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).

Gorham Bike & Ski.” Gorham Bike & Ski. Web. 11 April 2015.
Long Haul Trucker.” Surly. Web. 11 April 2015.
RaceRocket.” Topeak, Inc. Web. 11 April 2015.
Specialized Bicycled Helmets.” Specialized Bicycle Company. 11 April 2015.
Surly Long Haul Trucker or Cross-Check.” Google, Inc. Web. 11 April 2015.
Thule Pack ‘n Pedal Tote.” Thule Group. Web. 11 April 2015.
Top 100 Touring Bicycles.” 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

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.” Andrew Skurka. Web. 21 March 2014.
Microlight FS 1-Person Tent“. 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.


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 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

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

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

Dakine Scout Mitt.” Dakine. Web. 8 January 2015.
Higher Summits Forecast.” Mount Washington Observatory. Web. 8 January 2015.
Hiking Cannon Mountain.” Appalachian Mountain Club. Web. 7 January 2015.
Kahtoola MICROspikes.” Kahtoola, Inc. Web. 11 January 2015.
Mountain Weather Forecast.” Web. 8 January 2015.
Osprey Atmos 65 Pack.” 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.

EMS Drool Pillow.” 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

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

Barnes Field Group Campground.” Forest Services, United States Department of Agriculture. Web. 6 December 2014.
Beginner CrossFit Program.” Jason Harper. 6 December 2014.
Cabin Fleece Sleeping Bag.” L.L. Bean, Inc. Web. 6 December 2014.
Grant’s Supermarket.” Yelp, Inc. Web. 06 December 2014.
Hike Mount Moriah.” Web. 6 December 2014.
Men’s Cold Gear.” Under Armor, Inc. Web. 6 December 2014.
Moat Mountain.” Moat Mountain Smoke House and Brewery. Web. 6 December 2014.
Mt. Washington Auto Road.” Mt. Washington Auto Road. Web. 6 December 2014.

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