Sunday, August 31, 2014

White Mountain Hut Traverse

Early yesterday morning I headed up 19 Mile Brook Trail with the intent of completing my 5th Hut Traverse in as many attempts. It had been 9 years since my last Traverse, when I went West to East in 20:10 and 19 years (!) since my first. The previous 3 were in the East-to-West direction (1995 in ~25 hours, 1999 in 18:15, and 2000 in ~21 hours). I have not been doing much ultra-length hiking or running for the past couple of years, but after completing the Mahoosuc Traverse and 30 Wonalancet miles within the past 3 weeks - and feeling like I had something left in the tank at the end of each - decided to give the Hut Traverse another shot.

Interestingly, August 30-31 was also the 81st anniversary of another Hut Traverse. On August 30-31, 1933, Ralph Batchelder and Evarts Loomis, AMC hutmen both, walked from Carter Notch to Lonesome Lake in just under 24 hours. While they skipped Wildcat Ridge, they did include Pinkham Notch Camp in their route. (See Forest and Crag, pp. 518-19.) Impressive considering depression era footwear and other outdoor gear!

My preferred Hut Traverse route is as follows: [Carter Notch Hut] 19 Mile Brook, Route 16, Great Gulf, Madison Gulf, Parapet, Star Lake, [Madison] Gulfside, Westside, Crawford, [Lakes of the Clouds] Webster Cliff, [Mizpah] Mizpah Cutoff, Crawford, Avalon, A-Z, Zealand, [Zealand] Twinway, [Galehead] Garfield Ridge, Greenleaf, [Greenleaf] Old Bridle Path, Lonesome Lake [Lonesome Lake]. I skip all summits except those which the trails happen to directly cross over: Pierce, South Twin, and Lafayette. Using this configuration of trails, it is about 24.2 miles and 5,600 feet of vertical (add another 3.8 miles and 1900 for the initial climb to Carter Notch Hut) to Crawford Notch, 24.8 miles and 9,200 vertical to Lonesome Lake, for a grand total of 49 miles and 14,800 (54.4 miles and 16,700 feet of vertical including 19 Mile Brook approach and Lonesome Lake descent).

Friday afternoon we spotted Car #2 at Lafayette Place (the finish) before proceeding up to Gorham and dinner at the Chinese buffet. I do not recommend this. At the very least order off the menu! However, my fortune cookie - more advice than fortune - seemed rather prophetic: “It is not the end yet. Let’s stay with it!” I decided that THAT would be my mantra for the day, no matter how sucky things got. Being 4 for 4 as far as attempts/completions, the pressure was on!

We snagged one of 4 remaining campsites at Dolly Copp for a few hours of shut eye. Its being Labor Day Weekend, the Whites were a busy place.

At 3:40 am I tagged Carter Notch Hut and was off. The early miles in the dark always seem to pass quickly, and soon I was back at the Route 16 trailhead drinking fresh hot coffee prepared by my husband Chris, who would crew me here and at Crawford Notch and also get in his own hike of Webster and Jackson in the interim. I ran the short stretch down to Great Gulf Trailhead, polished off the rest of the coffee, and headed up Great Gulf Trail. The lower part of this trail is easy and I should have been running but settled on a purposeful walk instead. Hey, it was gonna be a long day. Madison Gulf Trail had the usual tricky route finding at stream crossings - much thanks to the cairn builders - and the expected steepness, but by 7:42 I was filling my water bladder at Mad Hut as the guests dispersed after breakfast. The morning was a beauty, with both settled valley fog and the higher peaks obscured on and off by cloud. I made my way easily via Gulfside around Adams, Jefferson and Clay, then Westside around Washington and Crawford Path to Lakes of the Clouds by 10:23. Up to this point I had seen maybe a dozen hikers on the trail all morning. That was about to change! By Pierce I’d stopped counting at 100, and they just kept coming, quite a departure from the lightly traveled redlining trails I’ve been mostly doing this summer.

I reached Mizpah at 12:07 and Crawford Notch at exactly 1 pm. What a zoo! Cars and people and noise everywhere, barking dogs, screaming kids, the train blowing its whistle… Chris had snagged a parking spot at the depot and made a pot of ramen and more fresh coffee, so we had a front seat for all the entertainment. I tried to make quick work of this “aid station” but ended up staying almost half an hour. If one were going to stop, this is the logical Quitter Point, and I briefly fantasized about returning home and spending the evening sipping wine on the porch instead of slogging across the Twinway and the evil that is Garfield Ridge Trail in the dark, but there was that nagging mantra, “It is not the end yet. Let‘s stay with it!” Well, okay... LET’s!

The steady stream of humanity continued as far as Mt. Tom Spur, but I encountered just one hiker between Mt. Tom and Zealand Trail. Of note, the western end of A-Z Trail is in great shape and has some really nice new bog bridges. After Zealand Falls Hut at 3:31, the climb up Zeacliff has never been one of my favorites but is just a prelude to what lies ahead. The view from Guyot was lovely and the Twinway rather easy, but it took 3 hours to reach Galehead. Unfortunately I needed to refill my water bladder so had to walk through the front door past a very full dining room midsupper. The croo was very pleasant and accommodating when I asked for some hot water for coffee.

For me, this is where the Hut Traverse gets hard. In 1995 I hit the wall around Garfield Pond and remember curling up under a boulder in an attempt to get some sleep. A few hours later I suffered a meltdown while descending Old Bridle Path, sobbing to my friend Al Sochard "WHY is this trail TAKING so lonnnngggg…???!!!” (One of those things you know you will be laughing about the next day.) I was determined to not hit the wall or have a meltdown! Galehead to Greenleaf took over 4 hours (6:30 to 10:47 pm). The headlamp came out around Franconia Brook Trail (Oh yay, I get to climb the waterfall section in the dark!). Along the Twinway and Garfield Ridge Trail I saw many presumably thru-hikers bootleg camping along the trail. One couple even had a campfire going. Not sure if that was legal but it sure looked inviting. Being solo and in the dark, I was extremely careful on all the scrambly sections. There were a lot of scrambly sections.

At treeline on Lafayette‘s north side things got more interesting. There was a steady breeze blowing but it wasn’t knocking me around and wasn’t too cold, 50 maybe? I wore a hat and gloves but no shell, just long sleeves, and was fine. However, a bit disconcerting was the fact that visibility was barely cairn to cairn. In my depleted state, I knew I had to be very careful about staying on the trail, so this entire 2-mile above treeline section was pretty slow. Old Bridle Path was just freaking endless, but a meltdown was assuaged by the knowledge that it was just 1.6 miles and 1000 feet of climb once I hit the parking lot. I made myself walk right past my car because I knew I'd be tempted to get inside and drive away!

At long last, at 1 am, I reached Lonesome Lake Hut. I was TOAST. There was very little left in the tank. I decided to lie on the floor and put my feet up for a few minutes. Unbeknownst to me there was a thru-hiker sleeping in the communal area. Having been awakened by my light, she flicked on hers asking if I was okay, then wanted to know what I had done. I apologized for waking her and told her I just completed a hut traverse. She replied “Wow, you’re funny!”

The final hut-to-hut time was 21 hours 20 minutes. It wasn’t my fastest but at age 48 with a 19-year Hut Traverse spread and now 5 for 5, I’ll take it.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

30 miles Wandering around Wonalancet

 (...although 'Floundering around Ferncroft' may be more accurate.)

Goal: Do a long day and connect the redlining “dots” to complete (almost) Section 8 of White Mountain Guide

Route: Bickford, Bolles, up/down Beeline, Beeline Cutoff, Bolles, Old Paugus, Whitin Brook, Cabin, Lawrence, Oliverian Brook, Square Ledge Branch, Square Ledge, Old Mast Road, Blueberry Ledge, McCrillis Path, Flat Mtn. Pond, McCrillis Trail, Blueberry Ledge, Tom Wiggins, Dicey’s Mill, East Loop, Walden, Wonalancet Range, Wonalancet Shortcut

Start: 0545
End: 1830
Mileage: 31.3 (19.0 redlining miles)
Vertical: 10,000 feet
Total # trails: 22
Weather: Perfect
Bugs: None
Hikers encountered: 0 in first 16 miles, 2 on McCrillis Path, 1 on Flat Mtn. Pond Trail, 7 on Blueberry Ledge, 2 on Tom Wiggins, 1 on Dicey’s Mill

Was looking to do another long day in the Whites but feeling rather uninspired by some of the more commonly done loops and traverses. Needing almost 30 redlining miles in the Chocorua-Eastern Sandwich Range--and disliking the long drive from Vermont--I decided to string together a long day from Ferncroft to mop up most of my remaining miles and trails.

Tuesday afternoon was a warmup of almost 10 miles with some of the shorter Wonalancet Trails -  Gordon, Red, Pasture, and Tilton Spring Paths - and also the White Ledge Loop before dinner. Spent the night at White Ledge Campground.

At 0545 Wednesday I started up Bickford Trail and proceeded to Bolles, then up and down the Paugus Branch of Beeline. Beeline was steep but not nearly as nasty as I’d expected from some trail conditions reports. I took Beeline Cutoff back down to Bolles, then crossed the river and headed up Old Paugus Trail, doing the little 0.3 m. out-and-back before proceeding across Whitin Brook Trail. At Cabin Trail, I took a right, then a left on Lawrence, a right on Oliverian Brook, left on Square Ledge Branch, left on Square Ledge Trail, and finally down Old Mast Road to Ferncroft.   With all these turns (!) and unfamiliarity with this area, I was frequently referring to my map! Upon reaching Ferncroft I was at mile 15‘ish, about halfway. I took a short break and stocked up on water before continuing West on the Blueberry Ledge Trail.

Repeating a bit of trail from the day before, I then continued straight on McCrillis Path, where I met my first two hikers of the day, two pleasant gentlemen who advised me on the relo’d trail conditions ahead. The new section of trail is well blazed in blue, has frequent tiny ups and downs and passes by an impressive flume and some grassy sections near the bottom. Then it was up Flat Mountain Pond Trail, where I encountered a woman walking her two beautiful Newfoundlands who both came over to say hi. Perhaps it was because I was 20 miles into the day at this point, but McCrillis Trail proved not to be one of my favorites. The 3100 foot climb from Whiteface Intervale Road wasn’t that bad, but it went on and on and on, and my altimeter kept disappointing with exasperatingly slow progress! One bit of excitement was a huge pile of fresh looking bear scat which looked to be predominantly raspberries!

Finally I topped out on the south ledges of Whiteface and, with a quick scan of the beautiful view but without pause, continued down Blueberry Ledge Trail. In the next 0.7 mile stretch I would meet 7 hikers, with 2 more on Tom Wiggins. I’d been curious about the Wiggins Trail. Seems a trail signed with etched warnings “NOT RECOMMENDED, STEEP AND LOOSE” might be pretty bad, but I did not find this to be the case. Sure, it was steep but guess I expected a sort of talus slope, and it was really no worse than any other steep White Mtn. trail. Too impatient to look for a dry rock hop across the Wonalancet River, I just splashed through so had wet feet for the final miles. Today’s "quitter trail" was that of a right turn down Dicey’s Mill, but I headed left and back up. I “needed” just 2 short stretches of trail from this point to the end: the 0.2 mile East Loop below Passaconaway and the 0.4 mile shortcut below Wonalancet. But it would take another 6+ miles of hiking to get that 0.6. I don't need to be told just how stupid all of this is! 

Compared to McCrillis Trail, Dicey’s was a lark, and soon I was looping back on the Walden Trail and down the crazy steeps of Mt. Nanamacomuck wondering how in the heck I ascended this trail last winter?? Other than the top parts being steep and rough, Wonalancet Shortcut and remainder of Wonalancet Trail were unremarkable, and I was cleaning off in the stream by 1830 before the long drive home.

I didn’t figure out the total vertical until this morning and was surprised that it came out to 10,000 feet. No wonder it took me as long as the Mahoosuc Traverse! This was an interesting convoluted “loop” and a fun way to connect redlining segments. These trails are beautiful and well taken care of, and I wish I didn’t live so far away so I could hike them more often.

Monday, August 11, 2014

One-Day Mahoosuc Traverse #4

Date:  Sunday, 8/10/14

This was a solo venture across the length of the Mahoosucs from Grafton Notch to Hogan Road in Shelburne. I was going to title this report “Trident Col Campsite Spur via Mahoosuc Trail from Grafton Notch” because in looking over my redlining list I noted with some annoyance that I’d never done this 0.2 mile spur off the Mahoosuc Trail. It had been 3 years since my last Mahoosuc Traverse, and other than a goofy 24-mile redlining day on Chocorua (up-down-up-down-up-down, without ever touching the summit) a few weeks back, it had been some time since I’d done a really long excursion in the White Mtns. Not a lot of planning went into this; the idea popped into my head on Friday afternoon. I love, love, LOVE the Mahoosucs! They are my favorite area of the Whites and it had been too long. Chris agreed to schlep me up to Grafton Notch and was happy to climb his first Maine 4000 footer, followed by a visit to lovely Speck Pond, where he handed out extra candy to some starving thru-hikers.

A more detailed description of the one-day Mahoosuc Traverse can be found with a quick Google search. Suffice it to say the route is very rugged and slow. Although the numbers look comparable to the Pemi Loop -- 30ish miles, 9-10,000 feet elevation gain -- IMO you can plan on adding another 50% to your best Pemi time. This would be my 4th Mahoosuc Traverse in as many attempts. I have also backpacked it twice, once during an AT thru-hike (yes, when going through the Notch especially, 4-5 vs. 30-40 lbs. on the back makes for a much more enjoyable experience), so I knew what I was getting myself into.

The weather forecast for the day looked almost perfect, calling for just a 10 percent chance of showers. My pack contained more food than was needed, a one liter collapsible water container, a light jacket, a long-sleeve lightweight wool shirt, space blanket, phone, one ibuprofen (not taken), a headlamp and a small backup flashlight w/extra batteries (not used), and a SteriPen. I carried a 24 oz. water bottle. At 6:54 am I was off!

The climb up Old Speck went pretty well although I felt sort of groggy, slow, and not yet awake. I took it pretty easy going down to Speck Pond, up Mahoosuc Arm, DOWN Mahoosuc Arm, and through the Notch. I don’t “do” Strava, SPOT, or any of that stuff but did glance at my Timex every now and then and was pleased to make it through the Notch in just over 30 minutes. This included time spent jumping into a hole to retrieve some litter -- a water bottle, a plastic shopping bag, and a pair of disposable contact lenses -- and time spent biting my tongue as a couple of morons attempted to drag their whining, resistant dog through the Notch. (I realize that many dogs have made it through, but this one was clearly distressed.) Grr…!!

Perhaps due to the adrenaline surge resulting from the moron encounter, my body finally seemed to wake up on the climb of Fulling Mill Mtn, and I felt great! Upon reaching Stuffed Goose Shelter, I headed down to the water supply only to discover that my stupid SteriPen seemed to be broken. Time will tell if a bandana suffices as a good enough water filter in an area teeming with oodles of backpackers this time of year…

Over the next stretch to Goose Eye, I met many thru-hikers, probably around 30 for the day (30 times holding my breath as they passed), as well as a few other backpackers but only one other day hiker. Everything was going smoothly and I progressed at a steady pace past the Goose Eyes, Mt. Carlo, Carlo Col, and across the ME/NH state line although I was saddened to see the blue “Welcome to Maine, the Way Life Should Be” sign gone. The climb of Mt. Success was punctuated by the first of two thunderstorms. This first one lasted only 15 minutes and proved to be rather refreshing and cooling. The section of trail down and up and down and up to Gentian Pond took about a hundred years, but I breezed on by the first of the two “quitter trails” that one can use to bail out to North Road, Austin Brook Trail. The fact that the last 10 miles seem to drag on and on is one reason why I actually prefer the south-to-north direction. Sure, the footing gets rougher as you proceed north, but it makes for a more interesting, challenging finish with no easy bailout trails. But I digress.

Somewhere between Gentian Pond and Dream Lake, the rumbling in the sky began again in earnest (10 percent my ass). By Dream Lake -- and Quitter Trail #2, aka Peabody Brook Trail -- it was raining pretty steadily. Bailing was beginning to look pretty good, BUT I still had that pesky Trident Col Campsite Spur to do, soooo... With rain, thunder and a bit of lightning continuing for the next 2 hours, I skittishly motored over Wocket Ledge - I HATE lightning! Of course, it doesn’t take much imagination to realize what the continuous rain was doing to all those slimy and sloping ledges and rocks. Somehow, surprisingly, I didn’t fall once all day! I was experimenting with my Hoka trail runners today and have to say they performed marvelously. They seemed pretty grippy on the rocks, and my feet felt fantastic by the end of the day. No blisters, pain, or any lacing adjustments, etc., required. (DirtyGirl gaiters also helped immensely in keeping crap out of my shoes.)

Finally I reached the much anticipated Trident Col Campsite Spur (yippee). Although there is no shelter here, there IS a nice composting privy where I spent ~5 minutes luxuriating out of the rain while changing into my long-sleeve. The remaining 6+ miles up Cascade Mtn and Mt Hayes were a bit of a slog, and I went into git-r-done mode. For the route off Mt. Hayes, I prefer the Centennial Trail (AT) to the Mahoosuc, mostly just to avoid negotiating the confusing roads and trails at the southern end of the MT.

I didn’t break any records today but was happy: (a) to finish before needing to pull out the headlamp, (b) that I accomplished 100 percent what I’d set out to do, and (c) that I felt pretty good all day, at the finish, and as of this writing the next day. The only question that remains to be answered is: Does a bandana suffice as a water filter? 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hello again!!

Hard to believe it's been almost  a year and a half since I've posted to this blog.  (Edit:  I predated a couple of posts for chronology.)  Even though I am "retired" and childless, I never seem to be lacking for things to do and keep very, very busy.  Somehow my (day-to-day and life) lists of things to do never seem to get shorter.  But that's a good thing.

For a bit of catchup since my last post in March of 2013....

In late March I joined Chris for a few days back in California, where he co-directed the inaugural ‘Coyote Backbone Trail Ultra’ in the Santa Monica Mtns. The Backbone Trail is a 68-mile point-to-point trail that runs from Will Rogers State Park in LA west to Point Mugu State Park. They had a great turnout for the event, and it was nice to be back in California for a bit if only to gorge myself with great Mexican and Vietnamese food which is difficult to come by in Vermont.

The April and May calendars - both 2013 and 2014 - were filled with gardening (read: lots of weeding) and other springtime household chores as well as scouting out the route for another running event, the Coyote Scramble, this one in a local venue, the Kingdom Trails in East Burke, Vermont. We mapped out a nice 40-mile loop that drew about a dozen local runners for the first test run.  The repeat run this year was over Memorial Day Weekend and drew over twice as many runners.  It's a rather unique event, one in which map reading skills are pretty essential, but it's also a lot of fun running on some incredible Northeast Kingdom trails.

Memorial Day Weekend 2013 surprised everyone with a somewhat freak snowstorm! This was followed only a week later by 90 degree temps on June 1st and an extremely powerful wind event the next day, one in which our town sustained many, many downed trees and loss of power for over 24 hours.  Crazy weather...

Since moving back to Vermont, I have become something of a bluebird enthusiast, with two hatchings in one birdhouse (and a family of swallows in the other) both this year and last. We were also visited by indigo buntings, purple finches, woodpeckers, blue jays, chickadees, chipping sparrows, and goldfinches… also deer, squirrels, chipmunks, coyotes, lots of turkeys, ducks, geese, a moose, our neighbor’s goats, our other neighbors cows and bull (on our lawn!), and a resident groundhog who likes to sit atop the hot tub cover (but amazingly stays out of the garden). Fillmore and Url, our indoor-only cats, are quite entertained.

The gardens are a lot of work (see “weeding“ above), and I realize how much I enjoy and appreciate farmers markets.  Although I used to help my mom out a tiny bit with her garden when I was a kid, last year's was my first real vegetable garden ever.  The snow peas and carrots were particularly productive. We also had good luck with swiss chard, basil, cilantro, radishes, and butternut squash. The tomatoes and kale were so-so.  This year we ditched the leafy greens because they are so bug prone and I refuse to use poisons, but we planted more varieties of squash and pumpkins.  The 7-foot tall snow peas are once again a HUGE success, and we are being inundated with zucchini at the moment.

The flowers at our new (although not so new anymore after almost two years) house are incredible, and all the colors right now are just gorgeous.  Mostly all we have done is weed and mulch.  The credit goes to the previous owners who went a bit nuts planting.  There are numerous varieties of lilies, irises, hen 'n chicks, bleeding hearts, azalias, glads, echinacea, tulips, crocuses, dutchmen's breeches, lambs ears, bee balm, peonies, a bunch of flowers I don't remember the names of, and we now have the most humongous hostas I've ever seen.  Maybe they need to be separated...??  I really don't have much of a green thumb but am learning.

Last summer flew by way too fast. I joined Chris for a DC work gig in late June and took advantage of the opportunity to get some trail miles in in Delaware as well as to visit my sister and her family in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, that week was typical DC summer weather, with 90+ degree temps and 100% humidity.  Running in those conditions was a challenge, but I completed 50 trail miles in the District if you can believe that.  Most of the miles were in Rock Creek and adjacent parks, also Roosevelt Island and the Mall (hey, it's dirt).  We spent the late summer and early fall doing lots of hikes in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and Chris completed the 48 NH 4000 footers atop Mt. Carrigain - wearing snowshoes and a signature Hawaiian shirt (and a few other layers) - on a bitterly cold January 25th.

With 6 states left to go, I am still pursuing my quest to hike or run a minimum of 50 trail miles in each state before I turn 50 in just over a year. To that end, we traveled to Wisconsin and Iowa in September and were pleasantly surprised to find some very nice, well maintained trails in both states: Blue Mound and Gov. Dodge State Parks in Wisconsin, and in Iowa, Pikes Peak and Backbone State Parks, Effigy Mounds National Monument, and trails surrounding the interesting town of Decorah.  In November I completed Alabama and South Carolina (see below) and in April was able to finish up Delaware at lovely White Clay Creek State Park which had some surprisingly great trails.  We then took a little early spring respite in Kentucky and Illinois ("Illitucky") in order to escape Vermont's lingering snow, and I got my 50 trail miles in each state at Land Between the Lakes and Shawnee National Forest, respectively.  Beautiful trails for running, and we saw nary a cornfield in scenic, rolling, forested Southern Illinois.

Chris became a Medicare patient on November 14 and wanted to celebrate, so he invited 35 or so friends to a hiking/running/camping get together in the Grand Canyon and Sedona. We flew back to LA in early November and drove our Honda Element - which had been baking in the California sun at our friend’s house all spring and summer - to Arizona, where we spent 3 days/nights in the Grand Canyon, followed by another week playing in Sedona.  Not your average Medicare birthday party I suppose. We made our way home via mostly off-interstate highways across the southern states (NM, TX, AR, MS, AL, GA, SC, NC, VA, PA, NY). Highlights were visiting the amazing Chaco Canyon in New Mexico and getting my 50 miles completed in Alabama and South Carolina, on the beautiful Pinhoti and Foothills Trails.

Chris had a lot of work in Washington DC this winter, and except for one week in April I manned the home front.  I ended up hiking most of the NH 4000 footers again this winter, this time with a bit of a twist:  the goal was to hike the peaks via a route other than the most commonly used, broken out route.  To that end, I got in some pretty groovy hikes.  (See previous post dated 4/30/14.)

I haven't done an organized ultra in a long time - and don't miss it - but am still running, mountain biking and doing yoga.  My latest "filler activity" has been trailbagging, or redlining, the trails of the White Mountain Guide, all 1,440 miles of them.  This was a goal I had picked away at before moving to California in 2006 and one that I've picked back up just this past May.  At that point I had about 300 miles left and have cut that total in half without really being very aggressive about it.  Looking to finish next summer sometime most likely.

That pretty much catches me up to date.   Thanks for reading.  :)