Sunday, February 19, 2017

Mount Pierce February 2017

Mount Pierce would have to be the goal for today as I slept late and didn't want to hike Waumbek just yet. And this (Pierce) would be my #2 of the 48 (again) for Rheumatoid Arthritis. So, I opted to head up the Crawford Path by the Highland Center off 302 in Crawford Notch. This would be my 10th visit to the summit and the Crawford Path is my standard route. Northern New Hampshire has received a great deal of snow in the past week and my decision to wait until trails were broken out was sound... Short dog and still building strength back. 

The lower section of the Crawford Path is well packed down and easy to travel. The temps this weekend have been warm so, there is a softening factor to the day. I am wearing my Tubbs Flex VRT's primarily for the heel lifts on the steeper sections of trail but really you can wear spikes and be OK with things. Just don't step off the solid trail or you will sink in. Not as many layers on today as it is warmer than usual but my white puffy is packed for above tree line. Isis is having an easy go of the trails too. Plenty of people out including one boy scout troop from Connecticut. I did my best to try and keep distance but would often bunch up with them. I'm moving much slower these days so, I am anticipating a longer than usual ascent (Which drives me crazy!). I've made up my mind that this journey is no longer about speed and long distance/multiple peaks, but about being better than I was the last time I hiked. My back has been stiff recently and the heel lifts really help alleviate the pressure on my back and other joints. I was thrilled with this find. These snow shoes (The Tubbs Flex VRT's), are worth it for the heel lifts and the bindings (my hands don't tighten traditional bindings tight enough). I take a brief break a lot more frequently than I use to but I push to the intersection with the Mizpah Cut Off, take some water and give Isis some treats. I can now hear the wind picking up but I put off putting on my puffy layer. I try again to get some distance from the boy scouts but they are soon on my heels. When I pull over to put on the puffy coat, I waited as they passed and then made sure I let them get far ahead. This section of trail is some of my favorite and I enjoyed not feeling rushed as well as the quiet. 

The snow is getting deeper on the upper section of the Crawford Path and you have a greater chance of both crashing into branches and falling into spruce traps if you step off the trail. I've taken to picking up Isis as we pass people because I'm not crazy about spruce traps. The trail is only a snowshoes width so, passing is tight. A couple of steep sections make me realize that this is harder than it ever has been for me but I am determined to make the summit. Once we pass the Alpine Zone sign, the trail looks completely different. You are walking above the trees due to the snow depth. There are more views than ever right now too. The wind is kicking up and when this happens, Isis begins to rush things. In fact, she breezes by the sign post and heads for the summit. Normally this is a climb too but the snow has filled in nicely. 

At the summit with the boy scout troop, I have a nice chat with the scout leaders. They were talking gear, RA, and dog hiking with me when suddenly down trail we hear a HELP.... Everyone clears the summit and heads in the direction of the call. A hiker was concerned that he had lost his hiking partner, I'm assuming they were coming over from Eisenhower. The good thing was that, as it turns out the guys hiking partner was mingling with the group. This of course could have been much worse. Isis and I head for tree line since the wind is pushing her to her limit in terms of stress. I try again to get space from the boy scouts but they are right on my heels and making me nervous. People are coming up to the summit and the trail is crowded. I push through and ask for space for the dog and myself. I just need to get her to tree line where the winds are calmer. At the point where I take a layer off the whole group again passes me. Going down the trail is always easier than heading up and since the trail is solid, this is a breeze. My heels are a little raw in my boots but other than that, I am finally feeling good. Or at least better than when I started. At the road, it's difficult  to get over the huge snow banks to get back over the the Highland Center and care needs to be taken when crossing 302. 

So, here's the low down on my recovery... It's going to be a long one. Still have pain in my feet, hands, knees, elbows, and now my back... It's a pain that makes it hard to bend these joints due to stiffness and swelling as the disease flares up. The new pain and stiffness in my back makes it hard to to do a lot of things too. But here's the thing, if I can push though it, by afternoon I am able to function somewhat normally. Every day, this is life. Getting out to the trails is a challenge since I am whipped out so, any day I get on trail is a great one for me. Making it to the summit is an all out party for me. On today's hike of Pierce, it was an constant battle to keep going as my energy was being sapped on the ascent. I had determined that it's no longer a race to the summit but a slow journey and I was finally OK with that. As I get stronger, the harder hikes will come back to me but until then any day I get on the trail is a win. Staying positive and being positive to others on the trail helps too. I stopped being so concerned about trail conditions and the people around me that I just enjoyed my hike and let others enjoy theirs. Blocking out the off trail world really helps too. 

And as for the final leg of the LT, it weighs heavy on my mind but I will push through it when the time comes. I am hoping that I'll be much better by June. The gear is rolling in and I'm just waiting for my sleeping bag to arrive. Food is being planned and I am pushing forward. Full speed a head. 

Keep hiking the good hike and Isis and I will see you out there. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Mount Tecumseh... February 2017

Mount Tecumseh from the Ski area is a decent half day on the trails. Even though it's a quick hike, I still like to get there early. For one thing, it's ski season and getting a spot in Lot 1 by the Mount Tecumseh trail can be a challenge. For another thing, I can get up there and have some summit time before the crowd arrives. I was in luck, arriving around 7:30am, I got my spot in Lot 1. Isis and myself were underway after I quick stop to put on my snowshoes. 

Mount Tecumseh trail is 2.5miles up to the summit. I always section this trail off in my mind: From the start to the ski slope view, Up to the ridge, Ridge to the summit... Down low, the first crossing is open. The trail is well packed and well traveled but I have the snowshoes on for the heel lifts which will come in handy later. Isis is having a great time running up and down the trail and playing in the snow on the sides. The second crossing is bridged and easy. I used my heel lifts for the first time after the crossing to save my legs. I am walking slow and deliberate today to focus myself on the hike and not the time. The third crossing is also bridge but a little open. I made a stop at the ski outlook and watch the skiers go by... Isis said hello by barking at them. After drinking some water, I tightened up my boots and snowshoes and lifted my heels... Here we go ascending the steep trail by the ski slope. 

Normally, this trail is a little rocky with a lot of rock steps up top. Now, it's snow covered and slick form skiers and sledders a like. I am purposely going slow on this section to not sap my energy. I am determined to summit today. No backing down. The temp is dropping but there is no wind and I see the sun peaking out every now and then. People are coming up behind me but I pull over with Isis and let them pass. My legs are doing OK but I am getting tired. The snow builds on the trees as Isis and I climb up to the ridge.

On the ridge, I let my heels down and take a break. The snow is still consolidated up here and with no wind, there are no drifts. It's easy to hike to the junction and then we go left. The views are peaking through the snow covered trees and it's actually a decent day. One more section of trail to ascend and this is narrow but solid. One big deep breath and we march up to the summit. There are two other hikers there as well and we trade stories. Isis and I won't stay long because it's a little cold for her. She has her snack and as we are joined by another couple, we begin our descent. As usual, we are joined don the trail by hikers and skiers a like. Heading down this trail in winter is super quick. I left my snowshoes on and stayed upright. No sledding for myself or Isis. As we head down, we begin to run into everyone else. A lot of people start this one later so, I left the summit just in time. Some great people to chat with on the way down and everyone was enjoying the day. I'll say this though, I had quite the workout on the way down too as the quick snow and Isis kept me moving. Once I would stop, my legs felt like jelly. I was really pleased with this hike today and managed to get back to the car by 12:30pm. Home in time to catch the Super Bowl which also factored into my decision to take on Tecumseh.

So, here we go again... As I had said on the trails today, I reset myself to #1 of 48 today. This round is for Rheumatoid Arthritis which I was recently diagnosed with. It turns out that from June of last year until 3 weeks ago, I was experiencing the emergence of this disease. As I am one to try and work through things, I continued to push and it pushed back. By November, I had lost the majority of function in my hands. Swelled up like balloons, I eventually could not tie my boots very well. I would keep trying to adapt and continue but eventually, it sapped my energy too. This would continue until I saw a specialist in January. Rheumatoid Arthritis is different from the typical over use arthritis in that, I will always have this and it will be managed rather than cured. My body will always try and attack my joints in an effort to fight off something it perceives as wrong... But the wrong is that my joints are being attacked. So, this specialist put me on some pretty powerful medications and along with that, I got some pretty powerful side effect... Once my body got use to things though, the swelling went down and I was able to move my hands again. This felt pretty good to me so, I made plans to begin a new round of the New Hampshire 48 4000 footers. No time limit to this round and I plan on taking my time. I'll use the hikes leading up to June 2017 to strengthen and train for the last leg on the Long Trail. I will make it to Canada this year! Hiking is a very big part of my life and when faced with not being able to do it, I kind of had a wake up call for myself. If I want to continue to do what I love, I need to take care of myself. I need to listen to myself and push myself without pushing myself over the edge. No epic hikes or speed records for me, I'm hiking for nothing else except my health. It all started today with #1 Tecumseh. Thanks for following along. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Almost Monadnock

The January thaw is in full swing and I could not make it up north this weekend so, I went to my trusted back up... Monadnock. When I just need to get out, I head to the Old Toll Road trailhead which is about 10 minutes from my house. No need to get up super early for this one. The Old Toll Road trailhead is not maintained in winter but because there is a residence close to the trail, the road to the home is maintained. Parking can be pretty tight though and use the iron ranger for the fee. Oh, and no dogs allowed on Monadnock (I'll say more on that later). So, it's about a mile up the road tot he White Arrow Trail and from there it's a mile to the summit. Some day's this could be just a two hour trip for me. But today, I'm in no rush. Road walks don't usually bother me so, when I get to the actual start of the White arrow trail, I'm greeted with ice... As I had suspected. 

There was another hiker determined to make the summit as this was her first solo hike. I'm not so eager. Being so close to home, I have that luxury. So, I decide to see what happens. Ice on the trail builds as I ascend. I know this trail cold so, I am aware of certain sections that will have more ice than others. I am eager to get to the "waterfall" before tree line. 

Most sections can be walked up with Microspikes (your choice of Kahtoolas or Hillsounds). One small bridge on a very small water crossing, should firm up when the temps drop again. Intact, the conditions will firm up and get even icier over the next 72 hours (ice/sleet/freezing rain/rain moves in). It's foggy and I'm aware that there will be no view. I reach what I like to call the water fall. It's really just an over active stream that needs a water bar or two to divert it from the trail. In the winter time, this water fall is nothing but flow ice. Lots of thick blue ice that you can walk on with microspikes or you can bushwhack around on the right side. Your choice depending on comfort. I chose the whack since I'm not even close to 100% with what ever I have going on in me. I really don't want to fall on hands and wrists that are already afflicted with "something". I generally like this section and this trail to the top. It's quick and easy... Usually. Today, I can already feel the freezing rain getting ready to greet me at tree line.... Not worth it. I can climb this peak on a good day after work and still make it home to cook a decent dinner. Today, I just needed to stretch my legs and get away from my thoughts and the world for a while. 

I head back the way I came and in reverse, the ice flows are pretty easy to grip into. I do try and at least let people know the conditions I experience. Especially on a day like today. Some get snippy but that's on them. I still ran into plenty thinking that they could hike in jeans and other street cloths too but I'm kind of done with the lecturing. You make your own choices when you enter the trails... Monadnock is a well traveled mountain but it still deserves respect. Many get hurt on this peak. Many also get lost as well. I ran into one old timer that I absolutely loved. Don't know him and it doesn't much matter. He's just has happy as I am to be out today, summit or not. It was really nice to end my day on that note. Once back at the car, there's a couple getting ready to ascend. I give them the conditions I had and note that they are prepared with all the right gear... There's a German Shepard Dog barking away in the car... No dogs allowed at Monadnock. He's staying in the car, while they hike. I just could not do that to my dog. Not in the heat of the summer and not in the cold of the winter. Please, jus leave your dogs at home. 

I needed to get out and stretch my legs today so that I can keep my mind off of Tuesday. Tuesday I head back to the doctors to figure out why I am so tired and why my hands and feet are so swollen. I am hopeful for some answers but anxious all the same. Of course, I am keeping my focus on the Long Trail coming up in June. My new tent arrives tomorrow from Lightheart Gear. I'm waiting until after Tuesday to figure out what my conditioning for the LT will look like. I would love to get back to the 4K's and the AT but I think there's a lot of healing to be done first. 

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!