This had to have been one of the nicest sections of the AT in Vermont so far... Well excluding some of the great sections that share the LT... Even with the big old case of switchbacks in the middle, I really enjoyed myself today. Onward and pushing to New Hampshire... 35.6 miles to go.

Closing in on finishing  my first state on the AT feel pretty darn good to me. This change of pace for me, from hiking the peaks of New Hampshire, has made all the difference as well. I've been enjoying the trails more and really appreciating the chance to clear my head and really find some peace. That's what this journey is all about for me. I love my family and friends to death but mostly, I go into the woods to heal and to feel myself smile and to get stronger. Literally, my whole body smiles as I push myself up and down these hills and peaks. I have learned to appreciate the quiet more and really see with my heart what lies in the forest proper. Sometimes it's lots of chipmunks, other times it's eye opening realizations of how strong I really am and no one can take that from me. Either way, a day in the woods with my best four legged trail partner beat the hum drum of life any day... Life in the civilized world moves so fast, it's just nice to escape it and slow down for a while and just be.