Saturday, September 25, 2010

The vehicle that brought us to many trailheads...

My hiking sticker on my Jeep rear bumper!

For the last 8 years, I've owned a Jeep Wrangler, which I bought right out of school. It was a good vehicle and I certainly got my money's worth out of it. In the end, it had just over 150,000 miles, two leaking differential pinion seals, needed brakes all around, had 7 blown speakers, took in 1 inch of water (inside) each time it rained and was so loud on the highway that I literally couldn't talk on my cell phone. However, it never left me stranded anywhere and nothing major ever went wrong from a mechanical/safety standpoint.

Jill getting our gear out of the Jeep on a chilly morning at the Mt. Tecumseh Trailhead

The front of the Jeep at the Iron Mountain Trailhead

When you have a vehicle that long, being the only owner, you certainly grow attached to it. I'm mentioning my Jeep in my blog today because it was our ride to many trailheads. In that sense, it was part of our hiking equipment. I have many fond memories of driving down class VI roads and old logging roads in the Jeep, heading up to more remote trailheads. Leaving the trailheads in the Jeep always seemed memorable too. After a long day of hiking, there was nothing better than rolling out of the trailhead parking area with my beautiful wife, cranking great tunes in the Jeep, as we watched the mountain get smaller in the rear view mirror. I will miss you Jeep...I hope whoever ends up behind the wheel of you will appreciate how great and dependable you really are!

Jill and I with the Jeep in the background at Winslow State Park, Trailhead up to Kearsarge


Monday, September 20, 2010

Mt. Flume & Mt. Liberty - My Longest Journey So Far

Mount Flume has always appealed to me. I'm not really sure what my draw to it is. I've always loved how the peak's profile is extremely sharp when viewed upon from the north or south. It also has some amazing slides and scars on the western face which make's it an unmistakable mountain. Most of all though, it has one of the most infamous trails leading up to the summit, that is still in use. The very steep and challenging Flume Slide Trail ascends the mountain by way of wet slabs at an almost vertical pitch. It brings the climber 1,400 vertical feet in only 0.7 miles. It's a killer!

In order to tackle the Flume Slide Trail, I recruited a veteran of it, my buddy Matt Reitan. He's an extremely experienced hiker and slides like this are not intimidating to him at all. His experience and confidence is exactly what I needed to get through this crazy desire of mine. So, we set the date for September 18th and headed up to Franconia Notch.

Matt's an old fraternity buddy of mine from UNH. He's received the name "Slowtan" (Slow-Reitan) because he is always late for everything. In standard Slowtan style, we pulled up to the trailhead around 10am, which is way later than I have ever started a hike before. But that was okay because I was just happy to have him, and his dog Dasher, join me. The route that we mapped out was a 10 mile loop which included multiple trails and two peaks. We would start on the Whitehouse Trail to the Pemi Bike Path. From the Pemi Bike Path, we picked up the Liberty Springs Trail. After following this trail for a bit, we branched off onto the dreaded Flume Slide Trail, ascend the slide until we hit the beginning of the Franconia Ridge Trail, 0.1 miles below the Mount Flume summit. After summiting, we would continue on the Franconia Ridge Trail to the summit of Mount Liberty. After enjoying the summit of Mount Liberty, we would continue north on the Franconia Ridge Trail for a short distance, hang a left onto the Liberty Springs Trail and backtrack to the trailhead.

The beginning of the trek was pretty easy and for the first mile or so you forget that you are even climbing a mountain. However, when we got to the junction and saw the sign for the Flume Slide Trail, that feeling of intimidation came back to me quickly. It was a reminder of the challenge that laid before me. But I came to climb the slide, and that is exactly what I intended to do.
Matt, Dasher and I continued on this path for a few miles and noticed
very gradual elevation gains. The trail was not that scenic and at times, was grown in quite a bit. I was able to take a few snapshots of mushrooms and we hopped over a few easy brook crossings. This trail has such a horrible reputation for being so challenging and steep, and it was one of the easiest trails I had been on to date (at this point). This ironic situation built up a ton of suspense within me as I knew at some point, the trail would go up...and up it went.

Matt and Dasher at the foot of the slabs

The trail foundation quickly changed from soil and tree roots to many small loose rocks. This to me was a clear indication that the slide was near. The incline on the trail increased and we quickly came to a boulder on the trail sporting a red line down it. I assumed that this was the marker for the bottom of the slide. With larger rocks everywhere now, we climbed, one step after another, up a very steep trail. It wasn't long before we came to our first rock wall obstacle. I remember thinking, "this is what I have been waiting for, the fun part!" We started to use our hands more and more until we found ourselves on the side of wet, slab rock. There was no distinguishable trail in front of us or behind us, just rock wall.

Picture taken from the side of the trail, showing the grade

Matt, being the experienced climber that he is, would go ahead of us and scout out our best path. Dasher and I would sit back and wait for him to yell down to us that we were good to go. It amazes me how quickly you gain ground when you are moving straight up. In order to avoid some truly dangerous spots, we did have to veer off to the side of the trail at times, and use small saplings to pull ourselves up. After what seemed to be a very long ascent over slabs, we finally came to a recognizable path. The trail above the slide continued steeply, all the way to the Franconia Ridge Trail.

Me, on the summit of Mt. Flume, looking up the Franconia Ridge

After hitting the Franconia Ridge Trail, the summit of Mt. Flume was only 0.1 miles away. The trail opens up quickly and drops you out on the western ledges, just below the summit. A few people got a show just prior to us making it onto the summit as the fighter jets (we think they were F18 Hornets) from the Loudon Raceway fly over screamed over the summit. Matt was able to catch a glimpse of the bird's double stabilizers, but I was not fast enough to get up there in time...total bummer for me!

Dasher, on the summit of Mt. Liberty

Mount Flume was great. A wonderful, westerly breeze cooled us down after such a bear of an ascent. Mount Liberty and the rest of the Franconia Ridge was easily visible. After eating some lunch and relaxing for a short while, we geared up and headed over to Liberty, knowing we still had a long way to go. The hike over to Mount Liberty was a challenge for me. Not so much the downhill, but the uphill portion was tough. My muscles were just warn out from the Flume Slide Trail but I pushed through and made it to the summit.

View of the Pemi from Mount Liberty

Sun rays to the southwest of Mt. Liberty

Mount Liberty, to my pleasant surprise, was an incredible summit. I can honestly say it is now one of my favorite peaks in New Hampshire. There were great views from all around. To the north, Little Haystack, Lincoln and Garfield stood tall. To the west, Cannon Mountain, the Kinsmans and Moosilauke could easily be identified. To the south, our previous destination, Mount Flume sported its scared western slopes. My favorite views of all were to the east. The entire Pemigewasset Wilderness was easy to make out. The Bonds, Mount Guyot, Owl's Head, you could see them all! And peaking over the Pemi was the big guy, Mount Washington. It was clear enough that day that I could even focus in on the observatory towers.

Cannon Mountain from Mt. Liberty

Mount Flume and its scarred slopes

Matt, Dasher and I stayed on the summit for a good 40 minutes, sucking in the fresh mountain air and enjoying what New Hampshire has to offer. After taking many pictures and meeting a few hiking groups, we packed up and headed down to the Liberty Springs Trail. On the Liberty Springs Trail, I got my first view of an AMC Tent Site. It was actually pretty impressive with very sturdy platforms scattered on the mountain side. I only poked around the tent site for a few minutes and continued on down the mountain.

Matt, resting on a shear cliff on the northwestern corner of the Mt. Liberty summit

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful and the trek out seemed very long. As I said before, Mount Liberty was an incredible summit and the beauty of it far surpassed that of Mount Flume. However, the true reward for the day was knowing I made it up the Flume Slide Trail. Arguably, it is one of the toughest, non-technical climbs in New Hampshire and I can say I climbed it. I'm proud of myself. And the best part is, I had a blast doing it with a great friend. It was truly my longest journey so far, both because of length and difficulty.

A special thanks to Matt and Dasher for hiking with me this past Saturday and putting up with my slow pace! I hope to hike with you guys again soon!


Friday, September 17, 2010

A Friendly Place: The MWO Forum

So, it has only been a year now that I have been hiking regularly, and I have really grown to appreciate our spectacular mountains in New Hampshire. It has become such a large part of my life and I'm happy that I can share it with my wife, and at times, with my good friends. As I dive further into online forums and blogs, I continue to meet great people within the New Hampshire hiking community who share the same love for the mountains and nature as I do. However, when looking back at what sites have been the most helpful to me as a fairly new hiker, one forum sticks out above all others, the Mount Washington Observatory (MWO) Forum.

When I first got into hiking, as I'm sure most people do, I researched mountains and trails to see what type of information was out there. It wasn't long before I found many different forums and resources that were extremely helpful. I joined a few to start and commented only briefly and with caution, as most of the time I didn't know what I was talking about (in most cases, I still don't). Now that a year has past and I slowly become a more active participant in the digital hiking community within New Hampshire, I can honestly say that the members of the MWO Forum have been the most helpful to me personally. I feel that they have been the most open in accepting me into their wonderful community and I feel very comfortable being an active participant in daily discussions. Now please understand, I'm not knocking any other forum out there or putting them down, I'm simply saying that for me, as an individual and a new hiker, I felt they accepted me as a new member with open arms.

The members of this forum make you feel like a friend from the beginning. I've had members seek me out on Facebook and request to a be a friend. I've had members read my blog and comment on it. I've had members reach out to me and offer to sponsor me for other forums that are closed to new members without the sponsorship. I know these things may seem minor, but they aren't to me. They are very kind gestures that I very much appreciate. These things make a newer hiker like myself feel welcome into the hiking community in New Hampshire.

So this blog post is for you, MWO Forum Members. Thanks for helping another New Hampshire hiker find his place in the hiking community. Thanks for being friendly even though we don't physically know each other in most instances. And thanks for all the kind words you respond with, for each and every post!


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day of "Firsts": The Franconia Ridge

My beautiful wife of exactly 3 years (when this picture was snapped), relaxing on Mount Lafayette

Like every hike I talk about on my blog, Jill and I had been wanting to traverse the northern portion of the Franconia Ridge for quite some time. It is one of those hikes that we felt would take us a while, longer than it would take the average hiker. For that reason, it was important that we picked a day that we didn't have to worry about getting home to feed Hank and Lily (our two pugs), as well as take them out. So, we picked the first day of our vacation, which was Thursday, September 2nd (also our wedding anniversary). We obviously already had a dog sitter lined up for Hank and Lily, and heading to our reserved inn after the hike was a much shorter drive than heading home.

Cloudland Falls on the Falling Waters Trail

The days leading up to this hike were a bit worrisome for me. First, I had heard that Hurricane Earl was going to blow in that evening. This soon changed, and the time line in which the mighty Earl would hit, pushed out. Of course, we all know that Earl was a dud anyway. Now that Earl was out of the picture, the weather started to look a bit ugly. Not from a rainy or cloudy perspective, but the opposite. It was supposed to be hot, humid and hazy. I'm not a big fan of hiking when it is hot and humid...and haziness is never a plus for visibility. In my opinion, a 90 degree daytime temperature with high humidity is torture on the trail. Humidity makes me feel ill for some reason and I always feel overheated. However, Jill made a good point, that we should give it a try and at worst, we turn around. Her words of advice were exactly what I needed to change my attitude and from that point on, I was an optimist.

Me, close to the summit of Little Haystack Mountain

Our route was similar to most who climb the northern portion of the Franconia Ridge. We would ascend up the Falling Waters Trail to summit Little Haystack Mountain. From there, we would head north over the Franconia Ridge Trail to summit Mount Lincoln. From Mount Lincoln, we would continue on over Truman Peak to the summit of Mount Lafayette. We would then descend down the Greenleaf Trail to the Greenleaf Hut. We would make our final descent to the trailhead via the popular and well known, Old Bridle Path. It is approximately an 8.9 mile loop, with about 2 miles residing above treeline in an Alpine Zone environment. For those of you who know Jill and I, 8.9 miles is a long hike by our day hiking standards.

Lonely Glabrous Sandwort on the summit of Little Haystack Mountain

Our first ever, views of the Bonds in the Pemi Wilderness!

Jill and I started on our journey at 8am sharp and found the first portion of the Falling Waters Trail delightful. One after another, the waterfalls continued to present themselves, each with their own uniqueness and beauty. These falls, against the backdrop of eroded, jagged ledges, made this trail one of my favorites in New Hampshire. As the AMC White Mountain Guide promised, the trail pulled away from Dry Brook and climbed steeply through a series of switchbacks and then straight to the summit of Little Haystack Mountain. It was great being above treeline. As Jill and I sat at 4,760 feet eating our peanut butter sandwiches, we were amazed at the views. For the first time ever, we had great views of the Cannon Mountain ledges, the Greenleaf Hut in the distance, and probably most fascinating of all...Owl's Head and the Bonds to the east.

Near the summit of Mount Lincoln, looking back at Little Haystack Mountain, Mt. Liberty and Mt. Flume (R to L)

Jill and I at the summit of Mount Lincoln!

After admiring a small, lonely Glabrous Sandwort (small yellow and white flower) which was growing out of the crack rock of the summit next to me, we packed up and headed north. The Franconia Ridge Trail was phenomenal. As you walk, it's easy to trip on rocks or find yourself veering off the trail by accident (I know this is bad due to the vegetation) because you're constantly looking around, checking out the scenery. In short time, Jill and I made it to the summit of Mount Lincoln and were not disappointed. At 5,089 feet, we got our first look at the mighty Mount Lafayette. Since we were on the summit with minimal traffic (because it was Thursday), we set the timer on the camera and took a summit shot before heading out.

View of Mount Lincoln, over the Franconia Notch Trail, taken near the summit of Mt. Lafayette

At this point, our little day hiker legs were starting to get tired and Mount Lafayette seemed so far away. But our determination to tackle the final peak drove us forward. Heading down the Franconia Ridge Trail, we skipped over Truman Peak (5,020 ft) and started up the slopes of Lafayette. To the left, we had great views down the slopes into Walker Ravine and to the right, we saw an awesome slide which scarred the southeast slope. As Jill and I took a few final steps to the rocky summit of Mount Lafayette, some gray clouds rolled in which made the sky look very dramatic. We found the geographical marker and took our traditional summit shot. We spent a good 30 minutes on the summit enjoying the breeze and soaking in the beauty. At about that point, we took one last deep breath of White Mountain air, and headed down the Greenleaf Trail toward the AMC hut.

Love this pic: Signs on Lafayette's summit

Me and my baby at the peak of Lafayette!!!

The trail down to the Greenleaf Hut was a bit rough and seemed to take a very long time. I believe the reason it seemed so long was due the high temperatures and the lack of a breeze below the summit, as well as the fact that we were already pretty tired. When we finally got to the hut, I was pretty excited. This is because I had never seen one of these famous huts before and I finally felt like a true hiker, being able to stop off at one of these checkpoints. Walking in the hut was great. I was immediately surprised at how nice it was and how good the food smelled. The kitchen was well stocked and hiking equipment was readily available. Jill and I decided to chill on the back porch overlooking Eagle Lakes, just below the Lafayette summit. We refueled and made sure we were comfortable with the amount of water we had left.

A well stocked kitchen in the Greenleaf Hut

View of Lafayette, over Eagle Lakes, from the back porch of the Greenleaf Hut

After resting, we certainly felt a bit more energized and picked our journey back up on the Old Bridle Path. Now, this was a trail that I had been excited to try. Everyone I know who has trekked this trail says it is great. Well, let me tell you...our legs were a bit shaky due to being tired and the first portion of this trail is rough and steep in places. There is even one portion that I had to slide down on my butt. At about the half way point, we got an unbelievable view of Little Haystack, Lincoln and Lafayette and it was easy to make out our entire root. It seemed so enormous and we were certainly proud. I tried to capture this great view with a picture, but could not because it was too wide for my lens.

With a few more miles left, we continued on and the trail did get a bit easier. With only 0.3 miles left, Jill took on the first injury. She slipped on a root and scraped her knee. I was obviously upset that she was hurt but was secretly excited that I finally got to use me first aid kit. Jill criticizes me all the time for being "Mr. Over-prepared", but not at that moment. If not for my band-aids, she may have got a little blood on her new hiking pants!

Mount Lincoln and Walker Ravine from the Old Bridle Path

This was one of my favorite hikes. When I think of why, I'm pretty sure it is because we did a lot of things for the first time. It was the first time we ever spent our anniversary hiking. I couldn't have thought of a better way to spend the day with my beautiful wife. It was the first time we had ever hiked in the Franconia Region. It was beautiful and I can't wait to go back and try another mountain in the Franconia Notch. It was the first time we passed through an AMC Hut. Like I said above, this made me feel like I graduated from hiking school! Finally, it's the first time we have tackled three mountains in one loop, all of which were over 4,000 feet (even though only two count on the list, but who's counting). We were certainly tired and sore when we got back to the car, but it was well worth it. Our anniversary this year, September 2nd, was our Day of Firsts!


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Jackson, NH - How I Love Thee

It's that time of year, when Jill and I head up to Jackson, NH to celebrate our wedding anniversary. This tradition started a few years back, when my best friend, Pat and his wife, Kristen, introduced us to this town. It didn't take long for us to fall in love with it. It is definitely the town I wished I lived in, surrounded by the beautiful mountains and a simpler pace for life. Maybe it is a misconception of mine, but I feel the rat race ceases to exist up there, which I admire. Someday, Jill and I will retire to this quaint little town and live life to its fullest.

The Jackson Covered Bridge

Each year that we make the ride up there, we try to get a couple hikes in. A few years back, before we were really into hiking all that much, we did Arethusa Falls. Last year, we hiked Iron Mountain and Mount Willard. This past January, we slapped on the snowshoes, and stomped down to Diana's Baths. This year, we plan to take on Franconia Ridge before heading over to Jackson. Later in the week, we will most likely take on a smaller peak for fun like Black Cap or Cave Mountain. We also plan to check out Evan's Notch based on a suggestion from a friend.

Jackson Falls

It's funny how Jackson is the place where we celebrate our anniversary and that Pat and Kristen are the ones who introduced us to it. I say this because, just a couple weeks back, Jill and I had the honor to taking part in their beautiful wedding, in Jackson, NH! It's truly a special place. I certainly love it there and can't wait head up tomorrow. Happy anniversary hunny!