Cohos Trail SOBO 20 – Day 5

Fifth day of my annual toddle on New Hampshire’s mighty Cohos Trail.

Speckled Mtn Haystack Notch Loop – 2 Nights of Wilderness Backpacking

Speckled Mtn Haystack Notch Loop – 2 Nights of Wilderness Backpacking

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

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

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

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

Speaking of which… here come the pics!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gear Testing

A short video to give you a little insight on what goes into really testing gear before I write my Trailspace reviews. The first part needed subtitles, but I think you can hear me shouting over the wind after that.

I suppose now that I’ve brought the subject up I should really do an update on my review page on this site. Its only been four years since the last one 🙂

Baldpate – Two Nights in January

Baldpate – Two Nights in January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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