Posts Tagged ‘Evans Notch’

Evans Notch – Spring 2016

evansnotch

Two weeks ago Truman and I climbed Little Deer Hill and Big Deer Hill, a total of 4 miles round trip.  Short, but sweet, there are some steep parts but it’s not a killer hike.  It had really warmed up — 64 degrees with brilliant sunshine – but the key here is that it was nice and breezy, which means NO BUGS when hiking! Hooray!

When I pulled into the trailhead parking lot, there was only one other car. Up we went to Little Deer Hill. We passed the NH-ME border marker.

mainenh

 

 

deerhill1During the entire climb up that mountain, we caught the wind coming off of Evans Notch.  The summit views of Mt. Meader, and No. and So. Baldface Mountains were clear and lovely.

deerhill5

 

deerhill3After admiring the view from the top (where Truman sat like he was King of the Mountain; he owned it), we went down the other side of that mountain, and then up to Big Deer Hill. The view from the top of Big Deer Hill looks down upon Deer Hill Bog, which is only 3 miles from my house.  Unfortunately on this side of the mountain, there was no breeze, so the blackflies were swarming and I didn’t stay more than a minute.

deerhill2

We were the only ones on the entire mountain; the only noise was of the breeze and various songbirds.  We got to the dam on the bottom of Little Deer Hill, explored the shoreline, and headed back to the car.  There must have been 20 cars in the parking lot trailhead upon our return!  Now you know where people from Maine and New Hampshire go when they call in sick on a Tuesday morning!  Nature lovers find a beautiful day hard to pass up.

deerhill4

I really didn’t want the day to end, so I drove to the Basin for some pictures. The wind was gusting and actually blew my scarf right off my head.  It was a gorgeous day and I was back home in time for lunch.

basin1

 

basin0

Advertisements

Happy Sunday

This past Sunday was one of those days when everything went right.  Now that we’re in the midst of blackfly and tick season, hiking gets pretty uncomfortable when the weather is sunny and calm.  Saturday it was a sunny, gorgeous 80 degrees, so I made sure to wear a bug net whenever I took the dog for a walk.  Unless it’s really breezy, the blackflies love to swarm all over you.  For the past two weeks, I’ve been pulling off a minimum of 10 ticks a day from my dog, and 5 ticks from myself, despite the use of repellents.

So I was not disappointed to wake up to a blustery, cloudy Sunday in the 40s.  Although rain threatened, at least it meant that we could go walking unmolested by bugs.

But first, we needed to dump our trash and recyclables at the transfer station.  I was delighted to find several great books at the freecycle station.  When I finish the books I will return them to the freecycle area so someone else can enjoy them.  I also contributed several old garden pots that I had no plans to plant to the giveaway pile.

From the transfer station we continued a few miles up the road to visit our friend Paul’s building site (I guess you could call it tresspassing since he wasn’t there).  Paul is building a new, off-grid home there and is doing everything singlehandedly.  For the past several months he’s been busy grading the area, and raising the site with packed dirt since the house will sit along the river and he has to worry about a flood line.  We were really impressed with the attractive retaining wall he set.  The house will overlook the river, where I’m anxious (with Paul’s permission) to bring my kayak and try a little trout fishing.

By now the skies were looking a bit mean so we thought we’d forget a hike and just take a scenic drive.  We went up the Crooked River Causeway and then drove west on Route 2, taking in the grandeur of the northern White Mountain Peaks.  We turned into a parking area at Rattle River trailhead, which is part of the Appalachian Trail, and decided to walk the gentle 1.8 miles to the shelter erected for the benefit of thru-hikers.  (A thru-hiker is someone who hikes the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine.) We figured a little rain wouldn’t hurt us.

20160515_144458

 

Fortunately, the weather held, and there were no bugs! The many small flumes and cascades along the Rattle River were incredibly soothing and beautiful.  Although we’ve taken this walk several times before, it never gets old.  The last time I was there I was with our dog Spencer, who died this past September.  Now we were accompanied by Truman, our 7 month-old Standard Poodle puppy, and it was fun to experience the walk through his doggie eyes and nose, as he exuberantly discovered the joys of the Rattle River trail for the first time.  It made the old new again.

20160515_134459

20160515_134933

 

 

 

 

 

20160515_134928

20160515_134740

 

 

20160515_191553_resized.png

 

20160515_192458_resized.png

It was also lovely to see trillium, a type of wildflower in purple or white, in bloom.20160515_133817

20160515_192655_resized.png

 

 

From the Rattle River we headed over to Gorham NH to do my week’s worth of food shopping at the Super WalMart (the only major food shopping in that area; it saved me a trip into town later in the week).  I know a lot of people who hate WalMart and won’t shop there out of principle, but ask anyone living in a rural area and they will tell you that WalMart is a blessing.  The one-stop shopping saves rural folks from traveling 100 miles into the closest city to supply their needs, and at reasonable prices.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a large selection of organic produce at this WalMart!

From Gorham we traveled back on Rte 2, but instead of returning the way we had come, we went down the 113, which is Evans Notch; it’s one of my favorite drives in the area.  The views are magnificent, the Notch is filled with dozens of challenging hiking trails, and there is always a chance of seeing a moose.  We didn’t see a moose, but we did see very fresh, recent beaver activity along a river.  The beavers appeared to be decimating the entire shoreline, working on felling several large trees simultaneously along the riverbank.

20160515_165827

 

20160515_165254

20160516_180454_resized.png

 

 

Thanks to the longer days, when we got home there was still time to sow some beet seeds in the raised-bed garden.  I’ve also planted garlic, kale, and some winter squash, and last year’s strawberry plants are doing nicely.  My only garden disaster (so far) is the complete failure of my apple orchard.  Although I attended a university extension course on apple growing, fed them, talked to them (and God),  pruned them, and generally babied my apple trees for the past 5 years,  I had yet to see  even a single apple blossom and no apples, despite a proliferation of leaves!  Even putting a beehive next to the trees didn’t help them pollinate. Finally, finally – – four apple blossoms!

20160518_123520_resized.jpg

Will they make it?  Who knows.  I’ve been vigilant about removing insect nests that hatch worms and devour young apple leaves on an almost daily basis.  I’m trying to keep the orchard organic, so pesticide is a no-no.   Meanwhile I have 8 organic apple trees that mock me daily, a life lesson and humbling reminder of the fact that despite my best efforts, I am not always the one in control.

 

Emerald Pool . . . and Rosh HaShana

The brook near Emerald Pool

The brook near Emerald Pool

I spent much of Friday packing up the house and getting ready for the long drive to our hometown, where for the next month we’ll be spending time with family and friends while celebrating the upcoming Jewish holidays.

I couldn’t help but feel a bit wistful that this year’s timing of the Jewish calendar meant that I would miss the peak of leaf-peeping season, not to mention the greatest time of year to go hiking.

I decided right then and there that I would make the most of the short time remaining to me and drove to Evans Notch with my dog riding shotgun.

I passed these two huge barns on a country road in Chatham NH, being powered by an immense solar electric system that stretches across both roofs.  The barns were empty.  I am so curious to know what they are powering!

I passed these two huge barns on a country road in Chatham NH, being powered by an immense solar electric system that stretches across both roofs. The barns were empty. I am so curious to know what they are powering!

There wasn’t time for a serious hike but that would not stop me from going for a beautiful walk through the woods on the beginning of Baldface Circle Trail to Emerald Pool.  It is immediately apparent how Emerald Pool got its well-deserved name.

 

Emerald Pool lives up to its name.  It is a popular swimming hole for locals in summer, and the upper rock is used as a diving board.

Emerald Pool lives up to its name. It is a popular swimming hole for locals in summer, and the upper rock is used as a diving board.

We didn’t have time to go further on the trail, where it continues to Chandler Gorge.   It’s incredible to think that much of this walk is on private property from which its generous owners permit public access, providing hikers don’t wander carelessly off the trail.  Think about it:  the more precious the object, the more likely we are to guard it and keep it for ourselves.  That’s just human nature.  It takes a special spirit, and someone who understands the true meaning of love (love = giving), to know that it’s even more special to share than to hoard; to be selfless rather than selfish.

Hiking in the White Mountains is very much a part of my spiritual preparation to greet the Jewish New Year.  Some random thoughts from atop a mountain:

  • Most of the time reward comes with effort… and rarely without it.
  • With every disappointment and when there is no reward, it’s not the end of the world.
  • HaShem (G-d) has made a truly gorgeous, wondrous world
  • I am super blessed and grateful to be in and part of this world
  • I am both blessed and grateful for good health
  • Even when I am alone, HaShem is there
  • Even when I’m alone, I’m not lonely
  • Even when I’m poised on top of the mountain, I’m at the edge – –  and must tread thoughtfully and purposefully
  • Even when I think I’ve made it to the top, there will always be more summits to reach – – and not all are attainable
  • Life is short yet time is relative.  It marches slowly when the kids are small and moves too fast when you are old.
  • Silence can be both loud and quiet.  Both types teach us to really listen, if we are willing to hear.
  • Looking out and down from the mountaintop, how truly humbling it is to see that I am but a dot or blip in the vast landscape
  • No matter how external events wreak havoc, and have the power to poison and destroy, evil is not permanent and HaShem is eternal.
Happy New Year!   Wishing my friends, family, and readers a year of multiple blessings, good health, and peace.

 

Leaf Peeping 2013

Basin Pond, Evans Notch Oct 17, 2013

Basin Pond, Evans Notch Oct 17, 2013 (Make sure you click this photo to see an enlarged version.  It is really gorgeous!)

2013 has arguably been one of the most amazing autumns on record here in the White Mountains.

The success of leaf peeping is based on two factors:  intensity of color, and the amount of leaf drop.  You can have gorgeous color, usually precipitated by warm days and cold nights; but if there is wind or rain, it might cause most of the leaves to drop from the trees, thereby hastening the end of leaf peeping.  If the nights are too warm, or it’s too cloudy during the day for prolonged periods, the colors will be blah.

October was unseasonably warm and clear, yet the nights were cold enough to help with leaf coloration.  Unusually, there was almost zero rain and no wind – -which meant the leaves “aged” on the trees and changed from their full gamut of green to red to orange to gold and yellow without any noticeable thinning.

Basin Pond

Basin Pond

20131017_102016a

Basin Pond

Basin Pond

Basin Pond

20131017_102507a

Virginia Lake

Virginia Lake

Virginia Lake

Virginia Lake

Kewaydin Lake

Kewaydin Lake

Another factor in my favor was that I was able to return to Maine a few days before the colors changed.  This year, the Jewish holidays (Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah) were “early” relative to the Gregorian calendar.  Usually I return to Maine around mid-October, when the colors are well past their peak; this year I was back at the end of September.  What a difference, color-wise, those two weeks makes!

I was hoping for an especially colorful autumn this year because not only would I be here for its entirety, I was also entertaining guests from Israel.

Historically, the Land of Israel had been covered in deciduous forests and woods, but through the centuries various conquerors – – Romans, Crusaders, Turks – – had decimated its forests, leaving the land bare.  What American Jew who went to Hebrew School or Sunday School in the 1960s and 70s,  doesn’t remember donating a few coins into  a little “pushka” (charity box) from the Jewish National Fund every week?  The money raised would go to reforesting Israel, transforming the barren land green.  While the program was largely successful, the JNF  almost exclusively planted a single type of scrawny non-native pine tree, which was drought-resistant, could survive in poor soil, and grow quickly.  What they didn’t realize is that it is a fairly short-lived tree, and useless for fuel or lumber.  Today Israel still must import all wood products, and the oaks, cedar, ash and cypress of Biblical times is extremely rare.  (More common are fig, olive, palm, acacia, and the above-mentioned non-native pine trees.)  Because of the abundance of evergreens and the dearth of deciduous trees, not to mention the mostly-warm autumn season there, fall colors are  unknown in Israel.  Therefore it was a special thrill for my Israeli visitors to experience the change of colors in the White Mountains.

HaShem was good to us.  Not only did we get wonderful colors, but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was unseasonably warm.  We rode to the top of Mt. Washington on a day with 100-mile visibility and almost no wind (nearly unheard of for Mt. Washington, which is home to the country’s wickedest weather).

Mt. Washington on a very clear day, seen from below

Mt. Washington on a very clear day, seen from below

About halfway up the mountain on Mt. Washington Auto Road, looking down

About halfway up the mountain on Mt. Washington Auto Road, looking down

The entire coloration process is nothing short of miraculous, really.  While scientists understand the process of fall color, the reason for it remains unclear, despite many theories.  Truly autumn is a beautiful gift to us from The One Above.

The trees on our street in Maine

The trees on our street in Maine

An abandoned barn just up the road from my house

An abandoned barn in Evergreen Valley

Blueberry Mountain

Shell Pond Trail

Shell Pond Trail

On Sunday we decided to take a short hike of 2 or 3 miles.  We live very close to Shell Pond in Evans Notch.  We had hiked the easy Shell Pond Trail loop 4 years ago, and to tell you the truth, it wasn’t the most exciting hike in the world, neither visually nor in terms of challenge.  It was interesting, though:  it is home to the Stone House, which is one of the few houses in the area constructed, well over 100 years ago,  with a stone facade  (surprisingly rare since we are surrounded by granite, but in the White Mountains, wood rules) from a quarry dug behind that house.  The land abutting the Stone House and Shell Pond was cleared by colonist settlers, and in the 1940s it was the site of an airstrip, used for practice landings and takeoffs by the military during training exercises during WWII.  Today it is a perfectly flat, grassy meadow.

This newly built home sits adjacent to the old airfield and the Stone House.

This newly built home sits adjacent to the old airfield and the Stone House.  (click to enlarge)

The most popular approach to Shell Pond is via Stone House Road off of Rte. 113 in Evans Notch; but just up the road from us on Deer Hill Rd. there is a small sign indicating a hiking trail that cuts in to Shell Pond, and that’s the route we took.  It’s always thrilling,  knowing that hiking trails, snowmobile trails, colonist history, stories of Indian wars of the 1760s and natural wonders are literally in our backyard.  Incidentally, the entire hike was on private land – – the owners have graciously allowed hikers on their property under the guidance and maintenance of the all-volunteer Chatham Trails Association, provided outdoor enthusiasts  stick to the trail and respect privacy boundaries of the owners.

It was a particularly lovely autumn day, the air cool but the sun kissing our faces; a strong wind the previous night had resulted in a deep carpet of golden leaves covering the trail.  It was a bit of a slog since walking in the leaves was slippery, and necessitated the use of hiking poles to probe the ground to see if the downed foliage was covering up large stones, mud, or deep, hidden puddles.

Shell Pond Trail

Shell Pond Trail

Weird but beautiful fungus growing on a rotten tree trunk

Weird but beautiful fungus growing on a rotten tree trunk

The route was very short and mostly level, and since the day was so nice we decided to continue on an adjacent trail to Rattlesnake Gorge.  A footbridge spanned the narrow granite flume some 30 feet below, fed by a pulsing waterfall.

Before our ascent of Blueberry Hill, this footbridge took us over Rattlesnake Gorge.  My husband, a geek gadgeteer, spent a lot of time consulting his GPS, which he installed with all the trails found in the White Mountains

Before our ascent of Blueberry Hill, this footbridge took us over Rattlesnake Gorge. My husband, a geek gadgeteer, spent a lot of time consulting his GPS, which he loaded with software containing all the trails found in the White Mountains

We continued a few hundred feet up the trail to Rattlesnake Pool.  We almost missed it – the trail marker blended in so well with the woods.

rattlesnakepoolsign

This magnificent swimming hole would provide perfect relief after a hot day of hiking, but we were not in the correct season for dipping in its freezing waters.  Fed by yet another waterfall, the round pool – really a giant glacial pothole – has incredibly green, clear water and is truly magnificent.

This glacial pothole is fed by a rushing waterfall to its left, unfortunately not shown.

Clear, cold Rattlesnake Pool.  This glacial pothole is fed by a rushing waterfall to its left, unfortunately not shown here.

Now we were truly energized, so we kept going.  And going.  We decided to climb to the top of Blueberry Hill, hoping for some nice views.  A couple we met on the trail who were on their way down told us that the climb was well worth the effort.  “And make sure you take the Lookout Loop Trail after you get to the top!” they added.

The climb wasn’t long, but it was extraordinarily steep.  I was huffing and puffing and my heart was beating so hard I thought it would burst out of my chest.  I needed to stop frequently to calm my pulse.  I am up to a challenge, but that nagging little voice inside of me wasn’t so sure.  “It’s going to get dark, and you’re going to be stuck,” it told me.  I was so tired, so winded.  My husband assured me we had plenty of time to complete the hike, but even if in the worst-case scenario it got dark, we could manage with our flashlights.  (We also had appropriate clothing, food, water, and first aid kits in our backpacks.)  “Ok,” I said doubtfully, and continued climbing and resting, climbing and resting.  I tried talking myself out of negative thoughts.  “We can turn around now if you want,” my husband said, and he meant it without any malice, but even though I was filled with doubt, I pushed grimly on. Surely we were so close to the top!  Despite his best intentions, my husband’s constant, cheerful GPS reportage (“1000′ feet to go!  950′ to go!”) was incredibly irritating and got old, fast.  Still, I kept climbing.

Finally, through the dense tree cover:  peeks of blue sky a few feet ahead!  The end really was in sight.  We finally made it to the top.  Blueberry Hill was indeed aptly named.  Although we were long past the July blueberry season, the blueberry leaves had turned a burnished maroon, and the surrounding green lichens were now a frosty white.

blueberrylichens

The view was shrouded by pines, and with the clock ticking, we hurried along the Lookout Loop Trail to a series of clear granite ledges.

lookoutloopsign

It was then that we were blessed with our reward:  probably one of the all-time nicest views I’ve ever seen on a hike, and that’s saying a lot here in the White Mountains!  We felt like we were on top of the world – literally and figuratively.

20131020_150420e

(Click to enlarge) A five-star view:  from Blueberry Hill on the Lookout Loop Trail. Shell Pond lies below, and in the far distance on the left you can see a sliver of Horseshoe Pond and beyond it, Kezar Lake.

Our dog Spencer checks out the view at the top

Our dog Spencer checks out the view at the top

Despite his age (70 in dog years), Spencer still enjoys hiking.

Despite his age (70 in dog years), Spencer still enjoys hiking.  Here he smiles for the camera.

Although we couldn’t linger as long as we might have liked, the arduous climb had been absolutely worthwhile.  The steep, slippery descent was punctuated by my worries (“it’s going to get dark!” and my husband begging me to slow down (‘if you go fast you’re going to take a fall or stress your knees!”)  but soon enough we were indeed down the mountain and walking the last mile of trail.  Never had a soft, grassy, and “boring” flat former airfield been so welcoming to my poor, tired, sore feet!  And indeed, we did make it to the car before dark.

My husband, the gadget geek, was agog with the information spewing from his cellphone apps and GPS.  If you had asked me earlier that day if I was in the mood for a 5.5 hour, 7.2 mile hike climbing 1,870 feet and walking 18,500 steps, I would have said “No way!”  Instead, our spontaneity led to a challenge I wouldn’t have thought I could muster.  Besides being in awe of the incredible beauty we were privileged to see, it was such a positive life lesson.  Go!  Live!  Just do it!  Try!  You might fail, but you can achieve!  Choose happiness!  We had just experienced a taste of heaven, and being a bit tired and sore nevertheless seemed a small price to pay (not to mention the 950 calories my husband’s phone’s app said we burned) – – especially after the hot bath and cold beer that followed 🙂

I was sure HaShem has placed those two people on the trail at the moment I needed the most encouragement, and without the Providence of meeting them we would probably not have attempted the fantastic Lookout Loop Trail since the hour was late.

Since this hike was impetuously conceived, although we could rely on the GPS trail map, we nevertheless had no real information prepared in advance as to what glories awaited us. In the words coined by hiker and author “It’s Not About the Hike” Nancy  Sporborg, we were truly “riding the grace wave.”

Speckled Mountain

Our house lies within 1 mile of the trailhead to Speckled Mountain, the tallest mountain in the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness section of the White Mountains, but at 2,906′ tall, it is a less commanding presence than the 4,000+ footers that are iconic to the White Mountains.   But lying in Speckled Mountain’s shadow and viewing it on a daily basis, it seemed ridiculous with all the hiking and walking that I do that I had yet to reach its summit.  (I managed to climb Mt. Washington (6,288′) and Cannon Mountain (4,081′), but that was several years ago.)

Not that I hadn’t tried!

The first attempt, we bungled the directions.  The trailmarkers had faded and we misread the topo map, so we missed a certain turnoff.  We ended up at an abandoned mine, turned around, and then started bushwhacking our way up the mountain.  Some seven hours later, bruised, scratched, and exhausted, we called it quits and returned home.  (You can read about that day of mishaps here.)

The second time, in early winter, it was not really our goal to make it to the top, but simply to walk until snow or ice would prevent us from continuing further (this was before we owned crampons).  We made it to the granite boulders and ledges, but the ice was not safely navigable in our hiking boots so we called it a day.

Well, the third time was the charm.  My goal had been to build up to the challenge by taking smaller hikes until I was in prime condition, and then wait until September when the weather cooled and the bugs were gone to make the ascent.

Although my stamina level is reasonably good, I’ve been having problems with sore feet for the past few years.  First it was plantar fasciitis.  Then my heel suffered a stress fracture and I had to wear a “boot” for several months until it healed.  Lately I’ve been suffering from Morton’s neuroma, where due to an inflamed nerve, after 2 miles my toes would go numb and by 3 miles they’d hurt so badly I was practically hobbling.  I was convinced that if I could only find a hiking boot with a roomy enough toebox that wouldn’t squeeze my toes as they swelled, I would be able to walk without pain.

Living in hiker’s paradise in a rural area means that despite the absence of a Costco or Target, there are stores that cater to outdoor sports, and I spent the next 3 weeks trying on hiking boots.  There is a whole new class of hiking boots out there, which look like glorified, ankle-high sneakers.  Most people love them because unlike typically stiff hiking boots, they are super light and supple, and can be worn  straight out of the box without the usual break-in time.  These would have been my first choice if my feet were 20 years younger, but I found I required more upper ankle support on uneven surfaces than these could provide.  But unfortunately for me, most traditional hiking boots were also rejected outright, due to a narrow toebox.  Or, if the toebox was big enough, the rest of the boot also fit big and my narrow heel would slip out (a sure precursor for blisters).  Still,  a few possibilities gave me hope.  But no sooner would I bring the boots home and wear them around inside for a day, that I’d realize that they wouldn’t work, and I’d have to return them. For another 2 weeks I ordered several pair of boots online at Amazon and Sierra Trading Post (the latter is my favorite outdoor store), but these, too, were sent back.  The thought of never being able to hike any distance beyond 2 miles without pain made me downright weepy, but I was not about to give up.

Out of sheer desperation, I visited Limmer Boot Company.  There are two divisions:  custom and stock.  The stock boots typically retail for around $400; the custom boots are $650 and are created from a mold of your foot.    Peter Limmer  is a third-generation Limmer cobbler, and all-around cool guy.  While clearly Limmer boots are more than I need in terms of price and construction (he supplies hikers who climb Mt. Everest!), the boots did fit my feet and clearly, with the heavy soles and one-piece thick leather upper,  they would outlast my lifespan (until 120).  In between cementing, sewing, cutting,  and resoling several pairs of boots, Peter took one cursory look at my feet and said, “You need a wide toebox. I have only one stock model that will work for you, or else you’ll have to order custom.”  By telling him about my foot woes (he’s heard it all over the years), he was able to make suggestions that no podiatrist had even thought of.  Actually, as I later learned, Limmer Boot is famous for its quality craftsmanship and personal attention, and hikers literally make pilgrimages from around the world to visit his old-world store, located only 35 minutes from my home!

But at that price, it had to be a last resort.  As I stopped by Eastern Mountain Sports on the way home, returning yet another boot that didn’t work out, I spied one I hadn’t noticed before and asked to try it on.  It seemed like it might work, so I took it home to try out for a day before committing.

Indeed, this hiking boot was quite comfortable, and it was hundreds of dollars less than the Limmers (though there was no comparison when it came to quality – – with the Limmers, you really did get what you paid for).  It was good enough for me and my jaunts, however.  I did a short walk of 3 miles pain-free, and felt super motivated to tackle some more serious hikes.

I thought I’d do an old favorite of mine, Lonesome Lake in Franconia Notch in NH, on Memorial Day weekend.  It’s not a long hike, but it is quite steep and with gorgeous views.  The trailhead is about 1 hour 45 minutes drive from my home.

But on Memorial Day I was feeling especially peppy, the weather was clear, the skies were blue, the sun was shining, and best of all, there was a breeze, which meant bugs would be at a minimum.  I couldn’t wait to get out there and the long drive to Franconia Notch meant hours driving that I could instead be hiking.  We decided to go for . . .  Speckled Mountain!

There are three possible routes to the top of Speckled Mountain:  via Evans Notch off Rte. 113, which is the most popular route; via the Red Rock Trail; and the Cold Brook trail.  We followed the Evergreen Link Trail, which connects to the Cold Brook Trail, for several reasons:  it is the closest to our home (we can actually walk to the trailhead), it offers amazing views on the way up from granite ledges, so even if my feet didn’t make it to the top, there would still be much to see; and it is the least traveled trail, which means we’d probably not run into anyone until we reached the summit.

Cairns (piles of rocks) mark the trail route to Speckled Mountain

Cairns (piles of rocks) mark the trail route to Speckled Mountain

The Evergreen Link Trail starts out very steep, but I was psyched.  The minutes and miles (3.4 total to the top) flew by.  The beginning placed us under the forest canopy, which was pleasantly cool.  As we reached the first set of granite ledges, the views of Evergreen Valley, Kezar Lake and Horseshoe Pond were magnificent.  Other than taking a few snapshots, we didn’t linger, and continued our climb up, up, to the top.

About 2/3 the way up Speckled Mountain.  This view looks out onto Kezar Lake.

About 2/3 the way up Speckled Mountain. This view looks out onto Kezar Lake.

Looking down from the second group of granite ledges to the first set of granite ledges, about 2/3 of the way up to the top.  first group of granite ledges from the second

Looking down from the second group of granite ledges to the first set of granite ledges, about 2/3 of the way up to the top.

We passed a small lake – it looked more like a wildlife watering hole, actually – – and kept climbing.  I couldn’t believe my luck – – my feet didn’t hurt at all!  I should also add that I was carrying 17 lbs of gear in my backpack, but due to the terrific quality of the pack, and the added support of trekking poles, I didn’t even feel the weight.  (We tend to be very generous when it comes to carrying first aid supplies, extra clothing, food, and emergency provisions.)

Soon we made it to the top.  There were 3 other people at the summit.  One gentleman had been on our trail, and asked if we saw the moose at the lake.  Darn!  We must have  missed him by no more than 5 minutes.

The summit was absolutely amazing.  The wind was blowing so hard at times that I had to steady myself to maintain my balance.  The views were 360 degrees of Maine and New Hampshire.  Two days before Memorial Day there had been some surprise weather, and in the distance, Mt. Washington was covered in snow.  After relaxing for an hour on the summit (where my husband, much to his delight, was able to make direct radio contact on his ham radio with other amateur radio operators in New Hampshire), and with storm clouds gathering in the distance, we decided to head back.

My husband hangs on to his hat while making a connection on his ham radio.

My husband hangs on to his hat under extremely windy conditions while making a connection on his ham radio at the top of Speckled Mountain.

From my telephoto lens, Mt. Washington as seen from the top of Speckled Mountain.  There was a snowstorm there two days before.

From my telephoto lens, Mt. Washington as seen from the top of Speckled Mountain. There was a snowstorm there two days before.

At the summit!!!  Looking out on the New Hampshire side from Speckled Mountain.  Mt. Washington is covered in snow in the background.

At the summit!!! Looking out onto the New Hampshire side from Speckled Mountain. Mt. Washington is covered in snow in the background.

mimfamilyportrait

It was our dog Spencer’s 10th birthday the day we climbed Speckled Mt. (He fared better than we did!)

That’s when I felt my age.

My ankles and knees felt every painful downhill step.  My muscles were weak, and I had “Howdy Doody legs.”  (If you are too young to know who Howdy Doody is, just imagine a marionette puppet’s jerky legs going every which way and you will get the picture.)  Miraculously, neither my hiking boots nor my feet hurt, baruch HaShem!

We made it down the mountain feeling somewhat old and tired but without incident; both my husband and I were on a “high” from our accomplishment of 6.8 miles roundtrip, as well as from the stupendous beauty of HaShem’s world with which we were rewarded for our efforts.

After a hot bath and cold beer (not in that order) we were revived and planning our next hike, weather- and bug-permitting.

Striking It Rich

We returned to Maine on Sunday night, and the next day, after the rain cleared and the sun shone, I decided to go hiking.  Ten days before, I had gone walking in the woods in Evans Notch, on an easy, underused 5-mile-long trail that meanders along the Cold River.  It was my “farewell hike,” as we would be traveling the next day to our hometown for the holiday of Shavuot, along with the yahrzeit of my mother-in-law.  We would be in our hometown for only a week, but it was wonderful to see our kids and grandchildren again and reconnect with friends.

The water was flowing nicely, when I reached an area of quiet, deep water.  The water was crystal clear, and lo and behold, I saw two groups of thirty brown trout, all 18″ – 21″ long!  Sadly, I didn’t have a fishing pole with me, but I promised myself to return.

Brook trout in Cold River

Brook trout in Cold River

WP_001242

(too bad this was taken with my cell phone, instead of my camera and polarizing lens . . . )

WP_001234

I walked back to my car and drove a couple of miles further to The Basin, where I parked my car and ate a picnic lunch.  There I met a retired gentleman who was fishing at Basin Pond.  He and his wife were staying at the campground there.  Within 15 minutes he had caught his limit of 5 brook trout.  When I told him about the brown trout I had seen in Cold River, his eyes lit up.  He told me that New Hampshire Fish & Game sometimes stocks their “old” breeders there, which makes sense, since several nearby lakes have been stocked recently (Kewaydin Lake, near me, was stocked a week ago by Fish & Game with 400 trout).

This guy caught 5 trout in 15 minutes

This guy caught 5 trout in 15 minutes

One of the brook trout he caught

One of the brook trout he caught

The Basin in Evans Notch, site of my picnic lunch

The Basin in Evans Notch, site of my picnic lunch

Another view of The Basin

Another view of The Basin

Now back in Maine, I was eager to revisit this “secret” fishing hole and I encouraged my husband to come along after work, so at 5:15 p.m. we drove to Evans Notch, parked, and walked the 20 minutes to the site I remembered.  Alas, even though we spotted the fish, they were not biting.  Disappointed, we made our way back to the car and began the 6-mile drive home.  We turned down the dirt road at Deer Hill and halfway to our house at the 3-mile mark, my husband spotted a cow moose (female) at Deer Hill bog, grazing in the water.  Our first actual moose sighting of the season!

Cow Moose at Deer Hill Bog

Cow Moose at Deer Hill Bog

The itch to fish was not over, however.  It was now 7:30 p.m.  and there wouldn’t be much daylight left, but I dropped my husband off at home and set out alone for Kewaydin Lake.  Within a mile of our house, along the road, I saw a cow moose walking along the road.   I couldn’t believe my luck – – two moose sightings in one day!

The sunset on Kewaydin Lake was beautiful, and best of all, the fish were definitely biting!  I caught a smallmouth bass almost immediately and called it a day. . . or so I thought.  As I neared my house in the near-darkness, I suddenly sensed a shadow – and as I slowed my car I saw a bull moose, his antlers in velvet, running alongside my car.   I stopped and watched it run off into the woods, and then continued home.  About 100′ feet before reaching my driveway, I saw a moose calf walking along the road.  That’s four moose in one day spotted in my neck of the woods . . . a new personal record.  I only felt bad my husband had missed the excitement.

Two years ago, my husband and I made a deal.  I had bought him a fishing license, but he was just too grossed out impaling a worm on a hook to continue fishing!  Since non-resident fishing licenses are not cheap ($64 a year), I told him that unless he could get over his phobia, I would be putting the fishing license in my name the following year.  And so, I have been the family fisherman ever since.  He told me if I would catch the fish, he would clean it.  I guess he thought that he wouldn’t have to make good on this promise, since I am a newbie and don’t really know what I’m doing.  And I was beginning to wonder if the only fish we’d ever eat would come out of a can:  I caught plenty of fish, but they were either not good eating fish (yellow perch) or too small to meet Fish & Game regulation size.  I always had to throw them back.

Well, now it was payback time.  The fish was still alive and swimming in a water-filled ice chest, surviving the bumpy ride home.  I left my husband the gruesome task of killing and cleaning the fish.  It seemed cruel to let it die by slowly suffocating out of water.  In a fit of manliness my husband got the idea to behead it quickly with an axe and proceeded to clean it at the kitchen sink.  Now, why killing and gutting a flopping fish is less gross than threading a worm on a hook I don’t understand, but I’m not complaining.

I dipped the fish in a beaten egg white, dusted it with flour seasoned with pepper and parsley, sprayed some oil on an iron skillet, and moments later the fish was sizzling in the pan on the fire.  I was careful not to over cook.  It was truly the sweetest, most tender and delicious fish I have ever eaten – and certainly the freshest!  (Not to mention expensive – I called it “my $64 fish” – since this was the only fish caught so far on the new fishing license.)

WP_001297

WP_001298

For me it was a kind of test.  I wanted to know if I was capable of “hunting” and eating my “prey,”  albeit in a kosher manner.  Or would I be too sentimental?

I guess I’m too cold-hearted (or perhaps I was too hungry!) but I confess I was not particularly emotional about the entire experience.  Yes, I felt bad about the poor fish to some extent, but it also gave me an appreciation for the workings of nature in HaShem’s world, and the idea that He has created things for our sustenance – –  that is a chesed (kindness).  The fact that we have to work so hard for our food makes it impossible to take life and death casually or for granted.  I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the convenience of going to the supermarket for my food!  But by shopping for our food we have lost that hunter-gatherer connection, and the many important life lessons that go along with that.  Fishing does serve to reconnect us to those primal and spiritual roots.

What a great Maine day!