Posts Tagged ‘mt. washington’

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

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Basin Pond

Basin Pond

Basin Pond

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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

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.

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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.

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