Category: Trail Musings

Solo Hike at the Castle in the Clouds, New Hampshire

Yesterday I left home at 8:31 a.m. for a solo adventure in New Hampshire’s Castle in the Clouds area.Why 8:31 a.m.? Because Earl, who couldn’t go with me, decided the one thing he could do, was make me leave later than my planned 8:30 a.m. departure. The poor man had to work on a beautiful summer day. It just would have been cruel to leave home early or exactly on time. HA HA

I have to say, “Thank goodness for GPS and smart phones.” I was able to find the trailhead without having to stop every little while to check the road map to make sure I was still going the right way. My first stop was the Castle in the Clouds gift shop so I could buy a trail map. ALWAYS make sure you have a map of the area you are hiking.

4776699_orig
At the very least, if you don’t have a real map, snap a photo when a trail map is posted on a kiosk. Zoom in or break the map up into sections so you can see some detail.
7461613_orig
A family of foxes greeted hikers and picnic-ers at Shannon Pond.

I have to tell you… I was nervous and anxious about this hike. I knew it in my gut and felt it in my legs and lungs when I got on the trail. I was walking at a much faster pace than normal. My nervous energy was getting the best of me and I had to mentally talk myself into a better place.

Why was I nervous? It’s still scary for me to think of being out in the woods alone. I don’t know if I’ll run into unscrupulous people. I don’t know if I’ll encounter wildlife that poses a threat. I don’t know if I’ll manage to hurt myself.

I can logically argue that each of those fears is statistically unlikely and irrational. I can also argue that those things can and do happen. So that put my intellect and emotions at odds and while they battled it out, my legs were putting some distance between me and my car. It took about a half mile for me to calm myself down enough to focus on my walking pace.

Shortly after that I saw my first snake of the day. I didn’t even scream! I was so proud of myself. That self-serving pride was short lived because as soon as I turned back to the trail I was startled by another smaller snake about two steps in front of me. I did not scream, but I did squeak.

7105802_origSnake one of four that I saw on the trail.

A few steps farther up the trail and I started seeing tiny toads in the trail. By the end of the day I had spotted four snakes, dozens of tiny toads, four medium size toads, a dozen birds I startled in the brush, and two squirrels. I did not see one dog, Sheba, who ran off on her owner.

260281_orig
Beautiful “fields” of ferns were sprinkled along the trail.
At one point in my adventure I realized I had taken a wrong turn. I consulted my map and couldn’t quite figure out where I went wrong. But since I was out adventuring, I opted to keep walking forward to the next trail sign rather than retrace my steps. This decision added about 1.5 miles to my trek. It also offered me a view of the “Castle in the Clouds.”

You can barely see it in the picture below, but it’s right in the center of the photo, with a lake just behind it.

8830128_origFunny how you don’t notice somethings at the time they are happening. I hadn’t noticed the whispy clouds until I saw the picture.

1798596_orig
Someone else’s photo of it from the same vantage point. Lucky them with a zoom lens. HA HA

8398826_origAs Bugs Bunny would say, “I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque.”

As I approached the top of the Lower Bridle Path (for the 2nd time), I discovered my mistake. Even though I had known I was supposed to go left to pick up the Upper Bridle Path, the sign confused my brain. I saw the trail name on the right side of the sign and turned right. Obviously, the arrow is pointing left. Lesson learned. I hope.

4990543_origThis was a fairly steep section of trail. 4278110_orig

7708683_orig
 Several trails were grassy like this. It was a bit disconcerting walking through grass. It felt weird beneath my feet.
9712282_orig
 The blue sky, clouds, and trees caught my eye. I stopped to admire the beauty for a few moments before continuing on my journey.
1428038_orig
Gotta work on taking selfies. Perhaps the best reason to have a hiking buddy is being able to turn over the camera to him/her. HA HA
928475_orig

Did I mention these trails are in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region?

9323567_orig
The picture doesn’t do this stream justice. It was lovely.

At 10.66 miles, my phone’s battery was getting low so I turned off my GPS app. I was mindful that I might need that last 10 percent of battery life to call for help if I met up with those unscrupulous people or wild animals I had worried about. And for the record… until I met up with Sheba’s frantic owner within the last mile or so of my hike, I hadn’t seen anyone all day long! No one. Not a single person!

After I turned off my phone, I hiked an additional 3.5 – 4 miles–totalling just around 15 miles for the day. I started hiking at 10:30 a.m. and got off the trail at 6:17 p.m. I was pooped!

It made me really glad that I had opted to NOT hike to one more summit within the trail system. Turtleback Mountain was within striking distance, but I was getting tired and it was getting late. So before I reached the turn-off to Turtleback Mountain, I created a decision making process in my mind. I decided that IF the distance from the trail to the summit of Turtleback Mountain was .5 miles or less AND the remaining distance back to the trailhead was 3.0 miles or less, I would hike to that summit.

I got to the trail sign and found that both conditions were met EXACTLY. 0.5 miles to the summit AND 3.0 miles to the trailhead. Sigh…

It was like flipping a coin. When you get the answer and then decide to go best two of three, you know you really didn’t like the answer.

I started up the trail to the Turtleback Mountain summit. But after a few weary steps I started talking to myself. “Time should have been factored in there,” I thought. “I should have said it also needed to be before 4:30 p.m.” Notice I did not decide it could be 4:30 exactly! HA HA

I looked at the time. It was 4:43 p.m. Woot! One of the conditions was NOT met, therefore I HAD to abort this mission!

I immediately turned around and headed back to the main trail. Turtleback Mountain would have to wait for another day!

What had started as a day of feeling uncomfortable and nervous ended as a day of feeling confident and excitedly exhausted. I could have called it quits after a few miles or a few hours. Instead I stayed out on the trails for 8 hours. I hiked 15 miles. I saw snakes and leaping toads. I peed in the woods and filtered drinking water–not at the same time or locations!

Yesterday I took many steps toward being an independent hiker. I think I will always prefer to have a hiking buddy. I am not a great talker in the woods, I prefer the silence and sounds of nature. But I do like the quiet companionship someone else brings to the experience.

I will continue my solo adventures in the hopes that I will never feel restricted by the need (rather than desire) to have that company. I will know that if I want to hike, I can hike. I am a hiker.

Grafton Notch Loop – Lessons Learned

On Friday, May 8th, Earl and I embarked upon a 3-day adventure. We were hiking the western half of the Grafton Notch Loop. This portion of the loop is approximately 17 miles long and crosses the summit of Old Speck Mountain, one of Maine’s 4000-footers.

We started hiking at 8:15 a.m. on Friday morning. We got back to our car at about 4:45 p.m. on Sunday. Each day eight or nine hours of hiking gained us about six miles of distance.

It was the most difficult hike we’ve done. It was also an amazing experience!

Today I’d like to share with you some of the lessons learned from this outing. Some are serious, some are silly. Some are original and some are lessons we’ve learned elsewhere and were able to apply or appreciate over these three days.

Lesson 1: Sometimes the best sight to see is that of a painted blaze on a tree. 

Blow-downs across the trail
Blow-downs across the trail made it difficult to determine if we were still on the trail.

Seeing a blue blaze was always a wonderful thing!

We were surprised by the tremendous damage winter had wreaked upon the mountain. Splintered trees blocked the trail at frequent intervals. We had to circle around, crawl under, or carefully climb over the debris.
Finding our way back to the trail was challenging at times. We made best guesses and hoped we were going the right way. It was funny because whenever we saw a blaze our steps would quicken and we’d walk with a sense of purpose. We knew where we were going and we were ready to get there. When we were uncertain about our path, we slowed down and kept scanning the trees for confirmation that we were on the right path.One tip we learned was this: When looking for blazes don’t forget to look behind you. Trails are marked in both directions. The closest visible trail blaze may be a few steps behind you.

Lesson 2: Overestimate the difficulty of trail conditions and underestimate your physical condition.

When we got back to civilization and started sharing our adventure on Facebook, Earl made the comment that we overestimated our abilities. I countered that I think we underestimated the trail conditions.

Overestimate the difficulty of the trail condition

We opted to NOT carry snowshoes. We didn’t think we’d need them and didn’t want to haul the extra couple of pounds on our packs. The reality is that we wouldn’t have been carrying our snowshoes for a significant portion of the hike. We would have been wearing them!

Likewise we were unprepared for the blow-downs that covered the trail. Detouring through the snowy woods required more time and energy than walking on a relatively clear path. Because we were hiking so early in the season, we hadn’t considered that the trail would be is such disarray.

It takes time and energy for trail maintainers (and hikers) to keep trails in top condition. Sometimes you’ll come across storm damaged areas. They will slow you down and require you to expend more energy than you anticipated.

Underestimate your physical ability

Likewise, we had hoped to hike ten miles the first day. We made it six. Luckily hiking six miles each day allowed us to complete the 17-mile hike in the three days we’d allowed for it. If we had planned a three-day 30-mile hike based on ten miles a day, we would have been in trouble. Even having brought enough food for four days, we still would have been hungry by day five.

Build extra time into your hiking schedule to allow for a slower hiking pace.

Lesson Three: Take advantage of every water source

We failed to take advantage of this fast running stream at Bull Run campground for a water source.

On Saturday afternoon we were anxious to reach the Bull Run campsite. We headed off the main trail and started descending quickly on what we hoped was the path to the campsite. We heard the roar of the stream that would be our water source. The temperature seemingly dropped with every step. There were no signs of a campsite. We quickly made the decision to head back up to the trail and find a place to camp.

Unfortunately, we failed to check our water supply before we headed back up to the trail. We did have enough water to drink, but we did not have enough water to cook our dinner or make a hot breakfast or beverage in the morning.

Lesson Four: If the thought of a moose tramping through your campsite freaks you out, hang smelly socks in the trees to ward them off.

I'm convinced these socks kept the moose away while we slept.

I don’t know if the smelly socks kept the moose away, but they did offer me a sense of comfort. I think my snoring also helped scare them off.

Lesson Five: The mantra “Just one more step… I can take one more step” helps during those tough moments when your feet are soaking wet, and your legs hurt, but you know that quitting is not an option.

Hiking is simple. Put one foot in front of the other. Repeat as necessary.

As I wrote above, this hike was the hardest one Earl and I have accomplished. We were climbing over and walking around fallen trees. Ice cold water was slopping around in our boots because we were post-holing in thigh-deep snow.

On Sunday it took us four hours to hike less than two miles. But we did it because we kept putting one foot in front of the other. It really is as easy as that.

Lesson Six: Camp shoes are AWESOME!

When we did our overnight practice run, neither Earl nor I brought camp shoes. We scoffed at the notion of carrying an extra pair of shoes. When you have to carry everything you need on your back, you start to think about what you really need.

During that overnight trip, I discovered that I hated sitting around camp at night in heavy boots. I hated crawling out the tent in the morning and forcing my feet into damp boots. I don’t walk barefoot in my home, I’m not going to walk barefoot in the woods!

This time we both brought camp shoes and how sweet and wonderful they were!

Having camp shoes allowed us to take off our wet boots and socks once we stopped hiking for the night. They gave our feet protection around the campsite while also allowing air to dry our feet.

Camp shoes can be a hot topic on hiking forums. Like many things about hiking it comes down to personal choice.

My choice is that several hours of foot comfort are well worth the extra 1 lb 4.3 oz I carried for 17 difficult miles.

Brrrrr… a Perfect Day for Hiking

If you’ve wondered what winter hiking looks like, here’s a picture of Earl and I as we meandered thru the Androscoggin Riverlands State Park in Turner, Maine, this morning.

If you wondered what winter hiking looks like, here's a picture of Earl and I as we meandered thru the Androscoggin Riverlands State Park in Turner, Maine, this morning. The temps were in the single digits. Brrrrr... I kept chuckling each time I looked at Earl and saw the icicles in his beard getting longer and longer. Are you wondering what one wears on such a cold day? Here's what I had on for layers starting at the top and working my way down. Head/neck: Hat and buff. The buff was pulled up over my head partway so that it covered my cheeks and chin a bit. Each time I brought it over my mouth or nose my glasses fogged up. But my face really didn't feel cold. Upper body: Merino wool camisole, two merino wool mid-weight tops, a heavier weight merino wool hoodie (you can see the hoodie in the photo below) and a windbreaking shell. Yes, that's a lot of layers and Earl is quick to tell me that I have too many on. But we have to hike our own hike and dress for our own hike. I knew that I could take layers off if I got too warm... which I did after a couple of miles. But I have to tell you, when we started out I was grateful for each an every ounce of warmth I was wearing! Picture Donna is all bundled up for a walk in the woods. Hands: Thin liner gloves and heavier Thinsulate gloves. When we started out my hands were extremely cold (I was only wearing the Thinsulate gloves when we started. After about 10 minutes I admitted that my fingers were freezing (uncomfortably so) and pulled on the liner gloves. It took about five minutes for the painful tingling sensation to kick in as my fingers warmed up and another five minutes or so before they felt warm again. Next time we go out I am going to get my fingers moving and the blood flowing to them before we hit the trail to see if that helps. Lower body: Low-temp long underwear and my normal nylon hiking pants Feet: Heavy-weight merino wool socks and insulated winter boots Was I warm enough? After I took care of my fingers, I was definitely warm enough. One thing to be careful about when hiking in the winter is to manage your layers so you don't start sweating. You can do this by slowing down, taking breaks, or as I did, removing a layer. Picture Earl in his new hard shell coat. This man loves shopping for hiking gear!
Bundled up for winter hiking

The temps were in the single digits. Brrrrr… I kept chuckling each time I looked at Earl and saw the icicles in his beard getting longer and longer.

Are you wondering what one wears on such a cold day? Here’s what I had on for layers starting at the top and working my way down.

Head/neck: Hat and buff. The buff was pulled up over my head partway so that it covered my cheeks and chin a bit. Each time I brought it over my mouth or nose my glasses fogged up. But my face really didn’t feel cold.

Upper body: Merino wool camisole, two merino wool mid-weight tops, a heavier weight merino wool hoodie (you can see the hoodie in the photo below) and a windbreaking shell. Yes, that’s a lot of layers and Earl is quick to tell me that I have too many on. But we have to hike our own hike and dress for our own hike. I knew that I could take layers off if I got too warm… which I did after a couple of miles. But I have to tell you, when we started out I was grateful for each an every ounce of warmth I was wearing!

Bundled up for winter hiking. Androscoggin Riverlands State Park
Bundled up for winter hiking. Androscoggin Riverlands State Park

Hands: Thin liner gloves and heavier Thinsulate gloves. When we started out my hands were extremely cold (I was only wearing the Thinsulate gloves when we started. After about 10 minutes I admitted that my fingers were freezing (uncomfortably so) and pulled on the liner gloves. It took about five minutes for the painful tingling sensation to kick in as my fingers warmed up and another five minutes or so before they felt warm again. Next time we go out I am going to get my fingers moving and the blood flowing to them before we hit the trail to see if that helps.

Lower body: Low-temp long underwear and my normal nylon hiking pants

Feet: Heavy-weight merino wool socks and insulated winter boots

Was I warm enough? After I took care of my fingers, I was definitely warm enough. One thing to be careful about when hiking in the winter is to manage your layers so you don’t start sweating. You can do this by slowing down, taking breaks, or as I did, removing a layer.

Earl in his new hard shell coat. This man loves shopping for hiking gear!
Earl in his new hard shell coat. This man loves shopping for hiking gear!

 

Our Steps Toward Conditioning

Donna and I started hiking by randomly picking a trail and saying “Lets try this one” This led us to trying Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park. Without a doubt, it’s the toughest trail in the park and not one to be taken lightly. We (meaning I) were (was) in no condition to attempt that. People have fallen and died on that trail. Its closed during the Summer so Peregrine falcons can nest without being disturbed.

Boulder scrambling, Precipice Trail, Acadia National Park
Boulder scrambling in Acadia National Park, Precipice Trail

 

 

The warning sign. I don't know how I managed to walk by it without seeing it.
The warning sign. I don’t know how I managed to walk by it without seeing it.

As she mentioned, we were wearing jeans, cotton shirts and sneakers. We had one 3 liter water bottle that we carried with us. From the time we started up the trail head to when I was wiped out, exhausted and gave up .4 mile up the trail, was almost three hours. It was (to me) a crazy boulder scramble, leaping from rock to rock and scrambling up cliff faces. We got to our hotel room and I was thinking what a wild adventure! There is a visitor center in the park that has 52 steps leading up a slight incline. I started walking up and by the time I got to the top, I was winded and my legs were burning with the lactic acid build up. The next day we did a 14 mile bike ride. She has pictures of me flopped in the grass, once again, exhausted, at about 6 miles into the ride.

 

A section of Precipice Trail, Acadia National Park, ME.
A section of Precipice Trail, Acadia National Park, ME

The next hike we did was on the way back from the Fryeburg Fair. We stopped at Pleasant Mountain to hike a trail. We really didn’t know exactly where the trail was, but the first trailhead sign we saw, we stopped and hiked it. I was wearing her LLBean Rucksack, carrying 5 or 6 liters of water, some snacks and apples. Halfway up the mountain, I let her carry the pack the rest of the way. Once again, I was wiped out. We finally made it to the yurt at the top of the ski slopes and was rewarded with a beautiful view of the western Maine forests wearing their fall colors. After we got back to the car (she was still carrying the pack) we checked the hiking trail book and we had again, picked the steepest, toughest trail up the mountain. That was our last hike for 2013. We talked about hiking more the following year. She mentioned that she always wanted to climb Mt Katahdin, it was on her bucket list. I realized that I need to start training. If 52 little steps wore me out, what was the 5 miles up Mt Katahdin going to do to me?

Now that we had a goal, we started making a plan. Starting in the Spring, as soon as the snow melted enough, we started going on short walks around town. I started carrying a day pack on my solo hikes and walks. We picked small hills and hiking trails. We climbed the towering 500′ peak of Bradbury Mountain (I was gagging at the top of that). We hiked parts of the Eastern Trail, which is fairly flat and smooth. We walked wherever we could. We researched clothing and equipment and purchased and tried out what works for us. We climbed steeper and taller hills such as Streaked Mountain in Buckfield, ME (1700’) I took Donna on a hike that my Grandfather showed us when we were kids that is now Little Concord Pond State Park. Climbing up Bald Mountain and then continuing to Speckled Mountain (2200′), we found patches of snow in May. Coming back down, I stumbled and fell and skinned my knee. I learned the value of carrying a first aid kit. I haven’t gone on a hike without it since. Streaked Mountain became my measuring stick of my conditioning. The first time we climbed it took us about an hour. I climbed it weekly and watched the time it took me creep downward to 40 minutes. In that time, I kept adding weight to my pack until it weighed about around 20 lbs. I found another State Park in my home town of Turner with 23 miles of hiking trails. Riverlands State Park used to be a game preserve. Now it is multi-use with hiking, ATV, mountain bike and horse trails. Donna and I progressively added higher mountains to our hikes and adding more and more distance. By late June we had progressed to hiking 3000 footers.

 

During this time, we decided we were going to start working on the AMC 4k’ers list. The first one we did was Saddleback Mountain. It was a 13-mile, 10 hour hike for us. Don’t let the roots and rocks on the trail photos scare you. Maine is one of the hardest states of the Appalachian Trail. It makes a good training ground for our proposed AT hike in 2019.

 

A week later, we climbed Mt Katahdin in the pouring rain. It was a long hike. It took us 6 hours to climb the 5.3 miles of the Hunt trail, scrambling up slippery, wet rocks. The clouds cleared a couple times and I looked down and instantly got vertigo. The clouds closed in and I kept my face to mountain and continued the climb. We got to the top and the Appalachian Trail thru-hikers that passed us on the trail were just vacating the summit. We were tired, damp from the fog, rain and our own exertions, but we were not cold, nor defeated. After a snack and some drinks, we decided to not try Hunt trail again and took Saddle Trail down thinking it was easier. Easier is a relative term. It was definitely not easy. At one point I threw my pack down a 20 foot cliff face and scaled it grabbing for hand and toe holds. Incredulous and doubting that this was the trail, I kept scanning for blue blazes and finding them. There was water still running down the rock faces of the cliffs. Rather than the weather and glacier worn rounded rocks of the Hunt trail, the Saddle trail had sharp edged and jagged rocks because it was formed by a fairly recent rock slide. It made for some pretty good steps and hand holds. I kept singing this song in my head:

“The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain, to see what he could see”

Once we got down the mountain, got to Chimney Pond Campground, checked in with the ranger there, we still had 3 miles to get to Roaring Brook Campground and hope we could hitch a ride back to Katahdin Stream Campground. Once we got to Roaring Brook, there was only one car in the day use parking lot. We resigned ourselves to hiking the 18 miles back to our campsite, hoping that someone would drive by. If not, we figured we could be there by 1 a.m. A mile into our walk back, an older couple from North Carolina stopped and picked us up. Trail Angels. There is a recurring theme along the AT. “The trail will provide”. We swapped stories of our hiking adventures, while our Angel drove like a madman on the twisty, narrow dirt roads. Fortunately a higher power was looking out for us and we made it back safely.

 

There is suppose to be a moose that visits this pond, although I have never seen it.
There is suppose to be a moose that visits this pond, although I have never seen it.

In four short months, not doing anything but hiking and climbing progressively higher mountains, and adding more weight to my pack, I went from almost vomiting on the top of 500′ Bradbury mountain, to climbing 5267′ Mt Katahdin with energy enough to contemplate an 18 mile walk back to our car. The point is that once you have a goal in mind, find something you enjoy doing that makes you sweat, that challenges you. You will get incrementally stronger, you will lose weight and you will feel better and you will have amazing stories and photos to share.