Best Gear Purchase of 2015

At the end of 2014 I hiked Mount Moriah and my fingers nearly froze off on the summit. I knew I needed to purchase suitable hand protection in order to hike through the winter.

I decided I wanted mittens and glove liners. Mittens were the logical choice as they keep fingers warmer than gloves, but I also wanted the option of taking them off for short periods of time to get into my pack, unfold a map, take photos, etc. Glove liners would give me the dexterity of my fingers without leaving my hands exposed to the elements.

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Cycling: Long Haul Trucking

Recently, my wife got a job off the island. This means that both of us need to commute and unfortunately our places of employment are 40 minutes apart by motorized vehicle on the highway. Our options for commuting were: using our one vehicle to transport us to both, buying a second vehicle or for me to buy a bike. I’ve been wanting to buy a bike for quite a while and this was my opportunity.

I did a bunch of online investigating and talking to friends who bike. I was looking for a good commuting bike, but also one that I could take bike camping in the summer and possibly some longer touring in the future. I narrowed it down to a few options: VeloORANGE Campeur, Jamis Auroroa, Kona Sutra, Novara Rondonee, Surly Long Haul Trucker or Surly Cross-Check. I went to Craigslist and Ebay looking for a used bike, but didn’t find much and I was unsure what size frame to get. I wanted to talk to someone about the options and get properly fitted, and only Surly had a dealer in Portland.

So, I went into Gorham Bike and Ski to talk about buying a Long Haul Trucker or a Cross-Check. They were really knowledgeable and reiterated a lot of the information I had found online about comparing the two bikes. You can’t go wrong with either of them. The Cross-Check is lighter and quicker. The Long Haul Trucker rides smooth even with a heavy load. The Long Haul Trucker has more braze-ons for fenders, racks and panniers. This year’s Cross-Check model comes in orange! After visiting I was still unsure which bike I wanted, but I walked away with what I really needed: a rough price including the accessories I wanted.

I thought about it overnight (as well as prowling more cycling forums), and returned to Gorham Bike and Ski the next day to make my purchase. What it came down to was that I wanted a bike with which I could tour and the Long Haul Trucker was better set up for that. Yes, the Cross-Check may have been the better choice for a commuter bike, but trust me, I wasn’t worried about getting to work quickly. It also helped that I saw many comments stating that if they could only own one bike it would be a Long Haul Trucker.

Bike leaning against fence

My new ride: Surly Long Haul Trucker (from Instagram)

The folks at Gorham Bike and Ski fitted me (56cm frame) and we moved on to the purchase and accessories. I had some choices to make, I went with:

  • Cakipants color over Blacktacular as it was more appealing to me
  • Long Haul Trucker over Disc Trucker to save some money on the frame
  • 700c tires over 26″ for less fatigue and better performance over potholes, even though 26″ are more common and sturdier
  • Default saddle, but I will probably upgrade in the future
  • Default drop-bars even though many do not like the bar-end shifters, having not cycled in a very long time I had no preference and didn’t think I’d mind the shifters even though I would occasionally hit them
  • Added fenders for rainy days as I was planning on commuting every day I could regardless of weather
  • Started with just a back rack and one pannier bag, a Thule Pack ‘n Pedal Tote as it was waterproof
  • Some mid-line blinking LED lights, I didn’t go with the best choice as I was not planning on cycling at night
  • RaceRocket pump
  • Mid-line Specialized bike helmet which was better ventilated than the low-end helmet
  • Bike lock
  • Basic platform pedals
  • A couple of basic water bottles and cages
  • A spare 700c tube

A week later my wife called me at work to let me know that my bike was ready. I left work early to swing by the bike shop once more and pick up my bike. After some small adjustments and purchasing a protection plan the bike was mine. I parked my car and spun around the parking lot a few times to get used to my bike and then walked it down to the boat. I was far too unfamiliar with the bike and unsure of traffic to ride through Portland. Thus began my weekend-long trepidation for my first day of commuting. But, after spending the weekend route planning, researching bicycle safety and signaling and reading my state laws I felt much more confident hitting the street.

I must say that I love my Long Haul Trucker and don’t suffer any buyer’s remorse. I have done some calculations and assuming an average price of $3.00 per gallon of gasoline, I will pay off my bike in 288 commutes (or roughly a year) based on the car mileage saved. Assuming I would have have purchased a used Toyota Tacoma from a local dealership I trust and assuming the same $3.00 gas price, it would have taken 2750 commutes (or 10.5 years) for it to pay itself off, not considering registration, parking, and maintenance.

I was very happy with my choice to go to Gorham Bike and Ski (no affiliation). They were knowledgeable and not a bit intimidating (I walked in a total cycling noob). They also offered 10% off all accessories when purchasing a new bike and a free 30-day checkup (where accessories are once again 10% off).

I look forward expanding my wandering possibilities by leveraging my Long Haul Trucker and sharing those experience on this blog. I have already dreamed up plans to bike down The Eastern Trail, bike camp in the White Mountains, bike to Burlington, VT, and a Portland to Portland cross-country trip (in ascending ridiculousness order).

References:
Gorham Bike & Ski.” gorhambike.com. Gorham Bike & Ski. Web. 11 April 2015.
Long Haul Trucker.” surlybikes.com. Surly. Web. 11 April 2015.
RaceRocket.” topeak.com. Topeak, Inc. Web. 11 April 2015.
Specialized Bicycled Helmets.” specialized.com. Specialized Bicycle Company. 11 April 2015.
Surly Long Haul Trucker or Cross-Check.” google.com. Google, Inc. Web. 11 April 2015.
Thule Pack ‘n Pedal Tote.” thule.com. Thule Group. Web. 11 April 2015.
Top 100 Touring Bicycles.” bicycletouringpro.com. Bicycle Touring Pro. Web. 11 April 2015.

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How-to: Pitch a Tent in Snow

The first time I pitched my tent in snow was January 2014 when I experimented with winter camping in my three-season gear. Things went well and I made it through the night in temperatures in the single digits without freezing. I’ve learned a little bit since then and I had the chance to put my learnings to practice this March the night before I hiked Mount Tom. I wanted to share the experience here to help anyone else interested in camping in the snow.

Disclaimer: I’m no expert, use your own judgement when camping in potentially dangerous temperatures and weather.

Though I lived through my first winter camping experience, I woke up quite cold and I partially attribute that to not being able to pitch my tent properly. I love my L.L.Bean Microlight FS tent, I’ve slept in it under juniper trees on a Texas ranch and just below tree-line in the northern Presidentials. The inner mesh wall is freestanding, but the fly requires staking out the tent. That meant the fly was hanging loose on that first winter night, allowing cold air to blow in under the fly.

Winter camping in 2014, fly hanging loose

Winter camping in 2014, fly hanging loose

I have since learned about making a deadman and realized that I could apply that technique to pitching my tent. Here’s what I did:

First I chose my tent site and prepared it for the tent. I chose a spot near the trees and beside a snow bank created from plowing the campsite. This gave me nearly 180 degrees worth of protection from wind before I even started. Then using my snowshoes I packed a path to my tent site from the kitchen (a picnic table and the fire pit that I dug out with the shovel I keep in my car) and packed down an area I deemed large enough for my tent.

Prep tent area

Prep tent area

When I was clearing out the kitchen I snowshoed through the surrounding trees collecting twigs and branches to start a fire. The thickest of those I reserved to make my deadmen and broke into 5 sticks of about 8 inches in length. When I set up my tent I placed it in the location I wanted it and marked the placement of the deadmen sticks. I moved my tent aside and let the packed snow set for a while so it would refreeze packed and flat before actually securing my tent. While I waited I prepped another tent site for my friend who would be joining me that evening.

Mark snow anchor holes with sticks

Mark deadman holes with sticks

Once enough time had passed for my site to refreeze, I started preparing the guylines I would need to affix my tent to the deadmen. I cut 5 pieces of 505 cord a few feet long and tied a bowline on one end.

Tie a bowline on one end

Tie a bowline on one end

Next I dug each of the holes for my deadmen. I dug the holes perpendicular to the angle the guyline would run to the corners of the tent. Once the hole was dug I roughly measured the depth of the hole and tied the guyline to the deadman with a clove hitch. This would place the bowline closer to the deadman than the tent, giving me plenty of room to adjust the tautness of each guyline.

Clove hitch on stick at depth of hole

Clove hitch on the deadman at depth of hole

I placed the deadman in the hole and buried it, leaving both ends of the guyline sticking out of the snow. I made sure to pack down the snow so that the deadman would properly secure the guyline once it refroze.

Snow anchor set

Deadman set

After setting all the deadmen I placed the tent back in the site and began anchoring it with the guylines. I went around in the same order I dug them, diagonally from corner to corner and the fly entrance loop last, making sure each deadman had a few minutes to refreeze before I put tension on them. To tie down, I used my typical tarp tie-down approach. I put the end of the guyline through the loop in the tent and then fed it through the bowline on the other end of the guyline. After drawing some tension on the guyline I tied a slippery half hitch to secure it. Once I secured my tent to each deadman I went back around to put a good amount of tension on each guyline making the fly taut.

Anchor down tent

Anchor down tent

My last order of business outside the tent was to pile snow around it to make sure wind wouldn’t blow under the fly. I did this on four sides of the tent. The fifth side of the tent was the fly entrance and since it wasn’t stationary I had a fleece blanket rolled up to block the underside of the tarp from within.

Crude snow walls to block wind

Crude snow walls to block wind

Inside, to make sure I would be warm, I had many, many layers. I placed my closed-cell foam (CCF) pad on the floor. On top of it I had a fleece blanket, then my air pad, then fleece bag, then 20 degree down bag and finally a quilt.

Many, many layers

Many, many layers

My final defense against the cold was two water bottles filled with hot water, which I placed in my down bag about an hour before hitting the sack (needless to say, I made sure they didn’t leak). When I crawled into my bag at 11pm it was toasty warm. I slept with one water bottle between my feet and the other in the space between my abdomen and legs (I’m a fetal-position, side-sleeper).

The temperature dropped to 10 degrees and once again I made it through a winter night in three-season gear. This time was a little easier as I was car camping and could carry two bags and extra blankets. Regardless, I think I would have been fine without those extra layers. I even slept with my head outside of my mummy bag’s hood all night.

What went well:

  • There was a noticeable difference in temperature within the tent from properly securing the fly and building snow walls around the tent
  • Hot water bottles in the sleeping bag were very cozy, especially near my feet where I don’t generate much heat
  • Blanket covering my sleeping bag was encrusted with frost in the morning which would have otherwise been covering my bag and likely reducing my overall temperature

What I would change:

  • Clove hitches on the deadmen were a mistake as I was unable to dig up my deadmen in the morning and retrieve my 505 cord
  • Dig deadmen further from tent to allow me more room to adjust fly tautness and to keep slippery half hitch further from snow so my fingers don’t freeze when untying
  • Dig a mudroom inside the entrance of my fly to make it easier to get dressed and in and out of the tent as well as work as a cold trench (holding the colder air inside the tent below my level and bringing up the temperature where I was sleeping)

I highly encourage everyone to experiment with their gear and refine their hiking and camping practices. I’ve acquired priceless knowledge from my experiments and reading up on related subjects. I now have a better understanding of my limits and my gear’s limits which gives me greater confidence when I wander into the mountains and better prepares me for emergencies. I would suggest starting in your backyard and reading any of the books referenced below, especially Andrew Skurka’s The Ultimate HIker’s Gear Guide (no affiliation, just one of my favorite reads on gear). Or, hit me up with questions.

I’ve learned that my ability to enjoy—and to succeed in—an ambitious hike is a function of…my knowledge of the gear, supplies and skills needed for the trip.
—Andrew Skurka

References:
Appalachian Mountain Club. AMC Guide to Winter Hiking and Camping: Everything You Need to Plan Your Next Cold-Weather Adventure. Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 2009. Print.
Canterbury, Dave. Bushcraft 101: A Field Guide to the Art of Wilderness Survival. Avon, Massachusetts: Adams Media, 2014. Print.
How To.” andrewskurka.com. Andrew Skurka. Web. 21 March 2014.
Microlight FS 1-Person Tent“. llbean.com. L.L.Bean Inc. Web. 21 March 2014.
Skurka, Andrew. The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide: Tools & Techniques to Hit the Trail. Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2012. Print.

Adios Estados Unidos!

My name is Melissa (or “wife” as I’ve been referred in several of Cade’s blog posts).  In the spirit of wandering, your author has invited me to share with you my own wandering adventure: a 2-week short-term study abroad trip to Costa Rica.

I recently had the opportunity to leave my familial responsibilities in the very capable hands of my husband and take part in a 2-week study abroad course in Costa Rica.  Seeking out the best options to fulfill the “science with a lab” credit required by the University of Maine Farmington (where I have returned to continue my education), I found their aptly titled “Costa Rica Travel Course” and knew it would meet my needs.  An ecological study of the diversity of Costa Rica’s ecosystems, the course was also described as “playing with monkeys in the rainforest”.

Sign me up!!

The science credit and the benefit of getting out of Maine’s winter were both excellent reasons to take the course but I was most looking forward to the hands-on experience I would gain hiking and studying in the rain forest.  For years I had planned rain forest units for my preschoolers and while it is certainly possible to plan and execute a great unit through research, photos, books, and videos, the knowledge I hoped to gain through experience would add a level of richness and authenticity to what I share with my students.

So began my preparations! Two vaccinations: Typhoid and Hepatitis A (which cost me $300 because the travel clinic didn’t accept my insurance), Passport (about $150 and the first time I’ve ever had one…so exciting!), a series of textbook and article readings assigned by the two instructors leading the course, and the gathering and packing of my bags!!

Here’s what I brought on the trip:

Small, brown rolling suitcase (sized for carry-on, though I checked it) 6 pairs of shorts/capris, 3 pairs of pants, 1 pair of pajamas, Swimsuit and swim shirt, 14 tee-shirts/tank tops, 1 North Face rain jacket, 1 pair of flip flops, 1 pair of Keens, 1 pair of sneakers (which I wore to the airport), Bandana, Hat, Undergarments, and Socks IMG_8035

I also had a carry-on bag.  In it I had…

Cade’s camera and waterproof bag, My journal (required) and travel information (always prepared with itineraries and copies of my passport), Passport, Wallet, Textbook, Hand wipes (I’m a little crazy about going to bed with dirty feet and I didn’t know if we’d be camping), Hair bands, Sunglasses, Cellphone and charger, Headphones, Water bottle, Bug spray and sunscreen, First aid kit, Electrolyte tablets, One complete change of clothes (foresight which pays off), Water tablets, Lip balm, Pencil Bag, Medications, and a Toiletry bag.

IMG_8034

If I were to pack again, I would pack half of what I brought with me.  In fact, I may only pack what I could fit in my backpack.

But that’s a lesson I learn in my next post!

Winter Hike: Cannon Mountain

Date Hiked: 2 January 2015

It was barely 2015 and I was preparing for the first goal on my list of adventures for 2015: climbing my first New England 4000 Footer in the winter.

In the past I blogged about my three-season daypack, but this preparation took a bit more. I had to use my 65L Osprey Atmos pack (though it was no where near full) as I wanted to have enough room to carry any layers I would shed during the hike and have the space to strap on my snowshoes. Aside from the pack, the only other additional gear was the multitude of layers and traction.

Preparing gear for my first winter 4000 Footer

Preparing gear for my first winter 4000 Footer

I took a vacation day from work (it hurts to do so on the second day of the year, but any day spent hiking is worth it) and my friend from work John met me in Portland. We drove to Franconia Ridge State Park and met my brother at the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway parking lot.

Both John and my brother brought their dogs for the hike. My brother had a male Black Lab named Clover and John a female Rottweiler named Roxy. After a few minutes of sniffing, testing each other and running around they were ready to get into the back of John’s vehicle with minimal encouragement. We drove through the snow to Lafayette Campground and found very little parking available.

As we bundled up for the cold weather (the higher summit forecasts and mountain-forecast.com were calling for a wind chill around -20°) snow was quickly filling the inside of John’s truck, and the dogs were romping through the snow and once again testing each other. My brother discovered that his water bladder had emptied itself yet the inside of his pack was dry, a mystery. There was no water to be found at the closed campground so we started up the Lonesome Lake Trail as through the falling snow.

Lonesome Lake Trailhead

Lonesome Lake Trailhead

When we came to the first water crossing we stopped so that my brother could fill his his water bladder. The Lonesome Lake Trail is pretty steep down near the trailhead and we soon found ourselves overheating and needing to take off layers.

The following is how I had my clothing layered:

Feet: Smart Wool socks, Timberland waterproof boots
Legs: Under Armor Cold Gear, Columbia hiking pants, Nike storm pants
Torso: Under Armor Cold Gear, synthetic t-shirt, Smart Wool sweater, Helly Hanson ski jacket
Hands: Dakine Scout Mitts (with included liner gloves)
Head: Under Armor Cold Gear tactical hood, Turtle Fur neck warmer, Sherpa wool hat
Packed: 2 pairs Smart Wool socks, Columbia Hot Dots full fleece jacket

I took off my sweater, neck warmer and tactical hood and at times I even carried my hat and only wore my glove liners. I pretty much stayed this way for the rest of the hike except for when we summitted I put on the tactical hood. I ended up with too many layers, but that is much better than being cold. I will most likely repeat this set up for all of my winter hikes going forward.

Once we all cooled off a little we continued the trek up to Lonesome Lake. It wasn’t long before the trail flattened off and the lake came into view. When we reached its edge we saw another group crossing the ice to Lonesome Lake Hut. Without much hesitation we followed.

The wind and snow picked up out on the ice but it was totally worth it for the experience. I absolutely love Lonesome Lake and to stand in the middle of it and take in the wilderness and towering mountains was amazing. To our right we could make out the bumps of The Cannon Balls and the ridge leading up to Cannon Mountain.

Panorama of Lonesome Lake from the center of the lake

Panorama of Lonesome Lake from the center of the lake

video-icon Video of crossing Lonesome Lake

We crossed Lonesome Lake in short order, though I did lag behind trying to take it all in. When we got to the hut there was a large group getting ready to hike down to Lafayette Campground. One of the guy’s hands were bothering him because his hand warmers weren’t working and two others were in cotton layers and jeans or sweatpants. I’m still shocked that people go hiking and treat it like they’re walking down the street to CVS.

We stopped by the hut, said hello to the croo member who was outside shoveling and tried to see if we could get a view overlooking the lake. The steps from the lake to the hut were a solid sheet of ice and I took that opportunity to try out my new Kahtoola MICROspikes. I’ve been wanting to replace my STABILicers for some time and I finally picked up a pair of MICROspikes with a gift certificate from Christmas. They worked like a charm. I expected some slippage but could feel the teeth bite into the blue ice without a problem. Throughout the day, every single person we saw hiking was also wearing a pair of Kahtoola MICROspikes.

Except for my brother. Who had traction woes.

We followed the Around Lonesome Lake Trail around the western side of Lonesome Lake trying not to posthole off the side of the planks that elevate the trail above swamp in the other three seasons. We hit the upper part of the Lonesome Lake Trail, a section of trail I hadn’t experience before. It climbed through the forest from the lake to the col between the tallest Cannon Ball and Cannon Mountain.

Partway up we were tiring so we stopped for food. I discovered that my water bladder tube was frozen despite running it down the neck of my jacket. I recently read that using a Nalgene inside of an insulated sock is the way to go. I will try that with my next hike. My brother took the rest as a chance to change from my worn STABILicers to crampons in anticipation for the steep climb up to Cannon.

When we go to the top of the Lonesome Lake Trail it was 1:15pm and we decide not to do The Cannon Balls as it would result in some of our hike down Cannon Mountain happening after sunset. We started up the Kinsman Ridge Trail to the summit of Cannon Mountain.

I had climbed this section of the trail back in October and knew it would be a slog. John’s dog Roxy needed some help up the icy sections and my brother busted both of his crampons on the way up. First one broke and he put a STABILicer on the other foot and then the other crampon broke. We stopped so he could put on his alpine snowshoes, which survived the rest of the hike. On the plus side we had a few views to the west and south and it started to look like the weather would clear out.

Clearing skies over The Cannon Balls

Clearing skies over The Cannon Balls

At the top of the ridge the trail flattened out and we made fast time to the junction with the Rim Trail. We dropped our packs and hustled up the observation tower. It was bitter cold and the wind was gusting hard but we relished the moment anyway. Though it had stopped snowing, the peak of the mountain was mostly cloudy. The view was still magnificent with glimpses of Franconia Notch below, all of the snow mantled trees and the entire surface of the observation tower coated in rime frost.

Cannon Mountain Observation Deck

Cannon Mountain Observation Deck

Back at the junction we stopped for another food break and discovered that frozen Clif Bars were hard to eat. We took our time hiking past the views at the ledges below the observation tower.

Ledges from below Cannon Observation Tower

Ledges from below Cannon Observation Tower, photo credit: John Ellingsworth

Before heading down the mountain we followed to the trail to the aerial tramway. We stopped and watch skiers go by and watch a tram make its way to the building.

Cannon Mountain aerial tramway

Cannon Mountain aerial tramway

After the stop at the tram we took our hiking poles out for the two mile descent to my brother’s car. The Kinsman Ridge Trail between the summit and Cannon cliffs vista was an interesting, exposed hike with great views and a few short steep sections. It was definitely a section of trail that I look forward to hiking again in clearer weather.

Heading down Kinsman Ridge Trail

Heading down Kinsman Ridge Trail

We took the short spur trail to the Cannon cliff vista but with the hard-packed snow, ice and cloudy view it wasn’t worth getting too close to the edge. Soon after the Cannon cliffs the trail dropped into trees and we focused on descending. The views became more limited and the trail was a moderate decline. We were down to the car before sunset.

Kinsman Ridge Trailhead

Kinsman Ridge Trailhead

We drove to car at Lafayette Campground and then to the very crowded Woodstock Inn Station & Brewery. We enjoyed some beer samplers, hot food and our windburned faces. The restaurant was packed with people who had spent the day outdoors which created a cozy end to the day.

I’m pretty psyched to have completed my first 4000 Footer winter hike and look forward to the next. Things went pretty much perfect despite our clear forecast turning to snow and clouds the night before (welcome to the mountains). My water froze and my brother broke his crampons, but the dogs were safe and no one lost any digits to frostbite so I think it was a win.

Despite all I have seen and experienced, I still get the same simple thrill out of glimpsing a tiny patch of snow in a high mountain gully and feel the same urge to climb towards it.
—Edmund Hillary

Note:
I’m currently working through the backlog of my hiking posts to add a map of the hike. My hope is that the combination of the map and the stats will help you plan the hike for yourself. And of course, if you have any questions about the hike feel free to ask them in the comments. Wander on.

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Highest Elevation: 4100′
Elevation Gain: 2150′
Distance: 5.2 miles
Book Time: 3:45
Actual Time: 5:20
Temperature: 0-10°s
Weather: snowing, mostly cloudy
Wind: W 30mph

Completed Red-Lining Trails:
Lonesome Lake Trail

References:
Dakine Scout Mitt.” dakine.com. Dakine. Web. 8 January 2015.
Higher Summits Forecast.” mountwashington.org. Mount Washington Observatory. Web. 8 January 2015.
Hiking Cannon Mountain.” outdoors.org. Appalachian Mountain Club. Web. 7 January 2015.
Kahtoola MICROspikes.” kahtoola.com. Kahtoola, Inc. Web. 11 January 2015.
Mountain Weather Forecast.” mountain-forecast.com. Meteo365.com. Web. 8 January 2015.
Osprey Atmos 65 Pack.” rei.com. Recreation Equipment, Inc. Web. 7 January 2015.

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Best Gear Purchase of 2014

As I mentioned in my post where I detailed out the contents of my daypack, I’m not your typical Gearhead. I like going light (who doesn’t?), but I wouldn’t consider myself ultralight. Comfort and functionality are very important to me, but I can’t afford to dump a paycheck into a new piece of gear. I like the balance between quality and affordability.

With those parameters in mind, my favorite gear purchase of the year was an EMS Drool Pillow.

EMS Drool Pillow

EMS Drool Pillow

This pillow weighs 8oz, so an ultralight might not consider carrying it, but for me it is worth its weight. Before purchasing this pillow I would use the dry sack holding my clothes as a pillow. While this technically worked, it was not much better than sleeping on my arm or a medium-sized rock. Once I started carrying this pillow with me on overnight trips I began getting more hours of sleep, which provided the necessary boost to carry the extra weight on my back.

The pillow comes with a stuff sack which allows it to be packed down to a much smaller size, this is as important as weight to me. My favorite feature with this pillow is the pocket on the back side of the pillow, into which clothing can be stuffed in order to increase the pillow’s size while keeping the loft against my head.

For the budget-minded, this pillow goes from good to great. When I purchased the pillow in the spring it cost a little over $6. I now see it online for $12, but that is still pretty inexpensive.

If you find it difficult to sleep on the ground and have already tried a few different pads, I’d suggest trying out this pillow or another like it. It definitely made a difference in my multi-day hiking trips.

References:
EMS Drool Pillow.” ems.com. Eastern Mountain Sports, Inc. Web. 23 December 2014.

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Hike: Mount Moriah

Date Hiked: 8 November 2014

Mount Moriah has been in my sights for a while. It is the last mountain in the Carter-Moriah Range that I have not hiked and it is supposed to be a moderate hike and have a fine view from the summit. From research, most people suggest hiking it from Stony Brook Trail as the elevation gain isn’t as bad. Despite starting at 800′ and adding more up from summitting Mount Surprise, I decided to hike Moriah via the Carter-Moriah Ridge Trail.

I planned on camping out overnight at Barnes Field, a group campground in Pinkham Notch. Unfortunately, due to complications at work, I left Portland a lot later than I anticipated. By the time I got to the junction with Route 16, where I planned to purchase firewood, Grant’s Supermarket was already closed. I headed up Route 16 as the snow began to pick up, excited about the night despite not having firewood. I would get to camp out in the snow and the forecast for the morning was clear for my hike. As I hit the height-of-land in Pinkham Notch by the Mount Washington Auto Road I also hit a whiteout. I slowed the car down to 35mph and concentrated on the lanes swerving through the forest and shifting in and out of view under the snow accumulation.

I soon found the turn off for Barnes Field and took a slow swing around the campground looking for a good site. About half of the dozen sites were occupied. I took a site near the end of the loop and set up my tent in the snow. I had two beers to enjoy but no campfire by which to drink them, so a slow setup it was.

I learned a few lessons on staying warm from my winter camping test back in January. I had my fleece sleeping bag liner and my foam pad to increase the insulation between me and the ground. Though it wasn’t cold enough to put the fleece liner inside my 20 degree bag, I put it on top of my air pad and the foam pad below the air pad. Throughout the night I never felt my body heat being sapped by the ground, despite a slow leak in my air pad, so I suppose it worked. I also slept in my Under Armor Cold Gear, so in the morning I was still warm.

Camping at Barnes Field

Camping at Barnes Field

I got up with the sun as I tend to do when camping and packed up. I cooked some oatmeal and coffee and ate an apple and banana, my typical pre-hike fare. I took the short drive up Route 16 toward Gorham, New Hampshire and made a last minute decision on whether I would park in Gorham or try to find the road-side parking on Bangor Street near the trailhead. Since from my research it was not entirely clear where the trailhead or parking was and because I wanted to walk across the suspension foot bridge over the Peabody River, I decided to park on Promenade Road.

parkParking Map for Mount Moriah hike, Gorham, New Hampshireing map for moriah hike

Parking Map for Mount Moriah hike

With a little wandering I found my way to the suspension foot bridge and crossed the river (see the more direct route in the above map, blue line). The river was roaring and my footsteps made the bridge bounce up and down in a slightly unsettling but enjoyable way. On the other side I took a trail into the woods. I quickly realized that I was not on the Carter-Moriah Ridge Trail, but an ATV trail. I headed back out to Bangor Street and saw trail signs at the end of the street (duh) and really started my hike at 8am.

The trail climbed sharply away from the Peabody River and then became moderate. I found a discarded coffee cup and shortly later a hat and jacket in the trail. I figured someone was bagging Moriah quickly and discarding their extra weight along the trail with intentions to pick it up on the way down.

The trail leveled out some below the approach to Mount Surprise and snow started to appear on the ground. I could make out several pairs of boot prints marking the trail through the snow. Right before the trail climbed up Mount Surprise it penetrated thicker spruce forest and I was struck by the way the light snow made the moss stand out in a brilliant lime green.

Snowy Carter-Moriah Ridge Trail

Snowy Carter-Moriah Ridge Trail

The trail climbed moderately again and eventually broke out of the forest and onto ledge summit of Mount Surprise. I got my first vista of the day, a nice one looking toward Mount Madison and Washington.

First Vista from below Mount Surprise

First Vista from Mount Surprise

As I slowly walked out onto the ledge with eyes transfixed on the view I hit a patch of black ice and went down on my left knee hard enough to make me curse. That marked the point where I slowed my pace and started paying attention to my footing. I had my STABILicers with me, but most of the ice was avoidable and I had footprints showing the best route (and marking places that were slippery).

After making my way along the very icy ledges above the summit of Mount Surprise I passed a couple in the forest. They were the owner of the boot prints I was following but informed me that there were still more boot prints ahead. They asked me if I had seen a hat during my hike and I told them about the hat and jacket. Apparently her backpack had been unzipped and they had accidentally fallen out. I felt bad that I hadn’t carried them up the mountain with me, but I hadn’t know if they were lost or purposely discarded. I let her know that they would be easy to find on the way down as they were right beside the trail.

Beyond a small unnamed peak above Mount Surprise the snow became several inches deep and the going was a little faster with traction no longer being a problem. The snow was fluffy and sticky so bare-booting was fine. The trail continued on with many PUDs (pointless ups and downs) and no views to hint at how close the summit may have been.

Several hours into the hike my legs started to severely cramp. My hiking condition had been decent all year long, so I didn’t know what was making the hike difficult. I figured it was either the weight from wearing boots and extra layers or that my legs were beat from the ridiculous number of squats I had been doing while exercising lately (even though the previous day was a rest day).

I was starting to think that I was nowhere near the summit because the trees were still so tall and I had read that the peak was treeless. Just when I was thinking about turning around and giving up on Mount Moriah I saw a square white beacon ahead, a sign pointing to the summit.

Mount Moriah Summit Sign

Mount Moriah Summit Sign

There was a small rocky climb up above the trees and to the summit. The peaks was just a big boulder pushing above the tree tops. It was very cold and windy on summit. I had no view due to clouds but the sight of the ocean of trees around me covered in snow was amazing.

Mount Moriah Summit

Mount Moriah Summit

I stayed on the summit as long as I could, jumping around, eating a protein bar and drinking a vegan protein drink. I was hoping for the clouds to break so I would have the clear sky the forecast promised. The sun tried hard, but it didn’t happen while I was there.

Sun trying to come out

Sun trying to come out

My hands began to hurt from the cold so I headed down. Shortly thereafter I had to stop and put hands inside my shirt to warm them up. The couple I passed earlier came up the trail and asked if they were close. They too were discouraged and thinking about turning around. I let them know the summit was close but very cold, and wondered how long they would last on the summit with only a single hat between them.

With my hands back to a reasonable warmth I got ready to continue my hike down but discovered my CamelBak line was frozen. It took a minute of sucking on it and squeezing the tube to get it flowing again. The hike down in the snow was quick but my leg cramps returned on the up-side of the PUDs. Once I hit the ledges above Mount Surprise again I pulled out my STABILicers. Even though they were old and worn, they gave me enough traction to continue on at a confident pace.

It appeared that the clear forecast somewhat hit when I walked out onto the vista above Mount Surprise and I got some stunning photos of Presidentials.

Mount Washington from Mount Surprise

Mount Washington from vista above Mount Surprise

Presidentials from Mount Surprise

Presidentials from vista above Mount Surprise

Once I was past the icy ledges I pulled off my STABILicers and hung them from my pack. The rest of the hike was quick and easy. I started passing other people hiking up to Moriah and passed the lost jacket and hat, then hanging from branches trail-side. On the way out I picked up the discarded coffee cup and cleared a deadfall out of the trail. When I hit Bangor Street again I saw where people were parking along the road, there appeared to be room for 3 cars. I stored that info away for future hikes (and marked it on the map from earlier in this post).

I dragged myself back to my car and headed back to Portland, but not before stopping at Moat Mountain Smoke House and Brewery for a veggie burger and coffee.

I was a little concerned about the amount of cramping I experienced during the hike and hope that my attempts to stay fit during the winter by doing CrossFit-like body weight training doesn’t continue to impact my future hikes. But I was also pretty psyched to get my first 4000 Footer in the snow and can’t wait for enough snow to start snowshoeing.

Winter is coming.
—George R.R. Martin

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Highest Elevation: 4049′
Elevation Gain: 3550′
Distance: 9.0 miles
Book Time: 6:15
Actual Time: 4:45
Temperature: 20°s
Weather: mostly sunny
Wind: W 8mph

References:
Barnes Field Group Campground.” http://www.fs.usda.gov. Forest Services, United States Department of Agriculture. Web. 6 December 2014.
Beginner CrossFit Program.” jasonharper.com. Jason Harper. 6 December 2014.
Cabin Fleece Sleeping Bag.” llbean.com. L.L. Bean, Inc. Web. 6 December 2014.
Grant’s Supermarket.” yelp.com. Yelp, Inc. Web. 06 December 2014.
Hike Mount Moriah.” 4000footers.com. 4000footers.com. Web. 6 December 2014.
Men’s Cold Gear.” underarmor.com. Under Armor, Inc. Web. 6 December 2014.
Moat Mountain.” moatmountain.com. Moat Mountain Smoke House and Brewery. Web. 6 December 2014.
Mt. Washington Auto Road.” mtwashingtonautoroad.com. Mt. Washington Auto Road. Web. 6 December 2014.

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www.twitter.com/MaineWanderlust
www.instagram.com/MaineWanderlust

My Daypack

There are many hiking gear review blogs out there (I’m partial toward Stick’s Blog) and I don’t intend stepping into that arena. I’m a huge fan of the phrase “hike your own hike,” and I extend it to the gear I wear and carry on my hikes. On that note, I thought I’d share an overview of my daypack for those that hike a similar hike and are curious what I deem worthy of being carried for many miles.

“My hike” tends to be on the light and minimal side, yet I have a family waiting for me at home so I carry emergency items for precautions.

My Daypack

My Daypack

PACK

Camelbak Zephyr—This is the only daypack that I have owned. It was a gift and has suited my needs perfectly. It has three pockets (one which holds the 70oz resevoir), a hip belt and sternum strap and a few compression straps. Its tall and narrow design keeps it out of my way while burning up the trail and has more than enough capacity for all of my gear. I don’t think that Camelbak makes this model anymore. If I had to guess, the Rim Runner 22 model seems to be the closest (though it has a larger capacity and reservoir it is the smallest model with a decent lumbar strap). I know quite a few people who have bought Platypus reservoirs (I have a 1 liter one instead of a water bottle) and who have ended up with wet gear when it fails. I’ve had this same reservoir for years without any issues.

EXTRA CLOTHING

Marmot Southridge—This shell is lightweight, wind-proof, “water-proof,” and inexpensive for a Marmot. When it rains you’re going to get wet eventually. Old or water-resistant jackets will soak through and seriously waterproofed jackets will lead to excessive moisture from sweating. For me, the point is to carry something light that will extend your protection from the environment and make the hike more enjoyable in bad weather.

Under Armor Tactical Hood—This balaclava-style face mask is lightweight and can be thrown on if the weather takes a turns for the worse. It’s important to have a hat and gloves when hiking in high altitudes, even in the middle of summer.

Gloves—My current gloves are just a cheap pair of work gloves from Home Depot. The idea is just to add some warmth if the weather is bad.

GEAR

LEKI Corklite Trekking Poles—I purchased these for my 3-day hike on the Long Trail this year. I tend to only use one trekking pole at a time, so these poles should last a long time. I chose them because they are light (under 10z per pole), the SpeedLock system is easy to use and the composite cork handles are supposed to improve with time rather than degrade. I feel that descents are much easier on my knees than they used to be.

Black Diamond Spot Headlamp—I have an older version of the spot headlamp. It takes 3 AAA batteries and last for a long time. It has a bright spot light, a dimmer spread light and a red light. Both of the non-red settings can be dimmed as well. I don’t foresee needing a different headlamp unless this one breaks.

Bear Grylls Survival Series Scout—This relatively inexpensive and reliable knife suits my needs, which are typically cutting paracord and sharpening marshmallow sticks. I always carry this knife in my pocket on hikes. As Aron Ralston, from Between a Rock and a Hard Place, can testify: a sharp knife is one of the most important pieces of equipment to have at hand.

Paracord 550 Utility Cord—I always carry 50′ of paracord with me when hiking. It’s a habit from multi-day hiking trips where I might need to hang a bear bag or tie off my tent on a platform. Just like a knife, compass and map it is one of those things I never hike without.

Suunto Compass—This is a simple and sturdy compass. I always carry a compass with me, though I only have very basic knowledge on its use from orienteering sections of adventure racing in the past. Look for a future post on how I learned more about compasses.

Maps—My bible and tome is the AMC White Mountains Guide. I do a majority of my planning using this guide and I carry the appropriate maps on my hike (in a ziplock bag). When I’m hiking outside of the White Mountains I print out a map from AllTrails.com, which has partnered with National Geographic. I have a Pro account so all of Nat Geo’s Trail Illustrated maps are available as well as US and world TOPO maps.

Emergency Shelter—No matter how much gear I’m carrying, this shelter can fit into my pack and adds very little weight. There is literally no reason not to carry it. Since I do a lot of solo hiking it is important that I carry a shelter with me at all times. I can only find this shelter on Ebay now but SOL has an emergency bivvy that looks even better.

First Aid Kit (not in photo)—I carry Adventure Medical Kit’s Ultralight 1-2 person first aid kit as it is light and waterproof and contains the essentials. I leave this kit in my car when I’m not hiking so it doubles as my car’s first aid kit.

Miscellaneous—I carry a bunch of other miscellaneous gear regularly. These include some of the essentials like toilet paper, batteries and matches. I also carry a pen and weatherproof notepad so that I can log my hikes, which makes it easier to keep things straight for my blog posts. I use Rite in the Rain notepads, but I really think they missed the mark when they didn’t name their company Write As Rain.

FOOD/WATER

Water—As mentioned above, I carry a 70oz Camelbak reservoir. If I’m going on a shorter hike I will carry a 1 liter Platypus soft bottle. Typically I consume a lot of water so I will go with the reservoir instead of the bottle. I also have a thermal kit for my reservoir. On a recent hike my water tube slushed up. Without the thermal kit it probably would have been frozen solid and I would have been out of luck. It also help if you take sips often in below freezing temperatures.

Aquamira Water Treatment—These drops are the best water purification method that I’ve tried as far as flavor goes, and that’s why I use them. The down side to is that you have to mix the drops for 5 minutes before adding to your water, so you can’t use them on the move.

Nuun—I started using Nuun tablets after my brother starting using them to prevent leg cramps while hiking. I add a couple to my reservoir and they add electrolytes and potassium as well as some flavor which can hide the minimal off-flavor from the Aquamira water treatment.

GORP—The tried and true method for energy while hiking. I prefer Second Nature because all of their flavors are vegan. Wholesome Medley is my go-to flavor, though Dark Chocolate Medley is good as well.

Energy Bars—I basically always go with Clif Bars if they are available. They have a ton of flavors, all of which are vegan. A few of the flavors also contain caffeine (using green tea extract) and I’ll grab those for particularly long hikes.

Beer—Occasionally I carry a canned beer with me for celebratory moments. I prefer Sixpoint Resin because of the small cans, but have been known to bring a 16oz Heady Topper or Bissell Brothers along for the trip. Beer also makes the return trip easier as it provides a boost of carbohydrates and is a mild pain reliever. Be smart, make sure the trip back to the trailhead is safe as well as the drive home.

WHAT’S MISSING?

Some equipment that others may carry which I’m missing is a repair kit, sun protection and bug juice. My knife and paracord as well as the duct tape in my first aid kit doubles as a repair kit. I do carry sunscreen in my car and if it is particularly sunny day I’ll throw some on before hitting the trail. Occasionally I’ll wear sunglasses and/or a hat as well, though they tend to bother me. Lastly, I never wear bug spray. I’m very conscious about everything I put on my body, going with products with all natural ingredients when I have to and going without when it’s not necessary, like bug goop.

SUMMARY

My pack comes to a total weight of 11lbs. That includes some gear which I carry in my hands (trekking pole) or in my clothes (knife, map, notepad and pen) and food and water. That weight might be excessive for some, but for me it is worth the peace of mind and at this point I don’t even notice it.

REFERENCES

Pack:
Camelbak Rim Runner 22.” camelbak.com. Camelbak Products LLC. Web. 2 November 2014.

Clothing:
Firm Grip Utility Glove.” homedepot.com. Homer TLC, Inc. Web. 6 November 2014.
Marmot Southridge Jacket.” marmot.com. Marmot Mountain LLC. Web. 2 November 2o14.
Under Armor Tactical Hood.” underarmor.com. Under Armor INC. Web. 4 November 2014.

Gear:
Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight.” rei.com. Recreational Equipment, Inc. Web. 15 November 2014.
AllTrails.” alltrails.com. AllTrails, Inc. Web. 15 November 2014.
AMC White Mountain Guide.” rei.com. Recreational Equipment, Inc. Web. 15 November 2014.
Bear Grylls Survival Series Scout.” gerbergear.com. Fiskars Outdoor. Web. 12 November 2014.
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp.” blackdiamondequipment.com. Black Diamond Equipment, Ltd. Web. 12 November 2014.
Corklite – Shop – LEKI.” shop.leki.com. LEKI Lenhart GmbH. Web. 11 November 2014.
Emergency Shelter Outdoor Essentials.” ebay.com. eBay, Inc. Web. 15 November 2014.
Rite in the Rain Polydura.” riteintherain.com. JL Darling, LLC. Web. 15 November 2014.
SOL Emergency Bivvy.” rei.com. Recreational Equipment, Inc. Web. 15 November 2014.
Suunto M-3D Leader Compass.” rei.com. Recreational Equipment, Inc. Web. 13 November 2014.
Ultimate Survival Technologies Paracord.” rei.com. Recreational Equipment, Inc. Web. 13 November 2014.

Food/Water:
Alchemist.” alchemistbeer.com. Alchemist Brewery. Web. 15 November 2014.
Aquamira Water Treatment.” ems.com. Eastern Mountain Sports, Inc. Web. 15 November 2014.
Beers – Bissell Brothers.” bissellbrothers.com. Bissell Brothers. Web. 15 November 2014.
CamelBak Antidote Reservoir.” camelbak.com. Camelbak Products LLC. Web. 2 November 2014.
CamelBak Antidote Thermal Kit.” camelbak.com. Camelbak Products LLC. Web. 2 November 2014.
Clif Bar.” clifbar.com. Clif Bar & Company. Web. 15 November 2014.
Nuun.” nuun.com. Nuun. Web. 15 November 2014.
Platypus SoftBottle.” cascadedesigns.com. Cascade Designs, Inc. Web. 15 November 2014.
Resin Now in Six-packs.” sixpoint.com. Sixpoint Brewery. Web. 15 November 2014.
Wholesome Medley.” secondnaturesnacks.com. Second Nature. Web. 15 November 2014.

Other:
Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” amazon.com. Amazon.com, Inc. Web. 12 November 2014.
Stick’s Blog.” sticksblog.com. Stick’s Blog. Web. 2 November 2014.
The Ten Essentials.” rei.com. Recreational Equipment, Inc. Web. 15 November 2014.

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www.facebook.com/MaineWanderlust
www.twitter.com/MaineWanderlust
www.instagram.com/MaineWanderlust

Hike: Monroe Skyline

Date hiked: 08-10 August 2014

THURSDAY

My brother, two friends from work and I spent 3 days hiking the Monroe Skyline, a stretch of the Long Trail in Vermont from Lincoln Gap to the Winooski River. This was our second-annual backcountry, multi-day summer hike, the previous year we did the Pemi Loop in New Hampshire. We left Maine on Thursday afternoon and drove to the northern terminus of our planned hike in order to leave a vehicle there.

We found the first parking lot on Duxbury Road in Waterbury alongside some farms, between the Winooski River and the shoulder of Camels Hump. Unfortunately, we did not pay attention to signage, a mistake we would pay for at the end of the hike.

Parking on Duxbury Road in Waterbury, VT

Parking on Duxbury Road in Waterbury, VT

My brother showed up shortly thereafter, and we left my friend’s truck at the parking lot (it having four seats and truck bed to hold all of our gear when returning to the other vehicles).

We stopped in Waterbury to taste some of the local beer, easily some of the best in the country. We found what we were looking for at The Reservoir: The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead and Lawson’s Finest Liquids all on tap at the same place. After a game of pool we stopped at American Flatbread at Lareau Farms in Waitsville, the original Flatbread restaurant. We enjoyed some more Lawson’s Finest Liquids and a game of Cornhole while we waited for our table. We were at Flatbread later than we anticipated but after leaving we drove through Appalachian Gap in order to plant 3 gallons of water in woods for a refill on Saturday morning. Finally, our non-hiking adventures concluded by camping at the privately owned Maple Hill Campsites, the closest campground we could find to the southern terminus of our hike. We stayed up until after 2am drinking beer by the campfire and arguing about the supermoon.

FRIDAY

Friday morning I woke with sunrise, had breakfast, meditated and watched the shade creep across the nearby field while the sun rose. Three hours later everyone else woke up. We had plenty of daylight, and were in no hurry. The morning had rolled in with low lying mists so our gear was soaked. We attempted to dry out in the sun and then packed up and took the short drive to our starting point, Lincoln Gap.

We started off the day at 10:45am with one of our steepest hikes of the trip. The weather was warm and everything was damp from the thunderstorms the previous afternoon, so the sweat came easily and I had to proceed with caution as from my experience on the Carter Loop I knew my shoes had no traction on wet rocks. Regardless, I slipped and fell two times during the day.

I finally invested in some trekking poles for this trip and was working on getting used to them. After much online research I landed on Leki Corklite. I chose them for their light weight, their locking system and their cork grip, which is supposed to improve with use rather than rubber handles which degrade. I found that one of the locks was not tight enough and would slide shorter when I put weight on the pole. Luckily, adjusting it was as simple as adjusting a quick release bike tire’s lock, since it was the same device. Overall I was very impressed with the poles, the only downside was that my hands became sweaty very easily, even though the handles were vented.

The climb up Mount Abraham was not too bad, as it approached the summit the trail became rocky and eventually went above the tree line. We made the climb in less than two hours and stopped briefly on the summit where we got our first good look of the Green Mountains, including the mountains we would be climbing that afternoon.

View from Mount Abraham

View from Mount Abraham

Shortly after the summit, we saw a narrow spur trail marked with a small cairn. We decided to follow it, expecting to find an overlook to the west, but instead found the wreckage of a small plane. Apparently the Cessna was left there from a non-fatal crash in 1973. I found it peculiar that both Maine and Vermont have a 4000′ mountain named Abraham with a plane wreckage on it.

Plane crash on Mount Abraham

Plane crash on Mount Abraham

After Abraham we followed the ridge line to Little Abe and Lincoln Peak. There was a viewing platform on the summit of Lincoln that afforded views of the surrounding mountains, including Sunday’s destination, Camels Hump. It looked very far away. The ski resort Sugarbush is located on Lincoln Peak and just below the summit we stopped at the top of the slopes to peer down into the valley below.

Big sky at Mount Lincoln

Big sky at Lincoln Peak

We continued along the ridge past Nancy Hanks Peak and got to Ellen Peak by 3pm. Ellen was a wooded peak without a view, but just below it was another Sugarbush ski lift which afforded views. We stopped for a late lunch. At one point a cloud in the shape of a sea monster floated over Lake Champlain and I took a photo of it, convinced that it was Champ.

Champ cloud over Lake Champlain

Champ cloud over Lake Champlain

Once we were ready to move on we followed a ski trail for a short while and then continued along the wooded ridge line. By late afternoon we hit General Stark’s Peak and continued on to Stark’s Nest, a small peak with a ski lift (the nation’s last single-chair) and shelter on Mad River Glen (ski it if you can). The goal for the day had been to get to Theron Dean shelter, but it was another 1.3 miles, and a fairly steep descent. It was almost 6pm and we were all pretty beat, so we decided to camp out near Stark’s Nest.

We talked with a guy with a hurt ankle who had been staying inside the Stark’s Nest shelter for the last couple of days and it sounded like there would be no problem if we camped nearby. We found a really sweet spot with a partial view west for sunset and an uninterrupted view east for sunrise. We set up our tents and a group of scouts hiked by and also set up camp near Stark’s Nest. We had dinner and watched the sun set with the scouts’ leaders. As the air cooled we retired to the area near our tents. I drank the one beer I lugged with me and we watched satellites burn through the stars and tracked airplanes flying overhead with an iOS app, trying to guess their departures and destinations.

SATURDAY

In the morning I woke with the rising sun. I watched it rise over the purple shadows of Moosilauke, Franconia Ridge and the Presidentials on the horizon and meditated at the top of the Catamount Bowl slope.

Sunrise from Stark's Nest

Sunrise from Stark’s Nest

As I was drying my tent fly and preparing breakfast the others got up, starting brewing coffee and preparing breakfast as well. Right in the middle of eating, someone from Mad River Glen drove by on an ATV but all he said was “good morning.” By 8:45am we were ready to go and started the descent down to Appalachian Gap. On the way down we crawled through the cave near Theron Dean shelter and talked with a mother/daughter pair who were thru-hiking the Long Trail.

After Theron Dean the terrain became interesting, with a couple of steep climbs with ladders. We stopped for a moment at the last ski lift we would see during the trip and I took a photo of fitting graffiti in the nearby shelter.

We're all mad here

We’re all mad here

By 10:45am we had descended the rest of the way down to Appalachian Gap and to our water stash. The parking area was crowded with vehicles, motorcycles and bicycles. We refilled our water and my brother convinced a road biker to take our empty bottles so we wouldn’t have to return for them. After a short break we slogged up the Stark peaks on the north side of the gap. Baby Stark was the first stop and was a pretty demanding climb. From the nearby overlook we could see Stark’s Nest and the ski slopes which marked our day’s starting point.

View from Baby Stark

View from Baby Stark

We hit Molly Stark peak and Molly Stark’s Balcony in quick succession and stumbled upon a woman peeing right next to the trail and facing the trail! I think we were more embarrassed than she was. Molly Stark’s Balcony afforded a view north all the way to Camels Hump and the notch between it and Mount Ethan Allen where we would be ending our day. It looked forever away.

Camels Hump from Molly Stark's Balcony

Camels Hump from Molly Stark’s Balcony

We slipped over the edge of Molly Stark’s Balcony just after noon and started some of the lowest altitude hiking we would do the whole trip. It also marked the point where my brother saw new trail for the first time. An hour or so later we stopped at the peaceful Birch Glen shelter and had a snack and soon after that hit Huntington Gap, the mid-point of our trip by mileage. We made it to Cowles Cove shelter sometime around 3pm where we had a late lunch and were able to top off our water for the rest of the day.

As we approached Burnt Rock Mountain me made up the elevation that we lost at Huntington Gap. We passed the first and only person we saw that afternoon since the squatting lady. Burnt Rock was definitely the highlight of the day. The trail zig-zagged around exposed ledge and we had many excellent views to the east and south, where we could see the amazing distance we had hiked that day.

Panorama from Burnt Rock

Panorama from Burnt Rock

I think it was after our short break on Burnt Rock peak that we all realized how exhausted we were. The pace lagged and we all grew quiet as we focused on churning up miles of trail and ignoring our sore joints and muscles. On the climb past Mount Ira Allen and to Mount Ethan Allen I took up the lead for the first and only time during the trip. I often hesitate being the lead hiker as I tend to push a challenging pace, which is habit from worrying about making the boat back to my island when doing day hikes. But, I was pretty sure that we would not make Montclair Glen by sundown if the pace was not increased. There was also the risk that it would be full and we would have hike another mile or more to the Hump Brook tent sites.

We had picked our way through the moose droppings to the peak of Mount Ethan Allen by 6:30pm. I had never seen so much moose scat scattered about in my life. By the time we made Montclair Glen it was clearly full and the caretaker confirmed that we would have to hike to Hump Brook to find camping spots for the night. We staggered into Hump Brook at 8:30pm like zombies and found only one test platform available, which would only hold two of our four tents.

The caretaker, Greenlight, led us past tent platform 8 to the overflow area. We settled in quietly and quickly and started making dinner. As we were sitting around eating, Greenlight swung by to collect our dues. He entertained us with his story of thruhiking the entire Appalachian Trail in his Teva sandals and his dream to open an erotic ice cream shop in New York City called Hitchhiker.

Once we finished dinner and hung our food we crashed. We had hiked around 15 miles that day, nearly half our entire trip, and were exhausted.

SUNDAY

I woke a little later on Sunday morning as we were in a low point between Camels Hump and Mount Ethan Allen and it stayed dark enough to sleep well after sunrise. We were all up and packed by 8:30am and hit the trail. We decided to not retrace our steps up Dean Trail to the Long Trail, but to hike a short distance down to Dean Trail and then up Monroe Trail and Alpine Trail back to the Long Trail. We would miss Wind Gap, but would still approach Camels Hump from the south.

On Alpine Trail we kept our eyes out for a side trail to the wreckage of a B-24 bomber on the side of the mountain. My brother and I thought we had found it, but it turned out to be a game trail. Upon turning back, a branch caught in my pack as I ducked under it, causing the branch to scrape the side of my head deeply. I bled for a while but kept pressure on it while hiking until it stopped.

Soon after we found the wreckage. Only a wing was left of the plane. The fuselage was top secret at the time, so the military cut it up and dragged it off the mountain.

B-24 Bomber wing on Camels Hump

B-24 Bomber wing on Camels Hump

Soon after the bomber we came out of the woods and rejoined the Long Trail. The view south, the direction from which we had come, was expansive and amazing. We could just see Mount Ellen and Mount Abraham on the horizon.

Looking back on Monroe Skyline

Looking back on Monroe Skyline

The rocky summit of Camels Hump towered over us and the trail skirting up its side was the most interesting of the trip. We took our time, stopping and enjoying the view often.

Ascending Camels Hump

Ascending Camels Hump

video-icon Video of Camels Hump ascent

We climbed up to the rocky summit and took in the 360 degree view. The White Mountains to the east, the Monroe Skyline to the South, Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks to the west and the impressive peak of Mount Mansfield to the north.

Camels Hump panorama

Camels Hump panorama

We posed for a celebratory photo, had a snack and spent some time wandering the peak and talking with the small crowd on the summit.

Celebratory photo on Camels Hump

Celebratory photo on Camels Hump

It was all downhill from that point, but it was a long, 4000 feet worth of downhill. The hike down Bamforth Ridge was nice. It would be a long climb up but definitely worth the views of Camels Hump as one approached it. Going down it I was more concerned with climbing down the rocks with the least amount of impact to my knees and ankles as possible.

After Duxbury Window, a vista looking down on I-89, the trail widened and dove through the pine forest at a perilous pitch. It was quite exciting to hike down until I twisted my ankle about a mile from the parking lot. The twist was not serious and I had walked it off by the time we made it to the parking lot and our finish line.

Except, it was not. The parking lot we exited onto was clearly not the same one where we left our vehicle. We had ignored the signage which clearly state that we were not at the Long Trail.

This is NOT the Long Trail

This is NOT the Long Trail

Technically, we were parked on the Long Trail, just not the closest parking lot to where it hit the Winooski River valley. We yellow-blazed the mile to our vehicle, which was almost worth it when a couple of cars went by and the passangers honked and raised their fists out their windows, clearly mistaking us for Long Trail thruhikers.

Though I got a little banged up and we had some parking issues, the trip was unforgettable. The weather was absolutely perfect, the trail was beautiful and challenging, and the company was irreplaceable. It was like what John Muir said, the time we spent hiking in the woods did not subtract from our lives but added to it.

Wander here a whole summer, if you can… The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.
—John Muir

Map of Hike - Day 3

Map of Hike – Sunday

Map of Hike - Day 2

Map of Hike – Saturday

Map of Hike - Day 1

Map of Hike – Friday

Stats:
Highest Elevation: 4083′
Elevation Gain: 5500′
Distance: 33.6 miles
Book Time: 19:35
Actual Time: 21:40
Temperature: 60°s
Weather: sunny and breezy

References:
American Flatbread.” americanflatbread.com. American Flatbread. Web 26 August 2014.
ASN Aircraft accident 28-JUN-1973 Cessna 182N N92431.” aviation-safety.net. Aviation Safety Network (ASN). Web. 25 August 2014.
Champ Lake Champlain Monster.” lakechamplainregion.com. Lake Champlain Region. Web. 7 September 2014.
Corklite.” shop.leki.com. LEKI Lenhart GmbH. Web. 2 September 2014.
Mad River Glen.” madriverglen.com. Mad River Glen Cooperative. Web. 7 September 2014.
Maple Hill Campsites.” maplehill.com. Maple Hill Campsites. Web. 26 August 2014.
Remembering Camels Hump plane crash.” archive.burlingtonfreepress.com. archive.burlingtonfreepress.com. Web. 22 August 2014.
Sugarbush Resort.” sugarbush.com. Sugarbush Resort. Web. 7 September 2014.
The Reservoir.” waterburyreservoir.com. The Reservoir. Web. 26 August 2014.

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Hike: Carter Loop

Date Hiked: 31 May 2014

The planned route was to hike up Nineteen Mile Brook Trail to Carter Notch, take the Carter-Moriah Trail over Carter Dome, Mount Hight, South Carter, Mount Lethe and Middle Carter, descend North Carter Trail to Imp Trail, take the south end of Imp Trail to where is bends right near Cowboy Brook and then bushwhack back to Nineteen Mile Brook Trail and follow it out. Worse case scenario I would wimp out of the bushwhack and hoof it out via Imp Trail and then yellow blaze it back to the parking lot or possibly follow Cowboy Brook to Camp Dodge and yellow blaze from there.

It was the last day of May and I was finally ready to hike my first New England 4000 Footer of the year. I camped overnight at one of the Brook Loop sites at Dolly Copp Campground, just up Route 16 from the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail parking lot, in Pinkham Notch. It was a short drive and nothing was preventing me from starting early. But, the weather was supposed to be overcast until the afternoon, so I wanted to start late to take advantage of the weather. I love the tent sites at Dolly Copp on the Brook Loop. They are set back in the woods and the Culhane Brook runs right behind them. Despite their allure and even though I didn’t want to start hiking until 10am, by 8:30am I had had enough sitting around my campsite and headed for the trail.

I arrived at the parking lot along Route 16 to find it containing a dozen cars. I saw a lady with a dog heading up the highway, presumably to Imp Trail to follow the same loop of the Carters I was planning, but in the opposite direction. I recently listened to a backlog episode of Dirtbag Diaries where they discussed the different types of people you’ll find at trailhead parking lots. There’s the person who can’t decided what gear to bring, the one who wants to tailgate and brag. I happen to be the type who prepared before driving to the parking lot and takes off for the trail as soon as the car is locked. That was what I did.

I hiked Nineteen Mile Brook Trail three different times over the weekend, luckily it was a beautiful trail with an easy to moderate grade. It followed the north side of the Nineteen Mile Brook for about two miles and (at least that time of year) was festooned with slick river rocks and copious amounts of mud and wet leaves. The brook was running hard and I stopped to scramble over some rocks to take a photo. That’s when I discovered that my new Brooks Cascadia 8 trail running shoes that I love so much have absolutely terrible traction on wet surfaces. Both of my feet slipped out from underneath me, I twisted and landed hard on my right hip and started to slide toward the brook. Luckily, I was able to create enough traction with my hands to prevent a cold dip in the brook. I gingerly stood up and took my photo.

Nineteen Mile Brook running hard

Nineteen Mile Brook running hard

1.9 miles up the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail I came to the junction with the Carter Dome Trail. My plan was to continue on the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail to Carter Notch and take the Carter-Moriah Trail to Carter Dome. Standing there at the trail sign it occurred to me that if I took the Carter Dome Trail to Zeta Pass and then on to Carter Dome that I would reduce the amount of trail I would repeat the next day. I could also take the Carter-Moriah Trail via Mount Hight back to Zeta Pass, doing a small loop and preventing repeating trail on the ridge as well.

The only downsides that I could think of were if I got hurt I would be off my planned route, and I hadn’t read any trail reports or descriptions on the Carter Dome trail to know whether or not there were difficult water crossings. I decided that the pros outweighed the cons and headed up Carter Dome Trail.

The Carter Dome Trail turned out to be a pretty moderate jaunt up to Zeta Pass. There were a few water crossings, but like the ones on the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, they were easily crossed. I really enjoyed one section where the brook split into several tributaries and then came together again. The trail crossed where they separated and re-joined, making its way between several different subsections of the brook.

At Zeta Pass the trail hooked right and climbed easily to Carter Dome. The weather was still overcast, which was a shame because I passed the one location where I would have had a clear view of the northern Presidentials all weekend. Just below the summit of Carter Dome I came across some snow and ice in the trail, but it was of no concern. It was easy to walk over without traction.

Still some snow near Carter Dome

Still some snow near Carter Dome

There were three men at the Carter Dome summit when I got there, the first people I saw since the lady in the parking lot. I greeted them but sat apart as they had stopped talking when I approached and didn’t seem very welcoming. I sat on a rock for a few minutes, eating a Clif Bar and wondering what the deal was with all of the broken Plexiglas on the ground. While sitting there the three men descended toward Carter Notch.

I saw my first bit of blue sky while walking down the Carter-Moriah Trail toward Mount Hight.

Hight, South and Middle Carter peaking out of clouds

Hight, South and Middle Carter peaking out of clouds

Mount Hight was one of the many mountains that were over 4000 feet, but not considered 4000 Footers because of their prominence over surrounding peaks. Basically, if you found the low point below two peaks and there wasn’t a 200 foot climb to the next peak, then it was considered a sub-peak of the other and didn’t qualify for the 4000 Footer list. While Mount Hight wasn’t marked with a red triangle on my map, it was the highlight of the hike.

Mount Hight stood high to the east of the Carter ridge line, towering over the Wild River Wilderness, one of glorious areas in the White Mountains that was highly protected due to its importance as a watershed. The Carter ridge was blocking the encroaching clouds, allowing a clear view into the Wild River Wilderness and the distant mountains to the east and south.

Wild River Wilderness from Mount Hight

Wild River Wilderness from Mount Hight

It was closing on lunch time, so I took the opportunity of a great view and scattered sunshine to take a break from hiking. I switched out my upper layers and laid the wet ones out on rocks to dry. I took off my shoes and socks to allow them to dry as well. I quickly boiled some water with my JetBoil and set some soup to re-hydrate. I sat facing the Wild River and meditated. The only sounds that I could hear were the river a few thousand feet below and the occasional bird tweet. I sat for 40 minutes and enjoyed my lunch and the view, truly appreciating the lack of noise and deadlines, and basked in the solitude. It was one of the many reasons that I hike every opportunity that I get.

Eventually dark clouds started to roll over South Carter and head toward Mount Hight. I re-shoed and dressed and headed down the the Carter-Moriah Trail toward South Carter.

For those that find themselves on the Mount Hight summit, be aware that the trail heads back toward Zeta Pass on the Carter Dome side of it, it doesn’t head directly toward the pass or South Carter, even though it looks like a trail leads in that direction. Luckily I left before the clouds rolled in and was aware of the direction of the trail from my White Mountains guide book.

Soon after I descended Mount Hight it began to rain. I started seeing groups of people on the trail, including the lady I saw leaving the parking lot in the morning. At first her dog scared the crap out of me. I looked up to see a dog standing in front of me with a muzzle on, but for a split second I saw a bear.

She asked if I had a dog, as her dog was not good with other dogs but was fine with humans.

I replied that I did not, held my hand out for the dog to sniff (I imagine it sensed my sudden apprehension at imagining a bear and I wanted it to know I was cool with it) and I asked her if she came up via Imp Trail, mentioning I had seen her as I pulled in to the parking lot. The dog apparently approved of me and started to excitedly rub up against my legs, a behavior I recognized as a request to have its rump scratched.

The lady confirmed that she was hiking the same loop as I and said she hiked in that direction as she was afraid she wouldn’t find that cut-over trail from Imp to Camp Dodge, but it was in fact very hard to miss.

I told her that I was planning on going that way and internally made a note that I wouldn’t have to bushwhack to Nineteen Mile Brook Trail or Camp Dodge as there was apparently a trail.

I continued on to South Carter and Middle Carter. Both were 4000 Footers, but both were also forested summits. On the summit of Middle Carter there was a partial view toward the Wild River Wilderness. There I met a guy from the Boston area who was trying to wrap up his New Hampshire 48 before moving back to California in two weeks. He was on number 43. He had come up Carter Dome Trail like I had, but had headed to South and Middle Carter first. He was heading to Carter Dome and then down to Carter Notch Hut for the night and getting Wildcat A in the morning. Like myself, he had attempted the Wildcats before but had only gotten Wildcat D.

Shortly after Middle Carter was a small peak called Mount Lethe. Its summit was also forested but just beyond it, toward North Carter, it had a view of Mount Madison across Pinkham Notch. The clouds were still clearing, but I still got a sense of the size of Madison and could see Barnes Field campground sitting low on its shoulder and creases in the forest south of the field which were Dolly Copp’s roads and sites.

Madison shaking off the clouds

Madison in the clouds with Barnes Field and Dolly Copp campgrounds below

In the col between Lethe and North Carter was the junction with the North Carter Trail. Since I was all the way up on the ridge and had plenty of daylight I continued on the 0.25 miles to North Carter. It was yet another forested summit, but I got a glimpse of the Presidentials through the trees and saw that the clouds were completely gone. I lectured myself for not taking a break at the view on Mount Lethe and headed down to the North Carter Trail.

North Carter and the southern end of Imp Trail were very wet, in places the trail might as well have been a brook. On North Carter my new shoes’ treads once again failed me. While descending I planted my right foot on a damp rock and the tread failed to hold the pressure from my weight. My leg shot forward and I came down hard, my left knee slammed against the rock I had attempted to step on and I rolled off the trail.

I lay there for a moment in a pile of frustration, pain and cuss words. I slowly stood to assess my knee. My new Columbia pants were torn and blood was starting to seep through the pant leg. It was just an abrasion but my patella felt badly bruised. I said screw it and continued down the trail.

The North Carter intersected with the Imp Trail and I followed it to the left. I eventually got to where I could hear Route 16 ahead and Cowboy Brook to my left. I started to wonder just how obvious the cut-over trail to Camp Dodge was. Assessing my map I decided that a button-hook turn in the trail just ahead was the closest point to Camp Dodge. If I didn’t see the trail there I would pick up the pace and follow the Imp Trail out. Alas, the very obvious side trail appeared, following an old logging road. As the lady said, it was hard to miss.

Along that trail I saw some very fresh moose tracks, but I did not see any other sign of the beast.

Fresh moose tracks

Fresh moose tracks

I finished my hike by walking down the dirt road at Camp Dodge to Route 16 and then yellow blazing it back to the parking lot. I got back to my car at 4:45pm with plenty of daylight remaining. My original plan was to leave at 10am and return by 8:30pm to maximize the clear weather prior to sundown. I didn’t have many views, but I ended up having plenty of time to start a campfire back at Dolly Copp before it got dark.

In all, I enjoyed the hike despite the overcast weather. I didn’t realize that the Carters had so many forested views, but Nineteen Mile Brook Trail was a real nice hike and the Carter-Moriah Trail was interesting with its many ups and down and couple of nice views to the east. Mount Hight was definitely the highlight of the hike for me and would have been even if I had clear views across Pinkham Notch from the other summits. My only disappointment was the traction on my new shoes. I guess in the end it forced me to slow down and be more mindful of my foot placement, which is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately off the trail. Slowing down and being more mindful.

Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.
—Thích Nhất Hạnh

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Elevation: 4832′
Elevation Gain: 3900′
Distance: 15.0 miles
Book Time: 8:15
Actual Time: 7:15
Temperature: 54° F
Wind: 2 mph E
Weather: overcast, showers, scattered sunshine

References:
Appalachian Mountain Club. White Mountain Guide: 28th Edition. Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 2007. Print.
Brooks Cascadia 8.” brooksrunning.com. Brooks Sports Inc. Web. 05 June 2014.
Camp Dodge Volunteer Center.” outdoors.org. Appalachian Mountain Club. Web. 06 June 2014.
Dolly Copp Campground.” http://www.fs.usda.gov. United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Web. 04 June 2014.
The Shorts–Parking Lot Players.” dirtbagdiaries.com. The Dirtbag Diaries. Web. 04 June 2014