Sunday, May 30, 2010

I Prefer Loop Hikes...Mount Osceola

Mt. Tripyramid from the Summit of Osceola

Jill and I climbed Mt. Osceola this weekend for a few reasons. We had heard that it was one of the less demanding 4,000 footers (elevation 4,340’), having an elevation gain of 2,050ft over 3.2 miles. This is by way of the only trail that ascends the mountain, the Mt. Osceola Trail from Tripoli Road. Let me add that you can also ascend the Osceola Summit from the East using the same trail, however you have to also climb over Mt. Osceola’s East peak to gain access, which is also considered a 4,000 footer by itself (elevation 4,156’). But, for our day hike, this option was out of the question. We only wanted to reach the summit of Mt. Osceola.

We had been excited about this hike for a while. It would be my 4th 4K and Jill’s 2nd 4K. We are in no way counting them down or setting a goal to climb all 48, but it is still fun to count them nonetheless. The hike was fun as always, just being outside and absorbing nature in the Whites is always a great time. The summit ledges were incredible and well worth the 3.2 miles of trail that we needed to cover. We were able to find a few wildflowers on the trail to snap pictures of as well as found an obstructed view of Mt. Tecumseh (I think this mountain is cursed, I’ll tell you that story another time) on the way up. At the summit, we had great views of Mt. Tripyramid, Mt. Chocorua, Mt. Washington and many more. A side trail on the summit leads you to a north lookout point, which provides great views of Franconia and many more mountains.

Descending from the summit, I did catch myself not enjoying the trek as much as I did when ascending. In fact, I typically enjoy descending as much as ascending, so I caught myself asking, “what was so different about this trail?” Well, it could have been the black flies. They were out in full force and were ruthless (even after being covered with a couple layers of deet). It may have also been the humidity. I’ve noticed that hiking in humidity is tough, even if the temperature is pretty decent. I get very hot and can’t seem to hydrate enough with humidity in the air. It may have also been the rocky path. The Mt. Osceola Trail was very rocky. I know, it’s a mountain, right? It should be rocky. But these were the rocks that stick out all over the place, like uneven cobblestone, just waiting to be the one that turns your ankle. Maybe it was a combination of all these things.

The more I thought about it, I think it was truly that I just prefer loop hikes better. Sure, the factors mentioned above weigh in without a doubt, but really, with an in-and-out hike (as this was), after reaching the summit, there’s nothing new to see. You have already walked that road. Jill and I try to plan loops wherever we go because it makes the whole trip a discovery mission. On an in-and-out hike, you’ve already investigated the trail and then must retrace your steps. This just isn’t as much fun for me. I really like the summit to be the halfway point of our journey.

Jill and I on the Summit

Please don’t take this as me knocking the Mt. Osceola Trail. I just wish there was a loop option available. Of course, one could thru hike the trail and end up at the Kanc, but you need two cars and a lot more time for logistics, which Jill and I don’t have with our day hike schedule. I think from this point on, Jill and I will seek out the loops and really think hard before pursuing another in-and-out hike anytime soon. Regardless of if the trip down the Mt. Osceola Trail was a little miserable, it was still a great day in the Whites, and the trip up and the summit made up for the long trip down.

Also, when we got home, we had the two little rug rats (Hank and Lily) waiting for us. It was their birthday and they turned six. They had their Frosty Paws as a birthday snack and then lounged with us for the afternoon. Happy Birthday Pups!

Pups, Happy We're Home!


Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Stroll Through the Woods of South Hampton

We’re heading out to Vegas tomorrow for my sister-in-law’s wedding, so today will be a busy day of cleaning, packing and just tying up some loose ends. So, needless to say, this day is not a good candidate for hiking up north (although I would love to be hiking right now). Even though I ruled out hiking, I still had the urge to get outside. So I decided to getup at the crack of dawn (5am) and go for a nature walk behind my parent’s house. They live in South Hampton and own quite a few acres. Growing up, I used to run around those woods everyday. But now, I’m lucky to get out there once a year on a quick hunting trip. The objective for this short trip was to checkout wildflowers, which I have never focused on in these woods before. 

Wild Iris

The area is somewhat swampy and the roads and trails are starting to grow in a bit. There really is a lot of history out there if you know where to look. The most obvious piece of history is Bugsmouth Road, which runs through the woods up to Bugsmouth Hill (elevation approximately 300ft). It was an old carriage road, which was a main drag in South Hampton back in the early 1800’s. There are also many piles of fieldstones throughout the woods, which were a product of the farmers who unearthed them while plowing the fields. You see, these woods weren’t always woods. In fact, the whole area was fields and farms at one time or another. It’s really amazing how young the forest really is. Most likely, it is only 150 years old or so. Finally, the Powwow River hugs the property line on the north side. I used to fish out there with my friends growing up. This river, which dumps into the Merrimack River in Amesbury, has many brooks that run off from it, including Pierce Brook. Pierce Brook is a very nice place about a mile out in the woods and where I was able to find some wildlife and flowers.

Purple Violet

So, back to the reason I took the stroll through the woods. I was hoping to find some good wildflowers and actually practice taking some pictures. Right now, Jill and I have a Canon PowerShot SX110IS, which is a very nice “point and shoot” camera. I find though, I have to take four or five pictures of a flower in order to get one good shot. I think if I end up taking amateur photography a little more seriously, I will need to upgrade to a larger camera with more focus flexibility. But, for now, this camera does well.


The first flower that I came across was a Wild Iris. I love Wild Iris’s. They are much smaller than garden Iris’s but I believe they display more color. I was able to get a couple “head-on” shots as well as some pictures of buds, which had dew droplets running down them. I think I captured the beauty pretty well, but I will let you be the judge.

Wild Iris Buds with Dew

I saw many common wildflowers such as some White and Purple Violets as well as Canadian Mayflowers. I also found Fiddleheads and a few white flowers, which I don’t know the name of just yet. I will certainly look them up and try to identify them later on today. The one thing I was not able to catch deep in the woods was a Lady Slipper. That being the case, on my way back to my parent’s house, I decided to take a small detour toward the location of my old tree house, on the south end of my parent’s property. I know where there is a bed of Lady Slippers that had been there for years and assumed they must still be there. Of course they were and I was able to snap a few shots.

Lady Slipper

It was really great to run around my parent’s woods for a couple reasons. That forest in South Hampton brings back a bunch of great childhood memories of cutting wood, hunting, fishing and riding dirt bikes with my Dad. This area is also very different than the woods up north. The wildflowers are abundant and colorful. The fern beds are like none other that I have seen before. The ferns grow in dense clusters and up to 5 feet tall. The signs of wildlife are constant as you push through. It’s really a great place to spend a few hours early in the day and observe the beauty of nature. It is safe for me to say, I will be heading back again sometime soon to see what other flowers bloom in the coming months.

 Tree Frog at Pierce Brook


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Conquerors! Mount Moosilauke

Have you ever felt like you’ve conquered the world? What I mean by that is, have you ever overcome something that seemed pretty crazy? And did you get that sense of accomplishment and think to yourself, “I own this, I got this, this is MINE”? Did it make you feel like you wanted to plant a flag with your name on it, informing the world of what you had just done? I definitely felt that way last Friday when I conquered Mount Moosilauke.
I’ve had my eye on Mt. Moosilauke for a while and to be honest, I’m not really sure why. This particular mountain just appeals to me, I guess. It is a lonely peak all by itself, with respect to other four thousand footers. It stands alone, southwest of route 93 and the Kanc junction. Just about everyone I have talked to who has climbed this mountain has a story about it. My buddy Matt described the ascent as one that makes you feel like William Wallace charging the mountains of Scotland in Braveheart. A coworker told me that the westward winds blow extremely hard in the Alpine Region on Moosilauke and each of the many times he’s summitted, he could barely stand. Maybe these tales strike a chord of adventure in me, who knows. Regardless, I wanted to climb it.
Mt. Moosilauke from the Trailhead, Hiding in the Clouds

This hiking season, I decided to turn my desire into a reality. I chose a day and decided I was heading up north to plant my feet on the summit of this mountain. Lucky for me, one of my friends, Alex, was up for hiking it as well. When we started off at the trailhead, the summit was far up in the clouds. We left this intimidating sight behind and disappeared into the woods. The hike up the trail was similar to many I have been on before. As we climbed higher and higher, the spruce trees got smaller and smaller until we crossed into the Alpine Region. I don’t recall noticing much of a significant breeze until we hit this point. The wind slowly grew stronger and frost started appearing on the trees as we continued on.
It was not long before we left the barrier of trees behind us and an enormous gust of wind struck us from the west. This wind was worse than we had experienced earlier on the trail and was frigid cold. We could see the summit in the distance and it seemed so close. However, this task before us, to climb through stronger winds than we had ever experienced before, was not an easy one to overcome. While absorbing the beauty of an open landscape to the west and east, we fought off the cold and walked slowly north. With each step through the load-bearing wind, we felt as though our feet were weighted down by 25 pounds each. When we looked to the left (toward the west), we were not even able to breathe as the wind would pull the air from your mouth before you could inhale. Regardless, we trudged on!
The higher in elevation we got, the fiercer Mother Nature was on us. The tree trunks were pure white on their westward faces making them look like crystal ice structures on lonely rock. The summit sign in the distance slowly got larger as we got closer. When we tried to talk to each other, we found we could not hear without screaming as the wind filled our heads with an echoing roar. We found ourselves using our trekking poles, not to keep our balance on loose footing, but instead as kickstands to the east to keep us from blowing over when we took a step forward. Regardless, we trudged on!

Ice Rime on Summit Sign
With that last, heavy stride reaching the rocky summit, I truly felt like I had conquered that mountain. I felt like Neil Armstrong taking that one giant leap. The summit sign, covered in hard rime ice, indicated that we had just climbed to an elevation of 4,802 feet. However, that last half mile was truly like nothing I had experienced before. It was absolutely beautiful but extremely vicious and displayed awesome power. Even with these extreme conditions (the wind literally knocking us off our feet and roaring so loud we could barely hear each other speak), being up there was very calming. We were the only people there that morning and it felt great to be the first conquerors of the day. Alex and I stayed up there as long as we could. We took one last breath of White Mountain air before the cold finally forced us off. We descended to the east, leaving the summit and the westward winds behind. We definitely felt higher than the trail had brought us that day.

Franconia Ridge with Mt. Washington Behind


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Think About The History

I love history. I would in no way consider myself a historian, but still love it nonetheless. Seeing how our past has evolved to become our present is truly an amazing thing to me. How did this structure come to be? What was this land used for 100 years ago? Who was here, doing exactly what I am doing, years before I was?

Believe it or not, these questions constantly run through my mind when I am on a trail. I know I’m a huge, uber dork…right? I get it. But humor me for a second. Stop and think of a trail for a moment. Possibly one of your most memorable trails you have hiked. When do you think that trail was blazed? How long do you think it took? Whose blood and sweat went into creating that trail? Who do you think has walked on it since? These are all questions I can’t help but ask myself when I look up a clearly identifiable path, located in the middle of nowhere.

Take this picture for instance. I love this picture. My father, who knows I’m interested in history and hiking, picked up this photo for me in a local antique store. It shows a man, most likely from the 1920’s, posing next to a trail sign on the Six Husbands Trail, which is located on Mt. Jefferson. Back in the 20’s, hiking wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today, and many trails had yet to be blazed. That’s why this picture is so interesting to me. Notice that the guy is hiking with a tie on and has a leather backpack. Also, remember that cameras weren’t that light or compact back then and someone had to lug that thing up this trail to snap the picture. So, who do you think this guy was? Was he a member of the AMC heading up to Madison Hut? Maybe he’s a first time hiker just out giving it a try? Or maybe he’s a trail guide or maintainer just doing what he loves to do? I guess I’ll never know but I’ll always wonder, especially when I finally go to hike the Six Husbands Trail.

So, history buff or not, I urge you to take a step back and think about these things as you’re hiking New Hampshire. I’m sure the trailblazers of yesterday truly had a love for nature and the outdoors, since clearing a trail up a mountain is not an easy job. I’m sure as they cleared the path for us, they had no idea their trails would be heavily used and sought out for years to come. It is because of them we have such a strong hiking community today and are able to enjoy the beauty that New Hampshire’s wilderness has to offer.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Robert Frost Would Be Proud! Mount Cardigan

When the clock struck 6:30am, Jill and I ran out the door. As we headed North in the Jeep, I had no idea that later that same morning, we would be looking at each other puzzled (and I bit worried) regarding the predicament we had gotten ourselves into. We had literally taken the road less traveled and were regretting it at that particular moment. Okay, let me back up for a minute.

A few weeks back, Jill and I scheduled a trip to climb Mt. Cardigan and this was the day we picked. I had done quite a bit of research regarding the best route to ascend to the summit from the East. I like to gather as much information on the hikes we have planned for a few reasons. I wouldn’t say that we are extremely experienced hikers since we really started hitting the trails less than a year ago and for this reason, it’s nice to know exactly where we’re going and what we're getting ourselves into. So, for this hike, it was abundantly clear from online posts and from my hiking guides that we wanted to start by taking the Holt-Manning Trail to the Holt Trail. After a brook crossing, the Holt Trail splits off to the Clark-Holt Cutoff at the Grand Junction. This Cutoff drops you onto the Clark Trail, which is the best route up to the Cardigan summit. This was the plan. This is what I had prepared for!

Feeling good and moving fast through the first half of the hike, we came upon the Grand Junction. There we found a large sign that said “Easiest Route to Cardigan”. This was the route I mapped out. When I pointed in this direction, I saw the wheels spinning in Jill’s head. Since we were moving so fast and we felt great so far on this hike, she suggested we continue on the Holt Trail. I believe her wording was, “let’s challenge ourselves”. Now, I had heard from my friends Matt and Steph that it was a tough trail and a bit steep. Also, I hadn’t prepared for this trail. This was against my better judgment. However, as always with Jill, I caved and we continued on the Holt Trail.

As we hiked along this poorly maintained path, we were presented with discouraging signs that said the trail ahead was extremely rough, steep and dangerous. Along with these “warning” signs, we soon found ourselves noticing that something was missing. There were at least 30 cars at the trailhead when we started out, but we were hiking alone. There were no other hikers on this trail, but still we continued on.

As all signs indicated, the trail did become very steep, very quickly. Before we knew it, the trees quickly shrunk and the rock slabs started growing taller. It may be a good time to add that the rock slabs had constant streaming water running down them from the sun-baked snow on the summit. We pushed ourselves to climb up one slab after another, losing our footing and grip on many of them. The slabs continued to get steeper, longer and wetter, until ultimately we found ourselves stuck on the side of the mountain. We looked at each other and wondered how we were going to get up the next ledge without injury. We had past the point of no return as heading back down the slabs would be more dangerous than continuing up.

In my head, I recall thinking, “This was not the plan!” I was mad that I was not prepared for this type of situation. I was prepared for the Clark Trail, not the Holt Trail. To my amazement, in this tough situation, we could actually hear people talking and yelling above us, on the beautiful, open summit. This was very taunting to us since we were below and in a very sticky situation. We finally picked a path and decided to execute. We chose this particular path, not because it looked like the path of least resistance, but because there was a small shrub below. We figured if we did fall, gravity would let us slide into the shrub rather than falling 40 feet onto rock.

After taking on a few scratches and a lot of bruises, we did make it to the top of the challenging slab. It was definitely the worst one, but also the last. When we got to the top of the slab, we could finally see the roof of the fire tower on the summit, so we pushed on. The feeling of making it through a tough situation, one that not many people tackled that day, felt great. We felt tough. We had just ascended 1000ft in 0.4 miles on a class 3 trail (all of which I researched after I got home). We were bad asses!

As we walked around the summit and sucked in the views, we held our heads up a little bit higher than we would have if we took the Clark Trail up. We had taken this road less traveled, and as Robert Frost explains to us, the tough Holt Trail had made all the difference!

Whites/MW in the Distance


Monday, May 3, 2010

It never gets old...

Hello world and welcome to my new Blog, “Live Free and Hike”. I’ve never blogged before but certainly catch myself reading other hiking blogs on a regular basis. So I figured, what the heck, why not give it a try. I hope you enjoy it. I promise to share my thoughts and adventures often.

My wife, Jill, and I started really hiking New Hampshire less than a year ago and we have taken a passion for it. Sure, we had hiked a few smaller mountains prior to this point, but it was one particular hike that inspired us. My buddy recommended Welch-Dickey, so we decided to check it out. The views were incredible and we’ve never looked back since.

Views on Welch Mountain

The main reason we hike is because that feeling never gets old. You know the feeling I mean. It’s the feeling you get when you walk out from a tree covered path onto the open cliff summit of Mt. Willard. You are met with a breathtaking view of the Crawford Notch which humbles you and fills you full of peacefulness. For a moment, even if it is only a short moment, you can be stress free and leave the real world behind. That’s the feeling. That’s the feeling that never gets old.

One day, as I tell my wife all the time, we will retire to Jackson, NH and have the Whites in our own backyard. Then we will be able to enjoy their wonder on a daily basis rather than just on the weekends. But for now, we will have to settle on being New Hampshire day hikers…leaving no trace behind!