Category: Equipment/Gear

Trying Out New Gear on Pleasant Mountain, Maine

We had two goals for Saturday, January 7, 2017: Hike Pleasant Mountain in Denmark, Maine and get home in time for the 4:30 p.m. Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans NFL playoff game.

We got our usual early start. The outside temp was 11 degrees when we left home at 6:30 a.m. Brrrr…

Just before we reached the trail head parking lot we came upon a deer in the road. She must have heard the car because we saw her head peek up above the knoll. She hesitated a moment and then turned to get off the road. She slipped on the ice once and then successfully bounded over the snowbank and into the woods.

I always get a kick out of seeing wildlife when we are hiking. Funny how most of the time we see them from the car.

Anyway… we reached the trail head parking lot at around 8 a.m. It was -5 degrees Fahrenheit. OMgoodness Brrrrr…

Now I’m not proud of my behavior in those first few moments, but I’ll share them with you anyway. To put it kindly, I threw a wee bit of a temper tantrum. Here’s what happened:

It was bitterly cold. Did I mention that it was MINUS 5 degrees??

Rather than go with my standard cold weather solution of wearing a buff over my cheeks and chin and a hat on my head, I decided I should wear my balaclava. That was mistake #1. It fits tightly and covers the nose. As soon as I put my glasses on they fogged up!

Arrrggh! I muttered something about how-can-people-wear-glasses-with-these-dang-things-on and tossed my glasses back in the car. If I was going to be hiking blind, why should I carry the extra weight of glasses on my face?

Earl offered a couple of ideas, but I was too cold and aggravated to listen.

The Southwest Ridge Trail was well packed so we decided to wear our new Grivel G10 crampons. These crampons have heavier duty points than our Hillsound crampons. We were looking forward to giving them a try on an icy trail.

Grivel G10 crampon
Grivel G10 crampon

I found them a bit awkward at first. I kept stubbing the front points as I walked and had to consciously lift my feet higher so I wouldn’t stumble. The grip on the trail was amazing though.

We hadn’t hiked far when the balaclava started annoying me. It was hot on my face and I didn’t like the pressure it placed on my nose. We stopped so I could switch it out for my old standby–hat and buff.

A short distance later I became aware of a burning sensation in both heels. Uh oh.

Earl said he didn’t think my crampons were fitted properly. We stopped to adjust them, but the problem persisted. Finally I opted to remove them.

The trail was beautiful!

The Southwest Ridge Trail starts out as a lovely wooded trail. The trail soon starts to climb and opens up to the most amazing views. Apparently the snowy-scape is actually rocky ledges. I just know there were a few places where I wouldn’t want to slide off the trail in the snow.

A trail sign pointed to the main summit of Pleasant Mountain. The trail was not as well packed and we started post-holing. We quickly made the decision to call it a day and turned around.

Once we were back at what we think was the Southwest summit, I put my crampons back on. I knew it would be tricky going down the mountain without them.

Now it’s time to share another Donna-quirk with you. As you can see from the picture above, the crampons are held in place by webbing. The tail of the webbing kept coming untucked and was flapping around my feet. It was driving me crazy! Every time it came unwrapped, I stopped to fix it. Earl tried tucking/tying it up and it kept coming loose. Finally he wrapped and wrapped and wrapped the tail of webbing until it couldn’t come loose. Success!

It didn’t take long for my heels to start burning again. I kept the crampons until we had navigated the steepest parts of the trail.

When I finally removed them, I asked Earl to take the lead. I was aggravated enough that if he’d been behind me cautioning me to “be careful” each time a foot slipped, I would have gotten a bit cranky at him. He certainly didn’t deserve that!

A bonus for me was that he had the car warmed up by the time I got back to the trail head. I tossed my pack in the trunk and climbed into the car. I looked over at him and saw he had left his hiking poles sticking out of the snow bank. Silly Earl!

Despite my fits of temper, we had an enjoyable day. A few times we thought the sun would make an appearance, but it never quite broke through the clouds. The temperature when we got back to the car at 11 a.m. was a whopping 9 degrees.

Before lunchtime, we had accomplished Goal #1.

And yes, we got home in plenty of time for the football game. In fact, we even had time to take a nap before we tackled (pun intended) goal #2.

P.S. I was surprised to discover that the crampons actually caused a blister on my right heel. Ouchie.

 

Shelburne Trail in the Wild River Wilderness

Trip Report:
Saturday & Sunday, November 19 & 20, 2016
Outside starting temp: 26 degrees F
Outside ending temp: 40 degrees F
Trails taken: Highwater Trail, Shelburne Trail, the D&E Bushwhacked non-trail
Total distance (Out and Back): approximately 14 miles
Total adventure time: 27 hours
This weekend we returned to the Wild River Wilderness off of Rte 113 in New Hampshire. Our primary purpose was to try out our new Alps Mountaineering Tasmania 2 4-season tent. Our secondary purpose was to summit Shelburne-Moriah, one of the 52-with-a-View peaks.

We parked in the lot at the junction of the Wild River Road and Rte 113. We had a 5.3 mile hike along the Highwater Trail to reach the Shelburne Trail. That was pretty easy hiking on a cold (26 degrees Fahrenheit) Saturday morning. We stopped to watch the sun rise over the mountains to the east.

Shortly after we started up the Shelburne Trail we lost the trail. It happens. Because this trail was in a wilderness area, one that we were not sure was regularly maintained, we didn’t know if we had actually lost the trail or if the trail was just overgrown.

Earl has a GPS app on his phone called, Gaia GPS. We checked the app and saw where the trail was. We bushwhacked our way over to it. We still didn’t see anything that looked like a trail, but we kept hiking, checking in with the app every few minutes to see if we were still on track.

For those of you who have never used a GPS app when hiking, you have to understand that GPS apps are not exact. They get you to the right neighborhood, but it may be to the wrong house. Helpful, but not exact.

As I wrote above, we were not sure if the trail, as we are used to seeing trails, actually existed. Neither of us had done any trail report research on the Shelburne Trail so we just didn’t know. We continued bushwhacking our way following the trail as shown on the Gaia GPS app. ​

Let me tell you, bushwhacking is hard work. The heavy leaf cover on the ground hid rocks, roots, and muddy pits. It’s hard on your legs. It’s hard on your feet. I was getting tired. We had shed all the layers that we could and we were still sweating. Each time we checked the Gaia GPS app I asked the question, “What’s our elevation?”

Shelburne Moriah Mountain is 3,735 feet high. We were at approximately 1,800 feet elevation. We kept walking around blow-downs, trees, and thick scrub making our way up the invisible trail. Finally, the safety monitor in me said, “We should set a turn around time.”

Earl said, “What do you mean? Ready to give up already?”

“No,” I said, but yes, it what I meant. Instead I made my argument. “If we want to be home by 4 p.m. tomorrow to watch the Patriots play, we need to be back to the car by 2 p.m.

“We started hiking at 7 a.m. this morning. It is now 11:30 a.m. We will have to bushwhack our way back down to a good place to spend the night. Tomorrow we will need to find the Wild River and the Highwater Trail. We will have at least 5 miles to hike on the Highwater Trail to reach the car. It is doubtful we will be hiking by 7 a.m. tomorrow, because the sun will just be coming up. So if we don’t turn around by 2 p.m., it’s not likely we will be home in time for the Pats to play. That’s all I’m thinking.”

Earl continued moving up the trail. A few minutes later he pointed to a grassy, flat area below us. “That could be a good place to camp. Want to check it out?”

“Not really,” I said. “It isn’t likely that we’ll be able to find it again.”

We continued slowly making our way up the trail that was denoted by dotted lines on Earl’s phone.

Then Earl stopped.

“Look,” he said.

I looked. There in front of him was a trail. An obvious trail!

Woot!

“What does the app show for our elevation?”

“Two thousand feet,” he said.

“We still have 1,700 feet of elevation in about a mile and a half,” I said.

Time wise, it would be close. We could probably make it to the summit by 2 p.m. But knowing we were on the established, it-did-exist, trail, our descent shouldn’t be quite as time or energy consuming.

We continued up the trail with renewed vigor and hope for reaching the summit.

A short distance later Earl stopped. “I’m tired. Let’s just head back down.”

I offered no argument!

Now the question became, where did we lose the trail? Would we know it when we saw it? We had a theory. Time and distance would tell us if we were right.

We started down the trail keeping our eyes peeled for good places the spend the night. The two primary considerations were a water source and flat ground.

Earl pointed to our right. There was a flat, grassy area. We laughed. It was the spot we’d seen earlier, the one I did not want to hike down to to check it out. The trail was just on the other side of it!

Now you might think we started kicking ourselves, or that Earl said, “See? If we had checked this out, we would have found the trail sooner!” but that was not the case. You see, the area was wet. We would have looked at it from the side we’d approached from and never would have continued across it to find the trail.

The spot where we deviated from the trail was, indeed, the place we thought it might be. We had hiked around several trees that covered the trail. We found what appeared to be the trail on the other side of them. We still stopped to look around to be sure. We thought the trail might have veered off to the right and up a hill. We checked the Gaia GPS app. It indicated we were on the trail.

See what I mean about GPSs apps being close but not exact?

We now think that we were within 10 – 15 yards of the trail most of the time we were bushwhacking. ​

We found a wonderful spot to camp near a babbling brook at around 1:30 p.m. We set up the new tent, then remembered to look for “widow makers,” dead trees or branches that might fall on unsuspecting campers. We saw one. We picked up the tent (that was so sweet) and moved it a few feet farther away from the widow maker.

We finished setting up our home for the night, filtered water, made dinner and relaxed for the couple of hours before dark. By 4:30 p.m. we were bundled up for the night.

Let me talk about the tent for a paragraph or two. It was great. Set up was easy. The portability of moving it when we discovered the widow maker was enough to make me giddy with joy. Of course we were fortunate that there were not trees or high scrub brush that would make lifting and moving it unwise.

The Alps Mountaineering Tasmania 2 tent has two vestibules. I loved having a place to store our packs overnight out of the weather. I always tucked mine under the small tarp of our other tent, and Earl typically left his outside. The other vestibule protected us from the weather as we crawled in and out of it. I put a piece of Tyvek at the opening so we tracked fewer leaves and dirt into the tent. We left our shoes outside, but they were still protected from the weather.

The interior of the tent was plenty roomy for us and our clothes. Mesh pockets run the full length of the sidewalls of the tent so we had a place to put lightweight stuff (glasses, cell phones). ​

One thing to know about late fall/winter camping is that the nights are extremely long! It was dark at 4:30 p.m. and would not get light until 6:30 a.m. At 9:30 p.m. I woke up and had to go pee. I scooted to the foot of the tent, unzipped the door, and put my camp shoes on. Then I unzipped the vestibule door and went outside.

The stars in that black sky were so bright! I peed then went to wake Earl. This was definitely worth sharing. We stood outside in the cold for just a few minutes before crawling back in the tent. We laughed at the idea that we still had another eight hours of dark before morning.

Sometime in the night those stars disappeared behind storm clouds. I woke at around 2 a.m. to hear light rain falling on the tent. I dozed and woke many times. I heard critters scuffling around outside and the rain fell harder.

It was just getting light when we crawled out of our sleeping bags and began the day. It was still raining, but our thermometers read 40 degrees. We were surprised at how warm it felt. We had expected to wake up to snow.

Breakfast in the rain consisted of a Poptart, oatmeal, and hot cocoa. A good hiker breakfast!
Breakfast in the rain consisted of a Poptart, oatmeal, and hot cocoa. A good hiker breakfast!

​While the water was heating for breakfast, we broke down camp. At 7:33 a.m. we started the 6-mile hike back to the car.

For the first time, our entire hiking day was spent in the rain. The trail was a bit treacherous in spots where wet leaves met steep descents. We arrived back to the car, soggy and safe, at 10 a.m.

Rather than stopping for breakfast or lunch, as we typically would do after a hike, we opted to drive straight home. We unloaded the car, set the tent up in the living room to dry, and unpacked our wet gear. By 1 p.m. we were in our places to watch the Baltimore Ravens play the Dallas Cowboys.

A weekend full of hiking and football. Life is good!

 

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Saco Heath Preserve, Saco, ME

An Indian summer day, that’s what we were calling it at work. But apparently, we were wrong. According to the Farmer’s Almanac there are very specific conditions that need to be met for beautiful autumn days to be considered “Indian summer.” In reality, it was just another ordinary, beautiful fall day here in Maine.

As the work week progressed and promises of warm, sunny days were met, I started thinking about ways to spend the few hours after work outside enjoying the weather. I ended up working late on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday became my running day because I wasn’t able to run on Tuesday. I looked to Thursday as my opportunity

I am blessed to live in an area of Maine with a number of hiking trails. These short, fairly flat trails, are quick getaways into the woods. A person can leave the sounds of traffic and civilization behind. On this particular day, I decided to visit the Saco Heath Preserve.

The alarm clock woke me at the usual time: 4:38 a.m. Rather than hitting the snooze button, I rolled out of bed–not my usual practice! But I had extra things to do to get ready for the day. If I didn’t get them done, my plan to escape into the woods could be jeopardized!

Those 10 minutes were used to pull my pack down off the wall; stuff it with my hiking clothes; stuff a snack in my Ribz front pack; and fill a water bottle. I also grabbed my camera and tripod.

Our gear room
Our gear room
Our gear room is coming together nicely–except Earl seems to think everyone is 6-foot-a hundred like him. I had to use the step ladder and strrrrrreeeettttcccchhhh to reach my day pack.

The work day passed with the usual stressors. I kept glancing out the window to see if it was as sunny as I hoped. It was. I kept asking people as they came in from outside if it was as warm as it looked. It was. I counted the hours until I only had minutes left to be stuck indoors.

After giving the shift passdown, I changed into my hiking clothes and was on my way to the trail. Fifteen minutes later I was parked at the trailhead. Convenient, eh?

Saco Heath Trailhead parking lot on Rte 112 in Saco, Maine
Saco Heath Trailhead parking lot on Rte 112 in Saco, Maine
Saco Heath information kiosk
Saco Heath information kiosk
Besides being outdoors on a relaxing jaunt thru the woods, I also had another purpose for choosing the Saco Heath Preserve for my adventure. I have wanted to start recording video segments of hiking tips, gear reviews, and general thoughts about the joys of hiking.

I admit to feeling silly wearing my Ribz front pack, my day pack, and a tripod on this 2-mile hike. I met a few people and can only imagine what they thought of my gear load. The reality is they probably thought nothing of it.The first bit of trail is on a wooded path. The sounds of the road can still be heard. Although lovely with yellow ferns mixed with the greenery, this area was too dark for a video. I knew the boardwalk would be a lovely area to shoot a video, but hoped it would be wide enough to set up my tripod without blocking the path completely.

I stepped on to the boardwalk. I began to doubt my plan. The boardwalk is somewhat narrow. If there were a lot of people, I would have to move the tripod to allow them to pass. There had been three cars in the parking lot. I had only encountered two sets of people. I thought the occupants of the third vehicle must still be ahead of me.

Saco Heath Preserve – 1

I kept walking with my doubts until I found the perfect spot!

Saco Heath Preserve – 2

Saco Heath is a lovely two mile out-and-back hike on wooded trail and colorful boardwalks. The terrain is easy to walk on, the trail is well marked.
If you fall off the boardwalk, just look for the trees with the yellow blazes to find your way back to the trailhead!
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the things going on in your life, take a short walk in the woods. Be prepared to be soothed by the sights and sounds of nature.

Gearing Up for Winter Hiking

New England is showing her colors and we are planning ahead for the winter to come. Last winter we continued to hike but ran in to icy conditions that required us to turn around several times.

We did have Hillsound crampons on our feet which provided decent traction on icy trails, but we were not prepared to handle the steep granite slabs near many Maine summits.

Last week Earl researched ice axes and ordered one. I have been doing my own research (sometimes what a woman needs is slightly different from what a man needs for gear) and plan to wait to check out Earl’s Petzl Summit 2 ice axe before making a final decision.

Funny thing is (at least to me), last winter I researched ice axes and considered buying one. When I mentioned this to Earl, he poo-pooed me, saying we didn’t need them; we didn’t know how to use them; and they were just extra weight to carry.

After the icy conditions of last winter, he has changed his tune. We do need them. We can learn how to use them. The extra weight just might save our lives!

While we are still enjoying our fall hikes, we are also planning and preparing for winter ones. I do love this year around activity!

Our Summer Home

Six Moon Designs tarp and net tent for ultralight backpacking.
Six Moon Designs tarp and net tent for ultralight backpacking.

 

We invested in a Six Moon Designs ultralight tarp and net tent to take with us on our adventures this summer. We had quite a time putting it up. It didn’t help that I was a bit snarky after working 12 days straight. Sorry, Earl! 🙂

We realized that unless we improve our set up time (which I am confident we will), we will have to stop hiking by noontime to have time to get it in place before nightfall. HA HA Okay, I’m kidding, but it did take us a while. Thank goodness for Google searches on how to tie knots!

We slept in it last night. The nighttime temp was in the 40s. We had two different types of sleeping pads which provide some insulation value and comfort. I have a Big Agnes Q-Core SL pad. Earl has a Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite. My pad proved more comfortable than his, but since I kept sliding off mine, we both had a pretty tough night’s sleep.

We were, however, warm beneath our Enlightened Equipment quilt.

We stuck it out until around 6 a.m., then we came inside, crawled in bed, and slept for four hours. I guess we needed.

We now have a few things to research to improve our sleeping comfort. And if we can’t improve it, at least we are better prepared for what we will experience on the trail. I’m confident with the many resources available, we’ll gain comfort (without too much weight increase) with each overnight endeavor.

So remember… practice runs are always a good idea.

*Note: Items mentioned in this blog post were purchased by us for our use. We receive no payment for providing the links above.