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.)

Two Nights on West Baldpate – March 2018

Two Nights on West Baldpate – March 2018

“It’s been a while, but lets see how this goes.” is a good theme for this trip and this post. Obligations at home and a Winter that seemed to have fears about commitment had left me unable to sneak away for more than a few hours at a time for quite a while. When things at home were conducive the weather would warm up to ruin the snow and bring rain. Finally given the chance to get out into actual snow I loaded up my sled and headed up one of my favorite mountains!

DSC02926aI didn’t have much time to work with so the plan was to set up camp for two nights near the MATC lean to on Friday in hopes of a clear summit at some point on Saturday. This was my first real world test of my sled. There were some issues to be found dragging gear up a mountain that didn’t occur during tests dragging my daughter around the golf course 🙂 Modifications have since been made and I look forward to more real world testing soon.DSC02928aFriday was definitely not the day to be on top of the mountain. Having been here many times before I knew which direction to point the camera for this shot. If not I would have had no clue there was a mountain there at all.DSC02929aI checked the tiny stream behind the lean to and while I could hear water way down below it was unreachable. Well at least by me, as I noticed the squirrels had kept little tunnels open so they could get to it. That is how I knew I was looking at about a foot of ice and then another foot or more of air before I’d reach that tiny trickle I could hear down there somewhere. That meant melting snow for water so rather than enjoying the afternoon quiet I got to work so I could have dinner before dark with all my bottles filled with warm water to get through the night.DSC02932aThe low was around 20°f with a few snow squalls during the night. I was using my big tarp configured for snow and wind. That let me enjoy the sounds of the weather out there while snuggled warm in my hammock.DSC02933aUsing the sled meant I could bring way too much crap and have a place out of the snow to keep it. After years of winter camping in a two man tent this is very different, but I am learning how to make it work for me. Not sure I’d enjoy it as much without the sled.DSC02934aThe climb to the summit after breakfast was treacherous with lots of hard ice flows buried under varying amounts of snow. The steeper sections were a bit gnarly but I was testing out some back country snow shoes with pretty aggressive toe traction so didn’t switch to spikes.DSC02938aI was pretty happy to be done climbing because it meant I could take off my pack and start taking pictures. I’d been trying to get up to this spot to take some winter pictures for the last several years but kept getting chased off by rain on my summit day every time. Lots of good camping but no summit pics.

I’ll just shut up for a while now and let you enjoy the pretty pictures. I shot about 100 pics while I was up there. The sun kept fighting through the clouds more and more changing the scene around me. I was pretty dang happy about it all!DSC02940aDSC02943aDSC02944aDSC02946aDSC02948aDSC02953aDSC02956aDSC02959aDSC02962aDSC02965aDSC02972aDSC02973aDSC02974aDSC02977aDSC02978aDSC02988aDSC02990aBy camping on the mountain and hitting the summit early I had it all to myself for quite a while. Once I started down shortly after noon I soon began to meet folks on their way up. After more than 24 hours of solitude it was nice to share the beauty with other folks but nicer to move on and return to the peace of being alone in the snow.DSC03012aThere was a lot of ice lurking under the recent snow. The warm melts combined with rain can create some beautiful but dangerous works of art.DSC03015aDSC03017aDSC03019aThese sort of works of art are a lot less dangerous. Well so long as you stop to enjoy the view rather than trying to stare at them too hard while falling off an ice cliff heh.DSC03022aSpeaking of stopping to enjoy the view…I was taking a much wider shot of some trees when I noticed this little bit of valley view hiding back there. I ended up liking this zoomed in shot more than the one I’d taken the camera out for.DSC03027aBack in camp the mountain was much easier to see now. It really isn’t far, but the climb is pretty steep so going up takes a lot longer than coming down.DSC03028aI was happy to be back in camp. I’d set up in the trees far enough away from the LT that the shelter mice didn’t seem to find me out there. Having camped here before I know there are some fearless rodents under that thing.DSC03032aI may have scared a few of them off by drying my feet and socks in the afternoon sun. It didn’t seem to bother the squirrels which were numerous and seemed to think I was in their house.DSC03033aA cup of potato soup is perfect in camp on a winter afternoon. To be honest though, I’m a fan of this soup and think it is pretty darn good for a summer trail lunch too!DSC03037aDSC03038aSunday morning dawned as my last day here usually does with the best weather of the trip. Suddenly the mountain could be seen clearly. Definitely the day to be going up and as usual, I was going down heh.Speaking of which there definitely was some going down on the descent. Seems my snowshoe testing is so thorough that I’ve discovered an issue no one else appears to have ever reported. If you’ve had a similar experience I’d love to hear about it in detail including specifics of the snowshoe, boot and conditions. When descending a slope with the sled and maneuvering around a tree on the right I managed to slip the tail of my left shoe through the toe of my right shoe. One time is a fluke, but I did this multiple times coming down this mountain.

This only happened under very specific circumstances for me and so far my research is coming up with nothing in terms of other folks having something like this happen with these or any other shoe. Post comments here or email please and thanks if you have any experience with something like this. I’d like to hear if anyone else has ever seen this sort of thing under any circumstances.DSC03041aDSC03042aOther than a few tumbles caused by that odd snowshoe hook up issue it was a great day to be coming down the mountain. Lots of sunshine on the snow and the day hikers were getting a late start. In the parking lot I ran into enough folks to make it a crowd but not enough to take any fun out of the day. The day hikers seemed confused by my sled or perhaps concerned I had a body on there.DSC03043aDefinitely great to be out there for a few days. It has been a few weeks now and I’m ready for more. This is my sort of anger management!! Hope you are getting out where and when you can!

Blueberry Mountain Birthday Hike

In honor of surviving the adventures of the last year, both solo and family, it seemed appropriate to celebrate my birthday with a hike. The weather certainly looked much better than we’d seen on our last adventure, so everyone was excited to get out there.

I picked a random spot on one of my White Mountains maps and a little research verified that it just might work. We loaded up the packs for a rare day hike and headed towards the ME/NH border where Rt 113 crosses the border a few times on its way between Rts 2 and 302DSC01356aOur goal was the top of Blueberry Mountain for lunch after climbing up the White Cairn Trail, then a walk across the short ridge and down the easy trail back to the road. Our little camper was excited at the prospect of bagging another peak. She has a lot of trail miles in her short years, but not too many mountains. This year she has started to use my old poles and thinks she is ready to hit the summits with daddy.DSC01358aShe is both fearless and strong when it comes to adventure. We never have to push her into this stuff, but we often have to hold her back heh. Thankfully everyone remembered their head nets because inhaling black flies while climbing can be bad for your health.DSC01360aIt really wasn’t supposed to rain on us, but the building overcast was looking a bit ominous at times. The early season greens seemed extra bright against the dark skies.DSC01361aOn the NH side of the highway we could see Baldface and were glad we’d left that for another day. It has much more exposure, not to mention miles and elevation. Our little one will be ready for that next year I’m guessing, but more than she’d enjoy at this age.DSC01363aBoth my wife and daughter have had far too few opportunities to get up into places like this. The experience was exciting enough to overcome the flies which I have to admit were pretty thick that day. Certainly not the most stunning view in the Whites, but through their eyes, and mine, it was a pretty special thing to take in.DSC01365aHere they are posing together, from the rear we have daughter, mother and fly. For the most part everyone remembered to lift their nets before putting food or water into their faces…for the most part heh. Even with the swarming bugs I have to say this was one of the best birthday meals I have ever enjoyed. DSC01366aAfter lunch we headed along the ridge and then took a side trail to the ledges. Looking at my topo maps I think we crossed the actual summit in here somewhere but we didn’t notice anything that day. DSC01370aWell we did notice this big hole in the ground! We had started down there somewhere to the right of the pond, only about 1150′ of climb to the 1781′ summit, but enough to count as a real mountain. Which of course means that these two are real mountain climbers!

Not sure which one I was more proud of, but hiking in a spot like this with them was a darn nice birthday present. It reminded me of how many times I’ve been in a spot like this and wished I could share it with them. It also makes me think about the all of the great places that will open up to us for family hiking and backpacking soon.DSC01374aOnce my daughter was safely down the trail I dared to sneak closer to the edge for a few shots of the valley. DSC01375aI’ll just leave the view from the ledge as the end of this trip. The hike down included two groups of folks with uncontrolled dogs that took most of our focus so there were no more pictures. Other than that I would say we all had a great time with this strange day hiking thing. I’d have preferred to stay up there and camp, but dinner out and sleeping in a bed can be nice after a hike too. Certainly one of the best birthdays of my life and enough to make me want to stick around for another one to see if we can top it!

Spring Camping Weather


The calendar may say the seasons have changed, but Nature follows a schedule of its own. I’ve talked before about how camping weather means different things to different people. Some only go when fair weather is forecast while others revel in the thought of heading out into a storm. I tend to go whenever I can and try to be prepared for whatever Nature has a mind to throw at me.

This weekend I’m taking another stab at a two night stay on the side of West Baldpate with a casual summit day in between. I tried this back in February and had to abort when the forecast changed mid-trip to include cold rain the third day for the hike back to the car. Rather than risk the traction issues or hypothermia it seemed a good idea to head home early though I did hate to be going down instead of up on such a pretty day.

This forecast actually looks more promising as it has shifted over the last few days from a sleet and freezing rain event on Friday to just snow. I’ll go prepared for both and hope it stays cold. Then after the front moves through and it gets cold I’ll start hoping it warms up.

Still debating what shelter to bring on this trip. Last time I went with the double walled winter tent which is huge, but great for camping in the snow. The mice at the Baldpate Shelter are quite active even in the cold so I opted  not to sleep in there. Listening to them scamper over my tent during the night I was glad I’d closed the screens on the vents. This time I’m thinking about going with a lighter pack and setting up my 1P tent inside the shelter to keep the mice off. Pretty sure there won’t be anyone else camping there given the forecast and I can set up the Hubba in the snow if I needed to in an emergency.

This will probably be my last chance to get out before Mud Season is upon us. Hopefully the weather allows for some nice summit views on one or both Baldpates and it clears up enough to see across the notch to Speck and Sunday River Whitecap, but I will be happy with what I get. With the wind it won’t likely be as quiet up there as last time. Still if the mice give me some peace it should be a great chance to celebrate Spring in the snow. Hope you are getting a chance to get out and celebrate in whatever weather the season is bringing you. Go prepared for worse and enjoy what comes!

February Baldpate Overnight

February Baldpate Overnight

25 pictures and a bit of babbling about a quick and fabulous winter adventure. It was supposed to be a two night trip with a lot more climbing, but changing weather forecast turned it into a short and relaxing trip instead.DSC00716a

This was my first cold weather trip to the Grafton Notch area. I’ve come up here many times over the last few years, but never with snow on the ground. The state park lot was sort of plowed and I parked along the edge imitating how others had parked. It was chilly but not cold, upper 30s-lower 40s I’d guess, so I loaded up and moved out to the highway crossing quickly so I could hit the trail.DSC00718aMercifully the trail was well broken out with only one set of postholes marring the way. I wasn’t sure what I’d find up there and wasn’t looking forward to wayfinding if I had to break trail. White blazes in the snow can pose a challenge and I know this section isn’t heavily blazed to begin with.DSC00722aInstead I was able to focus on enjoying the climb. It was a warm day for this time of year so I kept my pace leisurely to avoid getting too sweaty. That gave me plenty of time to take pics and marvel at the light on the snow filled birch stands.DSC00724aI did have to break out majority of the short trail up to the Baldpate Shelter as no one had made the effort recently. There was several feet of fluffy powder so it was good fun, but I’m glad I didn’t have to do the whole trail like that.DSC00729aWhile the Winter had been somewhat mild with rain and melting at times there had been a recent dump of snow a week or so prior to this trip. This campsite looked better to me covered in snow than it had on previous trips. It sees a lot of use during the other seasons but with a white blanket it looked pristine.DSC00731aThere are other reasons they build latrines up on high platforms, but making them stick out of the deep snow is a benefit. I had my shovel along if I needed to dig it out but the door opened easily enough.DSC00734aThe brook that acts as water source for the shelter was totally buried. No idea if there was flowing water or just ice down below but rather than dig to find out I opted to melt snow. Of course with the sunshine there was melt coming off the metal roof of the shelter so I collected what I could during the afternoon. I put my kettle in a spot catching two drips and my as yet clean garbage bag in a spot catching three. Managed to get over a liter this way which cut down on how much snow I had to melt.DSC00739aI had several hours of wonderful sunshine in the snow to enjoy with a dead calm the entire time. Weather like that made me wish my wife had been able to come along. I’d hate to put her through some of the stuff I endure, but this was pure pleasure.DSC00742aWith the sun dipping low the melt on the roof slowed quite a bit. Time to start melting some snow! The shelter clearing had a nice blanket of clean snow from the big storm. Often what looks clean is really layers of debris once you dig into it, but as I peeled off layers with my shovel I found almost nothing but snow. With the warm weather I had a canister stove and kettle instead of the usual white gas Whisperlite and a bigger pot. It worked well enough and since the trip was cut short the next day I didn’t have to worry about running out of fuel. With the warm weather I opted to run the final product through my filter rather than do an extended boil to purify it.DSC00754aStill not a puff of wind as the sun dipped into the trees. The quiet was overwhelming whenever I stopped to notice it. As night fell I heard what sounded like a coyote sound off twice and then again a bit later. After dark as I lay reading in my tent I heard a tree crash somewhere. With the quiet it was hard to tell just how far off it was, but it was probably a lot louder up close!

The best part of the night were the times I needed to step out of the tent. The first time I stood up I almost fell over when I saw the star filled sky. At elevation in the cold the sky is beyond anything you can imagine if you’ve never seen it. I seem to recall the words “Holy $%^#% @#^^&!” coming out of my mouth unbidden. The other times I got up it was still amazing, but even now I can remember just how blown away I was that first time.DSC00758aMorning dawned mostly clear which might seem good, but worried me because that was not the forecast. I’d expected some clouds with rain late in the afternoon. Seemed like a good time to fire up the inReach and get a new forecast. Sure enough things had changed. Today was going to be nicer, but the following day they expected rain early and often. Part of me kept staring at the mountain wanting to hit the peaks, but the smarter part kept pointing out that would mean going down in the rain the next day.DSC00761aIt really would have been a great morning to hit one or both summits and even when I left camp I wasn’t sure the less smart part of me would turn left instead of right when I got back to the AT.DSC00765aSince plans had changed I now was in no hurry to leave camp. It was still very calm where I was, but the clouds up above were flying past at a good clip. I spent some time making movie clips which went into the video I posted a few weeks back.DSC00770aThe morning light up there was amazing. Another good excuse to take too many pics. The total for the two day trip was 101 shots 🙂 Having grown up on film cameras I love the ability in the digital age to shoot without worrying about expense. Now that memory has gotten so cheap I don’t worry about storage space either.DSC00772aDSC00773aDSC00775aDSC00776aIt was a great morning for sunlight on trees. The pictures do little to capture what I could see. Perhaps more skilled photographers could bring it out better, but these are good enough to at least remind me of how beautiful these two days in the snow were.DSC00780aI did manage to turn left and started my descent back to the highway on the AT. On the way up I did my best to clean up the postholes of the guy I was following up. Now on the way down I worked on his descending postholes. Near the road I met a guy going up in just spikes and realized that my efforts were probably pointless. DSC00790aNo time to be grumpy about postholes when you’ve got a sunny morning to enjoy. Sun on birches is always nice, but in the snow with good morning light you can’t help but feel happy to be there.DSC00792aSun through the pines is pretty darn nice too! It was such a great day I was a bit bummed I wasn’t hitting the peaks, but it was too nice to be grumpy about it.DSC00795aWhen the leaves are on the trees this route has very few views until you get to the top. This time of year there were chances to glimpse peaks in various directions at times.DSC00799aPretty certain I stop and take pictures of Hedgehog Hill every time I pass through this spot. I know I did in both directions this time. Just something about the perspective looking through the stand of dead birch trees.DSC00806aBit of the Mahoosucs poking through the trees. Think that is Old Speck on the left side but hard to tell with those pretty birches in the way.DSC00809aI was totally overheating by this point even though I was going downhill. I was down to my lightest base layer, but should have been in a tank top heh. Warm weather in Winter is really hard to adjust to after you’ve gotten used to really cold stuff. Once I got back to the car I stripped down and put on dry stuff. Then I broke out the sausage and cheese for a lunch feast before heading home.

Hope you folks enjoyed the pics. Sadly there have not been many trips in the snow this year. With the little one starting kindergarten and my wife very busy with her work I’ve been needed at home a bit more. If you aren’t getting your Nature fix from my posts perhaps you’ll be more motivated to get out there and see it for yourself! Things should pick up for me once the snow melts and I can get the scoot back on the road. Also starting to hear rumbles from a buddy about tag teaming the LT this Fall so it will be time for me to start riding that merry-go-round again soon 🙂

Two Nights on the Grafton Loop – October 2016

Two Nights on the Grafton Loop – October 2016

33 Pics and tales of adventure on the GLT / AT

After over four weeks without putting on a pack and very few days with even a good walk it seemed the perfect opportunity to head out on one of the toughest hikes I know. The Grafton Loop Trail is officially listed at about 38 miles and includes roughly 12 miles of well groomed and heavily traveled Appalachian Trail along with lesser maintained sections that are far less traveled.dsc00161aMy previous two training trips to this area in August were launched from the state park lot where the AT crosses the highway that bisects Grafton Notch. When I make what has been my annual pilgrimage to head up and try to do the entire loop I prefer to park at the quieter loop trail head lot found on the southern end of the notch. From there I like to do the short road walk and cross the private lands that lead to where the trail heads up towards Bald Mtn for those heading clockwise around the loop.

This area of farm land leads to a snowmobile trail with a bridge across Bear Brook and then eventually the start of the real trail itself. It is a gentle, rolling hike which is a great way to get warmed up before the climbing begins.dsc00162aNormally it is also a wet walk with lots of little creek crossings, but this year it was quite dry. I was hoping the water sources were running again as there had been some rain. The empty channels down below made me wonder what I’d find on the other side of the day’s mountains.dsc00164aThe AMC handles the trails on the west side of the notch and they have built some nice, terrain saving, steps in a few spots. These things really keep hikers from tearing up the ground which lets the rain and snow melt quickly dig down to the rock below. They also make a great spot to sit down and have a snack on a wet day. Climbing up into the clouds I reached the point where everything was wet including me and wished I’d brought my OR Crocs along.dsc00163aThis quick picture of a hiker disappearing up the steps is my only way to know that I didn’t imagine the encounter. I have almost never met anyone on this loop other than on the AT section. We chatted for a bit before he headed on and he mentioned he was planning on camping at either the Slide or Bull Run sites. I never saw him again, but finding this pic on my camera at least reassured me that he wasn’t just a figment of my imagination heh.dsc00165aBald Mtn is not as bald as it once was, but it does provide the first hints of the views to come. It also has some wonderful alpine lichen patches. This means we’re getting up into the sensitive area and its time to start being really careful where we put our feet.dsc00166aLeft untrampled this stuff can have the time it needs to grow which it does very, very slowly. It is great to see a small patch, but when you find yourself in an area with large patches of it all around it starts to feel really magical. To me it signals the entry to the summit areas above the trees and it always brings a smile to my face.dsc00168aSo did the views starting to open out in the space between the clouds just above and the trees below. There were hints of sun sneaking in from somewhere. I was just happy the clouds had lifted enough to be over my head as I was a bit wet from climbing up through them earlier.dsc00170aThe colors were a bit muted by the hazy air, but those glints of sun were giving me hope things might still clear up before I finished crossing Sunday River Whitecap. Coming up out of these trees on to the summit is one of my favorite bit of trail ever. The views suddenly begin to open up to the horizon which on a clear day can be quite far indeed.dsc00171aThis was a different experience. Interesting in a different way with the muted light and shorter horizon the clouds were creating. So long as the clouds stayed up I was fine with it all. Don’t fall on me…dsc00174aStopping for a break near the end of the summit area I discovered that my legs had something they wanted to say about taking over a month off and then climbing up this mountain with a full pack. What they had to say was, “You will pay for this!!” as I felt the first twinges of cramps tightening up the lower front of my quads. Having expected trouble and well supplied from the aborted LT trip I had some Gatorade pouches along and mixed up a double batch while I was here.dsc00176aThen it was time to head down the steep pitches that would lead  me around Slide Mountain first far off to the right of this view and then across towards the sunlit area to the left of Slide Mtn. This area is relatively casual trail once you get down from the summit, but by this point my legs are always a bit tired. On this trip they weren’t feeling tired, they still were strong from the long summer of training. What they were was angry!! Not only did they start to cramp up in the front of the quads, but I found out that there is a spot in the back of the quad that can cramp up too. Astoundingly painful and a total surprise after a lifetime of football, surfing, cycling and backpacking. I had no idea that was even an option let alone how much it could hurt heh.

Being the sturdy adventurer I am, I of course didn’t stop at the Slide campsite and opted to head another mile or so on to Bull Run as intended. Keeping the legs from cramping up was an interesting exercise in mind over body. No idea if the guy I’d met earlier camped there at the Slide site, but he was no where to be found when I arrived at Bull Run. I have camped at both spots before and prefer both camping and waking up at Bull Run. The water supply is more reliable and you wake up in a great spot to climb Old Speck first thing in the morning, though in that regard the walk from Slide can be a nice warm up before the climb and the side trail there leads down from camp rather than up.dsc00178aAs usual when I camp on this side of the mountain it was a windy night. There were a few branches I heard crashing down in the dark, but the platform was a safe enough spot. It was a bit wet by dawn though with the trees scraping the clouds over night. I was up early that day so only have this quick flash picture before I left camp.dsc00179aThe climb up to Old Speck from this side is much easier than either of the other two approaches via the Appalachian Trail. There is dirt under foot in many places on this side while the huge number of hikers have worn the other routes down to the rock in many places. There are also found here a thing rarely seen in Maine; Switchbacks! The trail really could have gone straight up as it doesn’t seem that steep. I’m guessing they wanted to protect the ground and avoid the deep erosion found on the other side of the mountain.dsc00181aIt was a great morning for climbing with cool, damp air. I did stop and take some pictures along the way, but didn’t linger long. The fog in the valleys below certainly was tempting though.dsc00185aNeat to be in the sun up above looking down on this stuff on such a scale. I was soaked and dripping just like the trees so I really appreciated the open summit.dsc00186aSo tempting to just sit here and watch the day go by from this magical viewpoint, but I knew I had the worst of the notch ahead of me so didn’t dare get too comfortable.dsc00187aMy goal for the day was to get a few miles beyond East Baldpate, the exposed ridge on the left. Not so far as the crow flies, but as seen on the previous trips to this area, the steep notch makes it interesting to say the least.dsc00189aI had my second breakfast with most of my trail clothes laid out in the sun in hopes of drying a bit. That was about as futile as me climbing this dang tower’s ladder or finishing this loop for that matter heh. Still, you have to keep trying. I focused on eating and taking pics rather than wasting any time on the tower this trip.dsc00190adsc00192aIt looked like it was a perfect day to be up there on that ridge. Actually it was a pretty good day to be anywhere with a view. Just enough clouds in the distance to make things look picturesque and plenty of blue up above.dsc00195adsc00196aA few last looks before heading down into the notch.dsc00198adsc00199adsc00200aWell, OK, a few more. Just an amazing day to be out there!dsc00201aMaking my way down towards the bottom but still a long ways to go. This section seems short on the map, less than four miles. The steep, rocky areas combined with some rolling PUD combine to make it both time consuming and tiring.dsc00204aThankfully there are a few viewpoints that open up on the way down. Color was a bit low as far as the leaves were concerned. Still it gives a person an excuse to stand still for a moment and remember why you put in all the effort.dsc00205aThere were a few fiery red maples sprinkled throughout the canopy. I appreciated what I found as I’d come with low expectations due to the dry year.

I guess you could say I came with low expectations about this loop too after all of these years of not finishing it. This time I managed to cross the highway and start up the other side. Watching the clock as I climbed over Hedgehog Hill and towards the Baldpates I could see I wasn’t moving fast enough to make it to the camp on the far side of the mountains before dark. Having eaten my dinner by headlamp the night before I wasn’t excited about doing it again. Knowing the rough trail on the descent the idea of night hiking didn’t appeal much either so I decided to spend the night at the Baldpate Shelter.

The nice brook I’d found there the month before was barely a trickle, but I had the place to myself for a few hours which I used to dry out as much as possible. Well and to eat and eat and then have a snack heh. A couple of section hikers came in just before dark and set up tents nearby leaving me and the mice to the shelter for the night.

I had an extra dinner with me and was thinking I’d change my three night trip into a four night trip. It seemed this might finally be my year to go all the way around this loop. Then I got the bright idea to check the weather report heh. I’ve been carrying a Delorme inReach this year and one of the features is the ability to request localized weather reports. Both that night and in the morning it said I’d be hiking down in the rain and riding home wet on the scoot if I stayed out for two more nights. I don’t mind hiking in the rain that much, but hiking wet and then doing a few hours in the rain on the bike sounded like more than I was willing to deal with. So, I did the “smart” thing and headed back down the mountain the way I’d come up.

dsc00208aOn the way down I was treated to this sight at the upper intersection with the Table Rock viewpoint trail. These folks seem to have just dropped their packs in the middle of the trail and ran off to see the view. Well, either that or it was some sort of mini Rapture, but either way it seemed a bit odd.dsc00209aPlenty of other nice things to be seen though. It was a beautiful morning in the forest and I was headed down hill on some steep, but well maintained trail.dsc00210aYup, plenty of time to enjoy the colors and the smells of Fall.dsc00212aAfter my relaxing walk down the mountain I had a wonderful second breakfast at the parking area. While there I exchanged my mud splattered hiking pants for a clean pair of hitchhiking pants heh. Having traveled this highway before I knew I’d stand a better chance of getting a ride if I made the effort.dsc00217aI made it a ways down the road, maybe a mile or two, before a state park ranger stopped his truck and gave me a lift back to my scoot. Time enough to get a few more shots of the leaves. Failing to do this loop had never felt so good! My legs got over their anger for the most part after the first day. I’d been eating like a king since I had LT supplies to use up. Plus the sun was shining and I didn’t have to pay for a tow truck ride home 🙂

Think I’ll actually be a bit sad if I ever actually finish this loop. It has jokingly become my white whale and I think I’d miss it in that context if I go all the way around. Definitely will be back next year to try though!

Speck Pond Overnight – August 2016

Speck Pond Overnight – August 2016

18 pictures and tales of happiness on trail from the last of my Long Trail warm up trips. Well, at least for this year 🙂dsc00081aI was glad to see there was still at least some water running down this rocky bed. Most years this is a nicely babbling brook, but with the dry Summer I wasn’t sure what I’d find. Seeing water here reassured me that I’d probably find water on the other side of the mountain where I needed it to be.dsc00083aThis waterfall looks totally different when the flow is higher. I think this version is actually prettier to look at, but seeing the lack of water always sets off alarms in my head. Water sources are very important to steam engines like me so as much as I hate walking in mud a dry year leaves me nervous.dsc00084aThis first view towards the West always marks the beginning of the actual climb in my mind. It is the first chance to see the terrain starting to open up. I can’t find a name for this mountain on my maps but the farther section is listed as Red Ridge.dsc00088aGaining a bit more altitude and crossing to the other side of the ridge affords a peek at the Baldpates. From here it is easy to trace the route of previous trips, including the most recent, up over Hedgehog Hill, West Baldpate and then finally the exposed slabs of East Baldpate. The climb may go higher on this side of the notch, but looking at that terrain it is understandable that this side seems easier.dsc00090aMy nemesis, the tower on top of Old Speck. I can climb mountains with little thought of fear, but ladders and even some old rusty staircases on the mountaintop towers I come across can really freak me out. I’ve been trying to get to the top of this tower for years and almost made it this time 🙂 Transitioning from the top of the ladder to the tiny wooden platform proved to be too much, but I was trying to get in shape for the towers of the LT so figured I at least got some practice being afraid.dsc00091aEven from the foot of the tower the view was pretty nice. Looking North the eyes were torn between the mountains fading into the distance and the nature of the gathering clouds. There was some chance of rain in the forecast, but knowing these mountains this sky said it was a pretty sure thing.dsc00095aFor now though there was sun and I was off to explore a new stretch of trail I’d never seen other than on the maps. Heading to the South on the AT I broke out of the scrub onto a rocky, open area that showed me a whole new view of the world. Then I heard the tell tale shuffling and puffing of a hiker coming up the ridge a few moments before he popped into view.dsc00096aLooking out into the Mahoosucs from up here was amazing. I’d seen this area from farther away and a different angle on my trips up Sunday River Whitecap, but now they seemed so close.dsc00098aSome haze in the air limited the views, but considering that Success Pond in the middle of this shot is in New Hampshire and the distant profile of Mansfield and Camels Hump on the LT in Vermont were easy enough to make out I didn’t exactly feel like I’d been cheated out of much.dsc00099aThe clouds continued to gather, but I was content to take my time and soak up the amazing views. I knew I didn’t have far to go to reach Speck Pond so stayed up above the trees while I had the chance. The late Summer light on the forests below was making me very happy I’d gone to the trouble of climbing up there.dsc00101aNow was time for climbing down though. Looking back up one last time before sinking into the trees I could see the rocky spots I’d stopped at earlier up near the top. This section was filled with very steep, rock wall bits of trail. The sort you need hands to climb up and tend to slide down on your butt either on purpose or by surprise.

I ran into an older couple of thru hikers who were slack packing NOBO at the base of this rocky section. He was smiling patiently as she cussed up a storm about how much she hated Maine. When she asked me to tell her that she was almost to the top I felt terrible having to let her know the worst was yet to come. Seems she had run out of joy for the trail, but they weren’t about to stop so she was left banging her head against mountains. I wished them luck and moved on reminding myself to walk in joy or not at all, as she certainly didn’t seem to be having a good time.dsc00103aAs much as I looked forward to getting to camp I hated to go back into the trees. Even with the hazy sky, being above the trees and being able to see the world out there is always such an amazing experience. It sort of seems that way even if you drive to the top of a mountain, but the slow process of climbing up there enhances the experience in my mind. You get to see the world from angles that folks stuck on the roads never will too, making the views and the memories of them more personal.dsc00104aBy the time I reached Speck Pond the overcast had pretty much filled in. Looking at the water made me wonder if there was a spring at the camp. Filtering pond water is usually a pain, often requiring a backflush on the filter to clear out the scum that builds up from the particles in the water. Turns out there was a spring and it was even running. The downside was that a recent hard rain had washed a heavy load of tannin into the source and it was coming out on the brown side. Tasted fine enough once filtered, but pouring brown water down your throat tends to set off instinctive warnings in the brain, at least for the first day or two.dsc00105aI found this lovely tent pad available and set up to one side in case things filled up and I was asked to share. Easier to plan ahead than move everything later is what I’ve found when staying at the AMC sites. On this night I had the spot to myself, though nearby neighboring pads were all filled up. Oddly enough the two guys camping next to me were also carrying MSR Hubbas. We all had the older, green, preNX model and had arrived from our various directions in this one tiny spot in the Maine woods at the same time.dsc00106aDespite the forecast and looming skies there was only a single woman who chose to stay in the shelter that night with the rest of us choosing to tent. She was the only one who packed up a dry camp in the morning as the rain finally started about 3am and came in waves throughout the early morning. I’ve heard this shelter has been entirely dismantled and a new one built on this spot just recently. After all these years of wondering what it was like down there at Speck Pond and finally getting a chance to see I now find I have to go back because it has changed. I’m OK with that 🙂dsc00108aLooking out across the pond I was surprised that I kept hearing people talking. It seemed like such a peaceful spot, yet these voices kept intruding. My natural instinct when I’m in the woods is to whisper or speak in very quiet tones. Hearing these people, wherever they were, reinforced that philosophy as wise. I’d hate to be the person responsible for disrupting someone’s peace and quiet.dsc00109aThanks to the new camera I was able to figure out where all the noise was coming from 🙂 These hikers had opted to camp next to the pond on the far shore rather than pay the fee to stay at the AMC site. Scroll back and look at the previous picture, they were camped where the treeline comes down to a V, way across the pond. Voices carry.dsc00112aThe next day started out wet and stayed that way all the way back down to the scoot. The only pictures I took were of this Spruce Grouse which seemed to have staked out a natural hiker resting rock as a begging spot. Beautiful bird, but a shame that people feed the wildlife and change its behavior.

Sadly, this last trip prior to leaving for the Long Trail was my undoing. Well, the undoing of the rear tire on the scoot to be more specific. On getting back to the bike and loading up I noticed that the tire was totally worn down to the belts in a strip that ran all the way around. Apparently the rubber had been unwinding on the trip up and now I was faced with a long ride home on a sketchy looking tire. I didn’t need to worry about that for long though as the tire failed completely after just a few miles heh. Thanks to the help of some very nice ladies who live on a farm along the highway and a large sum of money paid to a towing company I made it home that night. A huge, unexpected expense right before heading off on a month long trip was too much. It was hard to cancel the trip with it being so close at hand, but I think I made the right call.

My only regret is that I had my legs in primo condition at the time of this trip. There followed almost an entire month of not getting out on trail that saw them fade quickly. Missing those legs now and especially on a few trips I’ve taken since. Have to remember not to take such a long break once I get them back in shape!