Friday, October 29, 2010

My Hiking Season

Jill and I on Mount Lafayette in early September

As I sit here on Friday night, writing in my blog, I can't help but feel saddened as October comes to a close. As October ends, it definitely signifies the end of hiking season for me. I'm not saying I won't go on a few hikes this winter, but I know that a bulk of my hiking occurs between late spring and early fall.

Jill and I on Mount Osceola in late May

I feel that the reasons I don't do much hiking in the winter months are pretty common. The first and most obvious reason is the weather. The days in which I wouldn't feel comfortable hiking due to high winds, icing, snow, etc. are much more frequent in these months. The second reason is really due to schedule. During the spring/summer/fall months, I seem to have an easy time procrastinating and ensuring that all my free weekends are spent with nature, out on the trails. In the winter months, I play catch up and work on all the house projects that I have neglected during hiking season!

Me, conquering Mount Moosilauke in early May, One of my greatest adventures!

As I reflect back on my 2010 hiking season, I can honestly say I wouldn't change any part of it. Jill and I hiked many mountains that were goals for us heading into the hiking season. We hiked the difficult Holt Trail on Mount Cardigan, overcoming some true worries and fears while executing the rock scrambles. We traversed the Franconia Ridge and got our first ever views into the beautiful Pemigewasset Wilderness. We climbed the Sugarloafs and had the summits to ourselves for over an hour, just admiring how beautiful New Hampshire really is.

This year, I've hiked with great friends as well. I climbed the intimidating Flume Slide Trail and lived to tell about it with my good friend Matt. I brought my buddy Sean up to his first summit bid ever, to top of Mount Potash in the Sandwich Range Wilderness. And I helped organize an employee hike for my company, which was part of our Wellness Initiative at work.

Me, roosting on top of Mount Flume in mid September, amazed by my accomplishment!

Aside from the summit and destination objectives, a lot of other great things happened this hiking season too. I've met so many great people in the State who have the same passion for the outdoors that I do. Through forums and blogging, I could say I've networked well, which has resulted in meeting these people, but I feel it is much more than just that. I would gladly call these people my friends, not my network. I would proudly hike with them all and would want to grab a beer with them after to share hiking adventures. Like I said, they're friends to me.

Finally, maybe one of the best things that happened this hiking season was signing onto Blogger and starting my blog, Live Free and Hike New Hampshire. Through a lot of encouragement from Jill and the inspiration of a few blogs I had been reading on a regular basis, I decided to try it. I honestly thought I would write two posts and probably forget about it. After all, I'm an engineer, not a writer. I wrote my first blog posting and I was hooked. I believe that is because I'm writing about what I love...

Sean and I on Mount Potash, Sean's first summit bid in early October

Now, even though I consider this the end of my hiking season, it does not mean I will stop hiking. It's just that I will not be hiking as frequently. I already have plans to go for a hike or nature walk in the seacoast region this weekend...possibly Stratham Hill Park...who knows. Since I will not have as many up-to-date trip reports to share in the coming months, I plan on writing about other things such as hiking equipment reviews, memorable hikes of mine and the beautiful mountains in general. The hiking season coming to an end isn't all bad, though, because it gives me an excuse to get my snowshoes out :) !

Jill and I on Mount Jackson (fighting off gray jays!) in early August


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Happy Hiking & Happy Halloween!

This past Saturday, we had some good friends over to carve pumpkins. Since I had hiking on the mind (as usual), I came up with my own carving template. What do you think? I traced it from a picture of the trail sign at the Sabbaday Falls Trailhead. A great night with awesome friends. Happy Halloween Live Free and Hike readers!!!

My hiking pumpkin, lit up

My hiking pumpkin, with flash on

All of our pumpkins, lit up on Saturday night


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mount Katherine And Fun With The Pumpkin People

Since I had plans with my buddy Sean to hike Mount Potash, I promised Jill I would bring her up north on the next day to do whatever she wanted. She decided that she wanted to go some place where we could see some nice foliage, get in a short hike and possibly swing up to Jackson, NH to see this year's Pumpkin People. That being the criteria, I decided that we would head up to Mount Katherine, which is located just south of Mount Passaconaway in Wonalancet.

Trailhead sign near the Ferncroft Road parking area

I found Mount Katherine a while back while reviewing my map and looking for shorter, easy hikes to keep on the "if the opportunity arises" list. Mount Katherine is only 1,380' high and has no real prominent peak. The elevation gain is very minimal (approximately 240') and the trailhead starts at the Ferncroft Road Parking Area. From the parking area, the summit of Mount Katherine is only 1.6 miles.

Farmhouse near the Ferncroft Road parking area

The parking area on Ferncroft Road was very picturesque. It was in the middle of an old field, with a nice farm house and Mount Wonalancet placed beautiful in the background. The 0.5 mile walk to the beginning of the trail was easy, but meandered through private property. However, there were many signs welcoming hikers. We crossed a very nice bridge over the Wonalancet River and soon came to some trail signs, with trails veering in a few directions. We located our trail (Pasture Path), saw that it went to the left, and started trekking.

Barn, with Mount Wonalancet in the background, near the Ferncroft Road parking area

The grades on the trail were extremely gentle and in no way did we feel as though we were gaining any elevation. Blue blazes marked the trail and they were very easy to follow. The forest was primarily made up of hardwood and many of the leaves of the trees were all over the trail. I noticed to the left of us was a great, old stonewall. I love seeing stonewalls in the middle of the woods because it really signifies a ton of history. At one time, these walls were constructed by our ancestors, most likely to establish a land boundary on a road side or field edge. There's no doubt the landscape looked much different today than it did when the wall was built.

The Wonalancet River

We quickly passed a sign which indicated that these woods were part of the Rich Memorial Forest. There was also a sign which said that the woods welcomed respectful visitors. Being hikers that leave no trace, I knew we would have no problem with this request. Before we knew it, we had made it 0.6 miles on the Pasture Path and came to Tilton Springs. Tilton Springs looked like it was at one time a very nice structure. It was a small pool, constructed of rock walls in the middle of the trail.There was also a rusty old plumbing pipe that was feeding the water into the pool. For me, it didn't look like a refreshing spring, however, I'm sure in a situation where I absolutely needed water, I would look at it in a different light. We snapped a few pictures and continued onto the summit.

Tilton Springs

The last 0.5 miles of the trail was very similar with respect to the trail incline. It was easy and it was tough to realize you were going up at all. We soon came to a small forest clearing to the right of the trail, which had been logged recently. Even though it was not a nice sight in the woods, it did provide a good view of Mount Whiteface to the northwest. We continued on and before we knew it, we came out to the summit where we found nice views of Mount Chocorua to the Northeast.

View of Mount Whiteface from the Pasture Path

Great colors in a tree near the summit of Mount Katherine

The slabs on the summit had a cairn made up of some very large rocks, which was setup like a chair and table. Jill and I took advantage of this and setup our lunch table. After we ate, we explored a little and found the views to Mount Chocorua were beautiful. Below, you could see the popular Wonalancet, little white church, with a beautifully colored Mount Chocorua in the background. To the north, we did have some restricted views of Mount Passaconaway as well. Since we were the only people up there, we hung out for 45 minutes and then headed back down.

Jill and I on the summit of Mount Katherine

On the way down, walking back to the truck, we did have a run in with a woodpecker and tried to snap a few shots. Also, since we were driving right by the little white church, we decided to head down to the end of the field, swing back around and try to take a few nice pictures. All in all, I think we got some great shots.

Mount Chocorua with a beautiful farm setting in the foreground

After playing photographer, it was back to Route 16 and north to Jackson, NH. We had never really experienced "leaf peeping" season up in the White Mountains before. It was truly a different world. People were all over, taking pictures and trying capture the colorful beauty. However, I must say that the beautiful landscape does tend to make people act and drive in a manner that can be unsafe. I can't tell you how many times people in front of me on Route 16 literally just slammed on their brakes in front of me, because of the photo opportunity of Mount Chocorua over Chocorua Lake, or the Moats to the west, just past Conway Village. It was crazy at times!


Little White Church in Wonalancet

Crossing the covered bridge into Jackson Village is always special to Jill and I. It is a place where we go to get away a few times a year. We call it our second home. It is a place of peace and quiet and we love it so much. We will retire there one day and live among the mountains. This particular trip into Jackson was to checkout the Pumpkin People which, the local establishments setup around this time each year.

We're off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of oz!

King Kong

We drove around for a bit and checked out the different displays. They were so good that we just had to park the truck and snap a few shots. At the base of Thornhill Road was a great display of the Wizard of Oz. Up on Black Mountain, at the Shovel Handle Pub, was King Kong climbing the sign outside. Across from the Eagle Mountain House, the gang from the Flinstones was chillin' by the golf course. Just down the hill from this display, Charlie Brown and his friends were hanging out. Finally, on the way out of town, we saw a sign for Snooki and Pauly-D from the Jersey Shore, so we took a quick detour up a road we weren't familiar with, and found them relaxing in a hot tub.

Flinstones, Meet the Flinstones!

BoldCharlie Brown and Gang

Snooki and Pauly-D in the hot tub

After having some fun with the Pumpkin People, Jill and I headed home. The leaf peeping traffic was pretty brutal all the way back to Epping, but it was well worth it. It was such a fun day and one I will treasure. We got in a great, relaxing hike and had the mountain all to ourselves. Then we got to drive around the town we love and enjoy the great displays that the establishments were nice enough to construct. Another wonderful day with my beautiful wife, in the amazing White Mountains of New Hampshire!


Friday, October 15, 2010

Mount Potash - A Hidden Gem in the White Mountains!

Mount Potash is a smaller mountain (2,680') which is surrounded by Mount Hedgehog to the east, Mount Passaconaway to the south, Mount Tripyramid to the west and the Kancamagus Highway to the north. It's a mountain that certainly doesn't get as much publicity as its surrounding peaks and I'm not really sure why. In the past year or so, I've done quite a bit of research, looking for trail reports and good reasons to climb this mountain. However, with the exception of one or two forum postings and a picture or two on generic description type websites, there is very little information on the web. So that made it a good candidate for my list.

View to the northwest, on Mount Potash summit ledges

I truly enjoy climbing all sorts of peaks in the Whites. Low ones and high ones, steep ones and easy ones, wooded trails and rock scrambles...but I think most of all, I like the peaks that are less traveled. I don't know why, really. Maybe it has something to do with going someplace, that from a relative standpoint, not many people hike in a day. Regardless, because of the lack of information on Mount Potash, I wanted to climb it. Now, please understand that in no way was this a bushwhack effort. The trail up is published with a standard description in the AMC WM Guide...but I just couldn't find many people online who have hiked it, or at least wrote about hiking it.


My wife had no desire to hike this mountain with me since we have hiked Mount Hedgehog in the past and there was no information that the hike itself was worth the effort from a "nice view" standpoint. So, I recruited one of my buddies who wanted to try out hiking to a summit. My buddy, Sean (who also writes a dog training blog) is an old college buddy of mine. He has hiked in the past, way back when he was in high school, but never to the top of a mountain. I had many conversations with him prior to the hike regarding how to be a safe hiker and what you should bring into the Whites to be "prepared". He certainly didn't let me down. When I pulled into his driveway at 6:30am, his dense, thirty pound bag was on the lawn ready to go. He had enough food and water for an all day traverse, extra clothes, mult-tool, GPS, camera, compass, trekking poles and everything else I told him he should bring, plus more. He was even sporting new hiking boots!

Mount Passaconaway from the first view point

The Mount Potash Trail is 1.9 miles long and starts off from Downes Brook Trail, 0.3 miles from the Downes Brook Trailhead on the Kanc, making the summit a 2.2 mile, in-and-out hike. This trailhead is pretty popular for trekkers of the Downes Brook Trail as well as the UNH Trail that loops around Mount Hedgehog. but even with a full parking are overflowing on the side of the Kanc, I feel very few of the hikers make their way up the Mount Potash Trail.

Mount Chocorua from the first view point

The Downes Brook Trail was pretty flat for the short time we were on it and really doesn't feel like 0.3 miles. The Mount Potash Trail leaves the Downes Brook Trail on the right and is very well marked. It isn't too long before you come to the Downes Brook crossing, which the WM Guide says can be difficult in high water. I can see this being the case since at this point on the brook, it is as wide as a river. It was necessary for us to use our trekking poles to get across, hopping on rocks the whole way and submerging our feet just above our toes in a few spots. It was at this point I recall noticing the sound of the wind roaring up. It was certainly a reminder for me that winter in the Whites was almost upon us.

Mount Passaconaway, near the final ascent, showing what I believe to be the old Downes Brook Slide Trail

After the Downes Brook crossing, we came to a logging road which seemed to be in active use. Well used logging roads like this seem very out of place in the woods and I don't enjoy seeing them. However, I suppose if an area is logged properly, it has little impact to the land...but it is still an eyesore.

Tree across the trail. Many of these in the 2.2 miles to the summit.

The trail climbed moderately through beech, white birch and maple trees. It is the first time I have hiked this year that I've had to take caution due to slippery, fallen leaves on the trail, and it will be like this until next spring. The hardwood forest quickly changed to a hemlock forest and the trail climbed a bit more steeply. Through the hemlock forest, the trail was very much eroded and you had to hike on a slabs, but still in the woods, to ascend. Some were slippery, but it was certainly easy to get yourself up, as there were many roots and side paths. This may be a good time to mention that the trail maintenance was less than stellar, compared to more traveled trails. In the whole trip, we probably saw fifteen trees across the trail. Some were much harder to get over than others. I would be surprised if anyone has cleared it this year. On the other hand though, the trail was very well marked with crisp yellow blazes, always within view. I would say the blazes were repainted within the last year or so. There were also many arrow signs pointing the way, which were extremely helpful.


Following the hemlock forest, Sean and I came out to our first view point, which was a medium size ledge on the southwest corner of the mountain. Since the wind was blowing in from the northwest, we were completely shielded, which made it a great point to sit down, snap a few photos and have a snack. We had great views of Mount Chocorua and Mount Passaconaway, draped in autumn colors. The foliage was in full peak and seemed to even be passed in some spots on the landscape, as you could see patches where leaves had left their trees.

Mushroom on the summit ledge

After the view point, we continued traversing the southeast slope of the mountain. The footing was a bit rough at times, but the grade was only moderate. Mount Passaconaway stayed in view most of the time and the slide on its northern slopes finally came into view. I'm not sure, but I believe this is the old Downes Brook Slide trail that was closed many years ago due to it being too dangerous to hike and maintain. There are still people writing trail reports on ascending this peak via this old route.

Sandwich Range Wilderness boundary at the summit

View of Mount Tripyramid from the summit

The final push up to the summit, in the last quarter mile or so, was the steepest part of the journey. It was all slab face, but very manageable and pretty decent footing. When making our way onto the summit, I was surprised to see that instead of the southern view we had been getting on the way up, the ledge opened up to the northwest. The summit itself was marked with a yellow circle with an "X" in it, on the ledge rock. The Sandwich Range Wilderness boundary marker was also up there. The summit provided great views of Mount Tripyramid, and what I believe to be the Handcocks and Mount Carrigain...but I can't be sure. Of course, due to the wind, it was pretty cold up there and we only stayed on the ledges for a short time to snap a few photos. We weren't even able to pull the map out as it would have blown all over the place. We ultimately retreated to the southern portion of the summit that was pretty shielded from the wind and had lunch.

View to the northeast

When we made it back to the truck, what I had suspected happened. The parking lot filled up, but we only passed a couple hiking groups on the Mount Potash Trail. I'm sure everyone else was hiking the Downes Brook or Mount Hedgehog. Mount Potash provided us with a great day of hiking, with no crowds. I'm sure Sean would agree. Hopefully he'll continue to hike and get hooked on hiking as we all are.

Sean and I on the northwest summit ledges

Mount Potash is certainly a good mountain to hike and now I'm even more surprised it doesn't have more online recognition out there. It was a short hike and provided great views for little effort. The northeast ledges at the summit were amazing, and if not for the wind, we could have sat up there for hours, soaking in the beauty of the Whites. I hope this trail report on my blog has convinced some people out there to plan a trip to Mount Potash and help make it a more traveled mountain, since it really deserves to be one!


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How Sweet It Is...In New Hampshire - The Sugarloafs

Jill calls me "Mr. Over Prepared". That's because I always carry way more items than I truly need for a day trip. I don't carry one compass, I carry two. I don't carry one map, I carry two. On the most beautiful day of the year with no chance of rain, I make sure I have our emergency ponchos. Along with having an abundance of equipment, I always make sure our hiking trips are well planned. I make sure I know how to get to the trailhead. I make sure I know what trails we're taking and what mileage each milestone is located. And I make sure I know what mountain I am climbing at least a week in advance so that I can get all of the things I just listed, squared away.

Well, in late August, I broke that last rule. Jill and I had plans on the 28th (a Saturday) but nothing to do on the 29th (a Sunday). I think it was the Friday before that one us brought up the idea of hiking on that Sunday. Since the Sugarloafs had been on our list since the previous summer, we decided that this would be a perfect day to tackle these peaks. The short notice for the hike certainly made me a bit uneasy, but what the hell, sometimes you just have to be wild and impulsive!!!

White Wood Aster

The Sugarloaf Trail was great. It climbs in the valley of the two peaks and really doesn't have any steep sections. The few moderate sections have great stone steps to help hikers up. Half way up the beginning of the trail, before the split, there is an amazing boulder, which is cleanly cut into two enormous pieces. You can't miss it if you hike this trail.

Giant Boulder Broken in Half on Trail

It was apparent that autumn had started in this region, as there were minimal wildflowers left. Other than some white wood aster and some different types of golden rod, I wasn't able to photograph any. Mushrooms and other fungi certainly kept me busy on the trail though and I was able to get some neat shots. Maybe the most evident clue that fall was in the air was that a few hobblebushes had turned red and I even found a lonely maple leaf that had fallen on the trail.

Lonely Maple Leaf on the Trail

At the split, we first turned left and headed up Middle Sugarloaf first, as it was the higher of the two peaks and supposedly awarded the best views. The trail up to the peak was pretty easy and had an easy to climb stair case just before breaking out into an enormous ledge. The bald ledge curled 270 degrees around the summit and offered incredible views from the northeast to the west. The views from this peak offered us a new perspective of New Hampshire's White Mountains and it was not disappointing.

Jill, Enjoying Middle Sugarloaf's Summit

Jill and I found a nice perch to setup camp and had a well deserved lunch. Other than one other group that came and went while we were on the summit, we were by ourselves. We had Middle Sugarloaf, on a beautiful, clear day, all to ourselves. It was amazing. We stayed on the summit for over an hour. We couldn't stop gazing at the Presidentials, with Mount Washington showing off its enormous profile to the east. To the south, we saw Mount Hale, South Twin and a bit of Mount Guyot for the first time. Even though we were enjoying the quiet summit, we knew we had one more peak to conquer that afternoon. So we took one last deep breath of Middle Sugarloaf air, and headed back down the trail to North Sugarloaf.

What I believe is South Twin

The trail up to the north peak was also easy and not very steep. At one point, just off the trail, we found a very long, deep crack in the earth. It ranged from one to two feet wide and was approximately ten feet deep, at its deepest section. We also had a butterfly follow us around. We took some time and tried to take some pictures of it. It really seemed to be as curious of us as we were of it.

View over the scarred summit of North Sugarloaf

North Sugarloaf also had a great summittoo, but I wouldn't say it is better than Middle Sugarloaf. It had many of the same views, but to the south, was restricted by Middle Sugarloaf's profile. At this point, Jill and I were pretty tired and hot (it was 90+ degrees that day) and decided to head back down. The hike back to the car was a breeze and very easy on the knees.

We Heart Mount Washington (Yes, that is MW, hard to see)

A closeup of the big guy!

I thought this was a great, impulsive hike for us. Without a doubt, we will be back to climb the Sugarloafs again. It was a short hike with amazing views and a beautiful summit. I would recommend it to anyone. The Sugarloafs are another reason why New Hampshire is the state out there!

Our companion butterfly who followed us up North Sugarloaf


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dogs and Hiking

I'm sure you're thinking this is a weird topic for me to write about because I don't hike with my dogs. I do have two dogs, pugs to be exact. Their names are Hank and Lily and we have had them for 6 1/2 years now. They are pretty active, but they are certainly not hiking dogs. Jill and I have taken them for short hikes before, up Stratham Hill, but when we get to the top they drop like they just hiked twenty miles...so, I think any real hikes with decent elevation gain may be too much for these little sausages.

The reason I'm writing about hiking with dogs is because my good friend, Sean, writes a blog entitled How To Train Your Dog Blog. I find it interesting because I have two of the most misbehaved dogs out there (they are very lovable though) and he has the most well behaved dog I have ever met (Buddy). I always hope to pick up a few tips from him. As I read his blog, he also reads mine and he got the idea to write a posting on hiking with dogs. He did a lot of research on it and really hopes it will be helpful to others out there who wish to hike with dogs. Please check out his posting: "Make Sure Your Dog Is Just As Prepared As You". (Also check out How To Train Your Dog Blog on Facebook here)

Sean isn't a hiker, yet. But he's certainly on his way. Doing research for his post has struck up his need to hit the trail. So this weekend, I have the honor of hiking with Sean, up his first mountain. We are going to climb Mount Potash. I know when he sets his foot on that summit, he'll be hooked just like we all are.

Another good blog from someone who hikes with a great dog is The Adventures of Tom & Atticus. It is one of my favorite blogs. Definitely check it out if you haven't already.