You’ve seen a lot of pics of this mountain on previous trips over the years. This time I stayed and spent some quality time up there.
42 pics and some babbling from a three day adventure in the deep freeze.
The forecast said it would be cold and clear. It was definitely both when I arrived at the Grafton Notch State Park lot. Despite a few other cars I wouldn’t see anyone until I got back to the lot three days later. These folks were likely either on Old Speck, Table Rock or ice climbing.
The view up towards Old Speck looked frosty with the higher elevation trees coverd in rime.
The Eyebrow looked icy and not the sort of place I want to visit in the Winter. Some folks enjoy that sort of thing heh, but I am too old for that much excitement.
The snow depth, while enough to cover most of the rocks, was a bit shallow for the sled. Deeper snow levels out the trail and buries obstructions. Pulling is easier and the sled tracks better.
By the time I got to the shelter site my quads were burning from the effort and I was losing daylight fast. Just enough time to melt some snow and make dinner before dark.
The mountain above me was still in full sun though. Seeing all that blue sky had me excited about getting up there the next day.
It was 1°F in the morning. With the sled I was able to bring my heavy insulated boots for standing around in camp. Bundled up and a hot cup coffee in hand, I was in pretty good spirits.
Given how cold it was I wasn’t in a big hurry to start the climb. Hanging out in camp covered with heavy insulation was the best way to appreciate the beautiful morning.
A bit after 9am I started the short, but very steep climb up towards the West Baldpate summit. It was challenging to balance the heat of my internal steam engine with the need for clothing in the single digit temperature.
For most of the climb I stuck to a very pronounced “rest step” which is totally the opposite of how I naturally climb. I like to keep moving, but that leads to sweating and in these conditions, sweating is a lot of trouble.
The cautious approach to the climb took time, but soon enough the sky started to open up above me. I didn’t track the exact time, but looking at my gps tracks it seems it was about 90 minutes from camp to summit at the no sweat pace.
This is what I wore on the climb, single 250wt wool base layer top and bottom, thin shell pants and a wool based jacket with light weight wool beanie. Enough to keep the frost off the outside while not holding too much heat.
Within a few minutes of reaching the summit I was reaching for insulation! Thankfully there was only a small breeze, but it was danger type cold up there. Time for the -30°F rated jacket and a face mask. Even well protected I was acutely aware of the importance of not pushing my luck up there. Solo hiking is always about being safe, but especially in these conditions.
My usual lunch of cheese, sausage and tortillas was frozen solid when I pulled it out. The nuts and berries of my trail mix seemed hard enough to break a tooth. It was very pretty, but time to start heading down.
Descending was of course a lot easier and since I didn’t have to focus on pacing myself I had a lot more time to appreciate just how beautiful it was in the woods.
It was a bit of a surprise how fast I arrived back at the shelter intersection. Happy to be close to my stove and a hot lunch, but a bit sorry the hike was over, I headed up towards camp.
I prefer not to sleep in this shelter, but I love the way it catches the winter sun in the afternoon. A great place to hang out and melt snow. Digging in my food bag I found the extra meal I’d tossed in was lasagna, which made an excellent late lunch.
You can see I’ve had to move my sit pad as I followed the sun across the bench. It was around 20°F, but that little bit of sunshine made it feel much warmer. Well, the -30°F coat probably helped too heh.
All too soon the sun was headed down again. Another 14+ hour night approached. For me, one of the hardest parts of winter camping is the long nights. I awoke at 11pm and read for an hour or so because it felt like I’d had a full night’s sleep by then.
In the morning I had the last of my frozen donuts with hot, strong coffee. The nights may be long, but winter camping also has its joys. I’d never carry donuts into the woods on a three season trip, but the bears are sleeping this time of year…I hope.
It wasn’t as cold on the second morning, but cold enough. Think it was around 15°F when I got up and felt like it was going to warm up a bit that day.
Then it was time to load the sled and head down the mountain. Somewhere near the road my tent popped off the sled. The shallow snow at the bottom was making it track poorly and it kept flipping over. I didn’t notice the tent was gone until I got home, hours later. I put out word and while I’ve had reports of it being spotted both in the woods and being picked up by a hiker, unfortunately the folks who picked it up haven’t found me yet.
While that tragic note takes some of the joy out of this adventure, there was so much dang joy that it hardly matters. Any trip to the woods is going to make me happy, but three days of blue sky sunshine above a sparkling winter wonderland left me feeling like a totally different person. I’m trying to keep that happy feeling rolling despite the stupid rain in the forecast later this week. I say bring on more Winter!!
Hope you’re getting out when you can. I’ve been too lazy to post here, but we’ve been snowshoeing all over the last couple months. Need to catch up on my Trailspace reviews, but I’ll try to share some of the local snowshoe pics when I can.
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.
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!