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 ๐Ÿ™‚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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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!

Baldpates Overnight – August 2016

Baldpates Overnight – August 2016

24 pics from a quick training trip over and back one ofย  my favorite mountains in Maine, East Baldpatedsc00022aUnloading in the Grafton Notch State Park lot I was excited to be getting back out on trail. Early August was devoted to family stuff but now I was ready to spend some time going up and down some mountains to see how strong the legs really were. At this point I was just a few weeks from starting the Long Trail with bags and boxes of food piling up at home. It seemed a good idea to make sure to spend some time keeping the legs warmed up too.dsc00024aThis good sized snake had apparently hitched a ride all the way up there inside my rolled up motorcycle cover. Near as I can tell he must have gotten in there at some point in the garage trying to peel off that old skin and ended up bungee corded to the back of my scoot for a ride across the state of Maine.dsc00025aHe headed off into the woods to the south while I crossed the highway towards the woods on the other side. The well marked and groomed trail head usually makes me giggle a bit. It seems like a baited trap if you know what follows. dsc00027aOn a warm August day the shadows of the forest were welcome, though they do hold back any sort of breeze. The first part of the trail climbs a bit, then rolls for a while before reaching the Baldpate shelter.dsc00029aI had never taken the time to visit the shelter before despite hiking past the sign for it many times. I stopped in to eat lunch and do some exploring since I wasn’t in any hurry on this trip. The metal roof was noisy, but it seemed a nice enough spot. The stream behind the shelter was running nicely thanks to some recent rain.dsc00032aThen it was time to start the actual climb of West Baldpate. Right past the shelter turn off the trail starts a series of stony ascents.dsc00033aThanks to the efforts of some dedicated trail workers these stones have been organized in many places to create a staircase affect.dsc00034aPerfect trail for testing out the legs. This sort of climbing requires high knee lifting and taking on challenging foot placements without losing stride. Thankfully I’ve done this climb enough to know how short it is because on a hot day it is definitely one to get on top of and put behind you.dsc00035aBreaking out of the trees near the summit meant losing the shadows but gaining a nice breeze.dsc00036aAlso some nice views of the mountains ahead for those staying on the AT. Pretty sure I could see at least as far as the section I’d done back in June. A view like that makes a person want to just keep walking to reach that horizon.dsc00039aOne step at a time though, so first it would be time to traverse the shallow col and head up the exposed side of East Baldpate. Again having done this route before I know how much fun that will be rather than being concerned about how big it looks. The first time I stood here I was a bit nervous about it, but the slabs make an easy ramp compared to the rock pile trails I’m used to.dsc00043aThe col is a neat alpine bog and thankfully most folks are pretty good about sticking to the trail. The rock bowl here traps water keeping the ground wet even in a dry year such as this one. I always get a kick out of passing through alpine bogs just because it seems strange to have wetlands on top of a mountain.dsc00047aSoon enough it was time for second lunch on top of the slabs. The actual summit is a bit farther down the trail, but the big open ledge at the top is a great spot to take in the views to the west and south. Here you can see the west peak where I stood earlier with Old Speck rising up behind.dsc00048aLooking to the south where the mountains give way to rolling hills of farms and forests. Just a great day to be on top of a mountain with no place to rush off to.dsc00051aThe northwest view towards NH and VT. With the LT trip on my mind I recall looking at the shape of the mountains on the horizon and trying to match what I saw with the elevation profile in my head.dsc00053aThen it was time to head down the back side of the mountain onto the Grafton Loop. Once you leave the Appalachian Trail on top of East Baldpate things change quickly. With little foot traffic the ground under foot is actually ground in many places, rather than rock. dsc00057aThe view from the top of this rock is hard to capture on a camera, but when you stand there in person you can see just how far down you are heading. I’m glad the trail maintainers saw fit to build the rungs into the rock to encourage folks to take the direct route. This is just the sort of spot folks will do a lot of damage to trying to find easier ways around.dsc00059aThe view from the bottom gives you a better perspective on what a person would face without those rungs there. Not the worst notch I’ve ever had to wedge myself into to climb, but coming down would be dicey, especially when wet.dsc00065aMy usual spot at the East Baldpate campsite which despite the name is well over two miles from the summit. The sites on this side of the loop are under the care of the MATC and only lightly improved. There is a latrine and a network of paths leading to some open spots for making camp. No fires are allowed anywhere on the Grafton Loop so be sure to bring a stove if you come here.dsc00067aAfter a peaceful night it was time to head back up to see what the morning views looked like.dsc00068aIt was a bit hazy so the horizon was a bit closer than the day before, but it was a beautiful morning indeed.dsc00069aUp top at the east summit the wind was blowing strong. I’d worked up a bit of a sweat steaming my way to the top and despite the views didn’t stay long in fear of freezing to death.dsc00074aHeading back up from the col to the West Baldpate summit taking advantage of another nice ladder. This spot had some moisture on the rocks and would be quite treacherous without the aid. I take on whatever I find on trail, but always appreciate the effort when someone builds me an easier way.dsc00073aOne last view before heading down into the trees. Yup, it might be a lot of work to climb up to these places, but worth it to have moments like these.

Stratton/Caratunk Via the AT – June 2016

Stratton/Caratunk Via the AT – June 2016

35 pictures from an adventure that didn’t go as planned, but certainly was worth the hot, sweaty effort. The idea was a two week trip to test out the Seek Outside Unaweep’s ability to carry that much food and my ability to live out of my pack for that long. The pack did its part and the food was fantastic, but there were a few other issues along the way ๐Ÿ™‚ IMG_2874aThe girls were kind enough to drop me off where the AT crosses the highway just south of Stratton. They were headed on to VT and NY for some road trip camping while I did it the hard way. I remember being a bit nervous before walking away from the car, but as soon as I crossed the road and entered the woods on the other side the peace started to wash over me. IMG_2876aA rare peek at the peak through the forest gave me a glimpse of where I was headed that afternoon. Warm and steamy down below, but I was hopeful of cool breezes up above.IMG_2884aThere would be some climbing involved to find those breezes though. You might be tempted to think this picture shows a particularly difficult section of trail, but this is actually the easy part. Later there would be large, cracked slabs of rock with water flowing down them in parts to navigate. I didn’t pull out the camera there because my hands were wet.IMG_2886aThere were breezes on top of the ridge and “viewpoints” too! I’d made myself a promise to visit viewpoints on this trip. My natural inclination is to stomp on past them so it can be hard to stop, but I was rewarded with some sights like this one of The Horns.IMG_2889aThere were lots of other great views along the ridge often framed by the stunted evergreens. Not a fully exposed trail, but you could tell from the trees that life was hard up here when the winds blew.IMG_2891aThen on one of my viewpoint visits I finally spotted Horn Pond below me. Somewhere down there I’d find a campsite waiting for me though it was impossible to guess exactly where from up here.IMG_2893aThe Horn Pond campsite is actually quite large. There are these two good sized lean tos, plus a number of tent sites spread over a wide area. Each site had a 5 gal plastic bucket to protect food from the squirrels and chipmunks and there were several signs warning to be on guard of them.IMG_2898aHorn Pond was amazing up close as most lakes you find at altitude tend to be. I guess I enjoy all lakes I visit, but something about finding water like this up high always seems extra special. They had just hiked up a fresh batch of trout to stock the pond and the big fish were feasting on the recent arrivals in the early evening.IMG_2901aBack at the lean tos, which I had all to myself at this point, I was treated to a wonderful alpenglow display up on South Horn. Tomorrow I’d climb up there, but for now it was nice to relax and enjoy the view. I had a visit from Frog, the first of many SOBO thru hikers I’d meet on this trip, before he headed out to set up his tent after a long day crossing the Bigelows. Around dark, about 1030pm or so, another thru hiker came in and set up in the empty lean to next door.ย  IMG_2902aDay two started out clear and warm. The sort of day you know is going to be rough for climbing, so I took off early at a good pace and soon found myself at the top of South Horn. I’d bypassed the option to catch the view from North Horn, despite the recommendation of the camp host back at the pond, because it was listed as .3 miles on the sign and looked a lot more.

This sign was my first time noticing that the mileages listed seemed to be different from what I was expecting and not in my favor. Seems the electronic mapping and .gpx files I used were greatly underestimating distances and elevation change in some spots. So much for planning! Next time I rely on old fashioned paper maps that at least tell the same lies as the trail signs ๐Ÿ™‚IMG_2905aStanding up there on South Horn looking back towards the pond I could just make out the two lean tos below. I always get a kick out of being on one spot looking at where you are going and then going there and looking back to where you were before. Being able to actually see the exact spot made it even better.IMG_2909aThen it was time to continue on the Bigelows roller coaster. After South Horn came West Bigelow Peak and eventually Avery. The col between each peak drops several hundred feet which lets you cross the 4k mark multiple times.IMG_2910aNearing the top of West Bigelow looking back at The Horns you can see how they earned their name. You can just barely make out the only cloud in the sky there on the horizon. Probably in NH or maybe even VT, it did little to provide shade on this exposed ridge. Air temps were in the low 80s and I was looking forward to finding the campsite coming up to refill my water supply.IMG_2912aWell, I suppose there were more clouds than the one in NH, but these still were too far off to be of much use. Nice views though, with Avery close by and Little Bigelow down below hiding behind the signpost.IMG_2916aI met a lot of SOBO thru hikers coming across this ridge. Seemed I was heading into a large bubble that formed after Katahdin finally opened for the season. Each day I’d meet more and more of these hikers. First it was the fast ones, then the ones who were moving a bit more slowly with a few fast late starters mixed in.IMG_2923aI managed a bit of water from the nearly dry spring in the Avery col and then headed up to the last big peak I’d see for a while. Hard not to stop and enjoy the views so I had a late lunch here. A big change I’ve made to my feeding program for these longer hikes is the addition of lunch. Rather than snack all day I tried out bringing dried sausage and tortillas. With the addition of a cheese stick one or two of those makes a satisfying, high fat content, meal.IMG_2924aThen it was time to drop off the ridge and head back into the trees. I had hopes of making it over Little Bigelow that afternoon so despite losing the summit breeze I pushed on at a pretty good pace. Finally reaching the bottom much later than I’d expected I again realized that my mapping had underestimated the actual trail miles. Seeing a sign for the Safford campsite I headed off onto a side trail that took me through a small rock cave before ending at a tiny, primitive camp area well off the AT.IMG_2926aThere was a broken tent platform so I used this spot instead. I found a tiny stream nearby to filter some water and located a well maintained privy a bit farther in the other direction near another sad looking platform. Being used to wilderness camping this barely there campsite seemed pretty luxurious to me and I enjoyed a peaceful evening indeed. There were even a couple of fireflies.IMG_2929aThe next day is when I had to admit that with my poorly mapped trails I wasn’t going to cover nearly the ground I’d expected to. So I set my sites on enjoying my walk and not worrying about where I ended up each day. I think it was about the tenth false summit coming up Little Bigelow that broke me. Combined with a hot sticky day it was enough to make me set up camp mid afternoon at the Little Bigelow shelter and spend the day soaking up water in the shade and visiting with the SOBO hikers who passed through and those who eventually stayed the night.IMG_2932aThe Tubs are a series of natural baths in the small stream running near the shelter. Even with the heat the water was much too cold for me to take a dip, but I did enjoy drinking my fill.IMG_2936aThe shelter was filled that night with a half dozen tents set up around it as well. I hadn’t expected so many SOBO thru hikers to be coming through at once and I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt that way. With changes in traffic a lot of folks are going to have to get better prepared for crowds earlier in the season including hostels and the folks who run the canoe ferry.IMG_2937aThis platform was in fine condition and I enjoyed another peaceful night once the thru hikers finally stopped hooting. That yellow bag is one of two that carried my food supply on this trip. Inside I’d organized things into three five day supplies with larger portions in the later stages.IMG_2942aDay four was steamy to start and expected to get close to 90ยฐf so I again headed out as early as I could to put some miles in. This nice bit of bridging put a smile on my face which is always better than mud in my boots.IMG_2943aThis was one of several spots that laid claim to being the 2k mark. I’m assuming that with reroutes the exact spot has moved over time and they were all right at one point. I stopped for second breakfast at a road crossing just past this sign and marveled at the frightening speeds vehicles came rocketing down the road. Well, and I swatted at horseflies too, but that doesn’t sound as romantic as marveling.IMG_2948aWest Carry Pond late in the day looked cool, but it was a bit tropical to be honest. The spring near by was dead so warm pond water was the only source to be had. Another large group was gathered here and I was glad I’d set up my tent early to get a spot.IMG_2953aThere was such variety in the thru hikers which really made the SOBOs seem like a different species from the NOBOs I’ve grown used to dealing with over the years. These people were still doing their own things in their own way. They hadn’t had their originality beaten out of them yet, though there were a few I met the night before who sounded ready to do as they were told.IMG_2955aAnother hot and sweaty morning meant another early start. I found this fantastic beach as the trail followed the East Carry Pond shore for a bit. IMG_2963aThe MATC has built some fantastic bridgework through some areas in this section. I came upon a crew a bit past here that was setting up for the day and looked to be working on another huge section.

Somewhere between East Carry and Pierce Ponds my leg almost fell off. I was just walking down the trail, taking another of the millions of steps I’ve taken over the years and when I went to pick up my leg something went horribly wrong in my hip. Surprisingly enough it held my weight when I set it down and I just kept walking. There wasn’t pain, but I could tell something didn’t feel the same. Pretty soon I was more worried about finding water than my leg and forgot about it for the most part.IMG_2965aPierce Pond is pretty popular with NOBO hikers because it is the last shelter before the Kennebec canoe ferry. Harrison’s camp next door with their famous pancake breakfast might have something to do with it too.

After setting up camp and wandering up and down the hills in the area a bit I realized that my hip definitely felt different. Not painful, just not normal. As the afternoon turned into evening another group of SOBO thru hikers moved in and then towards sunset a solo, NOBO section hiker stopped in before heading over to Harrisons to make breakfast reservations.IMG_2966aSunsets come pretty late this far north around the Summer solstice. Pretty pretty too!IMG_2967aThe entire group of thru hikers opted to set up their tents after one of them spotted some big spiders. It struck me as funny that there was this fantastic sunset to be viewed from the shelter, but no one was there to enjoy it because the spiders scared them off.IMG_2977aSometime in the night or early the next morning I decided to spend a zero day to see if I could figure out what was up with my hip. Once the thru hikers left in the morning I had this beautiful place all to myself. Well, there were a few passing fisherman in boats on the pond and a couple of folks stopped in for lunch breaks, but really it was a quiet day to relax and enjoy.

I shared the spot with a wide variety of dragon fly type creatures. First there were a bunch of black and white ones.IMG_2996aThen I found some blue ones that seemed to be molting. One was ready to go but waited for the other before they moved off eventually.IMG_2998aThen this big red one showed up to pose for me. Like I said, it wasn’t a very busy day ๐Ÿ™‚IMG_2973aAnother peaceful sunset and I had the place all to myself. There was a chance of rain before morning so I moved into the lean to with the spiders. I’ve let wasps move me out of a shelter before, but the choice between sleeping with spiders or packing up a wet tent in the morning was an easy one. All night I had a great view of the pond whenever I woke up. This really is a nice spot if you can find it empty.

The next day I started off rested and hopeful that my leg issue was behind me. I had about four miles to the canoe ferry which only runs from 9a-11a this time of year so got an early start. I was moving pretty well and acually did the four miles in under two hours, but I could still tell something didn’t feel right in my hip. I debated my options and after giving consideration to the poor folks who would have to carry me down the mountain if my leg fell off I decided to pull the plug on this trip. I had a highway where I could get a ride home so better to stop here than risk heading up the next mountains was my reasoning.

So my fifteen day trip only lasted seven and I didn’t cover even half the miles I’d expected. Still I am glad I erred on the side of caution. Working through the leg issue here at home I’m becoming somewhat convinced it was caused by heel cushions I added to my boots just prior to the trip. My feet were incredibly happy in the Limmers on this trip and the cushion did great at absorbing the heel shock I’d been feeling, but removing the cushions seems to be helping the hip issue. I have been day hiking all along and managed a 5 day Baxter loop with the boys from Texas last week so am hopeful that I will continue to walk on.

Besides the leg falling off there were a few other bad points to this trip. The bad electronic mapping really left me with a failed plan to start out. I have good paper maps for most of the areas I visit, but obviously need to find some for this area if I’m going back again. In more forgiving terrain a few miles difference isn’t so much to deal with, but when mountains are involved those unexpected miles can seem very long. The weather really was a big challenge as well. I’d much rather hike in below zero snow than 90ยฐ heat, but I dealt with it pretty well considering.

On more positive notes…the Unaweep was amazing at carrying the load. The hip belt and shoulder harness keep the pack in place well even when crawling under blowdowns or clambering up steeps. I started with 57 pounds wet including the front packs and never experienced any contact point pain or abrasion. The food also worked out really well. I wasn’t really hungry after seven days which is somewhat astounding to me. I am usually starving after five or six days, just ravenous. The biggest difference was the sausage and cheese tortillas for lunch. I was so well fed I wasn’t eating my rations of trail mix or chips. One other big win on this trip was a warm weather wool shirt I was testing out for future review. Amazing material worked as a cooling shirt when wet, warming shirt when dry and somehow managed to not smell after a week of hot sweaty trail use.

One other really big positive on this trip was the people. It was fun to meet the SOBO hikers early in their trip. The couple of flip floppers I met really stood out as they were all about the business and not much about the fun by this point. It seems a shame to lose that natural enthusiasm so I’m hoping the folks I met are still rolling down the trail having a good time doing their own thing.

As I mentioned there has been a Baxter trip since then, two actually as we did a family outing up that way as well. Pondering our next move as we have a few weeks before the little one starts school. Then we’ll see what the Fall brings…