Posts Tagged ‘hiking in the White Mountains’

Spring 2016

There is a saying in Maine:  “If you don’t like the weather, wait a moment.”

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And that pretty much sums up our early Spring.  As of last week, even the most stubborn ice melted from the lakes and ponds as temperatures ramped up to the 50s and 60s.  The woods came alive with sound:  Canada geese and various wood ducks mating and nesting; Spring Peepers; beavers emerging from their dams and whacking the water with their tails; a long, harmless garden snake emerged from the rock in front of me and slithered away; the newspaper warned homeowners to put away their bird feeders as bears emerge from hibernation.  And then, today, a “polar vortex” swooped down and splashed us with violent winds and fierce cold.  After this past week of warmth, tonight’s temperatures will see a low of 4 degrees F.

While still warm, I took the opportunity to empty a year’s worth of discarded fruit and vegetable peels, spent coffee grinds, and crushed eggshells – – now turned into rich, earthy soil – –  from our compost bin.  It filled two huge wheelbarrow loads and I transported it to my orchard, where after aerating ground near the trees’ roots, the compost provided some fertile food for the apple trees and there was even enough left over for the blueberry bushes. It was great to touch the warm earth, and feel the sun on my face, but best of all, it was a pleasure to work the soil and complete all my early gardening needs without the hum and sting of blackflies, deerflies or mosquitoes.

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Inspired by a week of beautiful days, Truman (our new puppy) and I hiked and bushwhacked in the woods near our house.

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On one of these walks I met a new neighbor who built a cabin last year on land that her grandfather had bought when he was in high school, back in the early 20s.  Now all the descendants of this man – a son and daughter, cousins, nieces and nephews, are slowly reclaiming parcels for self-sufficient homes and cabins of their own. It’s a wonderful legacy and I’m sure he’d be thrilled that the extended family remains close, and that it’s his large, remote parcel bought so long ago that brings them together.   All of them see themselves as stewards of the land, ensuring that its natural resources will not be misused, but will provide them with the wealth of clean air, pure water, and fresh produce from the earth to their tables, and a lasting appreciation of the glory, beauty and power of nature in these woods.

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Although I’m not a fan of daylight saving’s time, I did appreciate the ability to take evening walks with my husband after his workday ended at 5.30 pm, knowing it would still be light when we got back, even if we walked 3 or 4 miles.  Away from the city, it’s such a pleasure to be less distracted, live slower, to breathe deeper, and be able to focus more easily on sights, sounds, and the ones we love.

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Frankenstein Cliffs and Arethusa Falls

20140907_155042_resizedIn the past 6 years in the White Mountains, I have seen many beautiful days.  But Sunday, September 7, was the most beautiful day I can ever remember.  The day before, it was hot, humid, rainy and gloomy.   On Saturday night, the temperature dropped to 41 degrees, a hint that autumn is on the way.  But on Sunday, the morning was cool, the sun shone brightly, and the sky was utterly clear.  I honestly don’t ever recall such clarity.  Visibility was well over 100 miles.   Mt. Washington was pristine, with the weather station towers clearly visible from miles away.  Not even a trace of haze.

It was perfect hiking weather, with a high of 72.  Unfortunately we’ve been rather lazy lately so we aren’t in the best of shape.  I didn’t want to try something overly ambitious, but still sought a bit of a challenge.  It had been more than 10 years, but we had hiked a 5.5 loop hike up to Frankenstein Cliffs and over to Arethusa Falls on several occasions, and we decided it was worth doing again.

Arethusa Falls, about 200′ high, is located in Crawford Notch. It is a relatively easy and extraordinarily popular 3 mile round-trip hike from the parking lot off of Rte. 302.  (An alternative side trail along Bemis Brook adds .5 miles to this number, but although the Bemis Brook Trail has a steep section, it is a much prettier route than the Arethusa Falls Trail and I recommend it.)

 

If you magnify the picture you may be able to see people at the base of the falls.  This will give you an idea of scale - the falls are much larger than they appear in the photo.

If you magnify the picture you may be able to see people at the base of the falls. This will give you an idea of scale – the falls are much larger than they appear in the photo.

The Frankenstein Cliffs trail, which ascends to the top of the cliffs from the other side of the same parking lot, is a bit more challenging and therefore not as popular, but the steep ascent is well worth the effort when you get to the top and take in the view.  Even so, both trails have experienced extreme overuse and now the trail is VERY badly eroded.  What this means is that the magnificent views from Frankenstein Cliffs and the gorgeous waterfall at Arethusa Falls are still just as wonderful as ever, but the trail is an absolute misery of exposed tree roots and boulder hopping for almost the entire 5.5 mile loop.  By the end of the day, my knees were really feeling their age.

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The gorgeous view on a clear day from Frankenstein Cliffs in Crawford Notch, NH. This thumbnail image is definitely worth clicking to enlarge

Although previously I would have rated Arethusa Falls and Frankenstein Cliffs hikes “not to be missed,” the truth is, there are literally hundreds of wonderful alternative hikes in the White Mountains and the heavy erosion made the hike less enjoyable than I remembered from the past.  Also, while the falls are beautiful and it’s possible to go for a dip at the base of the falls, the rocks are slippery and not really suitable or safe for young children.  It pains me to say that there are probably better choices than Arethusa Falls for kids, especially since this hike was a favorite of ours; but trust me, children will enjoy Step Falls in Grafton Notch, or even the tourist-heavy Diana’s Baths outside of Conway, much more.  That said, we felt a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day and felt blessed that we were able to enjoy our beautiful surroundings in a meaningful way.

Lonesome Lake

Lonesome Lake

Lonesome Lake

On Sunday August 10 my husband and I did a nostalgic loop hike to Lonesome Lake in Franconia Notch, New Hampshire.  I say “nostalgic” because we have done this hike many times, but the last time was probably at least ten years ago.  When our children were young we made many camping trips to the White Mountains, and almost always we stayed in the Lafayette Campground in Franconia Notch.  It’s a fabulous location because it’s so close to so many amazing hikes in the White Mountains.  The campground, which is run by the Forest Service, is clean and modern, with a bath house with flush toilets and coin-operated hot showers.  There is a ranger information center which offers nature talks and walks and various activities that are kid- and family-centered.  The biggest downside is it’s popularity.  In high season in the summertime, the campground fills up very quickly and by the afternoon there are usually no sites available.    This is not a place for a quiet get-away, but kids  appreciate the many sights and sounds. and occasional commotion.

Our favorite site was always #67.  It abuts the Pemigawasset River (which is more like a stream) and is very large and level.  It was perfect for our pop-up camper, yet there was still plenty of room for a campfire, hanging wet towels on a hastily strung laundry line between the trees, and a picnic table and screen room (against the bugs).  It’s near a water tap for refilling canteens and washing dishes, not too far from the bathrooms (but not so close that you hear the door swinging shut in the middle of the night), and right next to the Pemigewasset Trail.  Because we’d always leave our home town on a Saturday night, we’d get to New Hampshire around 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning, and just our luck, that seemed to be when people would pull out of the campground and vacate their campsites.  It seemed that site #67 was just meant to be; despite the high demand we were able to claim it year after year.

During our stay there, we would always try different hikes, but the trek to Lonesome Lake was always on our annual bucket list.  It’s a short, steep hike – – by the time the kids complained that they couldn’t walk another step, they were there and soon forgot any expended efforts – and the beautiful, cold lake with stunning mountain views was an instant reward.

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In most of the boggy places, boards were placed over the trail so getting muddy was kept to a minimum.

In most of the boggy places, boards were placed over the trail so getting muddy was kept to a minimum.

 

 

 

Plus, the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) maintains a “hut” there, for hikers who wish to stay there overnight.

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Besides a night’s sleep on a rather basic bunk in dormitory-style bunkhouses, the “croo” (crew), made up of college students having a summer adventure working for the AMC, cooks hearty breakfast and dinner for the overnight guests (not kosher, obviously).

A partial view of Lonesome Lake Hut, which overlooks Lonsesome Lake and has beautiful views of the lake and surrounding mountains

A partial view of Lonesome Lake Hut, which overlooks Lonesome Lake and has beautiful views of the lake and surrounding mountains.  This picture is of some of the dorm-like accommodations.

 

From the inside of the dining hall, views overlook the lake

From the inside of the dining hall, views overlook the lake

Communal dining tables have beautiful views

Communal dining tables have beautiful views

A good overview of the main part of the hut, which shows the open kitchen and part of the dining hall.   The "croo" does all the cooking and organizing and ordering of supplies.

A good overview of the main part of the hut, which shows the open kitchen and part of the dining hall.
The “croo” does all the cooking and organizing and ordering of supplies.

 

The way food and other supplies get to the “hut” is a story in itself, since it’s on top of a mountain with no road access.  The “croo” members literally pack everything up the mountain – – huge crates weighing 40 – 80 lbs go on their backs in specially built packboards that turn these young people into human beasts of burden.  They deliver these supplies on a daily basis.

This is the specially-designed back-rack for carrying heavy crates of supplies by "croo" members  to the hut.

This is the specially-designed packboard for carrying heavy crates of supplies by “croo” members to the hut.

As I said, the hike up to Lonesome Lake is steep but short – – but there are other “huts” throughout the White Mountains in New Hampshire where the hikes can be 5 – 8 miles of pure ascent – – imagine carrying up to 80 lbs of supplies every single day, no matter what the weather!  Needless to say, the “croo” are in amazing physical shape by the end of summer when hut season ends.  The croo’s duties extend beyond deliveries – – they must cook, clean, and maintain the huts throughout the summer; they must be goodwill ambassadors for the Appalachian Mountain Club, welcoming to paying guests, and founts of information about hiking trails, wildlife, and any other questions visitors might have.  The pay is negligible (under $8/hr).  Yet the competition to be a “croo” member is stiff:  for every 6 – 16 yearly openings there are 150 – 200 applications!  Most “croo” members return to work the huts year after year during their college years, in the summer months.

The bugs were finally gone (hooray!) and the weather was gorgeous with a predicted high of 82.  We got to Lafayette Campground around 9 a.m. and set out for Lonesome Lake.  Although we did a great deal of huffing and puffing, we reached the lake and hut in good spirits.  Our dog was happy to cool off and take a nice, long drink in the clear water (but all water in the White Mountains, no matter how clean or pure it looks, should be filtered for human consumption due to the threat of the giardia parasite).

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We sat on the porch of the hut for a lunch of cheese and crackers, fruit and nuts.

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My spouse and our dog take a lunch break.

 

Before we continued onwards I decided to make use of the bathroom.

The bathroom at Lonesome Lake

The bathroom at Lonesome Lake

 

 

Now ordinarily I would not regale you with bathroom stories, but this one is worth talking about.  The Lonesome Lake bathroom is a large structure that houses both a women’s and men’s bathroom (toilets and sinks – – no showers) but what makes it unusual is that it’s a composting toilet system.  For the uninitiated, what that means is that it doesn’t use water and there is no flushing involved.  Yes, you are eliminating into a hole in the ground, which sounds gross, but unlike the typical outhouse, with composting toilets, there is NO bad smell, and the toilets themselves look like  everyday toilets similar to what you’d find in your own bathroom at home.  It’s especially amazing that it’s odorless, considering that on a peak weekend, the toilets could be used by 200 people per day!

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As a person who is extremely fastidious about washing my hands after I use the bathroom (and completely grossed out by the thought of so many people who don’t wash their hands!), I got a good chuckle from the specialized ‘no-touch” door handle installed on the exit doors.  Such a simple idea for a public restroom – – whoever thought of it is surely going to get rich!

A simple yet genius idea, but the fact that something like this is even necessary because some people don't wash their hands after using the bathroom, is more than I want to think about!

A simple yet genius idea, but the fact that something like this is even necessary because some people don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, is more than I want to think about!

Another cool thing about the Lonesome Lake Hut’s bathroom was the fascinating story that was pasted to the side of the stall.  It tells the tale of mountain woman Emily Klug.  In the 1930s she traveled and hiked solo throughout the White Mountains.  Besides a small rucksack, she would carry several weeks  of supplies and everything she needed by rolling her skirt up around her middle and placing her possessions inside.
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Now that we were rested from our climb, we decided that rather than going back down the mountain the same way we’d come up, we’d take the Basin Cascades Trail down to the Basin, and from there go back to the campground via the Pemigewasset Trail, for a total loop hike of 6.5 miles.

More than 15 years ago, my husband, my older daughter, then a teenager, and I had hiked from Lonesome Lake to Cannon Mountain.  This is an extremely challenging hike due to a ridiculously steep climb.  At one point, the only way up is a metal rung ladder that one must climb up a steep rock ledge.    When we finally got to the summit of Cannon Mountain, we were situated right next to a disembarking ski gondola.  A tourist who had ridden the gondola up Cannon Mountain looked me up and down very carefully.

“Lady,” he said in a thick New York accent, “Did you just climb this mountain?”

“Yes!” I said, still feeling proud and excited by my accomplishment.

“Lady,” he said, “You need a psychiatrist!”

To which I answered, “This is what keeps me from needing a psychiatrist!”

Alas, we decided not to do the Cannon Mountain hike this time around:  we were feeling old and tired and not in good enough shape, plus we had our dog with us and couldn’t envision carrying him up the ladder to the top of the ledge.

Instead we started making our way down the Basin Cascades trail.  This is not a difficult trail, and in our case, it was all downhill; but for 75% of the time, one must navigate over boulders that become extremely tiresome for old knees and weak ankles.  I was really glad I had my hiking poles as well as hiking boots that gave me lots of balanace and support.

The bouder-strewn trail on the Basin-Cascades trail wasn't difficult, but it was tiresome stepping up and down over the rocks.

The bouder-strewn trail on the Basin-Cascades trail wasn’t difficult, but it was tiresome stepping up and down over the rocks.

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The trail has beautiful cascades and waterfalls at every turn.

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Kinsman Falls, along the Basin-Cascades Trail

 

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The Cascades, along the Basin-Cascades Trail in Franconia Notch

 

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The Basin is a series of pools and flumes carved out of the giant boulders by crystal-clear water.  It is easily accessible by car with a minimal amount of walking,and is a very popular tourist spot in the summer.

The Basin is a series of pools and flumes carved out of the giant boulders by crystal-clear water. It is easily accessible by car with a minimal amount of walking, and is a very popular tourist spot in the summer.

Unfortunately, due to a heavy storm in 2013, the bridge was out at one juncture and hadn’t yet been replaced (there were signs warning of this at the beginning of the hike).  Since it hadn’t rained in a few days, I wasn’t overly worried about a high water crossing and indeed, with our Goretex-lined (waterproof) hiking boots, the ankle-high water was not a problem with some careful rock-hopping (again the poles helped us with balance).

Shortly after we crossed and stopped for a drink of water, a 50-ish woman hiking alone came to the crossing but was not so lucky.  She took a small spill but the only injury she suffered was to her pride.

“I can’t believe I always fall when there are other people around.  It’s so embarrassing!” she said.

We assured her that the only important thing was that she wasn’t hurt.  We got to talking, and she had a most amazing story to tell.  Linda, or “Heartwood” as was her  “trail name,” was a thru-hiker. For the uninitiated, this is someone who chooses to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, without stopping.  “Heartwood” had been hiking since March, when she started in Georgia, and had walked 1,812 miles so far!  She had lost 40 lbs in the process and gone through 4 pairs of hiking boots.  She hoped to reach the end of the Appalachian Trail in Maine in 6 weeks’ time, for a total of 2, 168 miles hiked!

I asked her what she had done to train for this momentous hike.

“Nothing,” she claimed, “I just got up off the couch and decided to go!”  She told us it had been a life-transforming journey in so many ways.  Because she had been so out of shape, the beginning was “a killer.  I would get chest pains and think I was having a heart attack,” she said.  “But I never rushed it.  I see some younger guys on the trail and they do 25 – 35 miles a day.  I am taking it nice and slow, about 10 – 15 miles a day,” she said.   “And one of the things I’ve liked best is that I’ve met the most incredibly kind and generous people all along the way,” she added.  What an inspiring person!

We hoped we would see her again to find out more about her journey, so we offered to pick her up later in the week when she reached the Maine-NH border and the last point on the NH part of the trail.  We told her she could look forward to a hearty meal and hot shower before we’d drive her back to the trail head, so she took our information and said she would try to be in touch.  We said our goodbyes as she followed the white blaze (the Appalachian trail marker) and we followed the blue blaze in a different direction, down to the Basin.

We returned to Lafayette Campground via the gentle Pemigewasset Trail, where the composted pine needles made a nice cushion for my now-tired feet.

How fitting that the end of the trail took us directly past campsite #67, our old stomping grounds!  I took a picture so I could send it to our kids (who probably don’t have as fond childhood memories of camping as we do, since as adults their idea of “camping” is a 3 star hotel).

Our favorite campsite #67 at Lafayette Campground in Franconia Notch State Park.

Our favorite campsite #67 at Lafayette Campground in Franconia Notch State Park.

 

When we got home, we broke out the beer – – and the epsom salt.  There is nothing like a nice, hot,  long soak in the tub after a full day of hiking – – 6.5 miles total.  Woohoo!

P.S.  Sadly, late one night later in the week, we got the terrible news that our son’s father-in-law passed away in Detroit.  We left the very next day from Maine to drive to our hometown, so we could take care of our granddaughters while my son and daughter-in-law spent the week in Detroit  for the funeral and the initial period of mourning.  As we drove to our home town, we got a chipper call from Linda/”Heartwood,” the Appalachian Trail thru-hiker,  saying she would like to take us up on our offer to meet with her at the trailhead.  Unfortunately, due to the tragic circumstances, we explained apologetically that we were on our way out of Maine and would not be able to make good on our promise of a meal and hot shower and some companionship.  She was most gracious and understanding.

Middle and North Sugarloaf

This picture was a happy accident.  It was so bright and sunny at the top of Middle Sugarloaf, that I couldn't see the screen on my cellphone camera.  I must have clicked "black and white" by mistake when I took this shot, and this was the happy result.

This picture is the result of a happy accident. It was so bright and sunny at the top of Middle Sugarloaf, that I couldn’t see the screen on my cellphone camera. I must have clicked “black and white” by mistake when I took this shot, and this was the happy result. Downloading the photos may take a bit of time, but imho I think it’s worth it! (click to enlarge)

Our friend Peter, who is an avid hiker, insisted that the bugs weren’t bad when he went hiking in the White Mountains on the New Hampshire side.  Since deerflies and midges have been relentless here on the Maine side of the White Mountains, we were admittedly dubious.  But our lazy inactivity is killing us, so we decided to go for it anyhow.  We’re so horribly out of shape – – this would be our first hike of the summer, and it’s already the end of July! – – that we opted for an easier hike, Middle and North Sugarloaf off of  Zealand Road in Twin Mountain, New Hampshire.

We had done this hike a couple of times 10 or 15 years ago, and it was a favorite, so I don’t quite know why it’s taken us so long to do it again.  It’s about 90 minutes from our home, but now that the summer days are so long, even starting out late is not a problem.  There are two US Forest Service campgrounds nearby, and there are several other hiking trails and things to see in the vicinity, so camping out is not a bad idea for those who don’t live locally (there are also plenty of motels in Twin Mountain for those who don’t like camping).

The morning weather was not promising.  There was a steady drizzle and the skies looked ominous.  But we decided hiking in the rain was still preferable to sitting around on a Sunday getting fat and being lazy.  Fortunately by the time we arrived at our destination, the skies had cleared.

The beginning of the hike takes you across a bridge and alongside Zealand River.  Almost immediately the grade begins gently as one climbs upward through a hemlock forest that has some pretty impressive giant granite boulders scattered about.  Since the weather was now hot and humid, and there was no breeze in the woods under the thick canopy of trees, I was relieved that the hike was so easy.  Alas, my memory of doing the hike so many years ago was short, and my overconfidence that the hike was a piece of cake was premature.

I'm sure glad we weren't around when this boulder came tumbling down!

I’m sure glad we weren’t around when this boulder came tumbling down!  The force split it in two.

Shortly after the giant boulders, the climb got steeper.  And steeper.  We were huffing and puffing and cursing ourselves that we had let ourselves get so out of shape.  We stopped several times to rest and drink water, since by now we were dripping with perspiration.  Just as the terrain leveled off slightly, we saw a sign pointing in opposite directions:  Middle Sugarloaf to the left, and North Sugarloaf to the right.  In the past we had climbed only Middle Sugarloaf, since that is the mountaintop with the prettiest and most open views.  Once again, we opted for Middle Sugarloaf, and once again, we found ourselves huffing and puffing the final half a mile.  At one point there was a solid granite wall with no way up except a steep stair ladder.  My dog was flustered and refused to make the climb.  Instead, he found a place about 20′ away from the ladder where he was able to scoot uphill.  He looked very relieved!

On the way up, I was second guessing myself.  Would the view be as wonderful as I remembered to make this grand effort worthwhile?

It was!

When I am in the midst of nature, I am continually in awe of the magnificence of G-d’s world, and this time was no different.  There was a stiff breeze which cooled our overheated selves down immediately.  The views were vast of the Presidential Range , and the top of Mt. Washington was clear and gorgeous.

one of the views from Middle Sugarloaf

one of the views from Middle Sugarloaf (click to enlarge)

 

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Even though we were still in recovery mode from the climb, we decided that this time we were not going to miss North Sugarloaf!  So we began our descent of Middle Sugarloaf.  We came to the stair ladder and once again our dog was stymied.  He didn’t want to descend on the ladder, but he couldn’t find the alternate route he had taken on the way up.  As we began carefully making our way down the stair ladder, he looked pitiful, seemingly stuck.  “You mean you aren’t carrying me down?”  his eyes pleaded from the top.  When I saw he wasn’t going to budge, I climbed back up the ladder, and fastened his leash to his collar.  This time he had no choice but to follow me and make his way down the stair ladder’s 20 +/- steps.  Once he saw he could do it, his confidence was restored and he continued on his merry way.

Once again we reached the divide, where the sign pointed in opposite directions to the two mountains.  As we began our ascent of North Sugarloaf, we were still a bit out of breath and stopped for water, but the climb was not as steep as Middle Sugarloaf and we were both glad we had made the extra effort to hike to the summits of both Sugarloaves.  And our friend was correct:  there were no bothersome bugs.

Spencer did very well considering he's 11 (that's 77 in dog years!).    Here he surveys the view from the top of North Sugarloaf.

Spencer did very well considering he’s 11 (that’s 77 in dog years!). Here he surveys the view from the top of North Sugarloaf.

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My husband, a ham radio operator, always enjoys making contact with other "hams" whenever we reach a summit.

My husband, a ham radio operator, always enjoys making contact with other “hams” whenever we reach a summit.