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. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Deer Leap Mountain

The weather was kind of questionable this weekend. I knew that I wanted to get out on the AT though and that pretty well meant that I'd stay sheltered which is a lot better than being above tree line. After a late start from the house, I arrived at the parking area off Route 4 in Killington VT. I'd hike to the Maine Junction at Willard Gap and then hit the AT for a while there. I'm figuring that I'll just chip away at the remaining Vermont miles and this will also keep my legs conditioned for my remaining LT miles (probably this time next year). Isis of course would be with me. 

Things didn't start looking familiar until I was into the forest and away from the busy road. Then I remembered hiking this little section. I was hot that first time and cranky and really just needing to get to shelter. Today though there was a nice breeze and the forest was nice and green. Everything seemed the same but different. It's a well traveled trail with a double stream crossing at the beginning. This is the only water for a while and I was surprised that it was still flowing. But Vermont has had more rain than New Hampshire as of late. Still, if you are low, you'd be wise to scoop and fill here. Isis and I hit the incline and I remember myself pitching a fit in the humidity. Today though it was an easy climb (although I still huffed and puffed and sweated). I was surprised that Willard Gap came up so quickly once we crested the incline. Another LT section hiker was behind us and we chatted at the Maine Junction for a bit before an unleashed dog disrupted us by not leaving Isis alone. The other hiker was ready with his walking stick though. I found that rather nice from a stranger. I was sorry I had to move on quickly to keep the dogs separated. So, now Isis and I are just hiking the AT and I think that given the lack of loop hikes, we will try and get to the state forest and turn back. It's not a far hike. 3.3 miles total one way.

Isis and I walk the trail through the woods which is well traveled. There is evidence that there was once a lot more water on this section but most little run offs have dried up now. There are a few hikers here and there but for the most part, we are alone today. Each one we meet is heading to Georgia so, the southern bubble must be moving through. Isis is kind of stand offish so I keep her off to the side. There's no mud on this section either which is nice. We continue walking over a few little hills and encounter some day hikers heading to Deer Leap Outlook. I think that maybe we'll stop by there on our way back. Given the low miles and taking into account the rain, I think we'll be good to go. As we walk, we reach the end of the trail (for us) at VT100 and Gifford Woods State Park. Isis is not so good with turn around points. It's takes a little convincing that we are going in the right direction. But we get back into a rhythm soon enough and find our way back to the junction for Deer Leap. It's got a decent gain to it and even though it's short, I get a little work out as well. We are almost to the outlook when we have to wait for about 25 people... A wedding party had ascended the outlook and was just leaving as I was getting there. Everyone was in great spirits of course. Isis and I popped out on to the rocks with a few others still sitting there. She rested, I took in the view, and also noted the storm clouds moving in. We may have had just the right pace today.

Heading down Deer Leap Mountain and back to the AT was a pretty easy mile. There was a few steep down sections and then a quick and steep up out of the gap. I was kind of thankful for the trail today as I need conditions like this to keep me in shape for my LT finish. The more I hike it the more I'll get use to it. The temp is changing in the forest and the breeze is picking up ahead of the rain. We stopped again t the Maine Junction for a snack and some water. I thought about heading down the LT for a bit but instead, Isis headed back to the road. We passed through the forest again and I really loved that the little yellow flowers were still all over the trail. Three NoBo's where also heading in and I was surprised because it's kind of late in the season. We came back out to the road and crossed back to the car in no time. Headed for home as the rain began to pour down.

Sometimes, I just have to get out for a walk. I don't need big epic trips week after week but just enough time to clear my head and get ready for the next week is good enough for me. All miles count and today's 3.3 got me slightly closer to finishing off my first state on the AT. I'll get there little by little. I'm in the prefect place to hike right now as the terrain is exactly what I need to keep me going. More so, at this time of year, I like to remember how this all started and dream of where I'll go next. Revisiting little sections of familiar ground does my mind good. I'm always glad to hike with or see people on the trails but I am equally happy with those long stretches of just the breeze and my breathing being the only things I hear. I'm ready for what ever the next year will toss at me... 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Camel's Hump

I really hate it when things are left hanging in my life... Before now, there were miles coming off of Camel's Hump on the LT that were left undone. Taking part of my long weekend to tackle them seemed like the right thing to do. Originally, I was going to park my car and hike into Camel's Hump State Park for a NOBO approach but after driving it, I decided to take a SOBO approach. This seemed more logical anyway. I parked at the parking area after the Winooski Bridge and did a little overlap in miles. This lead me to a road walk for a piece and then down and through some beautiful farm land. I also thought this was a great way to warm up the legs after driving for 2.5 hours. It's 2.8 miles from the bridge to the parking area for the State Park's SOBO Long Trail approach. But because it is flat, it goes by rather quickly with 2 sections of road walking. Also on the farm land, there are 3 ladders over electric fences and one crossing that could be a ford in high water.

I seemed to be making good time once I got to the park trail. Following the SOBO LT, it's 2.9 to Bamforth Shelter. That is our plan to end for the day. Our first stop though which was about half way to the shelter was Duxbury Window. A nice clearing with a great bench for lunch. I had some tuna of course and Isis took a rest, water, and treats. So far the trail has been pretty quiet. Not a whole lot of people had Friday off I believe.

After Duxbury Window, you hike up some significantly steep sections. One in particular is full of roots which makes it a little easier but still tricky footing. With a full pack on, this is quite a work out. Thankfully the temps have dropped and it's not humid at all. Isis and I continue hiking over some pretty up and down trail in the woods with a few peaking views. It's not really a PUD area but so close... The shelter is .2 down a blue blazed trail... Not as bad as a .3 but still will add some mileage. We see that there are 2 double tent platforms pretty early on and then a single just before the privy. I will take that one for the night. After the snore fest at Mont Clair Glen that kept me up all night back in July, I think I will go back to tenting. PLUS it keeps Isis out of everyones business and she doesn't keep anyone but me up with her shaking and moving around. Also, I don't have to worry about her wandering off. We do rest at the shelter and I sign the log book. I had packed in some pineapple chunks I had frozen which were now mostly thawed now. BEST trail snack ever. We checked out the eating area since there is a ridiculous amount of bear activity at Camel's Hump. It's going to be quite a hike back and forth. So, I leave everything related to food there in the bear boxes which saves me from rigging up a bear bag. We then check out the water source which is again, a hike to get to it... It's almost just a trickle coming out of the pipe (another reminder that we need rain). I fill up for dinner and head back to set up the tent. Guy lines are your best friend when you have a non-free standing tent. It goes up easy though and I'm happy. Time for dinner which is burger with wild rice and Nuun for my water.

After settling in for the night and journaling, The chipmunks and squirrels began racing around and under the tent platform... This in turn really got Isis' attention. As the sun went down, I began closing up the flies for the night which kept some heat in but let enough air in too. I had started to have a really good sleep and there's no telling how long I was asleep before I heard something. IT was definitely bigger than a squirrel and I hope it was just a raccoon or even a fox... But It may have been something bigger. Thankful, it was just passing through as I was able to fall back to sleep without too much issue. First time I had been visited by something of "that size". Waking up at about 6am, I got moving and wanted to get on trail. We had a lot of miles to cover today if we wanted to head back to the car. 9.6 miles to be exact to go to the summit and back to my car at the bridge. These were hard miles with many steep pitches and quite a few more ladders. There were some nice stairs made of wood to go up and down too. The trail seemed to be a challenge before it even got challenging. It was also still very quiet but then again, it was early. We broke tree line after a few miles and the world opened up. It would be like this until the summit with a few ducks into the trees. Bamforth Ridge is the long approach to Camel's Hump so, give yourself time.

As Isis and I continued, we would run into a few more Thru Hikers as that seems to be the only crowd up this high this early. There are some tricky sections between the open vistas to note. A tight squeeze between rocks and once crevasse type formation that someone could get a leg stuck in. Isis and I had the most difficulty there as it takes a bit of precision to jump with a dog and a full pack. Thankfully she uses the 16' lead now. I just let her go. Still though we had to pause after to collect my breath and slow my heart. It's a far drop on one side and a tight squeeze on the other if your leg gets stuck.

I love a good challenge as much as the next hiker. But I will say that the urge to turn back was strong. From there it was 1.3 to the summit which is hard to believe since as you walk this ridge it look so far away. I really only needed to the old hut clearing but we pushed up anyway. It's a clear day and very quiet still so I take in the view and we quickly begin to head back down. It was a long hike back to the car for us and there seems to be ever decreasing day light. Not that I don't have a headlamp or anything... Just that after our hike back is the drive back for 2.5 hours. So, we back track over familiar tails and with each passing landmark, my confidence grows. Getting closer to the trail head we begin running into the holiday weekend hiker crowd. Everyone is super nice and the dogs are well behaved. Even Isis is not stressed. She had a decent staring contest with a Jindo on the trail too, while I talked to her owner. Nice for Isis not to react at all. Backtracking though the farm land was a little warmer than yesterday given that it's now afternoon but still easy (ish). My feet are starting to throb though but no sign of blistering. I feel oddly satisfied once we get back to the car and now eager for the remaining miles from Smuggler's Notch to Canada. 2017 will be a great year.

I feel like things for the Long Trail are now finished for this year. 55.6 new miles covered leaving about 64 miles for 2017... Not easy miles mind you so, I'll be conditioning throughout the year as well as gear upgrades. Chances are good that I will take to the cooler weather to hike to Canada in late August or September and it looks to be about a week long journey to remain. I could not be more happy with myself or with Isis. She and I have formed a very close team on the trails and I love watching her grow and develop as a hiking dog. We have our own style that works great for us and it seems with each hike she teaches me something new about her and about myself. We'll be back on the AT before long as we wait for the LT2017!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Stratton Mountain VT

I've never been more happy to hike than I was today. After being out for 2 weeks with tendonitis, I was relieved that I could put my pack on and get myself up a mountain. Two weeks ago, I could not move my left arm and my right wrist was not doing well either. One trip to the walk in clinic and I was on a two week vacation with 2 weeks of prescription Naproxen. Thankfully not any longer and no extensive damage as I thought I might have torn my rotator cuff. So, today I had originally planned to head up north to Tecumseh. Well, then I had other ideas... Stratton Mountain. I'm so glad I did this as I feel my ass would have been dragging up Tecumseh for the, I don't know how many times. I really needed the change of scene and I needed to feel at home. 

After an hour and a half of back roads from my home in Southern New Hampshire, I landed in familiar territory (So close to home I could still listen to my radio station all the way there). The last time I was here, it was after 2 days of soaking rain and my gear was a mess. When I reached the trail head sign, I had declared that I would take the first camp site I found... It was about 100 feet up from the trail head and it was one of the best nights from back in 2015. My gear did not dry out but I'll get back to that later. This time around, there are 3 SOBO's still asleep at 8:30am in my old campsite. I smiled and tried to keep quiet. There is a slight incline heading up from the parking area which is also big and holds a lot of cars. The trail from there evens out and begins wandering in the woods a little. There are bog bridges over that famous Vermud we all love to hate. The forest around me today is nothing like I remember. It's bright and lush and green over the dreary August day from 2015. My shoulder feels good and I have switched to my day  pack, which is feeling lighter than my backpacking pack today. Isis and I enjoy the trail's quiet to ourselves. 

We were passed by two women and their dogs. How refreshing it was to be thanked for the warning about Isis being on leash and how nice it was that they kept their pups moving past and complimented Isis. I absolutely loved this over the usual "White Mountain Lecture", which is more like a scolding. Things are different over here as we wished them well. Isis and I are in no hurry today and this is how it should be every day. We get so wrapped up in getting to the summits and "beating time" that we forget it's the stuff in the middle that matters. The trail is very kind. It's such a gradual ascent that I don't even notice the climb. There are a few sections that might qualify as steep but then it levels out quick and gives you a nice mellow section to walk. You hardly notice it. We run into another SOBO about 20 minutes from the top who is hoping to get to Goddard Shelter tonight. I fill him in on the trail and he's appreciative of this info. What a great crowd hiking today. But then, it's not very crowded at all. Isis is doing well as people are leaving her alone for the most part. Unless you are family, you have to let her approach you first otherwise she will snap. Many hikers don't realize this until it's too late. I believe that she too benefitted from time off the trails as she is not acting up at all and is not seeking out treats like a mad puppy. Mind you that all the while I am thinking to myself that this trail seemed so much harder the first time I did it but today, it is flying under my feet. We pass the only real water source. I'd still filter as it is passing over a metal (somewhat rusted) piece to act as a spout. I know we are close now. The trail from here is very enjoyable. 

There is a lot of history at that summit. The caretakers (Jean and Hugh) have been there forever. They live in the cabin during hiking season and are full of great information and stories. I thoroughly enjoyed  my visit and I thanked Jean for getting me going again in 2015. It was her pep talk that got me to continue on and eventually make it to Lincoln Gap. We need more people like her in this world. Isis and I hung out at the summit for quite a while. I tried to get up the tower above the trees but only made it to the first platform before my knees said, You know what... No. So, no real view for me but that's not what this trip was about. The crowd from the gondola was filling in and a few Thru's were milling about. Such an interesting mix of people and I caught some interesting looks between the two groups. What a riot to people watch when tourists, day hikers, and Thrus, meet. We sat back down ad talk with Jean for a while before deciding to head back down. What a joy to hike today. 

The hike out went slow at first since Isis really does not like non-loop hikes. Once we got going though, it was smooth sailing. We ran into a few LTer's and a lot of NOBO ATer's on the way up. Mixed in with a family of day hikers. So, the trail was picking up a bit. Everyone was still in great spirits and full of compliments on Isis' behavior. We happened upon a group of naked thru hikers as well shortly after the family. Great kids but I did warn them that there were even younger kids up ahead. In Vermont, you can actually hike naked any time of year so, this is a common occurrence on the trail. They appreciated the warning and began to devise putting some clothes on. Isis and I landed back at our old campsite which was now vacant and waiting for the next group of hikers to amble in for the night (it was still early). I could picture it set up just as I had back in 2015... I pictured how happy I was that my gear was drying and then remembered that more showers came in over night. What a great section of trail for us to re-enter hiking on. I was so thankful for today on so many levels. 

LT Camp 2015

So, today was a very big test for me. I had two weeks of rest due to tendinitis and was really hopeful that I could make a return. I had chosen Tecumseh originally but switched plans rather abruptly to Stratton Mountain. I just felt that I'd be dragging up Tecumseh and not really enjoying the hike as I use to so, spending time on trails I call home was exactly what I needed. Away from the crowds and with the crowd I fit in with. I wanted this hike to go well for a lot of different reasons. Health was a top priority after not being able to move my arm well for a few weeks. But also, I want to head back to Camels Hump and pick up those miles I left behind. Considering what we did on Mansfield to get up and over and the fact that we've already done the NOBO approach to the summit, I think we should be OK if we just take it slow. It's the only way I will feel right about completing the LT next year. Labor day was when I wanted this to happen and that means up and over, taking a few days to do it... There is one hell of a road walk into the park to begin with and I need to be in good shape. So, thankfully today went very well and instead of thinking of quitting, I kept on going. Being positive and being surrounded by positive people made all the difference. Now, CAMEL'S HUMP... I'm looking right at you.