Follow the link via the picture or the text below to check out a very special review published today at Trailspace. After a series of snow camping adventures this Winter where I put this box through its paces I felt ready to write the definitive review of this modern yet retro bit of gear. Check out the review for all the details, but suffice to say, this box rox!!
“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!
I 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.Friday 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.I 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.The 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.Using 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.The 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.I 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!By 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.There 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.These 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.Speaking 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.Back 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.I 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.I 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.A 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!Sunday 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 email@example.com 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.Other 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.Definitely 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!
I’ve been keeping it quiet, but the excitement has been building as the time draws closer. The Long Trail is on! In the morning I’ll head up to Journey’s End to spend the night, probably giggling, before starting southbound on the trail on Sunday. My ride home is scheduled for about a month later, so I’ll be in no hurry. Hoping to have enough contact with the world to post a bit along the way. Should be a very pretty trip if the leaves and weather cooperate.
Those who have been reading for a while know that I’ve been trying to do this trip for years. It started as an impossibility, then matured into a full fledged pipe dream. That is where it stayed for the last couple of years with something always preventing me from getting out there. Hopefully all of that was meant to put me out there at the right time. I’ll be finding out soon enough and will let you know how it turns out 🙂
41 pics and some babbling from a three night, 38 mile loop in far western Maine. Grafton Notch has been my “white whale” for a few years now. Despite making an annual effort I had never actually gone all the way around. That darn highway in the notch makes it too easy to cut down the middle when weather or lack of spirit tempted me to give up. I’d started to joke about it being a place where dreams go to die after last year’s issue with the motorcycle tire killing off my LT hopes. Still, I had to return and make the effort to at least try. Anything else would be putting one foot in the grave and giving up on life…
Day OneThe road walk to start of about half a mile to where you pick up a snowmobile trail that leads to the real trail a mile or so in flew by this time. My pack felt light and so did my feet.There are no big signs for the trail along the highway, but on foot these are easy enough to spot. They mark the field gate you need to walk around before following the snowmobile/GLT signs through the private property.Crossing Bear River via the snowmobile bridge it was good to see some water. Western Maine wasn’t in as much of a drought as we were at home towards the coast and this wasn’t looking bad for August.The small flows at the base of Bald Mtn were still running. Also a good sign that water wouldn’t be too much of an issue on this trip. Sounded nice too 🙂Lunch break after climbing over the first mountain of the day. A little time with the pack off and some cheese in my mouth had me ready to hit the climbs I knew were coming up next.Mossy glen in the col before heading up towards Sunday River Whitecap.Closing in on the tree line you can start to see more sky between them. It gives you hope!Then this!The top of Sunday River Whitecap is always one of my favorite spots to be. There is just so much open sky with mountains lining the horizon in several directions.Extensive board bridges and scree walls have been put in place to define the trail and protect the fragile alpine growth. Looking a bit beyond, you can see Old Speck on the left side of the notch, a bit of highway down below and then Hedgehog Hill and part of West Baldpate on the right. I’d worry about that the next day though. I just had a few more miles to my intended camp at Bull Run.A big plus on this hike was the free fruit! A little hard to get there, but darn tasty and plenty to be found because this section of trail sees little traffic. I left some for the wildlife, but admit to eating more than a few.Water at the Slide Mtn site was running low so I was happy to carry on another mile or so to the Bull Run site where the water, as usual, was flowing better.The tarp isn’t up yet, but the laundry has been hung out to dry. Plenty of room on the platform to share and another nearby, but I have never seen another soul at this site. It helps that I usually hit it on a weeknight I imagine. With good water and a bear box I make it my first night’s camp every time I come up to try the loop.Always windy here and there are lots of dead trees laying all around the campsite. I sleep well despite that because I know that when the tree with my name on it comes at least I’ll be well rested heh.
Day TwoThe climb up Old Speck from this side is always a joy because it starts out easy, with dirt under foot and actual switchbacks winding their way up towards the steeper climb at the end. We don’t see many switchbacks here in New England so they sort of make me giggle a bit because it seems so easy, even if you are wasting time wandering around the side of a mountain rather than getting to the top.Looking back at Sunday River Whitecap, the big mountain of day one. Now we are above it, despite the easy climbing, which seems sort of unfair given the challenging climb the day before.At the summit of Old Speck thin clouds were flying past from left to right almost obscuring the Baldpates on the other side of the notch. I didn’t waste any time with pics up there. I was hoping to make it all the way to the East Baldpate campsite that day and had the whole of the notch in front of me before hitting the big climb on the other side.Half way down looking back up towards the summit of Old Speck. This descent has knocked me off trail before by slowing me down and making my knees weep. Not on this trip though. I just kept rolling down that trail at a steady clip.A nice view of Hedgehog Hill, West Baldpate and finally on the far left the open slabs of East Baldpate. They were getting closer with every step and starting to look bigger too!The falls were barely flowing on the brook near the bottom of the notch. I was glad I still had plenty of water from Bull Run so I didn’t need to worry about it for a while.To heck with those Baldpates, I’m sleeping here. I made it as far as Baldpate Shelter on the climb up West Baldpate and found myself looking at it being too early to stop but too late in the day to get where I was headed. Having pushed too hard and failed before I opted to try the easy route this time and set up camp early. It would mean a very long hike the next day to get back on pace, but for now I could take my boots off.About twenty AT thru hikers also spent the time at the shelter, though only one was actually camped in the LT. These were all or most all NOBO thru hikers and many of them opted to stop early rather than take on the rest of the climb that day, but they had come though Mahoosuc Notch that day so had earned a break.
Day ThreeI had a lot of miles to do and weather was threatening so this is the only pic from the first climb.Just as I reached the summit the rain began to fall. Just a few drops at first, but more steadily as I made my way down into the col before the next climb.With the wind picking up and water coming down I knew the exposed climb ahead would be “fun”. Those slabs can get a bit slippery when they are wet.Dawns last gleaming or Sailor take warning. This was about the time the rain really began to come down and I suited up with rain jacket and kilt. One last pic of the disappearing mountains and then the camera was packed away for the rest of the very very very long day.Completely soaked, exhausted and starved is no time to find out you have a tangled ridgeline. Had to sit down to calmly deal with that before I froze to death, then set up camp, get wet clothes off and get dry clothes and down quilts wrapped around me. Rough day 🙂 It had been 15 miles with 3.5 mountains climbed and steady rain for most all of it, but I was within a few miles of finishing this loop after years of failure. I wasn’t feeling great, but I was feeling hopeful.There’s got to be a morning after, right? Well I was still feeling pretty crappy, but this sunshine certainly lifted my spirits. Putting on wet trail clothes is never fun, but I was stoked about finishing the climb up Puzzle Mtn for the first time.The views on top of Puzzle Mountain were definitely worth the wait and the effort. I began to run into day hikers at the summit as well as a couple who were planning on doing the entire loop in two days. Ahhh, to be young! Not sure if they succeeded, but I wished them well.It really was a glorious morning up there and if I wasn’t in a hurry to get down to search for a cheeseburger I might have stayed up there for hours.The climb down was wet, steep rock slabs which were very tricky so no more pictures. We’ll just leave these happy little cloud pictures as the end of the story for now. This last shot shows most of the mountains along the loop. Perhaps that will help you understand why it has taken me so many attempts over the years to finally make it all the way around. If not this might help…
Being an elevation profile the actual trail distances are compressed. The actual miles were about 13 on day one, about 7 on day two, 15 on day three and 6 on the last day with the total loop listed as being 39 miles. This is for demonstrating the constant up and down of the Grafton Loop which is what makes it such a challenge. There are a few miles on Day 3 which are sort of flatish, but even those were rolling hills.
If you go, whether you are doing it in one night or four, be prepared to work for it. Don’t let that scare you off though. Despite the hopes that have died there over the years I kept going back until I finished it in one go.
This is one of those hikes I looked at just a few years ago and felt bad that I would never be able to do such a trip. I was too old, too fat, too weak. Now, rather than being the place where dreams go to die, it is going to be known as the place where I decided to dream even bigger…
I declared Spring right after this trip, but you can catch a glimpse of epic Winter Beard in this video stitched together from stuff shot on my last snow trip of the year. Lots of snow too!!
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!
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.
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.Mercifully 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.Instead 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.I 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.While 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.There 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.The 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.I 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.With 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.Still 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.Morning 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.It 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.Since 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.The 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.It 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.I 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. No 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.Sun 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.When 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.Pretty 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.Bit 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.I 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 🙂