Hike: Great Range

SUMMARY

Each fall a couple of friends and I try to take a long weekend to do some backcountry hiking and camping. In 2016 we planned a multi-day hike in the Great Range in the Adirondacks in New York. For me, this was the start of a new peak list. Having recently finished the New England 4000 Footers, I was looking forward to the Adirondacks 46 High Peaks. So, we took a Thursday and Friday off and headed to New York.

For this hike we parked at Garden, hiked up to The Brothers, Big Slide Mountain and Yard Mountain, hiked down to Johns Brooks Lodge and then halfway up to the Wolfjaws to camp at Wolf Jaw campsite. On Friday we hiked up to the Great Range and traversed Lower Wolfjaw, Upper Wolfjaw, Armstrong Mountain, The Gothics, Saddleback Mountain, and Basin Mountain and then hiked down to Slant Rock campsite. On Saturday we hiked up to Little Haystack and Mount Haystack before heading back to Garden Parking, following the valley out. The hike was over 24 miles and included 10,000 feet of elevation gain.

Hike Great Range

Map of hike (interactive map)

THURSDAY

It was a five hour drive from where we lived to Keene Valley, New York, so we started in the dark on Thursday morning. We needed to rent a bear canisters so we stopped at The Mountaineer, an outdoors equipment shop, for the canister and some other supplies. I spilled my coffee down the front of my shirt on the drive, so I picked up a new shirt so I wouldn’t smell like food in bear country.

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Hike: 2016 Pemi Loop

SUMMARY

My first big, multi-day hike was a three day Pemigewasset Loop in July 2013 with a great group of friends. I decided that I wanted to push myself a little and attempt the Pemi Loop in a single day. Or, since I started in the evening, in a 24-hour period. I would be doing the hike solo, and with just a hammock and emergency bivy if I was forced to stop.

Since I had hiked Franconia Ridge plenty, I decided to set out clockwise from Lincoln Woods. That way I would do Franconia Ridge at night and the Bonds during daylight. I also decided to stick just to the Loop, no side hikes to Galehead or West Bond (or the further but attainable North Twin and Zealand).

Trail map

Map of hike (interactive map)

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Sunrise Hike: Crocker Cirque

TRIP REPORT

With all that was separating me from the mountains was a few hours of state highways, I had no excuse not to leave for a hike when I would normally be getting ready for bed. Knowing that Crocker Cirque Campsite was just a short hike in the woods, it was a non-decision to pack up and head out for a hike in the middle of the night. Normal people would call this behavior crazy, but that’s okay, I’ve never pretended to be normal.

I arrived at the hiker’s parking lot on the Caribou Pond Road just after 12:00 am. With it being a clear and cool Friday night I was not surprised to see three other cars in the lot. I threw my gear on and headed up the road on foot to where it crossed the Appalachian Trail. I headed north on the AT and after about an hour of hiking by headlamp I started to keep an eye out for the side trail to the Crocker Cirque Campsite.

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Bushwhack: Mount Abraham

TRIP REPORT

I knew when I hiked Mount Abraham in May I would want to return to explore the alpine area more thoroughly. It boasted the second largest alpine area in Maine by square acreage after Mount Katahdin. What I didn’t was that it would be less than two weeks later when I returned.

A friend and I drove up to Mount Abraham after work on a Friday evening. We got to the trail head clearing at 8:35 pm as daylight was fading. The temperature was mild and the sky mostly clear as we started up the Fire Warden’s Trail by headlamp. We made the mostly easy hike to the Abraham tent site by 10:35 pm. After setting up camp we ate dinner by a campfire and retired for the night at midnight. I remembered drifting to sleep as my hammock slowly swayed below the glittering stars.

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Winter Bushwhack: Owl’s Head

Trail Report

A couple of friends and I took advantage of mild winter conditions to bag one of the more difficult winter 4000 Footers, a bushwhack to the Peak above Owls Head. The Peak above Owls Head is considered one of the more difficult hikes for several reasons: it is one of the more isolated peaks, by trail it is a 19 mile round-trip hike, there is no official trail to the summit of the peak and there are many water crossings which can be dangerous when the waters are high. To top this off, the best way to get to the peak in the winter is to do two bushwhacks known as the Black Pond Bushwhack and the Brutus Bushwhack.

Three of us drove up to the mountains Friday evening after work and camped at Hancock Campground, which was open year-round and across the street from the start of the hike. On the drive over Kancamagus Pass we pulled over to watch a moose munching leaves on the side of the road. Once at the campsite and after some food by the fire we turned in for an early morning start.

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Hike: Spaulding/Sugarloaf

Trail Report

My hiking friends and I had plans for doing a multi-day hiking trip traversing the Great Range in the Adirondacks, but after some difficulty with the coordination of the hike we cancelled the trip. Instead we made plans to hike from Saddleback to Sugarloaf over three days. A trip that would have included Saddleback, The Horn, Abraham, Spaulding and Sugarloaf, some of the premier mountains in Maine.

As we closed in on the first weekend in October I was unsure if I would be able to do such a hike. On my previous hike traversing the Sandwich Range in New Hampshire I had hurt my ankle. After some discussion with my friends Michael and Jeff we decided to base camp at Cathedral Pines Campground in Eustis and do dayhikes around the Carrabasset Valley instead. That way if my ankle hurt too much I could take a zero day without ruining everyone’s trip.

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Bike & Hike: Sandwich Range Traverse

Trail Report

When I purchased my commuter bike this year, one of the reasons I chose a touring bike over a cross bike was so I could do some bike camping. As September rolled around I took a week off from work to do some hiking which was the perfect opportunity to try out a bike and hike. I had been eyeing the 4000 Footers in the Sandwich Range and knew I wanted to complete them as traverse.

After some bike route and trail planning, I put together what I thought would be a great bike and hike. I would bike from Gorham, ME to the Kancamagus, drop my bike off at the Oliverian Brook trailhead, walk along the Kancamagus to the Sabbaday Brook Trail, spend three days hiking along the Sandwhich Range, and then bike back to Gorham.

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Hike: Emigrant Wilderness

Trail Report

Much like in 2014 when we hiked Guadalupe Peak and El Capitan, my coworkers and good friends John and Michael made plans to explore the wilderness away from our normal haunts by tacking a vacation onto a work-related trip. This time we chose a lesser known wilderness area within the Stanislaus National Forest called the Emigrant Wilderness. The Emigrant Wilderness is noted for its granite and volcanic terrain and beautiful alpine lakes. It became our target because it was only a 3 hour drive from San Francisco, relatively low in the Sierra Nevadas (it was April after all), it was easy to obtain a backcountry camping permit, it was below the 9000′ restriction on campfires and bear cans were not required.

As the date of our trip approached the forecast made it clear that we would not be experiencing the typical Californian climate. Though the weeks before and after our trip were sunny and in the 70s, the forecast for our week was in the 40s with threatening thunderstorms. On the day that our conferences ended the forecast still wasn’t great but it looked like the precipitation was going to be low even if the thunderstorms did manage to roll in. At the worst, the highest elevation forecast that was available predicted less than an inch of snow with temperatures in the mid to high 30s.

As we drove to REI and Whole Foods in Berkeley to get supplies we were still discussing whether to ditch the mountain plans and spend four days exploring Point Reyes, on the Pacific coast where the forecast was favorable. In the end it came down to the fact that we had planned our trip for months and flown from Maine to California in order to experience the Sierra Nevadas. The worst possible forecast would be a mild New England spring storm. So we headed to the mountains.

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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.

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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