Owl’s Head – The Holy Grail of the NH48

What makes Owl’s Head the Holy Grail of the NH48?  For starters, it is set deep in the middle of the Pemigewasset Wilderness on unmaintained trails far from any parking lot, established campsites or huts and sits far off the beaten path of the many other popular hikes in this region.  It requires multiple river crossings that can be seriously hazardous during high water.  One has be prepared to spend a night in the backcountry OR be able to hike big miles to summit this mountain.  The actual “trail” or “path” up Owl’s Head is basically a super steep exposed rock slide of sand and loose gravel and boulders that basically crumble under foot.  Once you get up top, you are in the trees and have to climb over and under downed trees to find the summit cairn which has been moved in the last decade to the “true” summit making the whole trip .4 miles further than it already was. Because of all these features, Owl’s Head is often put off and left last on people’s list who are attempting the NH48.

After much perseverating over routes and options, Stud I finally came to the conclusion that we would attempt to reach the elusive Owl’s Head summit as an out and back 19-mile day hike in late summer/early fall when the water levels were low.  This way we wouldn’t have to cross the rivers with full packs and just have a lighter carry overall. Typically I have zero interest in hiking big miles.  For me, anything over 15 miles is what I consider big miles and I prefer a nice 8-12 mile hike in the mountains where I can have time for extended breaks to take in the forest atmosphere and notice as much as possible beyond the ground in front of me.  I knew this hike would be hard and different from other hikes.

5e, Stud and I head into the Lincoln Woods at 7am wearing most of our layers and start hiking at a pretty good clip to warm up.  We figure that we have about 14 hours of daylight and we guess that our hike will take about 12 hours.  We have our headlamps, water treatment, extra food and all our essentials.  We are hiking on an old logging railroad so the terrain is very flat and the leaves are just starting to change and it is magical.  Our first 2 river crossing are over bridges and we scope the water and keep our anticipatory talk about the upcoming river crossings to a minimum but we know we are all nervous about them.  We leapfrog with a few other hikers.  Its a clear day and the parking lot had been pretty full but most hikers are not headed to Owl’s Head.  That said, we are not the only ones on this adventure and we are relieved to meet others headed that way knowing we will not be completely alone out there.IMG_2794IMG_2795

The walk is lovely.  A true walk in the woods.  Unlike other hikes that just head straight up, we are hiking many miles over the course of many hours just to get close to this mountain.  We reach the first river crossing and I feel super anxious.  Stud rock hops across like its nothing and 5e and I follow suit.  But I don’t feel  relieved when I make it to the other side cuz I know there is more to come.  We reach the next crossing.  Same thing.  And the next.  By our fourth crossing we are cheering and finally feeling relief about the water.  We keep our breaks short and eat often.  We are walking and weaving along the river and its so pretty and peaceful and its flowing babble just lulls me into a rhythm.  The few hikers we pass are very friendly and humble and the vibe on the trail is one that I really love.  Owl’s Head starts to come into view on our right and we figure we must be getting close to the slide path that goes straight up it and we start to look for it knowing it may not be well marked having read this in the guidebooks.IMG_2796IMG_2797

We manage our last crossing just before reaching a pair of cairns marking the Owl’s Head Path and I consider them a threshold to this myth of a mountain.  We pause and take a short break before heading up.  We chug our water and refill our liters and have a last snack.  As we start our ascent, I am very aware of how deep in the woods we are and how late it feels to just be starting up a mountain and how we’ve already been hiking for over 4 hours and the toughest part is yet to come.  We reach the slidy stuff and each step up sort of slides back a bit.  It is profoundly steep and the gravel and loose rocks crumble under foot and we are all scared.  Stud panic hikes ahead and 5e expresses her fear just below me while I try to keep steadily moving up.  We do our best to not loosen the rocks so that they don’t fall on each other but they fall everywhere.  I grunt and laugh nervously and we encourage each other until alas we reach the top of the slide and find ourselves on more of a trail with more solid rock scrambles which are fun and a relief. The steepness starts to level out and we have entered the mossy greenery and we can see the blue sky start to peak thru the wind blown spruces ahead of us.

We climb over and under and around the downed trees towards the “new” summit and reach the cairn and it feels fricken awesome.   It reminds me of how I felt when I reached the summits of Mansfield and Camel’s Hump on the Long Trail.  I can’t believe I am standing on Owl’s Head.  It is surreal.  It feels amazing.  We collapse and eat and chug water and then we are joined by another hiker who asks us if we would help him cheer for his friend who is coming along behind him.  He tells us that this is his friends 48th and final mountain in completing his NH48 goal.  We are pumped!  We hear him coming and we all stand up and start clapping.  He is shocked to hear us as we start cheering for him and I almost get emotional.  He looks to be in his late 50’s and I find out later that he’s from NY and has been chipping away at the NH48 for the past 7 years.  Its my first time being on a NH48 summit with someone celebrating their final peak and he is touched and humble about it.  His friend’s final mountain is Madison and they plan to hike that the next day.  We congratulate them and end our summit break a little early to give them some time alone on the summit.

Walking back Stud spots a big brown rabbit.  Its was huge and hopping around on top of this mossy summit and something about that rabbit just really got to me.  A message for sure.  As we begin our descent down the slide trail we are pretty freaked out about going down but its okay.  We slip and slide and we loosen rocks that knock each other behind foot and I even have a dramatic fall at one point but we are fine and we just take our time and talk each other down it and when we reach the bottom and cross back over the threshold between the cairns, we collapse by the river.  We lay on the soft pine floor and chug our liters, eat snacks, refill water and rest.  Its mid afternoon and we have a long hike out.  We feel great and we manage to get across all the river crossings just fine.  A couple hours later the light starts to fade and so do we.  We are exhausted and things start to hurt.  The last 2 miles are brutal and I just want to collapse but I just keep walking and we all start to just drag ourselves forward.  I keep drawing my attention away from my physical discomfort and try to focus the trees, the river, the leaves, the beings and I a, so grateful to be on this land.  I am delighted to see so much Balsam Fir.

We reach the suspension bridge at 6:30PM, exactly 11.5 hours later and we climb down underneath it to soak our feet in the cold river.  I attempt to get all the way in but its too cold and the light is fading and I don’t want to get over cold.  But I wash the dirt off my calves and splash water on my face and arms.  We hobble to the car and change into jeans and flannel and it feels so good.  We drive away from the Lincoln Woods as the sun sets over the misty blue mountains and we feel incredibly accomplished, exhausted, sore, and content.

 

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Toadstool Walks

For the past 15 years I have been self-employed as a Handy Person.  Lately, its not my favorite thing to talk about.  Its not that I am not proud of my business and its not just that I’m burnt out on lugging my tools around and climbing up and down my step ladder. There’s a lot to like about being Handy Tam and I am deeply grateful for having been able to learn handy skills and acquire tools.  I try to not take my strong able body for granted.  My favorite thing about my job has always been the connections I’ve made with folks in my neighborhood and around Boston.  As my neighborhood changes and as rental units turn into million dollar condos,  these connections seem to be harder to find. As the industrial revolution amps up, as people move faster and faster, I have found that this culture moves way too fast for me.   I suddenly have found that I actually can’t keep up.  Its not a new realization…I’ve always moved fairly slow and even had the nickname Tam Turtle as a kid.  But lately, this fast-paced disconnecting flailing energy is becoming unbearable for me.  I find us humans to be way too loud and I often have to put my hands over my ears when I walk down the street amongst the sirens and truck engines.  I try to do what I can on my micro level to not add to the “noise”.  I try to practice vigilant discernment about who I will work for, who I will spend time with and how I will engage online, in person, and in nature.  As I retreat further, I am finding deeper connections, healing, and restoration among and with the more-than-human world.

I started this blog when I decided to hike the Long Trail of Vermont.  My main impetus for hiking the Long Trail was to find quiet.  When I started this hike (at Journeys End by the Canadian/Vermont Border) my ears strained to hear in the muffled quiet of the deep northern forest.  My ears rang constantly and I heard sounds and chatter that my brain created.  I heard lots of music in the distance that wasn’t there.  I knew it wasn’t there but I still listened to it.  This is what damaged hearing sounds like.  But in everyday urban life, it seems impossible to distinguish this ringing in our ears for those of us who don’t experience a break from the constant buzz of our industrial civilization.  As I write this, I notice the cacophony outside my window of planes, cars, car horns, yell-talking, leaf blowers, and the low hum of my computer.

I am always asking what I can do, what I can bring and how I can stay alive in this one magical blink of an eye life that we have without causing inevitable harm and without adding to the “noise”.  My western conditioning once had led me to believe that the earth and nature is here merely as a resource for humans.  I don’t like to come out as Handy Tam because sometimes I can see the desperation on people’s faces as well as the flicker of people’s brains waves as they scan their files for their list of broken things in their homes and stop seeing me as a fellow being but as a product they need to buy.

When I was young, I would foam at the mouth to help fix anything anytime for anyone no matter how condescending, entitled or unappreciative they were.  I worked in homes that maybe weren’t safe for me to be in.  I just wanted to make as much money as I could so that I could be free.  Ironic.  But now I’m so sensitive to being perceived as simply a resource.  A cash transaction is no longer enough for me.  Having worked in giant homes where the kitchens are filled with untouched stainless steel appliances, I feel lost and disconnected.  I work for people who have full time staff in their houses.  I work for families who don’t walk their own dogs, or mow their own lawns, or do their own laundry, or cook their own meals, or barely hold their own babies because they are too busy making as much money as possible.  Some folks are too busy to simply acknowledge me a being in their home.  I find I am less able to work in these environments.  They feel toxic and my brain literally stops being able to read a tape measure.  So part of my self care has been to mostly just work for friends at lower rates where there is connection present.  I say “no” to many Handy Tam inquiries.  I think I’m just listening to my intuition but I don’t trust myself completely.  I am currently trying to not stress out financially and trust in the trees that I will be okay and this will all work out.  I keep asking the earth for support.  I know I have the skills to make money but my heart is not on board with Handy Tam right now so I’m trying to be gentle cause I absolutely need Handy Tam in order to support this next cycle of life as I continue to ask what can I bring and how can I be of service and live authentically.

In April 2016 I discovered Shinrin-yoku and wrote about it in this post.  After returning from the Long Trail one year ago, a series of challenging life events led to me to pursue a deeper understanding of Forest Bathing and I started to imagine how I could incorporate this into my life.  I decided I wanted to be able to offer this healing and restorative practice to as many people as possible from all perspectives and upon looking for community and resources about this, I found a Certification Program with an Association.  This program is less than five years old has felt completely out of my budget.  I have taken a risk and invested all my money and a huge amount of my time into this.  I attended a week-long Intensive Training in the Berkshires this past July that was completely life altering and broke me open in profound ways.  I am now currently in month two of a six month Practicum working on a series of monthly assignments with the support of my fellow cohort that I trained with, a mentor, a co-mentor and a private facebook group of other Guides.  Last week I was invited to speak with my LGBTQ Elders about Forest Therapy at Rainbow Lifelong Learning Institute which offers free educational programs and social activities for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender seniors to build and strengthen community.  I got to present about Forest Therapy with one of my amazing trainers from the Association.  It gave me so much validation that I am on this path now.

I am going to start guiding Forest Therapy Walks this Saturday.

My New Website is Toadstoolwalks.com

I hope you will join me for a walk sometime!1

 

 

Queer Youth Mountain top cabin to cabin Adventure with The Venture Out Project!

IMG_2590IMG_2591IMG_2592IMG_2593IMG_2594IMG_2596IMG_2597IMG_2598IMG_2599IMG_2600IMG_2601IMG_2602IMG_2604We awake at first light on the front porch of Mount Cardigan’s High Cabin.  We tiptoe inside and quietly make coffee, trying not to wake the exhausted youth asleep in their bunks.  We bring our coffee back to the porch and sit in our sleeping bags.  The youth start to stir.  I venture off the porch to study the spruces and firs with this new tree identification book I got.

The youth are pretty wrecked from yesterday’s climb and adjusting to the backpacking gear and the late night of chatter and giggling.  Movement is slow.  Bear Bait encourages their packing up process along by frying up pancakes.

We make our way down Mount Cardigan chatting about family, gender, oppression, identity and all the isms and social justice stuff that queers talk about.

It was hot, and when we get to the base there is a pond and some of us go swimming.  Swimming can be complicated for trans and gender nonconforming folks.  Fortunately we have the pond to ourselves, but even in a queer bubble, undressing and swimming can be loaded.  Having a body can just be an edgy thing.  That’s all I’ll say about that.

We dry off, eat snacks, refill water bottles, load up and drive north into the White Mountains.  Its a two hour ride to Jackson, NH, and we take the scenic Kancamagus Highway with its mountainous views and windy curves.  We find our next trail head and eat lunch on the side of a dirt road before heading up.

We start climbing Doublehead Mountain, and despite our best efforts to keep our youth hiking together as a group, they start to fall apart.  We sense the agitation and it becomes clear that our facilitation isn’t working.  We take a big pause and circle up on the trail.  Perry gracefully facilitates an honest check-in about feelings and it all comes out.  That beautiful moment has arrived whereas the adults (Perry, Bear Bait, and myself) must step back and pass the leadership baton to the youth who will then come up with their own plan for getting themselves up the mountain together as a group.

Perry, Bear Bait, and I linger behind giving them the time and space they need to figure it out.  We reunite with them at the Doublehead Cabin at the top and the morale is good.  There is a universal feeling of accomplishment and connectedness.  We enjoy a celebratory dinner of backcountry pita pizza.

The thing about queer youth is that they are so fricken compassionate, caring and patient with each other.  I’ve been hanging out in queer youth spaces for the past 8 years and its downright heart melting to watch how a group will open their hearts and circles to make room for that wild card who maybe was rejected everywhere else.  On this hike I watched folks slow down so that no one had to feel like they couldn’t keep up and I watched folks listen to stories that maybe weren’t welcome at school or at home.  When I say I feel inspired by queer youth and feel hopeful it’s cuz the youth are the future.  I feel pretty awesome about the future knowing some of the queer youth leaders I know will grow into adult leadership roles.  I was also inspired watching my fellow TVOP Instructors navigate that space between nurture, leadership, and letting go.

On our last afternoon I guided a Forest Bathing Walk on a flat stretch of trail between the summit of Black Mountain and the Black Mountain Cabin.  I invited all of us to take in the forest atmosphere just a little more deeply.  We moved very slowly thru an alpine conifer forest, circling up along the way, sharing our observations thru our opened senses and our tree companions.  We found metaphors in the forest reflecting our strengths and our deepening connections to each other and the more than human world.  We closed with a tea ceremony where I offered an infusion of Purslane Tea that I had brought from Jamaica Plain.  Purslane is a rugged and relentless plant that grows between sidewalk cracks and has the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids among all plants.  It’s also got iron and vitamin C.  We smelled and drank our tea, taking the forest into our bodies and then made our way back down to our cabin.

Its been a few days since we got off the trail.  I miss our incredible group and I wonder how their transitions home have been and if and when I may get to see them again.  Grateful.

 

 

Franconia Ridge to Garfield Ridge to N. Twin

Stud and I park at the North Twin trailhead and get swooped up by Notch Taxi who arrives early and is super nice and drops us in Franconia Notch at the Whitehouse Trailhead where we walk north to pick up the Appalachian Trail.  Its 11am and our packs are loaded with everything we need (and more) for a potential 3 night/3.5 day trip in the Pemigewasset Wilderness.  We start our ascent up the Liberty Spring Trail gaining 2,000 feet of elevation in 2 miles until we reach the Liberty Spring Tentsite approximately 2 hours later.

We are relieved to get into this campsite early because there are just a few backcountry campsites that sit along the high peaks of Pemigewasset Wilderness where friendly AMC (Appalachian Mount Club) caretakers collect a small fee in exchange for a tent platform, a bear box to store food overnight, a composting outhouse, daily weather reports, and there is usually a water source to filter from.  On sunny summer weekends these campsites fill right up and caretakers will fit upwards of 40-60 hikers into these sites. This is impressive considering that these campsites sit on a very steep mountain side pitches and there are only like 5-8 tent platforms at each campsite.  These caretakers will find a spot for everyone and no hiker is ever turned away and even at capacity they don’t feel crowded.  Some of these sites are directly on the AT (Appalachian Trail) so many thru hikers rely on them because there are very limited stealth campsites spots in the alpine zones of the White Mountains.  Given the rugged terrain of these ridge lines, these campsites can be a fun place to connect with thru-hikers, weekend warriors, school groups and whoever else saw those same sweeping views and managed those same hard rock scrambles and long exposed ridge lines.  Many hikers who come thru these sites, whether it be to camp or just refill water, will arrive weary and worn down by the terrain and in need of a witness.  We witness each other, some more humbly than others.

The caretaker is this smiley tough woman and Stud and I connect with her immediately. She sets us up in what she calls “the penthouse” which is a tent platform high up and further off the trail and kind of hidden.  We set up our tents next to each other filling the small platform and later we are joined by 2 young French-speaking young women who squeeze their tent onto a tiny flat spot next to the platform.  We ask about eachothers days and Stud and I throw some water and snacks into a smaller day pack and head off to ascend Mt Liberty and Mt Flume.  Its late afternoon and it feels great to hike without our big packs.  The views are sweeping and the summits are rocky with many cliffs and many sunbathers.  We relax on top and I pull out my new tiny binoculars that I acquired last week on a job helping someone purge their apartment.  We admire the dozen or so mountains around us that we have summited over the last few years and study many dozen more that we have yet to attempt before returning back to camp and make dinner and then study our maps before crawling into our tents.We wake up early and are packed up and hiking north on Franconia Ridge in the cool morning processing about queer life, pronouns, gender, music, future goals, politics, the various organizations we associate with and all the things we like to process about in between eating candy and trail food.  We pass many hikers.  We stop to chat with some and not with others.  Some of the bro-dudes mistake us for other bro-dudes and so we just kinda grunt back to them in our lowest voice and move along.  But we welcome more conversation from the hikers who recognize us as the late-30 year old women that we are.  One of these hikers says to us “Thank Goddess for this wonderful day!” and we fall in love with her and talk about her for the rest of the trip.  We share this enthusiasm of being on such a beautiful ridge line and mostly avoid conversations about what lies ahead and whether its “good” or “bad”.  People tell us what to expect and how much water to carry even though we don’t ask for this kind of advice.  I don’t bother to mention that I’ve actually hiked this ridge before and I just respond to the various unsolicited advice with “cools thanks” and try to gracefully disengage.  I’ve hiked enough to know how much water I need but the bro-dude-splanations still get to me and I fight hard not to internalize any assumptions other hikers may make about me and I notice that I care less and less with every year older I get.  I decide I love being 39 years young.

 

Its a long gorgeous climb over Little Haystack, Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette.  Its a mix of rock scrambles, long steep pitches, and short stretches of nice footpaths.  Once we are up above 5,000 feet the wind picks up and I can no longer wear my hat and sunglasses for fear that they will blow right off me.  The sun is bright and the wind is almost knocking us over.  It is so intense so we don’t linger long on any of the summits.  We take advantage of any wind breaks along the short slightly sheltered spots where we hunker down to drink water and eat snacks and relieve ourselves.  Weary, we are eventually make our way up and over Lafayette and turning northeast along the Garfield Ridge.  My eyes water and I blow record breaking 10 foot snot shots behind me into the wind.

As soon as we get back down below tree line we lay down on the trail on this boulder cliff and eat and drink and rest.  Its not a good spot for a break but we have been pushing hard and have to stop.  We push down the relentless descent and after hours and thousands of feet of elevation gain and loss we are back down in the pine forest.  We find a perfect spot for an afternoon siesta.  We take off our socks and shoes lie on a bed of soft pine needles elevating our feet of a log while eating salty crunchy things and bathing in the mountain breeze laughing about how tired we are.  We see some hikers pass by who we camped with last night who we have been leap frogging with all day.  Its a young woman and her father and they are thru-hiking the NH section of the AT and I am inspired.

 

 

Rested and restored we start our final ascent of the day up Mt Garfield which takes everything we have and when we get to the top we have the summit all to ourselves.  We take our time up there soaking in the views of the long jagged ridge line we had just hiked.  I look at Lafayette thru my binocs and see dozens of tiny silhouetted people up there.  I could even see the Long Trail’s Camel’s Hump and Mount Mansfield.  I think I could also make out Whiteface and Madonna Peak if I was correct.  But Camel’s Hump is so distinctive and it was connecting to wave to some of my old mountain friends from over here.  Its fun to know the mountains and name them off and see them from various sides.Next stop, Garfield Ridge Campsite.  It feels late but we still get into camp early enough to get another awesome tent platform spot.  This site also has a large lean-to and it fills up with AT thru-hikers.  Our neighbors are the daughter/father hikers and we chat with them about their hike and its really fun to talk to them about the trail.  We eat and crawl into our tents and sleep better then the night before.In the morning we are packed up and back on the trail by 6:45.  We make our way down the almost comically steep cliff stretch of Garfield Ridge where I imagine the look on thru-hikers’ faces when they get to this spot…like how it this even a trail?  Welcome to the White Mountains.  We reach the intersection of Franconia Brooke Trail and make a decision about our next move.  We had been strongly considering hiking down into the Valley and setting up camp at 13 Falls and then attempting to summit Owl’s Head via the northern Lincoln Brook Trail the following day.  This is a remote stretch of trail that few people travel on and everything we’ve read about it says the trail is hard to follow and its easy to get lost.  There are lots of water crossings and its a big day.  While we have been enticed by it and read a lot about it, in the end we decided to stay on the ridge.  After all the elevation gain and loss that we’d already done, adding more felt exhausting and we were losing confidence about that northern stretch and our (lack of) compass reading skills so we listened to our intuition and decided to stay up top and head towards the Galehead Hut for a big late breakfast break and take advantage the huts views, shady benched front porch, running water and bathrooms.  After some coffee and oatmeal we stashed our packs inside the hut and took a spur trail out and back to the summit of Galehead Mountain.  Back at the hut we each chugged a liter of water and sat with an older AT thru-hiker while she ate every leftover the hut croo offered her.  One the hut croo cooks brought out a big leftover pot of soup with some bowls and we watched this hiker down like 5 bowls of soup and we felt genuinely relieved and happy for her.  Hiker hunger is impressive and kind of fascinating.  I was tempted by the soup but decided to leave it for the thru-hikers since our new plan would have us hiking out that afternoon which meant we’d get to eat whatever we wanted later.

 

We filled our waters and started up South Twin which is basically straight up and gains 1,200 feet of elevation in .8 of a mile.  Its like a rock staircase and eventually we popped out on top and the wind wasn’t too strong and we were able to really enjoy this summit.  I felt a little shaky and dug into my food bag no longer conserving for that extra day.  We had been on this summit 2 years ago but it was so windy that we basically half jogged right over it on our way to the Twinway towards Guyot.  But today, the day was young and we would be hiking out from here so we sat for a while and I pulled out the binoculars and we took in the 360° views all around.

We branched off the AT  following the North Twinway Spur over to North Twin Mountain.  This 1.3 ridge was simply a beautiful stretch of trail that went in and out of the trees passing thru fern fields and bright moss covered boulders and the blue sky and distant mountains were visible thru the scraggly mountain pines cooling us off with that mountain breeze coming in from all directions.We popped out on North Twin, our final summit of this trip, and went to a lookout to eat and drink.  It was hot.  The clouds started to gather and within minutes we watched the puffy benign poofs thicken into growing thunderheads.  It was amazing how fast it formed.  We couldn’t have been more grateful to be heading down and off the exposed ridges.  We descended down the North Twin Trail down a steep gravelly slidy rocky path careful to not lose our footing.  Our legs were tired and we slid down many big boulders on our butts until finally the trail mellowed out and we could actually hike and not just brace ourselves the entire way.  We were maybe 2 miles from the car when we started hearing thunder like I’ve never heard before.  It echoed down the mountains and we could feel it in the ground vibrating through us.  As the sky darkened over various peaks and the thunder grew louder and stronger, we thought about the hikers we met and hoped that everyone would be safe.  Then we had these huge river crossings.  The water wasn’t very high and we could totally rock hop across it but it was a long stretch of many rocks to hop with some big hops over rushing water and between the grumbling thunder and some distant flashing in my peripheral vision it took so much focus and concentration to stay balanced on these rocks and not freeze up half way across or fall in!  Finally we were done crossing the “Little River” for the last time and we cruised along very moderate (almost flat) stretch of trail until we reached the car.

We kicked off our shoes and just as we drove down Haystack road back to route 3, the skies opened and the rain started to fall.  What timing.  Things seemed to clear up as we rounded the bend into Franconia Notch so we jumped into Echo Lake at the base of Cannon and before changing into some dry cotton clothes we had stashed in the car.  We discussed our lingering Owls Head Plan B which would be driving down to the Lincoln Woods, camping nearby, and then hiking Owl’s Head as a day hike the next day.  From the Lincoln Woods, its an 18 mile round trip hike which is a LOT for us but the trail is easier to follow from that direction and its mostly flat until the final ascent and we wouldn’t be carrying full packs.  But 18 miles is a LONG day for us.  There is also a significant water crossing that can be sketchy especially with anymore rain coming overnight.  SO we decided to post-pone Owl’s Head for another time and drove home stopping for some real food on the way.  Owl’s Head, perhaps we’ll see in September.

 

Mount Washington Mountain Magic 

5e and I shuffle past the sightseers at the Mount Washington Cog Railway Base Station. We fumble with our packs and trekking poles and make our way towards the Jewell Trail.  First we have to cross the cog rail tracks and it was confusing because there were trains moving up and down the mountain so I asked a conductor nearby if if was okay to cross and he waved us on.  Our first few steps onto the trail felt like being shot out of a cannon. Immediately after crossing the tracks  we climb down a very steep ladder-like-staircase into a swollen creek teetering on some tiny stepping stones while the cog is blowing its horn. It was totally overwhelming.  Within minutes we find ourselves at another fast flowing brook with a small log appearing to be the only way across. I was ready to turn back and hike something else.  It was 9am and I really was not sure I could get across this water crossing.  When I first stepped onto the small log my legs were shaking and my heart was racing and I had to step back off and like breathe and try to center myself before trying again.  15 minutes later we both made it across and with our adrenaline pumping we cruised up the trail humbled and reminded who’s boss when climbing the biggest mountain in the the northeast.  We found our rhythm and before we knew it we were popping out of the trees and climbing along an exposed ridge towards the presidential range. 

That tiny building in the middle is the Cog Base Station where we started our hike.img_2369The views could not be clearer and there was barely a breeze up top.  We scrambled our way up the lichen covered alpine rocks carefully studying the cairns trying to stay on the trail as we made our way higher into the alpine zone. From this side of Mount Washington there is a loop that leaves from the Cog Base Station and goes up and around the Ammonoosuc Ravine. Typically hikers ascend on the Ammonoosuc Trail which is made up of long steep rock slabs that weave up various waterfalls and then descend on the Jewell Trail which is more gradual.  We decided to switch it up so that we could leave open the possibility of bagging nearby Mount Monroe, also on the NH48 list which 5e is also working on.  Mount Monroe is just .3  of a mile from the Lakes Of The Clouds Hut which sits perched along the ridge at the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the Ammonoosuc Trail about 1.5 miles down from the summit of Washington.  We figured we would summit Washington and then hike down to the hut and see what time it was and how we felt and then decide about Mount Monroe.As we climbed towards the actual summit of Mount Washignton we discovered a long line of maybe 15-20 mostly cog and auto road enthusiasts waiting for summit pics.  We had just hiked up thousands of feet for 4 hours and were not prepared to wait in line for our hard earned summit pic.  We were shaky and cooling down so went inside the observation deck and ate our lunch, used the bathroom, refilled water and rested for a bit.  It was a complete circus all over the summit given the amazing weather and clear skies.  It was both entertaining and exhausting up there and we weren’t interested in lingering too long.We headed to the summit sign line and once we got our pic, we wasted no time getting back on the trail, heading south towards Lakes of the Clouds Hut.  It was maybe 2PM so we dropped our packs and practically ran up Mount Monroe and back.  We returned to the hut and took another short break before heading down.  It was so beautiful and perfect on the ridge that I did not want to ever head down.

But we were doing this as a day hike which meant we had another 3 hr drive once we got back down to the base so even though there was plenty of light at 3pm, we quickly started our descent down the very steep Ammonoosuc Trail.  We were well aware of its steepness because a couple of hikers that we had brief conversations with along the way had asked about our route and when we said we were descending the Ammonoosuc Trail we got some of that classic unsolicited and nonconsensual warnings about it.

This happened to Bear Bait and I a LOT on the Long Trail.  We were Soouthbounders (Sobo).  Northbound (Nobo) hikers were constantly “warning” us about upcoming scary ladders and hard scrambles.  It totally stressed us out and then our experience was often really different than what other hikers would tell us it would be..mainly because we were hiking up things that they had hiked down and vice versa.  We learned not to listen to this unsolicited advice. When NoBo hikers offered us a plate of fear we just looked at eachother as if to say “don’t even listen to this”  We named this phenomenon a “Nobo-A-No-No”  We learned to shake it off.  But still it would be there in the back of my mind and the night before we had to climb up the chin of Mount Mansfield, neither of us slept a wink due to the many scary stories shared with us by NoBo hikers the previous day.  It ended up being fine.   It was descending the forehead that had us trembling and no NoBo mentioned that!

While the Ammonoosuc Trail was steep, it was fine.  It was great actually and I’d descend it again.  Sure we had to go slow and there was some butt sliding and swearing and squeaky knees but that is all just part of the fun of hiking as far as I am concerned.

We were back down at the cog base station by 7 pm and we were stoked.  Perfect day.

Mount Zealand

  • Elevation: 4,260 Feet
  • Location: Whitefield, NH
  • Dates Hiked: July 2017
  • Companions: Stud
  • Trails: Zealand Trail to Twinway

Summer in the Whites has arrived.  I finally broke in a fresh new pair of sneakers that I had stashed away.  They are the same sneaks that I hiked the Long Trail in after finding them on a clearance rack of a cheap department store.  I loved them so much and they were so cheap that I ended up buying 2 more pairs online.  I was really waiting for summer to kick in before breaking in this last pair.

Stud and I decided to hike Zealand as we are chippin away at the Pemigewasset Wilderness section of the NH48 ever since our heavenly backpacking trip over the bonds a couple summers ago.  Zealand Road, the road to the trailhead, is a long dirt road that is closed in Winter.  Zealand Hut stays open all year round and outdoor winter enthusiasts will ski and snowshoe up the 3 mile road all the way to the trail head.  The trail itself is super gradual and mellow.  Once at the hut we refilled water and ate some snacks and I left a big fun encouraging note in the trail registry for Little Bear Stumbles who is currently thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and making her way thru the White Mountains right now!

I met Little Bear last summer on the Long Trail.  She started north from Harpers Ferry in April and I’ve been following her blog and enthusiastically waving my internet pom poms as she makes her way north.  I figured once she got into the White Mountains I might run into her on one of my hikes. The White Mountains have a reputation among the Appalachian Trail.  They are hard, they are beautiful, and have some long stretches of relentlessly rugged exposed alpine ridges that can be super dangerous in bad weather. These same ridges offer some of the most spectacular views and fun scrambly hikes in good weather.

I reached out to Little Bear as she got closer to the Whites offering support if she wanted any.  We talked in the phone once she crossed the border into New Hampshire and she told me her plans for hiking thru the Whites and asked some questions about it.  I gave her lots of encouragement while cautioning against traversing the Presidential Range in any chance of lightening.  We reminisced about the Long Trail and I reminded her how rugged that northern section was and that the whites would be similar…just more exposed.

I knew there was a chance that Stud and I might see her on our hike because we would be hiking south on the Appalachian Trail/Twinway Trail towards the summit of Zealand and Little Bear would be in this area hiking north.  But I honestly didn’t expect to see her given the heavy rains, thunderstorms and tornado warnings from the day before so I figure there was no way she would have gone over the Franconia Ridge in that.  But she did!  And made it across just in time getting into shelter before the weather kicked up.

Once Stud and I left the hut there were a couple water crossings that made me think our hike was over.  With all the rain from the last few days the Zealand Falls were running high and I honestly didn’t think we could get across.  We hiked up and down the bank looking for a better spot and there just wasn’t one so we went back to where the trail crosses and debated what to do while the white water rushed by in front of us.  Finally Stud figured out a good way over and I followed her with my adrenaline pumping wide eyed and wide awake.  Neither of us slept the night before but after a couple of these water crossings we were wide awake.  Water crossings scare me so much.  I don’t mind getting wet.  I just tremble when I feel the pull of that current.

As Stud and I climbed up the rocky trail I see Little Bear Stumbles coming down the trail and I holler out “WHATS UP LITTLE BEAR STUMBLES!!!”  She was like “NO WAY!!!”  She recognized Stud from my blog and we chatted.  She told us of her wild adventures thru the Pemigewasset Wilderness.  I was shocked that she was this far along given the weather and I was so happy to see her and regretted not having like a backpack full of oranges and like ice cream sandwiches to offer her.  I had texted her to ask if I could bring her any special requests in the chance that I ran into her up there she just said to bring sunshine and fortunately that worked out!  Stud and I brought loads of sunshine and it was a beautiful hike.  

We parted ways with Little Bear who still had many miles to her next campsite.  We hooted and hollered as we hiked on and popped out on Zealand Cliff which was just stunning with views for miles.  Then we followed the ridge to the  summit of Zealand which was not particularly mind blowing but the ridge was one of the most fun hikes I’ve had in a while mostly in the trees but with views thru them the whole time and occasionally popping out on some rock ledges.

There were lots of hikers out given the good weather and the holiday weekend but the trail did not feel like a hiker highway or anything.  We hardly leapfrogged with anyone and the trail was unusually not super challenging so we didn’t take many breaks.  Once back at the car we drove down the road a little ways to a spot along the Zealand River where we soaked our feet and tried to fully submerged but it was just way too cold.  We managed to sit in it for a few minutes but that was it.  We cleaned ourselves up and put on dry cotton and headed home stopping at the Red Arrow Diner for a fun dinner.

As I head off to work this morning I am thinking about Little Bear heading into Crawford Notch and gearing up for the Presidential Range!  Weather is lookin good Little Bear!!! You got this!

Black Eyed Birthday

Today I turned 39 years young.  To celebrate I am getting Wilderness First Aid Certified!  It’s a 16 hour long class broken into 2 days.  The Nols instructors are talented make-up artists and cover us with bruises and cuts and fake blood.  Then we do lots of simulated backcountry accident scenarios in which we practice newly learned wilderness medicine tools by assessing various circumstances, checking vital signs and determining injuries and arranging emergency evacuations.  

It’s a weird thing to do on my birthday that was just when the timing worked.  I wanted to do it close to home and this session takes place at the Boston Audubon Nature Preserve in Mattapan.  It’s a beautiful place and we do lots of the training outside lying in the grass pretending to be disoriented and dehydrated.  It’s pretty funny but also kinda stressful.  It’s a lot to remember but I have to say I do feel empowered having the knowledge.

After my long first day of wilderness medicine training I came home to a festive birthday dinner with my dear ones and some really sweet gifts.  

8 more hours of backcountry life saving skills tomorrow and then I’ll be certified!  

Mount Tom!Mount Field!Mount Willey!

Spring has sprung and the White Mountains are thawing out.  I picked Stud up at 5:30am on Saturday and we drove north thru Franconia Notch, up and around the Pemigewasset Wilderness, and then down into Crawford Notch.  We parked at the train depot, lathered ourselves in bug stuff and headed up the Avalon Trail. There were no bugs.  There was some mud and the babbling brooks were running high but we managed to keep our boots mostly dry on the ascent.  There were flowers, woodpeckers, bird song, and the pine scent was strong.

We reached the A-Z Trail and continued up to the ridge were we reach the intersection of the Willey Range Trail.  We took the spur trail up to Mount Tom and took a summit pic with the rock cairn and then took in the views of the fog. It was chilly up there so we headed back down to the intersection where we sat on a log and had a snack watching the very plump mountain jays encroach on us.  Couldn’t sit for too long so we continued along the ridge towards Mount Field where the sky started to open up giving us views.  We ate our lunch on top of Mount Field, took another summit pic with another rock cairn and continued on to Mount Willey.

We found whats left of the “monorail“.  Most of it was melted down and avoidable but there were still a few stretches of the snow packed balance beam.  We had our micro spikes in our bags but didn’t bother to put them on cuz it just wasn’t that much snow and it was mushy so our boots were able to get just enough traction.  There was definitely some slipping and sliding and we sorta skied off the sides of it a few times and some light falling but always laughing.  We referenced American Gladiators as we negotiated the monorail with oncoming hikers and I imagined dueling with my trekking poles.  But instead we took turns politely stepping off the monorail and attempting to yield accordingly.  Technically, the downhill hikers are suppose to yield to the uphill hikers but yielding on a ridgeline can get confusing when the trail goes up and down and then flattens out.  Add the monorail and its just laughable.  Most of the hikers we passed and leap frogged with were friendly and open hearted.  There were a few bro dudes out there as well who had more of a “get the fuck outta my way” kinda vibe.  Whatevs.  Stud and I like to stop and smell the pines.  

By the time we summited Mount Willey, the skies were clear.  To the East we looked out into Crawford Notch and across the range at the southern Presidentials with Webster Cliff with all its landslides..  To the West we admired South Twin and the massive peaks of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.  We ate some snacks and headed back taking the Avalon Trail side loop.

Lots of blowdowns but the trail was clear.

Lots of rocks!  Getting our trail legs going again!

8 hours later we were back at the car removing our wet and muddy boots and changing into fresh dry cotton.  Had a gorgeous road trip home.  Summer hiking season has officially begun!

Shoulder Season Update

Lets talk about “Monorail”.  Not fast elevated train but rather the slow lingering snow and ice pack along mountain hiking trails that thaw and refreeze and thaw and refreeze creating a thin edge that one must walk on like a balance beam if one wants to hike in the White Mountains in May.

The White Mountain Trail reports are currently filled with descriptions of mud, ice, high water,  and “unstable monorail” meaning that this snowy balance beam is melting and during this time, it is easy to fall off of it or sink in it.  Its not like a huge cliff or anything but its like this weird added obstacle to trails to that are already seriously challenging in terms of rocks, roots, steepness, exposure, etc…

While there is still snow in New Hampshire, and while the summit of Mt Washington got a few new feet just last week, overall there is not enough snow for snow shoes yet whats left of the snow can be a little mushy so potholing is still a thing (meaning, when your foot sinks thru the snow).

Regardless, hikers are out there at all times of the year in all conditions and some of them write detailed trail reports daily describing the “monorail”, mud, ice, wet/slick/water on trail.  I use these trail reports to help make decisions about whether or not to go for it and to get a sense of what to expect seasonally..  I try to avoid hiking in the spring because I don’t really enjoy taking my micro spikes on and off 100 times or sinking in deep mud and navigating melty monorail.  I did enjoy some of the winter hikes I did this past season where there was a nice snow packed trail and I could just put on my spikes and keep them on.  If theres fresh snow I prefer cross country skiing to snowshoe hiking.  Once the snow melts I prefer to wait for a dryer trail which means late May but really June.  I’ve also been waiting for the perfect combination of a warmer ocean, sunshine and waves to dust off my surfboard and flail around at sea.

In the meantime, while I keep a close eye on the surf reports and the New Hampshire Trail reports I take many walks in my local Arboretum and sometimes in the nearby Blue Hills.  Spring in Boston is blowing my mind.  I’ve been watching the buds break open, the conifers growing baby red pinecones, the bees pollenating, the ants eating the sugars, the hawks and cardinals and robins forage for food, the waters rise and fall.  The changes are fast.  If I miss too many days in a row of visiting the Arboretum I feel uneasy.  I watched the lilacs bud and bloom day to day and enjoyed them under bright blue skies in full peak bloom before they quickly withered away. Oh impermanence!  How you keep my eyes glassy!

The other thing I am doing right now is working as much as I can.  I’m saving up for something big in addition to wanting to free myself up this summer in order to hike and surf and be outside enjoying beautiful New England for all its summer glory.  As I climb up and down my ladder I imagine that I am training for the mountains.

On my lunch breaks I scroll thru my phone and live vicariously through a few long distance hiking blogs.  More specifically, I am following Little Bear Stumbles who I met on the Long Trail last summer.  Little Bear is currently hiking Northbound on the Appalachian Trail from Harpers Ferry.  I’m hoping I might bump into Little Bear on the trail once she makes it up to New England!

I’m also following Scissors who I met in Portland Oregon on my recent visit.  Scissors is hiking Northbound on the Pacific Crest Trail and writes from the experience of being queer, femme and having never gone backpacking before.  She is totally entertaining and inspiring!

This weekend is Boston Youth Pride and am tabling for The Venture out Project.  Later on I will be working “coat check” for the Youth Prom which I have done for the last 6 years and its super fun.

I got big plans in the works and a lot to look forward to.  Trying to stay present and grounded even though my head wants to float up to outer space.  Today I smeared some Norway Spruce sap all over my hat on a morning walk so I could take some coniferous goodness with me back to my many tasks to remind me to be grateful and here. Fortunately sap is very sticky.

 

Spring

For the past 18 years I have had the incredible privilege of living within walking distance to the Arnold Arboretum.  As I grow and evolve I notice so much more and wonder how I never saw all that I see now. I’ve been watching closely as the buds bud and start to break into flowers and leaves.  It’s amazing.  I befriended a black oak tree and leaned against it resting the crown of my head under the thickest longest branch expressing my deepest gratitude for this old lonely-seeming tree that gave me so much comfort.