Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

Hiking Guidelines

This hiking checklist was compiled after Mark and Ellen Newman lost their only child to Exertional Heat Stroke during a hike in the desert.  The precautions are valuable for anyone hiking in hot weather, not only in the desert.  I urge everyone who enjoys hiking in the summer to click on the link below.  Stay safe, everyone!

Click to access Ariels-Checklist.pdf

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.









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.


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).


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


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!




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.

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.


The trail has beautiful cascades and waterfalls at every turn.






Kinsman Falls, along the Basin-Cascades Trail



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




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)



(click to enlarge)



(click to enlarge)




(click to enlarge)

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.


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.










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.


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.

Snapshots of the Mind

Six years ago I was camping in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire, in the White Mountains.  It had been a perfect day and as it drew to a close I walked about a mile from the campsite to a remote part of the Saco River.  I tore off my rugged hiking boots and sweaty socks and soaked my poor, tired feet in the ice-cold river.  I was in a gorge with no other people nearby.  The sky was deep blue, the trees were thick and the water from the river reflected off the sheer rock sides of the cliffs above.

Although we really had no idea that our lives were about to change dramatically in a few years, it occurred to me, thinking deep thoughts as I am prone to do in these mountains, that our elderly parents would someday be depending on us in ways that I couldn’t fathom, and that the luxury of things like time away and excursions to the White Mountains would only be a fantasy in the future.  Rather than be saddened by this thought, I instead made a conscious effort to study the scene before me in minute detail.  When I felt I could commit the water, the rocks, the cliffs, the trees, the blue of the sky and the clean smell of the air to memory, I closed my eyes.  Concentrating hard, I whispered to myself, “Click!” and photographed the scene in my mind.  I knew that no matter what happened in the future, I could go back to this picture consciously stored in my brain and recall this scene, which was mine and mine alone.

I have used this technique often.  These mental snapshots aren’t solely about beautiful places, but are always sensual moments – the moment of the birth of one of my children, or even the smell of melted chocolate.  In the midst of travail I can willfully transport myself back to a moment in my personal history that was especially wonderful.  I have taught this trick to others, as well.

This past summer, in the midst of an unrelenting heat wave of 102 degrees (very hot for Maine!), I drove 10 minutes from my home to 307-acre Kewaydin Lake.

Kewaydin Lake on an autumn day

You can go just about anywhere on the lake and not see anyone else, despite the many lake-front summer cabins that dot the edges.  The water is cold and pure, and so clean and clear that one can see tens of feet below the surface.  Usually the water is so cold that you can’t swim without turning blue, but because of the above-mentioned heat wave, the water was warmer than usual yet still cold enough to be refreshing.  The utter calm, the sound of the water lapping at the edges, the consistency of my stroke, the deep blue sky and the mountainous backdrop were a nirvana for the soul.

Virginia Lake, a short distance from Kewaydin Lake

Once again, I consciously memorized every possible detail of my surroundings as well as my feeling of quiet euphoria:  “Click!”

The shoreline of Virginia Lake

Even now during the bleaker days of autumn, I return in my mind to that day.  I don’t just “see” it; I feel it.  This is but one aspect of my goal to live consciously and conscientiously.  And I cannot help but smile.

This beautiful stream connects Virginia Lake to Kewaydin Lake

Autumn: Black Cap Trail

The view from the top of Black Cap Mountain (click on all photos for enlarged versions)

During the first weeks of fall I was running around like a crazy person in all sorts of weather, at all hours of daylight, taking pictures.  I knew that the natural world was changing literally before my eyes, and what I captured today would otherwise be lost tomorrow . . . until the following year, when this glory would replay.  (No guarantees that I’d be around to record it next year, though.  I’m not being morbid: most years the peak colors occur during the High Holidays, when I’m not in the White Mountains to photograph them.)

Autumn is certainly a metaphor for life, especially when you are middle-aged.  It’s an ebbing, but with a last hurrah before winter sets in.  It’s fleeting – so carpe diem!

The start of Black Cap Trail

Black Cap Trail is one of my favorite “easy” short hikes in the White Mountains.  Yes, there are steep parts – it’s a climb to a mountaintop, after all – – but it’s definitely rated “G”:  anyone can do it.

I once saw a 94 year old woman make the climb to the top, albeit slowly!  It’s not a long hike, and it’s even suitable for parents with babies on their backs. Small children hike it with a great sense of accomplishment.  The views, as you will see, are fantastic.

Looking from the top of Black Cap Mountain into New Hampshire

Black Cap Trail is located off of Hurricane Mountain Road in Intervale, New Hampshire.  Hurricane Mt. Rd. is a connector road to Evans Notch that is open to vehicles only in the summer through early fall; it’s simply too narrow and steep to maintain safely for winter driving.

A little rain didn't stop us

Once you reach the summit of Black Cap Mountain, you can continue walking to the Maine border and beyond.

I couldn't believe it when I saw a biker making the climb!

Mt. Washington


Before the ascent: the base of Mt. Washington, Oct. 2010

A meteorologist’s dream, Mt. Washington is one of the most unusual places on earth.  The weather is completely erratic and mostly unpredictable.  One moment there is 100 mile visibility, and 10 minutes later it is shrouded in fog with 0 visibility.  Gusting winds of 60-80 mph are not unusual – the record is 231 mph. Hikers and climbers have literally been blown off the mountain; there are fatalities nearly every year.

There are four ways to reach the top of Mt. Washington.  Which ever way you decide, check the weather first.  Unless it will be clear, it will be a waste of your time, money, and energy.

There is a small train – called a cog rail which belches black smoke – and recently they added an ecologically-correct train fueled with bio diesel.  I don’t recommend either – they are very overpriced at $62 per person.

Weather permitting, you can take your own car.  The advantage is that you can stop at various turnouts to admire the amazing views and you have plenty of time to walk around – there’s lots to see and it’s not all about the fantastic views.  However, the steep grades are murder on your car’s transmission and brakes and frankly, it’s not worth the wear and tear. Plus, the road is excruciatingly narrow in parts:  it’s not for the fainthearted.  It costs $25 for the car and driver, and more for extra passengers (but you do get a bumper sticker that says, “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington.”  Which means, if you ever see a car for sale with this sticker, do not buy it! Probably the transmission and brakes are compromised lol)

You can hike up.  There are several access trails with various levels of difficulty (rated hard to impossible on the jock scale. If a trail is rated “moderate” don’t believe them – they are lying!).  Going back down is a killer on middle-aged knees.  Since it takes several hours to make the climb, there is little guarantee that the weather will hold.  Mt. Washington’s uppermost sections are above treeline, so if a thunderstorm rolls in you are in danger of being hit by lightening.  While the risks of a summer climb are less than other times of year, there can always be surprises.  That said, if you are up for it, it’s an amazing experience on a nice summer day, as long as your backpack holds plenty of water, food, emergency supplies and adequate clothing for all kinds of weather.

Fifteen years ago my spouse and I took 3 of our children to the top; the youngest was only 9 years old (the incentive for her was the purchase of a t-shirt from the gift store that said “This Body Climbed Mt. Washington” but those were more innocent times – – that would never work today!) By the time we were rested enough to descend, fog rolled in and we couldn’t see a thing and descending was no longer a safe option by foot.  You can’t exactly get stuck up at the top, so we had to pay big bucks to go down via the train.  (And the train has no bathrooms which is not a good thing when you are traveling with children, but that’s another story for another time…)

The fourth way to climb Mt. Washington is via van service, which costs $29 per person r/t.  The disadvantage is that you are at the mercy of your driver, who decides if s/he wants to stop at a turnout, and determines how long you get to stay up at the top before the return trip.   Thirty minutes  of wandering around is really not long enough for a first-time visitor.

Unless canceled by inclement weather, there are also races to the top by automobile, bicycle and by foot.  To give you an idea of the steepness of the climb, there was only a 5 minute time difference between the winning bicyclist (51:56) and the fastest runner (record time is an incredible 56 min 41 seconds, but even more incredible, in the 85 years old and over category, the record is 2:33:30!!!).  The top speed of the best driver was 113 mph – a psychotic death wish imo.

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to the Mt. Washington weather report and they called for almost-unheard of perfect weather.  No wind! Clear skies! Warm temperatures!  I knew what I had to do:  I dropped everything, drove an hour to the base of the mountain, got on the van, and started taking pictures.

About 1/3 of the way up to the top. Fall colors are past peak but still nice.

Still climbing, this section of the road is called "The Cow Pastures"

Now at the top, there was about 1" of ice on the ground due to a storm the previous day

At the top of the world: down below in the middle of the picture you can see Lake of the Clouds, where there is a hut for hikers run by the Appalachian Mountain Club. It's located 1.5 miles beneath the summit.

Above treeline. As you ascend, the trees become dwarfed and bent from the wind, until they cease to exist at all further towards the top.

Feathery rime ice is created when freezing winds hit incoming fog. It forms on protrusions such as rocks and structures like fences, signs, and buildings.

Finale to a great day