Start of my annual toddle on New Hampshire’s mighty Cohos Trail.
Video and pics from the section running from Coleman State Park to Stark.
Video and pics from the section running from the Canadian border to Coleman State Park.
Trail journals are a personal thing by nature. Just as hikers hike in their own way, they journal in their own way too. Some folks spend a great deal of time during the day on trail and in camp, focused on filling pages with notes about their experience or something. Not sure as I haven’t ever been rude enough to ask what all the scribbling was about heh. Other folks carry a journal that they never remember to write anything in at all and the rest either fall in between or don’t even think about it in the first place.
I tend to fall into the group that carries a journal, but rarely remember it is there when I’m on an adventure. Partially that is due to my focus on what I’m doing at the time rather than thinking about documenting it. Partially it is because of the way my memory allows me to retrieve the experience later negating the need to write it down at the time. The rest of the explanation likely has to do with my love of cheese and sausage. Why spend time writing when I could be eating‽
My journals tend to come along for several trips before anything gets written down. By then the paper has soaked up humidity and dried out again numerous times. Combined with the friction of the pages rubbing against each other while riding hundreds of miles in my pack that gives the paper an odd feel; Sort of spongy and porous so neither ink nor pencil produce sharp lines. I find that fitting for the notes I tend to leave myself in my journals as they are often just a few hazy words giving a slight indication of what was on my mind. Just enough to remind me of what I was thinking when I made the note with no effort made to convey complete thoughts. These notes can be amusing when seen later at home with a head full of coffee and a roof over my head.
The note in the picture above is a great example of that. “Existential crisis averted Day 4” has few details, yet conveys enough of a message to fill pages of notes as I look back on that moment now. This is from a week long, solo trip I took to Baxter State Park in early June of this year. It was my first chance to get out on trail for over two months and over the first few days of the trip my brain was a mess. There seemed to be a lot of questions about who I was and what I was doing wandering around the forest by myself. Should I be home being a husband or daddy? Should I be working or saving the world? It seemed that I had only questions and answers with no clue which were important in either category. Who was I supposed to be?
So I wandered through the forest for a few days, going through the actions of making water, camps and meals with all of this turmoil in my head. Then on the fourth morning, as I relaxed in camp before loading up for the day, I realized that the noise had stopped. Questions and answers had stopped swirling and I could see what was important…the answer to who I was supposed to be.
I was just a guy, sitting in the woods, happy. There could be no more clear answer than that. While I remain husband and daddy wherever I roam and those callings come first, I am at heart a man who is happy in the wilderness. Alone or with others, being out there is time well spent and accepting that fact empowers a person with the conviction to go and do and be.
If you’re the sort who doesn’t carry a journal or remember to make any notes, maybe give it a shot sometimes. Just enough to jog your memory later and bring back a moment. If you’re the sort who fills pages of notes in one of those big books every day on trail, maybe ease up and experience the ride a bit more without letting the notes take all your focus.
Just that one faded, scribbled line in a rumpled notebook was enough to take me to that moment and bring it back in full detail. I can see the camp at Long Pond in the morning light, hear the red-wing blackbird and woodpeckers, and know what it feels like to be where I’m supposed to be. Soon…
48 pics and the story of The Mama’s triumphant return to Mt Mansfield and this year’s annual “marinara in the wilderness” location: Lake Carmi State ParkLast year’s failed attempt to climb this mountain inspired us all to come back stronger next time. Diets were changed. Winter exercise increased. Then of course real life got in the way and it all fell apart the last month or so before the trip 🙂 We didn’t let that or the weather daunt us. There had been some heavy rain the day we arrived and our day to climb started out feeling steamy, but thankfully cooler than the 90s of the days before.We were stopping early and often per our plan of taking care of everyone’s needs before they became problems. No shortage of places to sit on this part of the trail, but the little one was ready to go.We were definitely having a lot more fun this time! There were a few challenging bits for those with shorter legs, but we were moving right along.Definitely looking much happier than the last time we were on this spot. I got a lot of great pics of The Mama with epic clouds behind her.Still a bit more to go. Just over this hump is where we ate lunch and turned around last year. Soon we’d be on unexplored trail which is always a bit more exciting.Then we hit the somewhat crowded summit where we tried to look cool about the whole being on top of mountain thing 🙂 Pretty sure if there was no one else there it would have been a lot louder heh. We try to be good neighbors!That happy face might be because she’s got her shoes off or maybe she is just glad we’ve finally reached this spot. Cheese and sausage might have something to do with it too.From the summit we could look down on the spot where we stopped last time and it seemed so close. The trail winds around the side to the left rather than coming straight up the cliff so the walk is much longer. Having done it I’m all the more sure that turning them around last time was a really good idea. Coming this much more would have made for a lot of suffering before we got back to camp.Not much suffering to be found this time around other than a healthy cloud of blackflies on the summit. A lot of people since it isn’t a long walk from the top of the toll road, but that motivated us to start our long walk back down.We enjoyed the lean to quite a bit on this trip as it was far removed from the other campsites and the parking lot. Work to carry everything down to the camp, but worth it. We ate well and then made a fire mainly to make s’mores as it certainly wasn’t chilly. I invited Ranger Ira to come join us when his shift ended, more as a joke than anything since I assumed he’d want his dinner. We’d just wrapped up our toasting party and were about to put everything away when he wandered up. He decided that he’d have his dessert first that night and we had a blast swapping stories with him for a bit. Not sure we want to climb Mansfield again anytime soon, but we really enjoyed our two nights at Underhill again this year. It helped that they timed the downpours to happen when we were in camp!Then we were off to Lake Carmi State Park, almost to the Canadian border. This is a bustling campground with lots of people and lots of noise. Not our usual thing, but we wanted some place to chill out after the mountain climbing thing and if you ignored all the noise this was a beautiful spot. The LT was wet inside from the previous night’s storm so I put a tarp out front in case another came through. They positioned it for the view, not protection 🙂This place was definitely about the views! And the ducks!! No really, there were ducks everywhere. They’d wander through camp looking for scraps or handouts. There were signs saying not to feed them, but of course people do.Yup, views and ducks pretty much all the way down.The next day we headed out to explore the hiking trails near the park gate. We saw no one else out there and I think the gate ranger was a bit surprised when Frau Stranger asked about the trails. We covered most all of them except for a few short cut offs. First there was a huge meadow area that used to be a farm. Lots of birds and flowers. The trail was just a mown path that wound around the perimeter. This old stone wall gave the trail its name, but not much of it remained. Guess it got tired of waiting around to fall 😉Not sure if this is a snowmobile trail or what, but the mowing stopped here so we did too.Almost back to the car I spotted the other trail option hiding behind a tree. We were glad we looked for it because it took us through the forest and down along the shore of the lake.That fuzzy thing in the middle is a very large bird which appeared to be an eagle. It launched from a tree right over our heads as we came through and made a wonderful whooshing sound with its wings. It appeared to be fishing when I tried to take this shot, but autofocus thought I wanted a picture of the tree heh.Then the trail headed back away from the shore and through a fern filled glade.No really, it was filled! With the sun coming through the trees it was really neat there. I’m used to seeing ferns like this early in the Summer, but not in August. After all of that walking there was some swimming and some relaxing. Just because we weren’t sleeping in the hammocks doesn’t mean we couldn’t hang them up.And of course there were more ducks. Lots more ducks!Finally it was time for the annual “marinara in the wilderness” which has been going on for a decade now. The pasta changes from year to year, this time I went with spinach and cheese tortellini. The sauce is always cooked fresh with shrimp carefully planned to survive in the cooler until the big event. We had a full grocery store just miles away this time so that part was easy this year compared to some.
This was a very successful trip on many levels. The mountain was climbed, marshmallows were toasted and shared, ducks were seen and shrimp eaten. Plans for another trip after this fell through so I’m especially glad we got a chance to enjoy this one so much. Alone or with others, I hope you’re getting out there because Summer is almost gone. Time for family trips is over which is sad, but Fall brings thoughts of solo adventures…
A few pics from a fun little adventure that turned into a bit more excitement than anyone could have imagined 🙂Frau Stranger had a work trip to DC on the calendar so we decided to sneak out for a night of serious wilderness testing for some reviews we’re working on. Well, that was our cover story any way. We just wanted to go play in the woods!We stopped to admire the new fence along the Eastside Trail and the views on the other side.The river has undermined this whole bank for quite a distance now. It goes where it wants and the trail will have to move eventually.This is what we came for; Wilderness! My daughter made a point of telling folks we met that we were camping in the wilderness which seemed to excite her. I found that funny given how much time we’ve spent in the back country of Baxter State Park which actually is a wilderness 🙂 I guess it was the idea of camping in the woods as opposed to a defined campsite that made it different.This is what we were really there for. The weather had been hot and sticky at home and wasn’t much better up in the mountains of NH. The water was cool though and I found a spot in the shade where I could supervise. That involved reminding her she couldn’t go into the deep water every thirty seconds. I’d had visions of her floating away the night before and wasn’t going to let that happen heh.Just a perfect afternoon for relaxing. We’d already set up camp on a ridge high up off the trail so we had plenty of time to enjoy ourselves. I brought my pack with the food and the rest of the gear down to the water with us to keep an eye on it, but mostly I was just watching the little one.I will admit we left a little bit of a trace 😉 The leaves were scavenged rather than picked and I’m confident the next big storm already flattened that sand right out. Hopefully the LNT police will let us off with a warning for this one 🙂Our happy little camp up on the ridge. This was right around where I’d camped in the snow this past March. We worked hard to hump our gear up the steep hill and were rewarded with a nice flat spot. There was a hint of a breeze once in a while which was appreciated. I rigged the two tarps together so we had a big porch area to share if it rained. This set up also lets us chat and keep an eye on one another while in our hammocks. Harder to do with three people, but often doable with just two.
We’d finished dinner and were settling into our hammocks for the night when the excitement began. I was laying back looking down the slope towards the river when I noticed a small patch of black moving through the green. Thinking we were about to see some cute forest animal I started to call to my daughter to look to see what it was. Then I saw what it was heh. It just kept getting bigger as it came up to the top of the ridge. “Bear. Big bear!” That is what I was saying as I swung my legs out of the hammock and peeled the bug net off my head.
What I said next isn’t fit for printing here, but my daughter mentioned later that there was an awful lot of swearing, Daddy. Some folks say “Hey bear!” Normally I say “Hello Mr Bear” in a friendly voice as I watch them run away, which is all I have ever seen a bear do before. Apparently I fall back on my taxi driver vocabulary when faced with Bears of Unusual Size that don’t seem interested in running away.
This bear had lost all fear of people, likely from the campground nearby. It had followed its nose to get close to us. He didn’t seem interested in our food bag. He seemed interested in us. That makes me assume he’d learned to drive people out of their camp site so he could go through their packs by visiting the campground. He’d smelled people, possible the tree my daughter peed on based on where his nose led him first and came to see what we might have.
What we had was one brave little girl who listened when I told her to stay put in her hammock. She made the mistake of peeking out from under the tarp and saw the bear at one point which didn’t make it any easier. I just wish I had been as brave as she was heh. She listened to my instructions and kept amazingly calm throughout considering what was going on.
After a few minutes of moving closer while I yelled at it, the bear finally turned and walked away from us around a hill. I was standing there running through the options and realizing I needed to get that little girl out of there when the dang thing comes around the other side of the hill and starts heading straight at us again. It would push towards us and then circle around us when I wouldn’t give ground. We did several rounds of this game and the longer it went on the harder it was to control the urge to get aggressive to drive it off. Doing that would have been bad because the bear and I both knew he was capable of kicking my butt. The situation called for maintaining the stand off as long as possible in hopes of it getting tired of the effort.
Finally, after the third time of pushing right at me, it walked past us one last time while making this huffing sound that seemed to imply he wasn’t exactly impressed with the things I’d been calling him. My daughter and I have been making our version of that noise in the weeks since, at first to scare each other and now for laughs.
By the time the bear headed off to make his nightly rounds of the campground it was almost fully dark. We got dressed and I took down camp in a matter of minutes. There were frequent breaks to scan the area with my headlamp and great effort made not to step on the child that was sticking very close to me. There was no thought to organization other than to put the tarp stakes in my daughter’s pack so they wouldn’t poke through the tarps and quilts which I was jamming randomly into my pack.
We made it down the steep hill and then the mile or so down the trail to the campground where we found the bear had already come through to visit the folks there. I considered setting up at the campground, but there was no way either of us was going to sleep well out there after seeing that bear up close. We made it back to the car by 10pm and she slept most of the way home. We got there around 1am, but I was up for a few hours trying to wrap my head around the experience.
Clearly I’m not going to be camping anywhere near that campground again heh. Maybe in the Winter, but even then I think heading elsewhere would be worth the effort just for the quality of sleep. Definitely a little jumpier in the woods now. Heard a big falling branch the other day and had a good start heh. We’ve done some family car camping since then, but the first solo night in the wilderness is going to be interesting I’m sure.
Hope you’ve been getting out there to enjoy the season. Won’t be long til we’re starting the next one so now is the time if you haven’t!
45 pics and some random thoughts from a New Hampshire trip last month. Random was the operative word on this one as I had no plan and stuck to it well.As you can see from the mandatory picture while crossing the bridge over the East Branch of the Pemi there was water flowing better than the last couple of years, but still not a lot.Some beautiful greens to be found in the forest with Summer in its prime. The blend of birch and pine on the way up looked great in the sun.I found a spot below the cliffs where I could hang for the night out of sight of the trail. There had been talk of a front coming through but it seemed like a beautiful afternoon. Thankfully I noted the gathering clouds towards sunset and put up my tarp just in case. The downpour started around midnight and lasted for hours heh. I had to use my hiking pole to reach out and push collected water pockets a few times. I set up for a shower, not a downpour 🙂Morning came a bit early considering I’d slept with one eye on the tarp for half the night. It was pretty though and I was soon on my way up.A quick hop up this fun little face and the rewards for all the effort start pouring in.Just before heading up to Bond Summit I met this guy out for a run. Turns out he was the AMC caretaker for Guyot site that night. He probably needed a break heh.Up at the summit you get a neat perspective on the cliffs. Beautiful on a nice day, but deadly in bad weather with all of that exposure.I played summit ambassador for a couple of hours as others passed through in a hurry. Most were working on completing the well known traverse that loops the Bonds with Franconia Ridge. I also met two nice ladies who were grabbing a few peaks for their lists. I headed down to find a spot at Guyot for the night and was overwhelmed by the crowd. Expecting a zoo I was still blown away by how noisy everyone seemed to be. While I’ve had some nice visits there in the past I need to remember to stay away during the busy season 🙂Another beauty of a day started with crossing the open slopes below the Guyot summit before heading over to South Twin.Zoomed in view of Ethan Pond from the top of South Twin. A nice stretch of flat trail there, but you’ve got to cross a lot of rocky ground to get there from here.This nice couple was from Spain as I recall. They were out doing a two week hike, just seeing how far they could get. Since they seemed nice I shared info on some camping spots they might enjoy later in the day.These folks seemed like they needed attention so I stayed far away. The Whites in Summer have become a bit like a Fellini movie over the last few years; Entertaining or disquieting depending on the moment’s mood. Eventually I decided to stop playing summit ambassador and head down the Twinway towards the AMC hut below. Previous trips have always gone the other direction and this “short” climb is one of my least favorite bits of trail. I was curious to see how going down worked out for me.The boulders get bigger as you descend, but the entire section of trail is just a pile of rocks. Definitely a workout to keep gravity from taking over, but a lot easier going this way than going up.
I stopped at the hut to soak up water and rest on the porch for a while. Listening to stories from the thru hikers and chatting with some folks out day hiking was a nice way to pass the hottest part of the day. Then I headed down to 13 Falls to see about a site there. Upon finding out that they expected a large group to arrive I opted not to stay and headed down the Franconia Brook Trail to get out of the campsites protected area.Along the way I met this woman of the forest who allowed me to take her picture. She laughed when I told her I wanted it because otherwise no one would believe me. Turns out she was the caretaker at 13 Falls and was transplanting some small trees to the site.I found this nice spot to hang for the night by chance. Watching the terrain I noticed where an old road branched off of the trailbed into the forest and followed it a ways. After a night at a busy campsite this was just what I needed. So peaceful!Once more I had a beautiful morning for walking. I prefer to get my miles in early before things warm up on Summer trips. The flat trail sections just flew by. I’d packed light from the start and with the food mostly gone I had maybe 20lbs total which is like nothing by my standards heh.It was nice to see the ponds were filling back up somewhat. Trips through here the last couple of years had me noticing they were drying up and plants were moving in. We’ve had a lot more rain since so I guess they’ll be fine 🙂Rather than spoil this lovely trip report I’ll save the story of an encounter I had on the trail out for another day because other than that this was indeed a lovely trip. I need to remember to avoid those campsites during prime season, but the woods certainly are a great place to be this time of year. Hope you’re getting out somewhere too!
Just a few pics from the first family outing of the Summer. We had to change our plans due to the broken backpack and there were a few bugs, but we had a blast.The Daddy Pack was light by Daddy Pack standards, but a bit bulky. Think it was around 55 lbs wet, carrying food for just two nights at a time since we’d be stopping back at the car mid trip. What I did have was three hammocks, three tarps and a three man tent. Well there were a few other things in there too 🙂 Since the tiny frying pan worked out so well on my solo trip I decided to bring a larger pan for family cooking. We fried up the hash browns with peppers and onions, then rolled it all into tortillas with fire roasted salsa. Here is a good view of our hammock village at the Long Pond Pines site. It rained hard for about 10 hours starting just before dark and continuing till a bit past dawn. In the night I shone my headlamp out and could see a big puddle where the tent is usually set up. The second morning started off great with another fantastic breakfast. Then after the pack incident we changed our back country adventure into a car camping escapade. There was ice cream at Matagamon Camps, swimming at South Branch and more bugs. Not a lot of pics though. I was too busy having fun with the girls and the camera never seemed to be handy. Did get a few nice sunset pictures though. Would have been more but I was busy swatting bugs heh. June in Baxter is not for the timid, but we did have a great trip all the same. Once the bugs die down the crowds get thick and people are worse than bugs because you aren’t allowed to swat them 😉It was neat to hang out in some of the same spots again so soon, but with family instead of solo. Either way is nice and has good points and bad. I appreciate getting out there whatever form it takes. Certainly less road walking when you take the car and more opportunities for ice cream!
That terrible moment when a piece of vital equipment fails is something you can’t really practice for. Still, it can happen at any time so you’d better be prepared to deal with it. Your assets may include all the stuff in your pack, but your wits are the biggest thing you’ve got going for you. Depending on just how vital the equipment is or the circumstances which caused the failure there may be some adrenaline or emotional stress to deal with first. Cuss, cry or meditate as you think best, but taking a few minutes to get your head together can be a good idea before using it to figure out what to do next. First do no harm applies here. You don’t want to make the problem worse.
That fractured aluminum tube in the picture is the base of the frame from my backpack. After tearing down camp on the morning of day 3 of a family Baxter trip we were ready to get an early start heading to our next site. Throwing my pack on was the final thing to be done and when I tossed it up onto my back there was an odd snapping sound and I could feel the pack lose its shape, slumping off my shoulders. Can’t recall if there was any cussing, but there definitely was some adrenaline. We were only about 3 miles from the nearest trailhead, but the Daddy Pack is key to moving the majority of the weight and a large part of the volume as far as the entire family gear load.
Thinking fast I implemented that all important step; mellow out. Rather than rush into some ill guided, frantic effort, I told the girls to take off their packs because I didn’t know how long we’d be. Then I sat down by the fire ring and did some pondering. Once I started I was surprised at how fast I went from freaking out to finding solutions. Needing a strut to stabilize the bottom of the pack I considered dismantling one of my hiking poles and using the bottom section. One look told me that it was too large to work very well so I was glad I didn’t rush into tearing apart the pole. Then I had another idea…
With the guyline attached this tarp stake made a darn fine splint. Using first aid skills I set the bone, err I mean I set the frame so it was lined up properly and then laid the stake across the two pieces. By wrapping the guyline around and around while looping it through the loops from the pack I was able to get a pretty solid connection despite the break being at such a difficult spot.Rather than hope the line would hold for the hike out I opted to keep going. Belt and suspenders can be a good idea sometimes 🙂 I didn’t want to risk the jagged frame cutting through the guyline if the fracture opened up on trail. I’ve carried this nice cloth tape for blister treatment and other first aid for years without using it once. Now I was glad I had it along because it made for a strong addition to my repair.
I was happy to feel the pack remain intact as I tossed it onto my back to test it out. Before I fully hooked it up I asked Frau Stranger to scope things out from behind and see if I was going to stab myself with the stake if I stood up. She said things looked good back there and I figured she was talking about the pack so gave it a go. That repair may not look like much, but it held up just fine to get back to the car. The pictures were actually taken after we got home a few days later so it held up very well I’d say. We changed our plan to camp closer to the car for the last few nights rather than risk heading into the back country, but I think it may have held up on trail for quite a while if necessary.
Like I said at the start, you can’t really practice for repairs because you never know what might break or how. What you can do is start thinking about what you carry that can be used for other purposes in an emergency. A repair kit that includes a needle and thread and some duct tape or other strong, waterproof tape can come in handy. Zip ties and spare pack buckles are also common additions. I don’t actually carry a dedicated repair kit, but my first aid kit includes scissors, needle, thread and tape. Like most things on trail, repairs are just another puzzle to be solved. That is why the best thing to have in your repair kit is your wits. Should you hear an ominous snap or tear on your next trip, and I really hope you don’t, remember to get your wits out first 🙂