Speckled Mtn Haystack Notch Loop – 2 Nights of Wilderness Backpacking

Speckled Mtn Haystack Notch Loop – 2 Nights of Wilderness Backpacking

50 pics and some babbling from an early June adventure to the Caribou Speckled Wilderness in Western Maine. I’m mostly making YouTube videos these days, but this many pretty pictures deserved a post here too I thought!

Being trapped in Maine I’ve had to get more creative in planning my trips rather than wandering all over New England as usual. While we have done a family day hike of Blueberry Mtn and I enjoyed a fabulous Baldface Circle/Wild River loop a few years back, I’d never explored the Caribou Speckled Wilderness. Some research led me to put together this loop, with the open section a road walk on Hwy 113.

The plan was a relaxing two nights to cover about 15 miles of wilderness with a 1.5 mile road walk on one end. I’d wanted to make the second night the big summit night, but weather suggested I go the other way. That meant a short hike up to Speckled via Spruce Hill Tr. on day one so I got a late start, arriving at the East Royce Tr lot about noon.

A pretty quick stomp later found me setting up camp in the short trees just below the summit. I’ll be posting video later of this part of the hike, but the first pics I took were on top of the mountain.

Speaking of which… here come the pics!

This was supposed to be my good weather day, but as the afternoon wore on there was wind and sleet. I could see sunshine down in the valleys in the distance, but it was dark and cold on the summit. I wondered why no one else had come to camp, though I did meet one nice day hiker up there.

Given the dark skies and threat of frostbite I gave up on getting sunset pictures and retired to camp for dinner and bed. There was a plan to get up early for sunrise, though I had my doubts looking at the skies.

It was definitely worth getting out of bed for, though it was cold enough that I brought my quilt with me to the summit. It said 36°f on the thermometer in camp and the breeze on the summit had some bite to it.

I pulled this pic from my morning coffee video 🙂 You can just make out the top of Mt Washington over the ridge behind me. It was a little warmer now so I wasn’t wearing my quilt, but I can see from the look on my face that it wasn’t exactly warm up there heh.

Then it was time to head into the less traveled part of the wilderness. I had no clue where I was going, never having been here before. It was fun to have that sense of adventure that comes from not knowing what comes next.

The Red Rocks Trail was a steady series of rolling ups and downs as it traversed several mountains before finally reaching its namesake, Red Rock Mtn and then rolling down towards Miles Notch. I say rolling because despite dropping down it managed to go up hill more than a few times too.

The Miles Notch trail follows a brook for most of its length. There were a series of small crossings, easy rock hops at current levels. There also were an amazing number of bugs. There were enough black flies I had to put on my headnet for a while at times, despite the humid heat of the afternoon. There also were enough skeeters that I had to break out the picaridin, which almost never happens since I’ve begun treating my clothes with permethrin. Just a small squirt on the back of the hands and the back of the elbows did the trick.

There was some logging at the end of Miles Notch a while back, but I was able to follow the trail well enough to find the forest again. Once I reached the WMNF boundary I made camp for the night and enjoyed a little rain on the roof.

There are no pics from the rest of the trip I’m afraid. Haystack Notch Trail was an adventure like no other I’ve had before. It disappeared at times completely, with no trace of where it might have gone. Resorting to GPS I was able to relocate it, though even that was challenging at times. Somewhere in there I got turned around and found that the trail is much easier to follow heading in the other direction. I was making really good time until I realized that I was walking past where I’d camped the night before 🙂

Look for a video in a few days that tells the story more fully. This post was mostly about sharing all of those pretty pictures. This really was a great trip, despite getting lost in the wilderness heh. If you go this way I highly suggest coming armed with a GPS and a good .gpx track. A compass came in handy at times as well because phone compasses often seem to have no clue where they are pointing when you’re in the mountains. That is how I managed to get turned around even while looking at the GPS 🙂

Hope you are able to get out somewhere despite all the troubles in the world. Nature can be a soothing respite, though you may prefer smaller doses unless you appreciate getting lost in the wilderness as much as I do!

Baldpate – Two Nights in January

Baldpate – Two Nights in January

42 pics and some babbling from a three day adventure in the deep freeze.

The forecast said it would be cold and clear. It was definitely both when I arrived at the Grafton Notch State Park lot. Despite a few other cars I wouldn’t see anyone until I got back to the lot three days later. These folks were likely either on Old Speck, Table Rock or ice climbing.

The view up towards Old Speck looked frosty with the higher elevation trees coverd in rime.

The Eyebrow looked icy and not the sort of place I want to visit in the Winter. Some folks enjoy that sort of thing heh, but I am too old for that much excitement.

The snow depth, while enough to cover most of the rocks, was a bit shallow for the sled. Deeper snow levels out the trail and buries obstructions. Pulling is easier and the sled tracks better.

By the time I got to the shelter site my quads were burning from the effort and I was losing daylight fast. Just enough time to melt some snow and make dinner before dark.

The mountain above me was still in full sun though. Seeing all that blue sky had me excited about getting up there the next day.

It was 1°F in the morning. With the sled I was able to bring my heavy insulated boots for standing around in camp. Bundled up and a hot cup coffee in hand, I was in pretty good spirits.

Given how cold it was I wasn’t in a big hurry to start the climb. Hanging out in camp covered with heavy insulation was the best way to appreciate the beautiful morning.

A bit after 9am I started the short, but very steep climb up towards the West Baldpate summit. It was challenging to balance the heat of my internal steam engine with the need for clothing in the single digit temperature.

For most of the climb I stuck to a very pronounced “rest step” which is totally the opposite of how I naturally climb. I like to keep moving, but that leads to sweating and in these conditions, sweating is a lot of trouble.

The cautious approach to the climb took time, but soon enough the sky started to open up above me. I didn’t track the exact time, but looking at my gps tracks it seems it was about 90 minutes from camp to summit at the no sweat pace.

This is what I wore on the climb, single 250wt wool base layer top and bottom, thin shell pants and a wool based jacket with light weight wool beanie. Enough to keep the frost off the outside while not holding too much heat.

Within a few minutes of reaching the summit I was reaching for insulation! Thankfully there was only a small breeze, but it was danger type cold up there. Time for the -30°F rated jacket and a face mask. Even well protected I was acutely aware of the importance of not pushing my luck up there. Solo hiking is always about being safe, but especially in these conditions.

My usual lunch of cheese, sausage and tortillas was frozen solid when I pulled it out. The nuts and berries of my trail mix seemed hard enough to break a tooth. It was very pretty, but time to start heading down.

Descending was of course a lot easier and since I didn’t have to focus on pacing myself I had a lot more time to appreciate just how beautiful it was in the woods.

It was a bit of a surprise how fast I arrived back at the shelter intersection. Happy to be close to my stove and a hot lunch, but a bit sorry the hike was over, I headed up towards camp.

I prefer not to sleep in this shelter, but I love the way it catches the winter sun in the afternoon. A great place to hang out and melt snow. Digging in my food bag I found the extra meal I’d tossed in was lasagna, which made an excellent late lunch.

You can see I’ve had to move my sit pad as I followed the sun across the bench. It was around 20°F, but that little bit of sunshine made it feel much warmer. Well, the -30°F coat probably helped too heh.

All too soon the sun was headed down again. Another 14+ hour night approached. For me, one of the hardest parts of winter camping is the long nights. I awoke at 11pm and read for an hour or so because it felt like I’d had a full night’s sleep by then.

In the morning I had the last of my frozen donuts with hot, strong coffee. The nights may be long, but winter camping also has its joys. I’d never carry donuts into the woods on a three season trip, but the bears are sleeping this time of year…I hope.

It wasn’t as cold on the second morning, but cold enough. Think it was around 15°F when I got up and felt like it was going to warm up a bit that day.

Then it was time to load the sled and head down the mountain. Somewhere near the road my tent popped off the sled. The shallow snow at the bottom was making it track poorly and it kept flipping over. I didn’t notice the tent was gone until I got home, hours later. I put out word and while I’ve had reports of it being spotted both in the woods and being picked up by a hiker, unfortunately the folks who picked it up haven’t found me yet.

While that tragic note takes some of the joy out of this adventure, there was so much dang joy that it hardly matters. Any trip to the woods is going to make me happy, but three days of blue sky sunshine above a sparkling winter wonderland left me feeling like a totally different person. I’m trying to keep that happy feeling rolling despite the stupid rain in the forecast later this week. I say bring on more Winter!!

Hope you’re getting out when you can. I’ve been too lazy to post here, but we’ve been snowshoeing all over the last couple months. Need to catch up on my Trailspace reviews, but I’ll try to share some of the local snowshoe pics when I can.

Two More Nights on West Baldpate – March 2019

Two More Nights on West Baldpate – March 2019

32 pics and more than a wee bit of babbling from three days of blue sky and snow on one of my favorite mountains!

I’d had my eye on the weather for these three days. With a recent foot of fresh snow I was really hoping that someone would break out the trail over the weekend. Saturday was blown out but sure enough, some nice folks stomped me a trail on Sunday.

The buried signs at the side of the road were an early indicator that the snow was deep. Many blazes were between knee and ankle height along the way.

The weather totally came through for me. Cold, in the 20s at the parking lot, but lots of sunshine. Gusts of wind at time, but not the steady sort that makes you wear a lot of clothes.

Down low the trail was really well stomped. The route up to the viewpoint at the cliff is very popular. The folks over the weekend had to break trail from where the AT extends beyond the short loop.

This would have been a lot more work if I was breaking trail. As is, it was a bit of a sweaty climb given my load and lack of any real climbing in months.

I didn’t use my normal winter pack on this trip because I’m doing some testing with a different one. It was interesting paring down my winter kit to fit the reduced capacity. With three different sized thermos bottles of water and the big bottle of stove gas it came in at right around 40lbs. I did add some donuts on the drive in. They are tucked into the stove bag behind the shovel in this pic.

The shelter was well buried, but the wind had swept the front cleaner than other years. The snow over all was deeper than I was used to, but the wall in front wasn’t there. That blue sky was amazing. I recall worrying that I was missing the good day.

I had things to attend to though, so the summit would have to wait. First I wanted to get the hammock up and try out the new tarp. This one has doors on the ends and may become the distance shelter. That blowout on the Cohos last Fall made me see the benefits of doors heh.

Then there were evening chores to attend to. At this time of year there is no access to running water at this site. That means spending a lot of time melting and boiling snow. I started filling my thermos bottles, then got dinner soaking while I finished the bottles. With the temp dropping fast it was easy to get into the hammock before dark. With a good dinner and a chocolate donut in my belly it was easy to fall asleep before dark too heh.

There were some great stars during the night, but the blue skies were already returning by the time I rolled out of bed in the morning. I always love the feeling of coming out from under the quilts in the morning light and feeling the sting of the air. It feels like survival heh.

This is why I carry a cheapo refrigerator thermometer on all my trips. It is easy to read without glasses and the decimal comes in handy during wild temperature swings. I was glad to have the warning that morning on the Cohos when the flash freeze hit.


Time to melt some breakfast snow while I waited for the sun to do its thing. Coffee and a bag of breakfast slurry warmed the belly nicely. It had been a while since I’d been able to get out, but everything seemed vaguely familiar.

I stashed what I didn’t need for the climb at my camp. While I was there I grabbed one of the quilts and stuffed it in my pack…just in case heh. Then it was up up and up, into the trees. The snow was so deep that much of the climb was a wrestling match with branches that are normally well over head while walking on the ground.

On the way up I heard some footsteps in the distance below me. Thankfully I’d noticed him and stopped singing before he knew I was there heh. We chatted briefly as I let him pass by. He moving faster as he was dressed to sweat inside a shell. I was going for the cooler approach with thin wool layers and taking lots of breaks on the way up. It is hard for me to not attack a hill, but I kept making myself take slow steps. It didn’t work heh. I was still a little damp when I reached the top.

We took turns taking pics for one another and chatted a bit before he had to head down. Company is always appreciated more when you haven’t seen anyone for a while.

He was wearing some Baffin boots he was very pleased with. If you are out there man, I’d love to see a review on Trailspace 🙂

After he left I had to take my own pics. It was a lot of work so I treated myself to cheese and sausage because I’m worth it. OK, I’ll shut up and let you look at the pretty pics for a while…

Even with dark sunglasses I was pretty much blinded after a few hours up there. I knew I had a very steep descent and a few trees in my way so had to say good bye long before I wanted to.

Well, maybe just a few minutes more. I try to remember that there are no guarantees in life and every mountain may be my last. Sure hope not, but this was a darn good one to go out on!

On the way down there were some really steep drops. At the top of some of them were amazing views. It was important to view and drop separately hehe. With the soggy afternoon snow traction was entertaining enough that focus was important. Like I always tell my daughter about climbing mountains; You can look or you can walk, but don’t do both at the same time.

Nice views of the Whites on the other side of the border in NH. Spring is eating into the snow and the wind has helped in that regard. Won’t be long and there will be plenty of mud, at least down low.

With two solid days of blue sky it was hard not to hear the old ELO song in my head…”Mister blue, you did it right.”

“But soon comes mister night, creeping over, now his hand is on your shoulder”

“Never mind, I’ll remember you this, I’ll remember you this way.”

The second night was a bit warmer, but seemed very long. I was ready to get up and get moving. With the temp around 26°f it was easier to swap camp clothes for hiking clothes than the previous morning. Thankfully I managed to get everything loaded back up and I was on my way.

It was going to be another fabulous day. The light in the forest was amazing and I had to keep stopping to look at it. I recognized the terrain from some of the video I shot snowshoeing in deep powder here on a previous trip and was again pretty happy to be there.

Rather than complain about all the times I wasn’t there this Winter I was thinking about how happy I was at the moment. Good times heh.

Lower down I began to meet people day hiking. Maybe time to stop singing…or not heh. Spring definitely was waking up after a few days of strong sunshine. Up top it will take a while to eat through that deep snow. Even here it may be a while unless there is a warm rain. Soon though…soon.

Grafton Loop East Side – Half a Loop is Better Than None

A few pics and a short video from a couple of nights spent on my old friend the GLT. I went with the intent of doing a three  night complete loop, but my other old friend, the weather surprise showed up with some tropical heat. By the morning of Day 3 it was too hot to be fun so I headed home.

First views headed up Puzzle Mountain
Working up onto the first slabs. There were a series punctuated by short tree covered sections.
Still working on the puzzle, but getting close to the top now.
Finally the summit! Then the real puzzle started…trying to find the trail down the other side heh.
The trail down the back side was fantastic! Soft dirt path through a pine and birch forest.

The afternoon continued to heat up and get steamier. I pushed on past the Town Corner site due to the water there looking pretty grim. Should have stayed there because it got dark before I could make it to the Lane site.

The water was much nicer there though!
Classic GLT ladders show up just when you need them.
Almost to the East Baldpate summit and the views start to really open up.
I was surprised to find a small spring running near the trail. Cold, but a lot of pine tannin.
On top looking across the col at the West Baldpate summit. You can make out the trail in spots.
We’ll end here on a high note 🙂 

I was trying out a different camera on this trip, a GoPro which is much smaller and lighter than my usual Sony. Trying to decide if the quality is good enough to save the weight. Also trying out a new editor, Davinci Resolve, to put together my videos. There may be some learning curve on both accounts, but I hope this works for you 🙂

(Don’t turn up the volume too loud or the waterfall will blow your ears out when it shows up.)