Sunday, April 13, 2014

Blue Hills Spring Training Hike

When spring has finally sprung in Boston, I take to the local hills for a 9 mi hike of the Skyline Trail, which traverses the Blue Hill Range of the Blue Hills Reservation just south of Boston, MA. The hills are truely small, the highest is only 635 ft above sea level. But when you combine 12 of these hills together, it turns into a quality day out in the woods. So after hiking the one way traverse with a friend this March, we determined we could easily turn around and walk back, making it a double traverse of about 18 mi. So a few weeks later, we did just that.

But first, a little history....
The Blue Hills Reservation has a long history of usage & settlements, including the Native American Massachuset tribe, who called this home for over 9,000 years before the early European settlers came in the 17th century, building homes, logging and clearing the woods for farmland. The quarry industry came in the 1800s to extract granite rock used in buildings across the nation. And scientists came as well, building one of the first weather observatories in the US, atop the park's highest point, Great Blue Hill.

Originally purchased by the Metropolitan Parks System (MPS) in the 1890s, the reservation is now cared for by the MA Department of Recreation & Conservation (DCR). The area is the widest swath of green space in the Boston area, about 7,000 acres, spanning 5 towns, and is truely and urban oasis park, never too far from a road and used by countless people in the region for a variety of activities including hiking, trail running, mountain biking, rock climbing, swimming, boating, fishing, picnicking, x-c skiing, downhill skiing, softball and more! Highlights include the Blue Hill Weather Observatory (still in operation today), the Charles Elliot viewing Tower, the Trailside Museum explaining the cultural, natural and historical history of the area w/a live animal display, a cedar bog walk on Ponkapog pond, the Blue Hill Ski area in winter, and of hundreds of miles of hiking trails.

Skyline Trail noted in blue, parking in purple. Full size map

So in early April, a group of 5 gathered for the double traverse at the far east end of the reservation, at the Shea Memorial Skating Rink parking lot. We left a car here containing extra water, food and clothes which we would access at the midpoint of our hike, and piled into another car to drive 10 min to the west end on RT 138. This parking lot isn't located at the true end of the Skyline, there's about a mile of wet marshy trail to the west, which dead ends at Rt 95. Which we decided to skip that section and head east, in the direction of our midpoint. (If you want to do a true Skyline Traverse, your best bet is to start at the east end of the park at the Shea Skating Rink, head west to the far marshy area, and then turn back around).

Heading east from the Rt 138 parking lot, the Skyline Trail crosses the road takes you straight up the rocky steps to the highest hill, Great Blue, where you can visit the Blue Hill Weather Observatory & Science Center, which offer public tours on Saturday, and walk up the granite Elliot Tower, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, for excellent views of the reservation, Boston Skyline, the Harbor Islands and beyond.

Charles Elliot Tower, , named after the landscape architect & founding father of the Metropolitan Parks System

The Boston Skyline from the Elliot tower
Here the trail splits into a North or South options. Both bring you to the Reservation Headquartersm where you can refill on water, use the restroom and buy a trail map. We took the longer North trail, going up and down Wolcott, Hemmingway and Hancock hills, where you can gaze back at Great Blue, looking distant. We stopped briefly at the headquarters, crossed the road and continued over Tucker Hill, past some large glacial erratics and up Buck Hill, a fan favorite, where we stopped for more great views, a breeze, and early lunch on its rocky open top. The trail tumbles down the rocky backside of Buck Hill, crosses Rt 28 and makes its way up Chickatawbut Hill, where there's an fenced off, solar-powered Education Center. The crowds begin to thin and views of the harbor islands become clearer as you approach the east end of the park. Crossing a road again, you head up Wampatuck hill, which holds a little pond often overfilled with spring runoff. The final climb is up Rattlesnake Hill, an steep and fun scramble up a huge tumble of granite. This is a well known rock climbing area, used by locals as well as the Appalachian Mountain Club Mountaineering Committee, who teach fledgling rock climbers various rock climbing skills. Somewhere in here, either before or after this hill, is a small stagnant pool of water, which appears to be a very small quarried area. Inside the pool you can spot minnows, tadpoles and hear peepers in the spring. The path then cuts through the two St Moritz Ponds, where you might spot a few deer and ducks on the shore. Up a small rise and through some tall pines, we were suddenly at the parking lot of Shea Skating Rink, where our food, water and dry socks waited.

Small quarry area

A few of our party left at the midpoint, taking one of the cars home, while the other 3 of us carried on & back to the start. I had never done the traverse in this direction before, and it was fun to see landmarks and views we hadn't seen going the other way. I was feeling tired by the time we got to Buck Hill again, the unofficial mid point in either direction. But after a brief rest and second lunch, we were bouncing along the rocky trail once again, up the Great Blue Hill and down to our car. If you have 8 hours to spare on a nice day, I highly recommend the 16-18 mi double traverse (with our without the 1ish mile of marshy trail to the west).

If you go: I find trail running shoes to be best for gripping the rocky, sometimes steep trails on the Skyline. Maps can be bought for $3 at the Reservation Headquarters on Chickatawbut Rd, which is a small house next to the State Police barracks. There are various parking lots to start and end your hike, whatever milage day you choose.

Monday, February 17, 2014

ADK Visit in Winter

View from Big Slide towards the High Peaks
I've been trying to hike in the Adirondacks for a number of years, only to be thwarted by an early spring snowstorm this past Memorial Day, and an early fall snowstorm several Septembers ago. So this time around, I planned a 4-day visit in February with the help 4 other friends. Surely a snowstorm would be a welcome event on this trip! As luck would have it, it snowed about 12" the week before our visit adn stayed nice and cold all week.

We started our trip with a big breakfast at the Noon Mark Diner in Keene Valley, just a mile or so from our trailhead parking lot. (If you're hiking in the area it's a must-stop eatery for a cheap & filling meal. Don't miss the pie, turnovers donuts, they have it all!) Soon after we were loading up our backpacks & polk sleds for the first leg of our trip, a 3.5 mi trail to Grace Cabin, owned and operated by the Adirondack Mtn Club. The location of this cabin in the High Peaks Wilderness is a perfect jumping off point to hike the following ADK 46 peaks: Big Slide, Lower & Upper Wolfjaw, The Gothics, Armstrong & Haystack... and if you're up for a looong day, Mt. Marcy & Skylight. Other lodging in the area, also run by the Adironack Mtn Club include John's Brook Lodge (summer only), Peggy O'Brien Cabin and several lean-tos.
Larry & his sled
Crossing John's Brook, approaching the cabin nearby
The cabin turned out to be a warm & welcome haven for hikers of all seasons like us, as well as backcountry skiiers & ice climbers (as we detected from the log book). While it has no running water or electricity, this one room structure for six features two sets of bunks beds, a kitchen table w/ benches, a 2 burner cooktop, refrigerator, water buckets, gas lamps, propane heat controlled by a thermostat, and all the cooking utensils, pot and pans you need to feed six. Cubbies made it easy to store gear, and two hanging lines helped to dry our clothing. Two food lockers were useful for storing dry goods, though we found no evidence of mice. We did find many decks of cards, checkers, maps and a few books neatly arranged by the kitchen table. A large front porch was helpful to de-ice our hiking gear, and a small outhouse was located a short walk from the back of the cabin. There was also a binder of instructions for the cabin's many appliances, This turned out to be very helpful,  as we had to replace the propane gas tanks that ran empty (thanks Jeff!). But if you want to stay here, you better prepare in advance, the cabins regularly book up a year in advance.

Grace Cabin
After we arrived at the cabin, we left our overnight gear inside and headed up Big Slide, our first hike of the trip, and my first 4K in the  ADKs. The trail was tracked out from previous hikers and made for good footing. The views were lovely from wide ledge on the top. We stood and pointed at the distant High Peaks we would hike in the following days.

In the weeks before our trip, hardly anyone had reported using snowshoes on the unusually low snowpack this year. The Adirondacks are well known for its wet trails in summer, which in winter usually translates into lots of ice walls & ice bulges under the and rocky ledges. Snowshoes are required if the snowpack is 8" or more in the ADKs, so for this trip we wore snowshoes almost the entire time.

NY State trail marker
View of Upper Wolf Jaw, from Lower Wolf Jaw
Sliding down the steeps
After the hike to Big Slide, we returned to the cabin to cook up veggie soup and shrimp stir fry (and to devour Emily's homemade dessert). We felt lucky to eat so well and stay in a heated lap of relative luxury in the woods. By 9pm we had crawled into our respective bunks and settled into a routine of early to bed, early to rise, hike, eat well & repeat.

New Olympic Sport - ice climbing in snow shoes
Upper Wolf Jaw Summit
The following morning we arose to another cold and sparkling sunny day and ham, egg and cheese sandwiches (yay!) Our hike took us to Lower WolfJaw &  Upper Wolfjaw. A few obstacles were made easier with the use of an ice axe and a short rope, but overall it wasn't  technical or difficult with the correct gear. Crampons would have been helpful, and even though we had them, we stayed in our snowshoes and made it up the obstacles just fine. Views were had from both the Wolf Jaws, and hile Armstrong lingered nearby, we deicided to save it for the next visit. While this meant another hike for next year, it also meant more time to eat appetizers, nap and cook another big dinner (pasta in a hearty veggie & meat sauce). The stars were out among the tall pines surrounding the cabin. The moon, which appeared to be full for several nights, lit the way to the outhouse without a need for a headlamp. (Well yes, you did need one INSIDE the outhouse).

The third day was a rest day for me, as I felt usually nauseous by morning (possibly my overeating of the yummy pasta?) The rest of the group ate oatmeal with fixings and soldiered on to Haystack, the third highest in the park, enjoying a 11 mi hike with some above-treeline views and exposure.

Lean To
Bunny on the bridge
Back at the cabin, I slept in, read a magazine and felt alot better by the afternoon. I took a walk in the surrounding area to get some fresh air, taking note of the various lean-tos, John's Brook Lodge and the many bridges that crossed the brook. I saw only one other pair of human tracks that weren't part of our group, and many animal tracks including deer, mice and rabbits. Later I hauled a few buckets of ice water from the brook back to the cabin (a daily ritual usually completed after each hike). The rest of the crew soon arrived and told stories of a very cold, yet successful summit of Haystack. That night we ate homemade chili, soup and rice from previous meals and homemade dessert of course! Our final day was nearly upon us, so all our extra food had to be eaten...and we easily took on the challenge.

On our last morning we ate homemade granola, cleaned up and hiked quickly through the bitter cold woods. We soon found ourselves at the Noon Mark once again, enjoying a big lunch & pie, discussing plans for our next winter trip to Grace Cabin.

Grace Cabin - Beds, cubbies and food locker

Grace Cabin - kitchen side
Grace Cabin - table area
Triple-level bunks
Cook top

Sunday, November 24, 2013

New favorite thing: Hammock

Hanging Around with the ProNest and ROO 
Kammock (orange) and ProNest (blue) hang side by side
Hammocks have been on my radar for a little while now, but not always for camping. About 15 years ago I got a mexican style one as a gift and hung it on my front porch which faced west for lovely sunset views and general relaxing in warm weather. Eventually I moved to a less-hospitable place for a hammock, but never forgot at how wonderful a near-weightless nap can be. Fast forward a few years and hammocks became a popular trend on the backpacking scene with a number of options, including Hennessy, Clark and Warbonnet hammocks including fly for rain, bug nest, stogage underneath and more. And now, hammocks are back on the rise with brands like Eno & Kammock made for general use and relaxing while car camping, backpacking, climbing and whatever your outdoor pursuit preference.

Over the course of the summer, I had to chance to test out two hammocks, an Eno ProNest, and a Kammock Roo.

Kammock's Roo
Weight: 24oz
Size: 5'7 x 10'
Fabric: "Lunar Wave", Smooth, textured weave, has a bit of shine
Packing: Packs into it's own pocket/compression sack
Price: $99.00
Straps: Sold separately (more on that below)

Likes: Overall, I like the Roo very much for what I bought it for, casual hanging around for 2 people, on day hikes, backpacks, or just a day at the local park. This may be considered a single hammock for large or tall people, but for two smaller sized people like me and my BF, this is a great fit. But you pay for the extra fabric in weight: the Roo weighs about 2x the as much as the ProNest. However it's larger in all dimensions. Kammock only has one size, so if larger is better, than this may be a good fit for you. I like the feel of the fabric, different from the Enos as it has a textured, diamond weave. Its very comfy overall with plenty of extra fabric to wrap myself in or cooler days. It also works great if you lie on it width-wise, using it as a swing. The Carabiners are rather large on this hammock, and it includes 2 dyneema slings attached to the biners.

What I don't like: Stuff pocket/compression sack. While its nice to be able to make it smaller by compressing it, the straps and buckles add unwanted weight and bulk.

Do-gooder effect: With every Roo purchase, Kammock & their partners Malaria No More provides Malaria treatment for 5 kids in Africa. Also, their unbleached paper product tags are have wildflower seeds in them that should sprout when you plant them in soil.

If and extra 2.25 lbs in your pack (including straps) makes you gasp with horror, read below for a lighter option.
Loving the Roo
Kammock's Roo is long and wide, great for couples or tall folks

Roo's diamond weave fabric
ENO ProNest
Weight: 12.8oz
Size: 4.6' x 8'
Fabric: Smooth, has a bit of shine
Packing: Packs into it's own pocket with drawstring
Price: $64.95
Straps: Sold separately (more on that below)

The ProNest is a better choice for smaller individuals or the lighter-weight backpacker/hammock lover who want to travel with a sub-2 lb hammock/strap system. The important details here are the lighter weight of the hammock parts and less fabric overall bring it to 1/2 the weight of the Roo. The size is truely a one-person hammock, so this won't do if you're trying to squeeze in two. The set up is very similar to the Roo, with 1 lighter, aluminum carabiner on each ends and a no-fuss pocket to stuff it into, helping with the lower overall weight.

Eno's ProNest is great for small individuals and weight-conscious relaxers.

Hammock Strap Options
For both models, these are sold separately. The nice thing about that is you can buy a ProNest Hammock, but use the Kammock Straps, as they all work interchangeably.

Kammock's Python Tree Straps
Weight: 12 oz
Size: 10' x .75"
Fabric: Silver UVA treated polyester
Weight bearing: 500lbs (250 each)
Cost: $29.00
While both strap systems are easy to use, I like the way these are made (which may happen to add weight). The strap is made of two dyneema webbing straps sewn together as small points (they call this tubular webbing), allowing for many loops to clip into (vs extra loops sewn into each strap). It does make for a bulkier strap, but I also think it makes for more clipping options, 18 in all. It also has reflective strip sewn in, a nice thing at night when you're wandering back from the privy. The carabiners seem large, but I'm guessing you need those for a 500 lbs rating. Overall this is the heavier strap system by 4oz and a bit longer as well.

Roo's Clip system and built-in dyneema slings
Eno's Slap Strap Pro
Weight: 8 oz
Size: 9.4' x .75"
Fabric: Black, UVA treated Nylon
Weight bearing: 400 lbs
Cost: $24.95
I haven't experienced any problems with these in the short time I've used them, but there are many complaints online about nylon stretch with longer durations, so that the hammock needs adjustment overnight or after long periods of use. So this is something to consider when buying straps, as you may find yourself waking up very hanging low to the ground. These are 2 ft longer than the original Slap Straps, a big improvement on length, and the strap stuff sac is very simple and low weight with just a drawstring closure. Overall the straps are lighter 4 oz lighter, $5 cheaper, a few inches shorter, and are rated 100lbs lower than the Pythons.

Perfect Combo?
Depends on what floats your boat...

Eno ProNest + SlapStraps Pro = 1.25 lbs.
If you're looking for a inexpensive system, a snug fit and the lightest system between the two, this might be the best bet, though complaints about the straps linger online.

Eno ProNest + Kammock Python Straps = 1.55 lbs. 
Maybe a better choice for lightweight hammock lovers (due to the straps)

Kammock Roo + SlapStraps Pro = 2.0 lbs.
For a larger hammock with lighter, yet stretchy straps.

Kammock Roo + Kammock Pythons = 2.25 lbs
For a larger hammock or a small couple or tall folks, and straps that no one complains about.

One more: Eno also makes a DoubleNest, which is just a hair shy less in weight than the Roo at 22 oz and one foot wider at 6.6' x 9.8' for only $69.95. While I haven't tried it, it sounds like it might be the best double hammock option of all.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Cohos Trail Continued

A Section Hiking Adventure 
Section #4, September 2013

Roger's Ledge
After missing two section hikes over the summer, I was back on track and happy to be on the path northward. The last time we were on the Cohos, we were hiking through the well traveled the White Mountain National Forest. On this trip we finished the Whites while the Nash Stream State Forest waited just ahead.

Our weekend started at the Cedar Pond Campground, an excellent place to stay north of Berlin, in Milan, NH. At this time of year we campers had the place to ourselves. The sites are large, lightly wooded between sites, and if you stay at site 11, you'll be convenient to the tiny bath house with a hot shower, water and flush toilets and electricity. Luxury! We were serenaded by loons from the namesake pond across the road and by the owls in the woods all around us.

We decided to start the hike at Unknown Pond trail west entrance, and spotted a car at the South Pond Rec Area. Our hike took us through lovely, easy walking woods to Unknown Pond, a quiet pond and campsite with view of the Horn. We continued on the trail through more gentle trail, including some boggy sections, to Rogers Ledge, an outstanding, large ledge with distant but lovely views of the Northern Presis.

Mike crosses the bog

Michele and Mike
Continuing on, we ventured into the Devil's Hopyard, a narrow notch between rocky cliffs. The air along this trail was cool and damp, the moss grew thick and everything we stepped on was slippery. A large wall of shingled rock loomed above us just before we reached the end of the trail, as marked by a wooden trail sign. We turned back at this point and headed to our final stop, South Pond Recreations area - a lovely spot with a large pond, picnic tables, parking lot, bathrooms and shoreline to walk around. We searched a while for the Cohos which was supposed to be on a tail in the woods to the right of the road. We never did find it, so we walked the road instead and then took the trail that did exist to the end. Laura had decided not to walk the road and helped us out by picking us up. The other car was retrieved and we all met up at the campground for a filling pot luck meal of tacos, fresh pasta, beans, veggies, chicken and various teas and desserts. The night finished with a amazing full moonset.

Devil's Hopyard Wall
The End
Taco at the Potluck
After we nestled in our tents, stuffed of good food, the rains came down until 7:30am. The wet weather had deflated our interest in hiking, especially since the peaks ahead, The Percys, are composed of slick, slabby rock faces at the summits, which can prove to be very dangerous when wet. We decided to fold this section into the next hike, and hopefully the rescheduled date will be a dry day for safe summitting.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Discovering the Cohos Trail

A Section Hiking Adventure 
Section #1, June 2013
View from the Cohos
A few years ago, a friend told me about a new long distance trailrunning 162 miles through New Hampshire's northern-most county, Coos, from Crawford Notch State Park in the south to Pittsburg, NH at the border w/Quebec, Canada. It's called the Cohos Trail and prides itself on its remote, wilderness experience, without the easy comfort of shelters and trail towns (there are only 2 leans-tos and one self-service cabin on the trail) so camping is the accommodation of choice. The trail is made up of a smattering of old hiking trails, newly cut trail, old railroad beds, snowmobile trails, forest roads, and a bit of paved road. While a few days of hiking resides within the more popular White Mountain National Forest (WMNF), the rest of the CT runs through the mountain ranges to the less-visited north country, making the Cohos a perfect place to travel into some real wilderness and away from the crowds.

Enticed by this new experience and the logistics it would involve, I teamed up with two other like-minded hikers, Mike & Joyce, to complete the Cohos (pronounced coe-ahss) in sections. Since we're all Volunteer Trip Leaders for the Boston Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), we agreed to run the Cohos trips as a series of AMC backpacks and long day-hike weekends. Series-hiking isn't new to either Mike and Joyce, as they have both sectioned hiked the Appalachian Trail among other long- distance trails. But was all new to me, so I jumped into action, planning four weekend trips for this summer with my new Cohos maps and guidebook by my side. We decided to travel south to north and hope to complete the trail in 8-9 weekends over the next 2 years.

Our first weekend trip was mid-June, beginning at the Cohos southern terminus on the Davis Path in Crawford Notch, NH. Our intrepid group consisted of 7 Boston area hikers, 3 women and 4 men, all eager to begin our 2-day backpack. While 1/3 of the Cohos follows already established trail networks, about 100 miles is formally known as the CT and is marked with little yellow “CT” signs. The trail also travels through some Nationally Designated Wilderness areas in the Whites, which are kept to a different, more "wild" standard than your average hiking trail: the width for the trail is cleared to be narrower, there are no blazes on trees or cairns above treeline (only signs at junctions), and the camping areas are simple, dirt clearings marked with a small, wooden signs. There are no shelters, no privys,  no roads... just you and the woods.

The first day consisted of 10 mi and 4500ft+ of elevation gain, plus some additional milage on each spur path to the summit. We traveled through the Dry River Wilderness, tracing the undulating Montalban Ridge to five peaks, finishing at a height of 4004 ft on Mt Isolation. While many choose to take the more popular Rocky Branch Trail, following this long shoulder of Mt Washingtonfor more peaks, more views and more solace.

View from Isolation into Oakes Gulf & Mt. Washington

We had a minor moment of confusion along the trail as it wandered into a brushy, swampy dell, but overall this section is easy to follow despite it’s wilderness designation. Meandering along the ridge throughout the day, we stopped to rest, snack and enjoy the views from each of the day's five summits: Mt Crawford, a lovely, mostly bald summit with views of the hike ahead, Mt. Resolution, named for the trailblazer, Mr.Davis, and his stern resolution to complete the path, Mt Stairs & Giant Stairs Cliffs, with its nap-able ledge and excellent breeze, Mt. Davis with its 360 views, and Mt.Isolation, which often has the largest ( if only) crowd atop due to its NH 4000-footer status.

The Fry-Bake in action, with cover
When we reached the wilderness campsites just north of Mt. Isolation, we set up camp and were pleasantly surprised by the newly-acquired backcountry baking skills of our fellow hiker Chris. Normally a lightweight hiker, he had rushed ahead of the group carrying a heavier pack than usual, laden with fresh vegetables and a new Fry-Bake pan to experiment with making group appetizers: homemade guacamole and fresh-baked focaccia made on the spot! We were more that delighted to be his guinea pigs and snacked away at the guac and tasty bread topped with fresh tomatoes, basil and cheese. I'd say he's learned a lot already! The Fry-Bake Pan is a luxury item for sure. It works with a any outdoor stove in which the flame can be adjusted (we used a white gas MSR Whisperlite) and you can buy a kit that comes with a cover, thermometer, etc that puts the "bake" function to good use. We somehow ate our own dinners after all the fresh-made apps and shared a little chocolate brought by another. Well fed and dog tired, the group was soon snoring away in our respective tents and hammocks.

Fresh cinnamon rolls!
The next morning Chris became a true (and much appreciated) over-achiever by his final act of baking cinnamon rolls. Everyone gobbled one down, ate their own prepared breakfasts, and set off on the second half of our two-day journey. (As I write this, the section of the CT from the Isolation Tr East crossing over the Dry River is closed due to a trail washout during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.) Due to the trail closures, we planned a 10 mile re-route for our Day 2, traversing some of the finest above-treeline hiking there is in the WMNF and rejoin the CT on the other side of the closure.

Hiking along Boott Spur
The new route took us north on the Davis Path over North Isolation, Boott Spur (a viewful, open shoulder of Mt. Washington), past the gaping cirque of Tuckerman's Ravine, and turned south to the AMC Lake of the Clouds Hut, where we gorged on the morning's lefover pancakes offered by the Hut Croo. After a brief stop, we continued south on Crawford Path, another historic and famous route to and from Mt Washington, up and over Mt Monroe, showing off its alpine flowers including Mt Avens, Diapensia, Alpine Azalea and Lapland Rosebay; to Mt Franklin, one of my favorite peaks, and finally to Mt. Eisenhower, where rejoined the CTl at the Edmunds Path. After enjoying the views from the rounded dome of Mt. Eisenhower, also the highest point of the CT, we made our way down to the parking lot where we had spotted some cars. Our group reconvened about an hour later for a post-hike meal in the town of North Woodstock, where we gorged on good eats and discussed where our upcoming Cohos section adventures would take us (and how we had a little unfinished CT business to hike someday).
From Monroe to Mt. Franklin
Alpine Azalea
I highly recommend giving the Cohos Trail a try, whether you want to thru hike it, section hike or day hike it. It's best stretches I am told are farther north of the White Mountain National Forest, where it is more remote, passing through less traveled country and few resupply points. The Cohos officially opened for business in 2011 and hikers have been making the thru-hike of the Cohos for several years now. To help navigate the way, the Kim Nilsen, the founder of the Cohos has published an excellent guidebook, maps, facebook page, web site, established a trail association and more. For further reading about the Cohos Trail and trail updates/openings/closures, check out the website at: There's also a possibility of an upcoming addition to the trail by Canadian trail groups to link CT hikers with Canadian trails to go as far as the summit of Mt. Megantic in Quebec.

If you are in the area and interested in joining our group for any of our section hikes this July- September, you can find them listed on the AMC website at (search for Cohos).

Friday, July 12, 2013

Pemi Adventure Weekend: Backpacking & Rafting

The Pemi Loop hike is a true New England hiker challenge, and Backpacker Magazine calls it one of America's hardest dayhikes. With 32 miles and 18,000 feet of elevation change, it's a very demanding day and has been on my bucket list for a year or two. The loop starts and ends at Lincoln Woods just off the Kancamagus Highway, traversing some of finest ridge lines in NH, summitting eleven 4000ft+ peaks. This loop was also the culmination of Chris's NH 48 finish!

Glider plane flying over Franconia Notch
We had planned to do the loop one day on July 4th weekend, but after tweaking my ankle on a hike 2 weeks prior, I thought maybe we should do it as a 2 day backpack instead. It would be a bit easier this way, allowing for more time to enjoy the views, more time for sleeping, and for other fun things that weekend, like rafting!

Catching a breeze on Flume
Our adventure began on July 4th, staying with friends on Loon Lake in Plymouth, NH, enjoying a BBQ and the lake's fireworks from their kayaks. We were up and out early the next morning, grabbing a bagel sandwich and hitting the trail at 8:30am, a far cry from the usual Pemi Loop start time of 3:30am. It was a hot and humid morning and the breeze atop Flume couldn't come soon enough. Liberty had equally lovely views and upon summiting Little Haystack, we ran into 2 fellow hikers & friends, Emily and Ashley, what a pleasant surprise! We caught up on each others lives, hiked together to Lincoln and Lafayette and enjoying lunch before going our separate ways.

Running into friends on Little Haystack
Chris and I continued down the rugged ridgeline to Garfield, but not before thunder and a rainshower would cool us down. We were alone on the Garfield summit as the clouds drifted by and thunder was no longer a threat, some of the best views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness can be seen from this perch. We could have stayed at the Garfield tentsite & shelter, but decided to walk a few more miles down to Thirteen Falls campsite in the Pemi Wilderness, as neither of us had ever stayed there. The trail to 13 Falls was wet as we followed a brook most of the way. To our surprise, we got the last tentsite at 13 Falls, I guess for a holiday weekend we shouldn't have been. They had set up a large tarp over the kitchen area and had a bear box, so rarely used in the NH Whites. We happily washed off in the wide, shallow falls after dinner and curled up at the quiet tentsite for a well-deserved night's sleep.
Hiking along the Franconia Ridge to Lincoln & Lafayette

The next morning we ate our breakfast and hiked  up and out a few miles to Galehead Hut, where we enjoyed breakfast # 2 of free leftover pancakes from the hut. Surprisingly, hardly anyone was there, just a few others and a croo member or two. We chatted up a few friendly folks before heading into the mist on South Twin. I was told about the steepness of this trail, but found to be more enjoyable than most steep hikes, as it's well taken care of and has some excellently-spaced stepping stones for short legs like mine. We passed a few others going in the opposite direction including a ranger, some day "loopers", and a few hikers making their way from Guyout Tentsite.
Eating leftovers at Galehead Hut

The summit of South Twin was socked in with clouds but the breeze was refreshing on yet another warm day. We travelled along the ridge, a new section of trail for me, and how lovely it was! Covered in moss and flowers and generally flat, I could have hiked that section all day long. Eventually we came to Mt. Guyout, passed the Guyout Tentsite and reached the spur trail to the summit of West Bond.

West Bond has one of the most spectacular views in the Whites, as it looks over fondly to Bond and Bondcliff, it's arching spine bowing dramatically between the two peaks. The light cast on the cliff seems to show every rock and crevasse, you feel like you could almost touch it from there. We were itching to hike it, so without much rest we marched up to Bond, barely stopping as we continued to Bondcliff. This was Chris's final NH 48 summit, so I took a few obligatory cliff shots, was ate some summit chocolate and Chris indulged in a 10 min nap as I wandered in bare feet and took photos. We must have stayed there at least an hour, the sky was full of puffy clouds and blue patches and the breeze felt glorious. We finally made a move to go, as it was all downhill from here.
Hiking to Bondcliff

On Bondcliff
We eventually reached the Wilderness Trail with its railroad ties still embedded in the wide path. We stopped at the Pemi River crossing to wash up and cool down. I changed into Crocs and we blasted our way to the packing lot, eagerly putting the long, flat trail portion behind us. Dinner was had at the Gypsy Café in Lincoln, and Chris booked us a motel room at the Rodeway Inn off RT 3 as a luxurious end to our Pemi backpack. And by luxury I mean a clean bed, hot shower and pool, dang!

The next morning we ate at the curious breakfast place across from our motel. It has a frontier-style theme that was popular in the 60s and doesn't look like it's changed much since. The staff was friendly and the food was fine. We swam in the motel pool, played a little shuffleboard and were soon standing on the banks of the Pemi with an inflatable raft preparing for our next adventure.

About to go rafting!
We drove down RT 117 along the Pemi and scouted out our route, as well as our start and endpoints. We decided to leave our bikes at the en, drive back up north, and raft a few miles from N Woodstock to Woodstock. After rafting we would bike back to the car and eat in N Woodstock.

The Pemi is generally gentle and shallow south of Lincoln, NH, but this season it's been running high and fast due to all the rain, mildly exciting rapids for a blow-up raft. We started off on some small rapids, perfect for our first attempt. At one point we came to what seemed like an impasse, as a group of 4 kayakers got out and dragged their boat on the shore and around the rapids. We thought it was ok for us and carried on, thoroughly enjoying the mild white-water ride. We waved as we passed another couple who were resting on a beach with their kayaks. What a day we were having!

We soon came to another section that was a bit sketchy. We ducked under tree branches and fended off a downed tree with broken, pointy limbs that surely would have popped our raft if Chris wasn't quick with his hands. Another raft, deflated and washed up on a nearby shore told of a more unfortunate ending. We stopped to check our boat a little further down the stream to make sure we didn't have a leak. Just before launching back into the river, we saw the kayaking couple get caught in the downed tree. Both fell out of their boats but were quickly out and walking in the shallow water. The woman started yelling at the man she was with, tossing her paddle at him. After making sure they were ok, we decided it was best to carry on downstream and let them sort out their personal issues.

We paddled in peaceful water to a beach with a long, smooth rock perfect for sunning on. We stopped here to pick wild blueberries and watched the water go by. Chris noticed a floating broken paddle, and then another. He jumped in to get both and soon the other group of 4 kayakers stopped by the beach to chat. They told us they had helped out the couple who fell out of their boats and got one boat unstuck. The other boat remained stuck in some trees and they man never attempted to get it out. They also were pretty sure the broken paddle parts were the woman's whose boat overturned. That couple surely wasn't prepared for terrain like that, they seemed to be out for a more peaceful trip, and the kayakers watched as they ended their trip with a phone call for a ride home.

We continued on our adventure, running into the 4 kayakers every once in a while. At the end of our route we came upon some beautifully sculptured river rocks with smooth scoop-outs perfect for sitting in. We relaxed here for a bit, discussing whether we should attempt the set of rapids, known as "The Ledges" something the 4 kayakers had alluded to. We decided to scout it out and agreed it was doable. We pushed into rapids with our oars and newly acquired broken paddles and successfully ran the rapids, bouncing along rocks and waves, hooting with great joy! It wasn't a huge set of rapids by most standards, but for an inflatable raft for 2, it was exhilarating!

The only downside to the afternoon was realizing we left the bike keys at the start. Thankfully we caught a ride to our car with a newlywed couple and picked up the bikes and raft on our way back. We enjoyed lunch & ice cream in North Woodstock, and stopped by Cascade Park behind RT 3 to watch a father and two sons barreling over the small set of falls on inflatable snow tubes. They looked pretty happy too!