When I did my Sandwich Range traverse I stuck to the central part of the range where all the 4000 footers were. I knew that I would return to the Sandwich Range eventually to hike Sandwich Dome. I had seen it from the ledges of Welch and Dickey and thought that it looked interesting, as well as a sharp rocky knob standing near the mountain. On top of that, Sandwich Dome was a New England Hundred Highest, falling just 40 feet short of making the 4000 Footer lists.
So on a Sunday morning in June I left my house at 4:00 am to get to trail head around sunrise to be done before some forecasted rain descended upon the mountains. On the way I stopped beside a swamp to take a photo of sunrise.
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.
In 2011, when I rediscovered my love of hiking, I knew nothing of this New England 4000 Footer list. My older brother and I hiked Franconia Ridge in clouds, gale-force winds and horizontal rain. Since Mount Lincoln wasn’t marked aside from a large cairn (which were plentiful on the ridge), I wasn’t even sure when we’d hit it. It wasn’t until the following year that I discovered the list and decided it would be the fuel to burn my hiking desire.
I was thrilled when my brother said he’d be there to hike Mount Moosilauke, the final 4000, with me as well. He had had a couple of kids in the last few years, so it had been hard for him to keep up with his crazy younger brother who’d seemingly hit the mountains every weekend. My kids were older and either went with me or were able to fend for themselves for eight hours while I trekked to New Hampshire and the more distant reaches of Maine. We made plans to hike and camp out the night before the big hike.
Since seeing Mount Abraham from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain last October and after hearing it hosts the second largest alpine zone in Maine (after Mount Katahdin), I’d been hankering to hike it. I was a little put off by the difficult access to the mountain though, so I waited until Spring was mostly over to avoid high water. I had read online that the road to the Fire Warden’s Trail was awful at best and that a bridge had been washed out a few years ago forcing you to make a deep water crossing.
In late May I left home fairly early in the morning and got to River Road around 9:15 am. Reusing a trick from my previous hike, I marked the turns I needed to make in Google Maps and even though I lost signal, the GPS was still working. Much to my surprise I came around a turn in the road (which had a handmade sign for the AT) and found two new, concrete bridges crossing the river. I later learned that they had been replaced the previous summer, so spread the word. I took a right after the bridges and drove up the narrow ATV road to the trailhead. There were two other cars parked at the intersection of two ATV roads. I pulled in behind them and hopped out.
On a rainy day in May I decided to take the long trek up to Carrabassett Valley to do the Mount Redington bushwhack. I figured there weren’t going to be many views from Redington, so it would be a good day to hike it. I awoke fairly early and planned on getting to the parking area on Caribou Pond Road by 8:00am. Those plans were thoroughly smashed when I got to Kingfield, Maine, the finish line of the Sugarloaf Marathon.
It took me an hour to go the final 10 miles of my drive, but I couldn’t complain. Four years previously I had made the Sugarloaf Marathon my first marathon. Seeing the utterly exhausted runners brought back fond and painful memories. I wish it had been cool, overcast and drizzly on my marathon day. Instead it had been sunny and in the 90s.
The Caribou Pond Road was a hot mess. The gravel was soft as if from a recent thaw and water was puddling up all over. That was on top of normal conditions of the logging road, sketchy wood bridges and all. Along the way I passed a mountain biker going the opposite direction and arrived at the trailhead at 9:00 am.
In late April I took my older son on one of the classic hikes in New Hampshire, a traverse of the Franconia Ridge Trail. The weekend prior I went camping with both my boys and we hiked Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff. From that vantage point we had a great view of Lafayette. It looked like most of the snow and ice had melted from the ridge, so I had asked my son if he’d like to hike it the next weekend. He said he did.
We got up early (for a teenager) and drove to Franconia Notch State Park, getting there at about 8:30 am. Getting out of the car was a practice of tempering ourselves against the frigid temperature and gusts of wind from the northwest. With it being a clear day, the parking lot at the Falling Waters Trail head was fairly packed with like-minded hikers. We set off up the trail to get our blood pumping and fend off the cold penetrating our layers.
Since March 2015 I had been commuting to work via my Surly Long Haul Trucker. Final, in March of this year I put a down payment on a Toyota RAV4 which gave me and my whole family a lot more flexibility around commuting and other activities. I also bought a THULE Spare Me spare tire bike rack, which I was excited about as it provides a lot of flexibility in my hiking. Bringing my bike with me on solo hikes allows me to do traverses rather than always doing a loop to hike. I decided to put this to the test by doing a traverse of the Southern Presidentials. Additionally, a few weekends prior I had wanted to hike Mount Washington and bailed on the idea because of the ice conditions. But this time I borrowed crampons from a friend to make it happen.
After leaving home at an incredibly early time, I swung by the parking lot on Clinton Road in Crawford Notch at 6:00 am. I ditched my pack in the woods and clambered back into my car. There were only two cars in the parking lot, so that was good.
What do you do on the final full day of winter? Get in your last Winter New Hampshire 4000 Footer of the season of course. Since the weather was going to be mild, a couple of friends and I decided to bushwhack to Mount Isolation. It was a Winter 4000 Footer that none of us had, and since we had done the other difficult Winter bushwhack of Owls Head, we figured we would round out the season.
The night before, one of my friends and I camped out at Barne’s Field Group Campground. As drove through Pinkham Notch it started to snow, but it was not supposed to accumulate to anything. We were surprised to find many of the campsites were being used, it must have been due to the favorable forecast. We did dinner over a fire and hit the sack early.
We met our other friend at 8:00am at the Rocky Branch Trail parking. There were about 10 cars in the lot and the weather was sunny, in the 20°s and breezy. We were somewhat surprised that there was no snow on the ground, the forest floor looked more like May than March. The plan was to hike Rocky Branch Trail to the top of Engine Hill and then do Engine Hill Bushwhack to bypass all of the water crossings on Isolation Trail. We would then hike Isolation Trail after doing a single water crossing and finally Davis Path and Isolation Spur to the summit.
As the last weeks of winter rolled around I considered a winter ascent of Mount Washington. Unfortunately, there were a lot of icy trail reports that dissuaded me from attempting Washington. Instead, I decided to return to Mount Chocorua as I really enjoyed the summit and I was hoping that the lower elevation would mean less ice. Plus, in a few months the weather would be nice and undoubtedly the crowds would return to the mountains and I wouldn’t be hiking Chocorua then.
I chose Piper Trail as the starting point of the hike and would go up Nickerson Ledge Trail, Carter Ledge Trail and Middle Sister Trail to make the hike into a lollipop loop. I got to the parking lot at 8:00 am, and there were no cars in the lot. It was pretty windy (the final icing on the no-go-Washington cake) and partly cloudy. The forecast was calling for a significant drop in wind speed and a clearing of the clouds.
This weekend I was on call for work so I couldn’t retreat to the mountains to replenish my soul. Instead, I grabbed the boys and headed to Falmouth, Maine, to explore Blackstrap Hill Preserve. I only really knew of it’s existence from planning my route when I biked around Sebago Lake.
We parked at the southern access on Blackstrap Road shortly after the I-95 overpass. The trail started across private property then dipped down to a crushed rock path into the preserve. The hike was mostly flat and pleasant through some hardwood and evergreen forests. Once we got to the intersection of the white-blazed trail and the red-blazed trail we decided to go all the way to the overlook.
The overlook was a rocky knob standing proud in a treeless swath around power lines. If it wasn’t for the power lines and the distant highway it would have been a very pleasant view (though it would probably be forested, so take what you can get).
We returned the way we came except that we completed the white-blazed loop prior to returning to our car. It was quiet in the woods; we only saw a couple walking their dog and one mountain biker. The best part was the signs of spring; bright green leave pushing up the dead leaves and a few flashes of color from flowers.