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.  

Street Magic

Street Magic #1:

I walk out to my car in the pouring rain and find a note under my windshield wiper carefully wrapped up in a plastic bag so it won’t get wet.  It was from someone who believed they left a scratch on my rear left bumper.  They apologized and left me their phone number in case it was an issue.  I looked at my bumper and laughed cuz it has scratches all over it as a bumper should.  I tend to think of my car like a skateboard.  It’s a mode of transportation and I don’t care if it gets beat to shit so long it runs and can get me to the mountains and the ocean and get my tools to my jobs.  I’ve just never really been into cars in that way.  My dream car had always been more practical than shiny.  For me it’s simply a tool…and truly incredible to own one.  I am often awestruck that I get to own one of these machines…but I don’t really care that much what it looks like.

So I text the number and thank this brave and honest stranger.  I explain that I am not at all concerned about scratches on my bumper.  I thanked them for giving me a restored faith in humanity and asked if I could buy them a cup of coffee or something to express my gratitude.

They wrote back!  They expressed a shared restored faith in humanity and agreed to let me buy them coffee.  So we met up at a cafe a few days later and she turned out to be an herb farmer and brought me a jar of herbs which had all kinds of personal significance and relevance to various things going on in my life…particularly the oats that were in that jar…that were part of the tea…that when harvested early promote a calming a effect.

We sipped our coffee and talked about the trials and tribulations of being tiny business owners.  We talked about the earth, farming, evolution and politics.  We talked about other local farmers that we both know and we networked about ideas and dreams.

Street Magic #2:

My pal Stud’s birthday is coming up.  We are going to attempt a huge hike on her actual birthday.  In the meantime I had this thought hit me this weekend where I imagined how fun it would be to try to get her some Red Sox tickets as a birthday present.  Stud enjoys a baseball game at Fenway Park and has been known to spontaneously buy herself a ticket and take herself to a game.  I have been known to join Stud every couple of years for a game as well. I am not much of a Red Sox fan nor am I much of a sports fan in general but there is something really fun and magical and nostalgic about Fenway Park and I’ve had some fun moments in the bleachers.  The last time I sat in the bleachers with Stud we watched this drunk dude being obnocious and yelling and waving his arms annoying all his neighbors.  Finally some dude a few rows back yellws at him,  “Hey!  Sit down ya fuckin mahshmellow!” Drunk dude turns around in slow motion and comes back with, “You calling me a fuckin mahshmellow?!”  Security was on that shit and escorted the guy out pretty quick.

Approximately two hours after thinking the thought of how fun it would be to get baseball tickets for Studs birthday, a random stranger approached me and asked me if I wanted some Red Sox tickets.  Like literally the same morning I wondered if I could get tickets, they just appeared in my hand…This guy was traveling from out of town and bought really good seats for a game that got rained out and he had to leave town before the rescheduled game and he literally just walked by me sitting on my stoop and asked me if I wanted them.  What?! They are first row lodge box seats at first base and I have definitely never sat that close to the action before.  So Stud and I are going to go to this baseball game in the middle of the afternoon….and it’s suppose to be sunny.

Street Magic is real.

The Gorge

On my last full day in Oregon I had the great fortune of being swooped up by Jenny Bruso, a local hiker and creator of “unlikely hikers” which highlights diversity, inclusion, and visibility in the outdoors.  She and her partner Brie took me on a little tour of the Columbia River Gorge.

We were going to hike Beacon Rock but it was closed because a landslide took out part of the trail.  So instead she took me to Wahclella Falls.  On the way I stared out the window at the impossibily high rock walls along the river coated in green mossed and giant pines with waterfalls streaming off of them.

As we headed up the trail I was completely oblivious to the falls that lay ahead.  I was so content to just be walking on a trail on the Gorge among big douglas fur trees and lime green moss next to a raging river with new friends.  Then I heard that rumble and we turned a corner and there she was.  A massive raging goddess of a waterfall pouring into a bubbling pool of white water and aqua.  We watched it rage for a bit and then continued on a small loop until we reached a snow bridge that seemed way too dangerous to pass to we turned back getting another close up of the waterfall.Once back at the car Jenny took me over the Bridge of the Gods which is a bridge where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Columbia River from Oregon into Washington.  The views were massive and I imagined the emotional overload that might hit PCT thru hikers as they cross into this final northern state.  From there we headed east stopping at a pull off where we could walk out into a dock on the Columbia River and have a good view of Beacon Rock.

We headed back to Portland and then Jenny to took me to another one of her spots: Forest Park which is that massive woodlands in Portland.  Travis met us and we did a little out and back.  The greenery was so…green!  Like so bright and electric and lush and alive and like wicked hydrated.  Very cool.

The Coast

The Pacific Ocean is a beast and the Northwest coast holds an intensity that flares my nostrils.

I was surprised when Travis proposed that we go to the coast since he has expressed major concern of the imminent massive earthquake that is building tension along the Cascada Fault.  When this thing quakes it will create a tsunami wiping out much of the northwest coastline and beyond taking out many bridges and the flooding communities.  Travis is well educated on the matter and is basically bracing for it but decided to let his guard down and venture to the coast knowing how much I love it.  

So we drove west from Portland thru the Willamette Valley’s lush green farm land and up over the mountains of the coastal range delivering us to the sea town of Canon Beach where we strolled out onto the sand to look at Haystack Rock.  The sun peaked out and we talked about the Goonies and the sharks.  We paid mind to the tsunami evacuation route signs just in case.We drove south on 101 stopping in Manzanita to hike Neahkahnie which is a sharp pointy mountain that juts out right at the edge of the sea making way for an enormous view of the crescent coastline of Manzanita.  The trail was steep in some spots but well graded with lots of switch backs and as we would come about on the ocean side of the mountain (or come aBOOT as Jesse would say) we could hear the waves crashing louder and louder as we gained elevation.   We lingered on the summit for a while just taking it all in.  The rolling waves and the blue grey hues.We continued south to Rockaway Beach to a little beach house called “The Getaway” with a logo of a tsunami.  We strolled the beach watching out for sneaker waves which are these rogue waves that can catch people off guard washing them out to sea.  There are logs that scatter the beaches and these logs can get swooped up by a sneaker wave and if you are not careful you can get rolled over by one.  People die from this.  And the logs are saturated with water and almost impossible to lift off of someone who gets pinned under one.  A fourteen year old girl was killed this way at a beach in southern oregon on the very same afternoon that we were on the coast.

We tried to watch the sunset but the clouds rolled masking any sort of potential big showy sunset.  It was still quiet beautiful tho and peaceful on the beach.

We cooked a festive dinner back at our little beach condo and we watched the Goonies. Before we went to sleep we discussed our evacuation plan in case the earthquake and tsunami came.  We had our headlamps, backpacks and boots at the ready in case we had to sprint towards higher ground.  I imagined this happening and I imagined surviving and then I assumed it would not happen but then I would imagine it happening.  Despite these earthquake ridden thoughts I slept the best I had slept since landing in Oregon and woke up feeling refreshed.