Thursday, August 26, 2010

Why We Love to Hike...

As you hike the trails in this Granite State, I'm sure you cross paths with many different people, from all over. Do you ever wonder what their goal for the day is? As I meet more and more people who hike, I find that everyone is driven by different objectives. Sure, everyone is going to get a bit of exercise and presumably, will clear their minds and reduce a bit of stress. But what I mean is, what makes that person choose that trail, that day? What's at the end of the road for them? I find myself asking that question a lot about myself these days.

Me, on my greatest peakbagging adventure so far, at the summit of Mount Moosilauke.

I've found that there are many people, especially in New Hampshire, that enjoy peakbagging. Peakbaggers, as I understand them, have the primary objective of summiting a mountain. Now, I certainly don't mean to imply that they don't enjoy nature and all the things surrounding it. It just means that, that peak...that beautiful high point, is their primary objective for the day. My friends, Matt and Steph, who have been active peakbaggers for the last few years, had a set of peaks that they were driven to tackle and did just that. In doing so, their list of peaks allowed them to hike on many, many trails in New Hampshire and brought them to the most remote wilderness areas in the State. They crossed really cool suspension bridges, encountered moose and embraced the beauty of lady slippers, all on the way to their primary objective...the summits!

Good friends, Matt and Steph, on the summit of Owl's Head. The peakbagger's nemesis.

New Hampshire is a fabulous place to be a peakbagger because there are many lists to cross peaks off from. The most popular being AMC's list of 48, 4,000 footers. In New Hampshire, there are actually 72 peaks which rise over 4,000 feet. However, they only make the AMC's 48 list if there is at least a 200 foot elevation gain from an adjoining peak. If there is not, only the higher of the two peaks will count. There is also the New England Top 100, which, you guessed it, are the top 100 peaks in the six states that make up New England (needless to say, only Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont help make up the list). I believe, but I am not positive, that the same 200 foot elevation gain rule holds true for these NE 100 peaks. Maybe one of the most difficult lists in New Hampshire is the Trailwrights list. This list incorporates all 72 over 4,000 foot peaks in New Hampshire, but restricts you from claiming more than one peak per hike. This encourages a peakbagger to explore more trails to complete his or her goal. Also included with the Trailwrights requirement is that you must perform 72 hours of trail work, to ensure you give back a little. Another list that I have seen more recently is the 52 With a View list. This list has 52 peaks within New Hampshire, which are under 4,000 feet and are said to be less strenuous than the AMC's 48, but still offer spectacular views.

Jill and I on the peak of Mt. Kearsarge

Along with the peakbaggers, I'm sure that a large majority of hikers out there are, what I consider, true nature lovers. Nature lovers, and this is my own definition, love every aspect of nature. It's not so much about the high point on the mountain, but rather everything that makes up that mountain. The trees, the flowers, the wildlife and the landscape as a whole, all play into this. My buddy, Jim Salge (who is a professional nature photographer and former meteorologist for the Mount Washington Observatory) is what I consider to be, a true nature lover. He strives to find the beauty in nature, capture it with his camera and share it with us. He notices the little things that others on the trail may not see. It is not uncommon for him to hit the trail and hike for miles to find a simple, beautiful wildflower, covered in dew, under an orange sunrise. He's never in search of the peak. He is only in search of the many faces of nature. Speaking with him recently, he admitted to me that he has been on each of the 48's at one time or another, sometimes only a few feet from the summit, but has only summited the peaks of a handful. As a nature lover, he has the same drive as a peakbagger, but not the same primary objective. (Please visit Jim Salges Photography page here or his Photography Blog here. Jim Salge Photography can also be found on Facebook here.)

Courtesy of Jim Salge Photography, view from below Black Cap, on the Green Hills Range

Photo I took of Hepatica on the trail, Pawtuckaway (North), West slope

Obviously, there are many other objectives to why people hike. Some people are just checking out what the mountains have to offer (such as first time hikers and vacationers). More recently, I have noticed that trail running is becoming quite popular, where the primary objective is time. This past week, someone posted on the MWO forum that they completed the Pemi-Loop in just over 9 hours. This loop is over 30 miles long, traverses multiple peaks and has a huge elevation gain. Some people hike for creativity or inspiration for art or writing. The list of objectives can go on and on.

So why do I hike? I hike because, simply said, I love it! As do the people I describe above, regardless of their primary objective. Without a doubt, I have peakbagger blood in me. I have an extremely difficult time starting up a mountain that I can't summit. And if inclimate weather or other obstacles hinder me from placing my Vibram sole on that peak, I get very upset and disappointed. Based on this, I will gladly take a partial title of a peakbagger. However, this year, more than last, I am noticing the little things in nature and truly appreciating them. I find it hard to pass by a wildflower, mushroom, cool looking tree or any other scene within the landscape that I find inspiring, without trying to take a nice picture. I will gladly go out of my way on the trail to check out a view point, prior to or after summiting. So in these respects, I think I am a little bit of both, a peakbagger and a nature lover.

Photo I took of Hobblebush leaves, early in the season on Mount Moosilauke.

Jill, doing what she enjoys on the trail, relaxing in the sun, in front of a beautiful view!

The truth is, it doesn't matter why you hike. It only matters that you love doing it. That is certainly a common bond between hikers. Whether you're peakbagging or nature searching or trail running, you know you love it. As hikers, we understand how precious the mountains and wilderness in New Hampshire are and that we need to embrace what we have in our backyard. The next time you start on a trailhead, just take John Muir's advise as I always do..."Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows in trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves"...


Monday, August 23, 2010

Live Free and Hike is on Facebook

A few months back, I decided to sign up for this blog space, to share with you my exploration of the wilderness in New Hampshire. I can't tell you how much I have enjoyed it, which really surprises me. Please understand that I am an engineer by profession and reason. I crunch numbers well, but I am horrible at grammar. I didn't have a hard time tackling classes like Differential Equations and Multidimensional Calculus. But freshmen English, I struggled with! This is why it surprises me that I enjoy this blog so much. I love to write it and share it with you. I really hope you enjoy it as well. Thanks for reading!

In an effort to share this blog with more people, I have created a Facebook page. If you feel like it and want to become a fan, please do. Facebook Page Link.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Flying Through the Tree Tops! - Bretton Woods Canopy Tour

Jill and I took this past Friday off from work and I surprised her with something that she had been wanting to do for quite a while. I booked us reservations on the Bretton Woods Canopy Tour for 9:30am. Now, I know this blog is where I write about my hiking adventures, but I figured since this event was in the White's (and it is "my" blog), it would be a worthy topic. We started out early and decided to head up I93 through the Franconia Notch. We both realized while entering Coos County, that this was the farthest north in New Hampshire, each of us had been in a very long time.

Jill and I on the deck of prior to starting the training class

The tour at Bretton Woods starts right in the ski lodge and they have tables with your respective tour times that you hangout at until the tour guides come get you. It seemed to me that they had tours go out every thirty minutes. Each group was made up of eight participants and two tour guides. Our tour guides (Kevin and Doug) were great. From the very beginning, prior to getting any equipment on, they were cracking jokes, but at the same time, did keep a professional attitude. They made you feel safe the entire time and I would highly recommend them to anyone calling to make reservations.

Getting the equipment on was a new experience. There was a full body harness that captured all your limbs with giant metal carabiners and trolleys hanging off from it. I must say, and I think I can speak for everyone in the group that day, that the harnesses are less than comfortable. However, when thinking about safety, I would much rather be a bit uncomfortable than injured. We also got to sport rock climbing helmets and pretty thick leather gloves. Finally, Doug came around and tethered our cameras directly to our harnesses so that we could snap some good pictures of the this great experience.

Jill getting ready to make her first zip run

Jill getting some tips after her first rope repel

We headed out of the equipment house and up a ski lift. Jill and I were able to ride up with our guide, Kevin, and he pointed out to us all the interesting summer activities that Bretton Woods had going on. We were able to see a nice frisbee golf course they had as well as scooter trails heading down the mountain. Kevin also explained that Bretton Woods was located on both Mount Rosebrook and West Mountain (also known as Mount Oscar I believe) combined.

Jill on the zip line

At the top of the ski lift, we made our way up on the deck of a building where our guides offered to take some pictures. From there, we had a six minute walk to our first zip line training class. Here, we realized that this was not the typical zip line ride, where you hook up, hold on and go. But instead, this was a technical zip line tour. You were highly responsible for how your zip run went. At the training class, we learned how to properly hang in the harness by not applying pressure to the trolley, how to break using friction from an open handed leather glove on the lower cable, how to steer (in the event headwinds twisted you) and good form to ensure you could build up enough speed to make it to the other side. You were responsible for all of this as well as paying attention to the guide who was providing hand signals like an air traffic controller. In between all of this, you were able to absorb all the beautiful views.

One of the two suspension bridges

Heading to the first real zip line, we learned that there were nine zip lines in all, two suspension bridges, three rope repels and about a 1,000 foot elevation drop from start to finish. The course is setup to go from less "intimidating" to more "intimidating". To begin, you run through a couple small zip lines, which have a gentler grade down and not much distance, so you get experience using your newly learned techniques. After these, the fun begins. In the following zip lines, you are much higher up off the ground and gain much more speed. It isn't long before you realize how high in the trees you really are, as the small platforms you are standing on sway noticeably back and forth.

Mount Washington in the clouds (Cog and Ammonoosuc Ravine can be seen)

As we continued on, walking among the birds, we came to two high, suspension bridges in series. These bridges were very cool and some people thought they were the scariest part of the whole tour. They bounced quite a bit while traversing, but they were a great way to get from tree platform to tree platform. At the end of the second bridge, we came to the baddest zip of all! This zip line seemed so high up! The path crossed a ski trail and then disappeared back into the tree tops. We asked Doug what speed we may see on this run and he said possibly 35-40mph. This was the first run that I got an adrenaline rush. It was truly amazing. As I flew through the sky, my fears subsided and I made sure to look to my right, where I saw a beautiful view of Mount Washington and the surrounding Presidentials. It was awesome and definitely my favorite part of the day.

Our guide, Doug, zip lining over on sickest cable of them all

The rest of the tour went by quickly because we were having so much fun. It consisted of some more zips and longer repels. The last repel being a pretty lengthy drop. I did not ask how high it was, but I have to guess 60-100 feet or so. The guides continued to be extremely helpful, funny and patient with us. You could tell they loved their jobs. Doug and Kevin were great and gave us small history lessons while hooking us up. They told us about the logging history of New Hampshire and how we have been able to restore the beautiful forests at an extraordinary rate from when it was heavily logged years ago. Being a history buff, I enjoyed this very much.

Jill repelling off the last rope

The tour came to an end on the Williwaw Racing Zip. This zip was straight down to the base resort (our starting point) and ran two side-by-side, so you could race. This zip was different than the rest because it was not in the three tops and did not require any technical knowledge. They changed out our technical trolleys and hooked us up to these special trolleys with hand grips. Jill and I raced, and she won. The reason why is because she cheated. She started at the two count, when we were supposed to go on three! That's okay though, I still had fun.

Jill and I after a fun filled day on the Canopy Tour

I have to say, I wasn't sure what to expect on this trip. I was certainly nervous when we started, but the guides, as well as the way these exercise were introduced, subsided my apprehension greatly. The cost for this tour is $110, which may seem high, but when you think about it, it is truly a great deal. It is almost four hours long and well worth the money. Also, I believe you get a discount if you are staying at the Mount Washington Hotel. Bretton Woods also has a Facebook fan page, which sometimes has deals for this package posted, if they have available slots. I would recommend this to anyone...it was so much fun. I thank Kevin and Doug too for being great guides (who knows if they would ever come across this blog or not to receive the thanks!). And obviously, thanks Jill for being such a great tree top companion for the day! I had a blast - hope you did too!


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Thanks Trail Crews!

If you're a hiker like me, there's a good chance you have hiked on a New Hampshire trail and been surprised at the great condition it is in. Well, as I'm sure you know, the trail doesn't maintain itself. It is maintained in part by very generous volunteers who donate their time by adopting trails. Unfortunately, there are just not enough volunteers to maintain the many, many miles of hiking trails in this great State. For this reason, it is still common to find less traveled trails in need of repair. A few that come to mind, that I have trekked on recently, are The Iron Mountain Trail (which ascends Iron Mountain) and the upper portion of the Holt Trail (on Mount Cardigan).

I came across this article a week or so ago and thought I would share it (Click Here). It is great little piece about some of the stimulus money being put to good use by helping with the repair and maintenance of our great New Hampshire trail system. It mentions Welch-Dickey and how this stimulus money helped give the popular loop a face lift. Welch-Dickey is one of my favorite hikes of all time and I'm glad to see this money was put to good use.

Each day I think about how I could give back to the New Hampshire White Mountains, as they have provided me with so much joy and beauty over the last year. Maybe adopting a trail is really the best way to give back. I will certainly be looking into it over the next few days and urge you to do the same. If you ever have the pleasure of crossing paths with a trail maintainer on the trail, don't forget to say thanks!


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mt. Jackson and Mt. Webster...We Came Back!!!

So my birthday was this past Saturday (the 7th) and for a destination I chose the Crawford Notch to revisit the Webster-Jackson Trail and hopefully ascend the peaks of both Mt. Jackson and Mt. Webster. After the disappointing trip we had up this trail a few weeks back (click here to read about this failed attempt), we were a bit hesitant about trying this trail again and hoped the result wouldn't be the same. To our delight, we found the Notch under bright blue skies, sporting no humidity with the air temperature at a comfortable 58 degrees.

Notch from View Point

We started up the trail and as we expected, the first mile was very familiar to us as we had hiked it just a couple weeks prior. The big differences were that we weren't walking in fog and downpours, the trail didn't look like a running brook and we weren't soaked! The view point, which is located only 0.6 miles up the trail, gave us great views to the northwest. The Mount Washington Resort Hotel was clearly visible, as was most of the Notch.


We continued on and before long, came to the infamous Flume Cascade Brook, or as I like to call it, the raging river that made us head back last time. I was absolutely amazed to find it a mere trickle of water that only required us to take a slightly long stride over to the other banking. UNBELIEVABLE! I can't even explain to you how different this flow of water was a few weeks prior.

Me, wondering where the water is!

Happy that we made it across, we continued on to the split. Now, most of the trail guides out there advise that you make a counterclockwise loop, up and over Webster and then continue on to Jackson. This is due to some very steep sections and some rock hopping on the Webster Branch of the trail. I believe one guide even says if done counterclockwise, the hike ends up being about one hour faster than if it is done in a clockwise fashion, because of these trail features. We did, however, decide to ascend Jackson first. This is because I didn't know how we would feel after hitting one peak. Would we be too tired to continue? Would it take too long to summit and would our turn around time force us back down before the next peak? Taking this into account, I knew we wanted to summit Jackson no matter what, so we turned left on the Mount Jackson Branch of the trail.

The mossy landscape was beautiful

The Mount Jackson Branch was beautiful. I can't describe to
you the amount of green moss that was everywhere you looked. It was like someone took a bright green carpet and spread it through the forest. That, with some water runoffs and the sun peeking through the canopy made the forest glow with beauty. It was really an amazing sight and probably one of the nicest forest scenes I have ever been in.

Toward the top of Mount Jackson, we had the pleasure of being a
ble to ascend the peak by some good rock hopping as well as some slab climbing. They weren't too steep, but just steep enough to make it fun. The view from all around at this point was beautiful. Along with the view above the trees came a cold westerly wind. We made it to the top of Mount Jackson and were rewarded with one of the best views I have seen so far in the Whites (remember, I'm still fairly new to hiking...haven't ascended that many peaks yet). You could see the lower Presidentials in the near distance with Mount Washington towering over them. It was truly a great sight.

Mount Washington and the Southern Presidentials

Jill and I on the summit of Mount Jackson!

Jill and I found a nice rock on the northern face of the summit to settle in, eat lunch and absorb the beauty of the White Mountains. It wasn't long before we had a visitor, though. A plump bird, with a black head landed down right at my feet. I was in absolute shock that a bird would get this close to me. I thought it would make for a great picture. However, it wasn't long until we noticed that the bird was asphyxiated on our food. We looked around and all of a sudden we were surrounded. And then it came to me, "these must be the gray jays I have read so much about!". So, Jill and I ate our food quickly in hopes they wouldn't want to fight us for it. A guy behind us was actually feeding the gray jays from his hand. Now, I know this bad because the more it is done, the more they harass hikers. But being the first time I have encountered these scavengers...I had to try it. It was pretty cool letting the bird eat out of your hand. I promise, as a good hiker, I will never do it again!

Gray Jay

Gray Jay, eating from my hand

After taking one last deep breath of Mount Jackson air, we headed southwest down the Webster Cliff Trail (also part of the Appalachian Trail). This trail was steep going down the peak of Jackson and we were sliding on our butts quite a bit. It did level off but got very wet and muddy. There are quite a few walking boards on this trail to help keep you out of the mud...but not everywhere. This trail, between these two peaks, was pretty boring and did not offer much for views. We made it to the peak of Mount Webster pretty quickly. Here, we were rewarded with great views of the Notch and an amazing sheer cliff drop off to Route 302.

It was on the peak of Mount Webster where I encountered an extremely unprepared hiker, which actually startled me a bit. This hiker had nothing more than a small "fanny pack" which could hold a lunch and a bottle of water, was dressed in a tee shirt and shorts (with a light windbreaker) and a written down description of the loop that they had pulled from online. This hiker wanted to go to Mount Jackson, but was ready to head south down the Webster Cliff trail. I helped them out by showing them on my map where they were and where they needed to go. Being the over prepared hiker that I am, this under prepared hiker made me a bit uneasy the rest of the day. The good thing was, it was a very nice day out and the loop trail had plenty of presence of other hikers.

View from Webster

The truck down the Webster branch trail was truly the hardest part of the hike. There were many steep sections that required poles and lengthy, impacted jumps. In some places, it was steep enough that poles got thrown down first and you slid down on your butt. The terrain made the first mile go by very, very slow. In the end, we made it off the trail safely and proud of our accomplishment. Most importantly, we were able to finish the journey we started a few weeks before. We saw the beautiful Presidential Range, fed birds from our hands, hiked 6.5 miles and had a wonderful time. Jill is able to say she has completed her 3rd 4000 footer, and I can say I have completed my fifth. I can honestly say it was a great birthday and I wouldn't have changed a thing about it. Spending the day with my lovely wife while looking out at the White Mountains was the best gift of all!

Silver Cascade Brook


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A New Hampshire Quality Product!

A buddy of mine (Matt, who I've mentioned a few times now) pointed out this article to me today and I thought it would be a good topic to follow up my Asolo boot review. It was about Peter Limmer & Sons Custom Sport Shoes. Looks like a well made, New Hampshire product that everyone wants. That is, of course if you can afford them and can stand to wait 18 months or longer to go hiking. Even with the expensive price tag, if they last 30 years...you will still spend way less than buying new boots at EMS or REI every few years!

If you're in the Conway area, you should try to stop by to see this shop. I know I will be stopping by. Also, if you have been there or own a pair of these boots, please leave a note in the comments section of this posting. I would love to hear about them. As always, happy hiking and leave no trace!


Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Review of My New Boots

Recently, I took a big step as a hiker and decided to replace my hiking boots. Jill and I have been consistently hiking for just over a year now and the set of Merrell's I purchased last summer have taken a beating and believe it or not, they are already starting to fall apart. So, I started the search for a new set of boots this past April. After reading many reviews and conferring with my buddy Matt Reitan (an extremely experienced hiker), I decided on a pair of Asolo TPS 520 GV's. They were a bit more than I wanted to spend, but Matt's Asolo 500 series boots have lasted him 11 years, through many, many hikes. This pretty much sold me, even at the high price.

I got them at EMS, where I still have a student discount (still part time trying to get my Masters) of 15%. So when all was said and done, I think I got a good deal on them. To start out, they were extremely stiff. I've heard that this is a characteristic of a good boot. In the case of this boot, the stiffness is a product of a really good, hard shank. This is something that is a necessity on a rocky, uneven trail. I found early on with these boots, that the tightness of the laces were very important in order for them to be comfortable on me. Too tight and my ankles and foot started to hurt, too loose and I felt my foot slide back and forth. I know this sounds obvious, but with these boots, there was a very small window between too tight and too loose. I found myself adjusting a couple times on the trail before finding the sweet spot.

The first hike with these boots wasn't bad on ascent, but my feet started to ache a bit on the descent. I could easily tell it was due to the stiffness of the boots. After hiking in them a few more times, this stiffness started to subside and the comfort level for these boots increased drastically. To improve the comfort even further, I replaced the factory insoles with SoreDAWG insoles. I went with the "Expedition" model insoles because they had the lowest arch of all their products (I have flat feet). The SoreDAWG insoles made the comfort of these boots even better.

So, I give these Asolo boots a high score. I would give Asolo a 10 out of 10, two thumbs up and five stars. I highly recommend them to any peak baggers, backpackers or day hikers out there that may be in the market for new footwear.