August 20, 2017: Quarry Loop (Shortened)

On this day after my birthday, I made the last-minute decision to go for a hike. But not up in the White Mountains; instead, I stayed local and hiked in the Belknap range. My choice of trailhead was based on what would be the least crowded parking lot. And that choice was right – when I arrived at the Quarry Mountain Forest parking lot on Reed Road just after 9:30 AM, there were no other cars there. Just little ol’ me. I quickly loaded myself up with bug spray, threw on my pack, and headed up the gravel road to the trailhead.

The goals for today were mainly to get outside, do some cross training, and work on my pace. I’m training to run a 10K in October, and today was one of my cross training days. Also, I haven’t gone hiking in three weeks, so I didn’t want to lose any gains I’ve made in that arena over the summer. Plus, I tend to be a slow hiker; next weekend, I’m hiking Mt. Adams for my friend Lucy’s NH48 finish, and I don’t want to hold anyone up too much!

As I hiked along today, I tried to keep a brisk pace, especially on flats and descents. I also didn’t stop for any great length of time – just one pee break and brief pauses to catch my breath now and then. I also took screenshots on my phone to time-stamp my position on the Belknap range trail map at key points (various summits and trail junctions along the loop).

After ascending the Reed Road trail, I emerged on the Dave Roberts Quarry Trail just west of the summit of East Quarry Mountain. Here I headed west, over to West Quarry. From there, I continued west, taking the bypass instead of the main trail over the ledges (only since I had never taken the bypass before), and headed to Mt. Rand, then Mt. Klem. When I started out, I had guessed it would take me until about 10 AM to reach Mt. Klem. Strictly a guess, since I didn’t look up the mileage. Well, it took me 45 minutes longer than that! After a quick glance at the map, I decided to make a loop instead of retracing my steps. Since I had only hiked that section of trail once before, I forgot how strenuous the DRQT can be. I headed down to Mt. Mack and Mt. Anna, looking forward to the more forgiving terrain. After reaching the summit of Mt. Anna, I again looked at the map and determined that doing a full loop over Straightback to return to East Quarry was more than I was up for today. Instead, I chose to still head east on the Belknap Range Trail, but take the Marsh Crossing shortcut back to West Quarry and retrace my steps back to Reed Road from there. In all, I ended up with an 8.27 mile hike in 4 hours, 19 minutes (including the bit of hiking on the road from and to the parking lot), for an average pace of 31 minutes per mile, which isn’t too shabby for me on one of the more rugged trails in the Belknap range.

The trail was completely devoid of other hikers until I was more than halfway done with my hike (between Mt. Mack and Mt. Anna, I think… but I’m a little fuzzy on that detail now). At that point, I ran into several hikers – a man with a white beard, a youngish couple shortly after him, and another couple with a feisty Boxer dog shortly behind the other couple. Then I didn’t see any other people until I was on my way down the Reed Rd. trail. I could hear them before I could see them – soon I spotted two women, and when I saw they had two little dogs with them I said “Hi, puppies!” in my typical talking-to-cute-doggies voice. The little white dog, which I’m guessing was either a Maltese or Bichon, ran right up to me for a quick sniff and ear scritches. I was told by her human that she rarely comes up to people that way, and that she must have thought I was really nice! 🙂 Shortly after the two women with the little dogs, I also saw a man and two young boys hiking up the trail. When I returned to the parking lot, I noticed three more cars had arrived since I had started my hike, so it was good to see that others are making use of this newish access point.

July 29, 2017: Mt. Whiteface (again)

My friend Lucy is down to her last three 4000-footers (well, now she’s down to her last two after today) and needed Mt. Whiteface (the one in the Sandwich range of NH). I had hiked this mountain last year with Devon, as a loop with Mt. Passaconaway. We were joined by fellow hikers Mandi and Katie for about two-thirds of today’s hike.

All five of us met up at Ferncroft Road and hit the trail (well, the dirt road to the trail) at about 7:00 AM. We took the Blueberry Ledge trail up, which starts off pretty easy, then gets steeper and rocky, and just below the summit offers some challenging but doable ledge scrambles.

Just before the true (unmarked) summit is a spectacular ledge with views of Moultonborough, Lake Winnipesaukee, Red Hill, and Squam Lake. There is a USGS marker for Whiteface here, which Devon and I missed last time. After a brief break for pictures and lunch, we continued ahead on the Rollins trail toward Mt. Passaconaway.

The Rollins trail is partly an easy ridge walk, but with some rocky ups and downs thrown in. We followed this trail a couple miles to its junction with the Dicey’s Mill trail on Mt. Passaconaway. Here we parted ways, Mandi and Katie heading up to summit Passaconaway, and Lucy, Devon and I heading down Dicey’s Mill trail to return to the parking lot. The descent was pretty uneventful – some steep downhill gravelly spots, some rocky spots, one stream crossing (using a fallen tree), and a relatively flat and easy hike out the last 1.6 miles after passing the junction with the Tom Wiggin trail.

I hit my best pace for a 4000-footer on today’s hike, largely due to trying to keep up with hikers much faster than myself (plus the easy parts near the beginning and end, and the not-so-rocky descent down the Dicey’s Mill trail helped as well). Considering the total time included our 20 minutes or so near the summit of Whiteface for pictures and lunch, our pace came out faster than book time! Woohoo!

July 10-12, 2017: “G4” Vacation

Every summer, my best friend Pam (Mela), her sister Cyn, and Cyn’s best friend Tina all get together for a vacation. When we were kids/teenagers, we often vacationed with each others’ families and went away for a week at summer camp together, so it’s an old tradition we reinstated five years ago.

This year, we chose the Mystic, CT area as our destination. Since B&Bs in Mystic are quite pricey, we opted to stay in nearby Niantic at the Inn at Harbor Hill Marina. It’s not inexpensive either, but it’s in a beautiful location with great hosts, lovely rooms, and delicious food! Planner extraordinaire Cyn worked in some more active things for Mela and I to enjoy. We all did a little hiking on some easy park trails and at a nature center, and Mela and I rented a tandem kayak for a couple hours and enjoyed paddling around in the Niantic River and Smith Cove. We also enjoyed some beach time, shopping, lots of yummy food, and sightseeing – but I’ve detailed only the activities relevant to this blog below (except that none of these places is in New Hampshire).

July 10, 2017: Yantic Falls/Indian Leap

This is a roadside attraction. There was supposed to be a 2-mile trail (the Uncas Leap Trail), but we couldn’t quite figure that out. The falls were nice, though. After crossing the bridge over the falls, the trail appeared to lead into someone’s backyard and/or driveway. Now that I’m able to get on a computer and research it, the trail continued onto an alley and through town. It looked like there were some unofficial trails accessed by climbing over the railing along the path on the other side of the falls. Mela and I ventured about 20 feet in, but after finding a discarded paring knife, a variety of trash, a broken and empty 40-ounce Budweiser bottle, and a herd path covered with broken beer-bottle glass, we decided it would be best to turn around.

Also in this area is the Heritage Trail, which turned out to be a 2.8-mile walk on park trails and city streets. We followed along most of the trail, then realized it may not loop back around to where we started. Luckily we were in a city and had cell service, so we could text Cyn and Tina (who were back at the car) and let them know where to meet us to pick us up. I had found the trail website on my phone, but the interactive map was not mobile-friendly and all I saw was a blank page.

July 11, 2017: Kayaking in Smith Cove and on the Niantic River

While Cyn and Tina did a little shopping, Mela and I rented a tandem kayak from Three Belles Marina for two hours and enjoyed paddling around. We saw lots of wildlife! After emerging from behind the docks in Smith Cove, the first thing we spotted was two adult swans leading their four babies out into the channel. I was able to get some photos, but we definitely wanted to keep a safe distance! On our way through the channel and while paddling up and down the river, we saw lots and lots of cormorants: perched on docks, piers, moorings, and buoys; flying through the air; landing in and taking off from the water; and swimming about, looking like mini Loch Ness monsters with their necks and heads sticking up, and their bodies mostly submerged. As expected, there were also ducks – mainly mallards – swimming in the river, as well as Canada geese. We even spotted an osprey next on a post about a hundred feet or less off shore from someone’s riverfront home. What drew us to it was hearing the osprey’s call. As we paddled closer to it, we could see what appeared to be an adult and three younger birds in the nest. Several yards away on top of a post was another adult osprey, and the two began calling to each other. This was a pretty cool thing to see and hear! We returned to the cove to explore a little more, especially near the marshy areas near the road. Here, we spotted a red-winged blackbird, a dead crab (floating), and a ridiculous number of freshwater jellyfish.

July 12, 2017: Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center

A quick search for something to do on Wednesday brought us to DPNC, a wildlife sanctuary and rehabilitation facility with an extensive taxidermy display (mostly birds and small mammals), live amphibians, rehabilitated hawks and owls that are no longer able to live in the wild, and a network of hiking trails surrounding a small pond. The center also offers a variety of camps for kids in the summer months – in fact there were several camp groups in the sanctuary on the day we visited. While walking on one of the trails, Mela and I even encountered a girls’ yoga camp outing! We talked with a couple of the girls and their two counselors for a few minutes before continuing on.

July 3, 2017: North & South Hancock (12/48, 13/48)

After the heavy, flooding rains that fell in northern NH this past Saturday, it was a given that today’s hike would be wet and muddy, and the water crossings could be a challenge. Cat and I met up with Lucy and Devon at the Hancock Overlook along the scenic Kancamagus Highway (Route 112) at 6:00 AM. Even though it’s a long holiday weekend with prime tourist traffic, the parking lot still had plenty of space remaining, due to the early start. By 6:10 AM we were on the trail.

The first 1.8 miles to the Cedar Brook trail were easy-peasy. After taking a left on Cedar Brook to head toward the Hancock Loop trail, we encountered some more rocks and roots. And mud. And in some spots a bit of a stream flowing down the trail, due to the continued drainage from Saturday’s storm.

As expected, the water was high. We made it across the first couple of water crossings by rock-hopping. Another two water crossings proved a little more difficult – no rock-hopping over those, instead we donned our water shoes and trudged right through the icy water. I think there are supposed to be five water crossings, but I may have actually counted six. There was one water crossing described as a “dry brook” in the guide book, which was decidedly not dry (if it was indeed the area referred to in the trail description).

Continuing on to the Hancock Loop trail, the terrain became rockier and steeper, but still moderate. But once the trail split, heading up to North Hancock on the left and South Hancock on the right (we went up to North first), the trail became extremely steep and had lots of loose gravel, some of which may have been additional wash-out from the storm.

At the North summit of Hancock, a spur trail leads 50 yards to the left to a stunning overlook. Nobody seemed to want to bother with it, but I didn’t climb this far to miss a great view! Devon, Lucy and Cat quickly changed their minds and followed me – and were glad they did. After a few pictures at the overlook and by the sign at the summit, we started on the 1.4-mile trek over to South Hancock, which (unless I’m mentally blocking something) was a relatively easy down and up (maybe some slight difficulty just before the summit). Again, there was an overlook off to the left, a shorter walk than the previous one. Definitely worth the extra steps. Returning to the summit, we sat on several rocks and took a short lunch break before descending.

The descent from South Hancock is just as steep as the ascent up North Hancock, but over here there are more rocks/boulders and just slightly less gravel. It made for very tricky footing on the way down, and most of us relied on our trekking poles for extra security. We were all really glad to reach the bottom of the summit loop!

From here, we were retracing our steps back to the trailhead. The stream crossings weren’t much of an issue on the way back. For one of them, we crossed at a different spot further downstream, over a fallen log. For two of the crossings, we just walked right through, this time not even donning our water shoes.

We made pretty good time, too. Including our lunch break at the South summit, we had a total hike time of 7 hours and 14 minutes. This is supposed to be a 9.8-mile round-trip hike, but my fitness app tracked it a little shorter at 9.7 miles, including the extra hikes to the overlook spurs.

June 24, 2017: Mt. Isolation (11/48)

Our hike of Mt. Isolation was a mixed bag of everything, and proof of the fickleness of the weather in the White Mountains.

The weather was iffy from the start; the mountain forecast changed several times during the week leading up to our hike, from mostly clear, to heavy rain, to some clouds, to possible thunderstorms, to rain showers. On my drive up north, all seemed well until I got through Conway; then it began raining. By the time I arrived at the Rocky Branch parking area to spot my car and meet my hiking companions for a ride up the road to the Glen Ellis parking area, the rain had slowed to a light drizzle. It was enough to decide to cover my pack, but not enough to put on my raincoat. Our plan was to hike up the rugged and rocky Glen Boulder trail, named for an enormous, extremely recognizable glacial erratic boulder precariously perched at an elevation of 3,729 feet; after reaching the summit, we would descend via the easier (that’s debatable) Rocky Branch trail to our car spot.

Not long after our 7:00 AM start, probably within the first half-mile to mile, the drizzle stopped. Hiking up the moderately steep trail through the woods, we passed a couple of beautiful waterfalls, each accessible by a short herd path. Continuing up the rocky trail, we broke through the trees to our first sighting of Glen Boulder high up along the edge of the ridge. After hiking over a rocky section and through some scrubby trees, we emerged from the forest once again, this time much closer to Glen Boulder for a short scramble up some moderately challenging ledges.

After a short break at the boulder for obligatory “holding up the boulder” pictures and a quick snack, we continued up a bald, rocky section and entered scrubby forest once again. Toward the end of the scrub, the rain began again, and before emerging we all donned our rain gear. As soon as we left the cover of the scrub for the remaining open section of trail on our way to the junction with Davis Path, the pelting rain and gusting winds began. The fog enveloped us, we all got drenched, and we trudged along the rim of the Gulf of Slides hoping the rain would soon let up and that there wouldn’t be any thunder or lightning.

We reached Davis Path, rain and wind still not relenting, and began the rocky descent back to the relative safety of the scrub below. Difficult at spots due to the wet, slippery rocks, we finally reached the scrub, got some relief from the wind, and continued on our way to the Isolation Trail (East). When we eventually reached the small sign that marked the turn to the summit trail, I think we all felt a bit of relief (at least I did). All that remained was a steep climb up ledges to reach the open, rocky summit. As we emerged from forest yet again and began the final scramble up, the rain stopped, the sun shone down on us, and the sky was blue once again.

We spent a bit of extra time at the summit, since the primary purpose of this trip was for one of the hikers in our group, Adam, to finish his final summit of the 48 4000-footers. Fortunately, it remained sunny all through our descent. Unfortunately, due to the rainy spring we’ve had, as well as the rain that had just fallen that day, the normally wet Rocky Branch trail was spectacularly muddy and watery to the point of seeming like the trail itself was a stream. Additionally, the five major river crossings were a bit high.

While a few of the faster hikers in our group stopped by the river for a quick swim, four of us continued ahead, knowing they would catch up to us pretty quickly. We made the second-last river crossing without any issues. However, when we reached the last river crossing, the direct route ahead didn’t seem like the best one. Helen and Lucy opted for a spot a little further downstream, while Devon headed upstream to a different spot. I debated whether to just walk right through the river, since my shoes were completely soaked from the rain and the perpetually wet trail anyway. But it looked a little deep, and there were some fast-flowing spots directly in front of me. So I decided to head upstream to follow Devon’s route. As I was picking my way along the shore over mossy rocks and ducking under tree branches, I managed to slip on a rock and landed on my butt, sitting on top of the rock. I was perfectly fine, uninjured. This would have been alright, except that once again the weight of my pack destroyed my natural sense of balance and pulled my upper body down towards the water. I put out my right arm, hand holding both of my trekking poles by the shafts, to break my fall, which worked. Unfortunately, this put me in a position where my butt and legs were up on the rock, and my upper body was lower and angled downward toward the water, with the upper part of my backpack actually IN the river (which I didn’t even think about right away). I tried to get back up, but due to the angle of my body and weight of my backpack, I couldn’t get enough leverage to pull myself up. My right arm was the only thing keeping me from completely sliding into the water, so I couldn’t even try to use my trekking poles to push myself out. I called out to Devon, who couldn’t hear me — she finally saw me once she had already reached the other side. I then just gave in and slid the rest of the way into the water, getting completely soaked up to my chest since I slid in sideways and partially on my back, so I ended up sort of sitting in the water. Of course, now it dawned on me that my entire backpack was submerged. I stood up as quickly as I could, then realized that my phone was in the pocket of my shorts. I hastily pulled it out, shook it off, saw that it was still working, and hoped it would stay that way. At that point, I really should have just tried to walk across the river! But no… I got back up on the rocks along the shore, and noticing that water seemed to be dumping out of my backpack whenever I bent over, I tried to turn it upside down and get the water out of it as much as I could without completely opening it.

By this time, the rest of our group had caught up with us. I returned to the trail, and the four of us bushwhacked down a steep slope to the spot where Devon had crossed. I managed to cross here without incident, thanks to help from Dan, Adam and Lauren. Afterward, Dan advised that the best thing to do in this situation would have been to just walk right through, which I sort of knew from the beginning anyway. Lesson learned for next time!

The rest of the hike was a wet and muddy slog. About three miles from the end of the trail, we decided to split into two groups to finish (I know, breaking a hiking rule here — but in this case I believe it was warranted). Lucy and I stayed together, while Devon, who is a fast hiker, joined the rest of the group so she could drive the rest of the group from our car spot back to their cars at Glen Ellis, then return back to Rocky Branch to meet us. During these last few miles, I really dug in so that we could get out of the forest before it started getting too dark. (Though we’re just a few days past summer solstice and the sun sets around 8:30 PM, it gets dark earlier in the forests of the White Mountains.) At one point, we passed a couple hiking up (presumably to camp out or do a night hike) who were able to tell us that we were 1.7 miles from the trailhead. YES! We kicked it up even more at this point, swearing nearly continuously, and finally reached the parking lot just a few minutes before 6:30 PM.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this hike. On one hand, the hike up the Glen Boulder trail was awesome until the heavy rain and wind descended on us; on the other hand, the hike down Rocky Branch was an incredibly awful and mettle-testing experience. But ultimately, we finished — sopping wet, muddy as hell, and tired beyond belief (at least I was!) — but without any injuries besides Devon’s not-at-all-serious scraped up, bloody knee from a slip during the first river crossing.

I survived to hike again. But maybe after taking a few weeks off so I can remember why the hell I do this.

June 17, 2017: North & South Kinsman (9/48 and 10/48)

Just a little over one year later, and I’m finally in the double digits. And back in Franconia Notch-adjacent to get them!

Today, Lucy and I hiked North and South Kinsman mountains from the west side, the Mt. Kinsman trailhead along route 116 just across the town line in Easton, NH. The Mt. Kinsman trail is a 3.7-mile hike to reach the Kinsman Ridge trail, and offers relatively easy footing with a steady climb for about the first 1/3, then gets progressively more rocky in the middle, with some steep, ledgy climbs at the top.

Along the way, there are three primary stream crossings, the second of which includes a gorgeous waterfall spilling from mossy boulders to the left of the trail. There are also numerous smaller water crossings that mainly look like drainage, and may be nonexistent in drier years. Since we’ve had an extremely wet spring, and plenty of rain yesterday, the trail was quite wet throughout, and frequently muddy (sometimes avoidable, sometimes not).

From the junction with the Kinsman Ridge trail, it’s a .4 mile climb with some steep, ledgy sections to reach North Kinsman summit. There’s a stellar overlook of Franconia Notch from a ledge a short hike on a spur trail off to the left just beyond the summit.

Continuing another .9 miles along the Kinsman Ridge trail, and descending steeply down and then back up, gets you to the summit of South Kinsman, marked with a large cairn and offering even more spectacular views.

I did take a wee little spill on the way back down from North Kinsman – and that was decidedly UNspectacular. No exciting injury to report, just a scratched-up knee. At the top of a steep section, but on a flat-ish spot, my foot slipped a tiny bit on a rock or root or something. I tried to regain my footing, but just the tiny bit of momentum was enough for me to end up on my knees, and the weight of my backpack combined with that tiny bit of momentum had the rest of my body falling forward and to the right at the same time. My knees landed on pine needles and some twigs, and I ended up on my side with my upper right arm and shoulder on a soft bed of pine needles and moss. Kind of like I was just laying down to take a nap or something. It felt quite comical. My arm and shoulder were perfectly fine, but covered with dirt. My knee also appeared fine, but dirty, initially – until I saw some blood. Not exciting, gushing blood. More like the equivalent of a shaving nick. I climbed down the ledge, cleaned the wound with a bit of water, dried it off as best I could with my bandana, and attempted (unsuccessfully) to get a couple of band-aids to stick. I ended up tying my spare bandana around my knee.

If you’re reading the trail descriptions in the 4000-Footers of the White Mountains book, there appears to be some erroneous information in the directions to the Mt. Kinsman trailhead. Coming from the north on Route 116, we actually passed both the Kinsman Lodge and Tamarack Tennis Camps before reaching the trailhead on the left (it’s just past Tamarack Tennis Camps sign by maybe 100 yards or so). A White Mountain National Forest sign for Kinsman Trail (parallel to the road) marks the entrance. Also, there is a parking lot off-road – the stone pillars, which are set back from the road several yards, no longer had a chain between them. If you turn onto this dirt road, follow it back several yards past the stone pillars, and follow the bend to the right, you’ll see a small parking lot right there. It did fill up by the time we left, though, and there were several more cars parked along the road with us. (It is possible, however, that the dirt road to the parking lot is closed in winter.)

Location of the trailhead – as you can see here, the trailhead is just south of the tennis courts at Tamarack Tennis Camp. Across Route 116 from a cow pasture.

June 10, 2017: Jackson-Webster Loop (8/48)

Now that the snow is gone, the weather is warmer, and mud season should be tapering off (but appears to be hanging on a bit), it’s time to head back to the White Mountains and hike some more of the 48 4,000-footers. Today, Lucy and I decided to tackle the Jackson-Webster Loop (of which only Jackson counts as one of the 48).

There were lots of rocks, tons of tree roots, several small water crossings, and copious amounts of mud. And it was awesome. The bugs weren’t so bad on the way up to Jackson, but on our way over to Webster they started buzzing around my head a bit. I started off the hike in long sleeves, but about halfway to the summit of Jackson I removed a layer and was just fine in a tank top (with bug spray on my arms). After sitting and eating a quick lunch at the summit, I got a little chilly and put the long sleeves back on. During the second half of the hike, I got pretty warm again but left the long sleeves on due to the bugs.

It was definitely worth it to take the 1/10th mile spur trail over to the craggy summit of Mt. Webster. Though we didn’t see any gray jays on Mt. Jackson, we saw one on Mt. Webster. Yes, we fed it. I’m kind of torn on that one – I generally don’t agree with feeding wildlife, but the gray jays are so used to it. Plus, they’re pretty harmless. It’s not like feeding a bear (which is NEVER a good idea – even unintentionally).

We didn’t see any other people until we reached the summit of Mt. Jackson – as I was climbing the last several yards to the summit, I noticed there was a guy climbing up behind me. Turns out he was first in line in front of three of his friends, and they were hiking across several of the peaks in the Presidential range, from Jackson to Washington. There was also another woman at the summit when we arrived there. We passed by several other hikers (and a couple dogs) completing the loop in reverse while on our way to Mt. Webster. And we encountered even more hikers in groups (and even more dogs) at the Mt. Webster summit and on our way back down.